At 4:01 PM on February 16, days after the the relaunch of the California Self-Determination Referendum ballot measure, KQED Reporter John Sepulvado called Yes California’s Marcus Ruiz Evans on the phone for comment about a story in the works which would have definitively linked Calexit founder Louis Marinelli with the Internet Research Agency through which Russia propped up fake campaigns and deployed Twitter bots in an effort to spell discord and foster disunity prior to and following the 2016 presidential elections.
Specifically, Mr. Sepulvado claimed that during a phone interview back in December, 2016, Louis Marinelli openly admitted to working with the Internet Research Agency in Saint Petersburg, Russia to “coordinate tweets” in an effort to grow awareness for the California Independence Campaign under the Calexit hashtag. Sepulvado requested a comment from the campaign. Evans denied any knowledge, requested specific details about his claim, and gave him Marinelli’s phone number. He was unable to provide any specific details, nor did he ever pick up the phone to seek a comment from Marinelli.
Instead, Supulvado took to Twitter, tweeting his unsubstantiated and unverified claims for the whole world to see. Indeed, it was retweeted 56 times.
You can’t see this tweet anymore – it has been deleted. Why is that? Was it a mistake? Well, when Marinelli challenged the reporter, saying such a statement was “libelous nonsense,” Sepulvado responded: “buddy, it’s right here in my notes.”
So, if “it” (whatever it was) was right there in his notes, he must have had some evidence to back up his claim — considering he took it right to Twitter. Unless, of course, a reporter scribbling down notes while his interviewee talks could have possibly miswritten something? Or perhaps — and sometimes reporters have as legible handwriting as doctors do — he could have misunderstood his own handwriting, looking back upon it fifteen months after the fact?
You can’t see any of Sepulvado’s tweets from this conversation anymore – they’ve all been deleted. Why is that, John? Why is that, KQED? Perhaps an apology is in order? This is not just a matter of a tweet deleted – reporters have a responsibility to present factual and verified information to the public because the public trusts what they read from the media. KQED is a respected news source for this very reason, which makes this an even more unfortunate situation.
Take for instance, the fact that his original tweet to his audience of 8,479 followers was retweeted 56 times. That’s 56 other individuals who read this false claim about Marinelli, believed it, and tweeted it to their followers. This is how lies and misinformation spread around like wildfire — especially amongst an audience just itching to hear definitive proof of Calexit ties to the Russian government. For example, Casey Michel and his ongoing effort to prove Calexit links to Russia that don’t exist.
Would have been the first reported instance. A reporter from Slate recently called Marinelli, following a lead from Sepulvado’s tweet. It was not exactly a friendly interview as the reporter was quite pushy… and it all roots back to Sepulvado’s unsubstantiated, unverified, and now deleted tweets. Shall we take that a silent acknowledgement of a mistake?