News & Politics

Fact-Check This: Snopes Founder Guilty of Plagiarism in More Than 50 Articles

Fact-Check This: Snopes Founder Guilty of Plagiarism in More Than 50 Articles
AP Photo/Susan Walsh

BuzzFeed is reporting that David Mikkelson, the founder of the fact-checking website Snopes, has been suspended for plagiarizing in at least 54 articles written under his own name, the pseudonym “Jeff Zarronandia,” and the generic Snopes staff in the byline.

“Our internal research so far has found a total of 54 stories Mikkelson published that used appropriated material, including all of the stories Buzzfeed shared with us,” Managing Editor Doreen Marchionni and Snopes Chief Operating Officer Vinny Green said in a statement.

“Let us be clear: Plagiarism undermines our mission and values, full stop. It has no place in any context within this organization,” the statement continued.

The Snopes staff was upset, as well they should be.”We work hard every day to uphold the highest possible journalistic and ethical standards, and we believe our fact checks, original reporting and investigative work are a testament to those high standards,” a group statement from Snopes reporters read.

For his part, Mikkelson’s mea culpa left a lot to be desired. “While I can’t change the past, I couldn’t be prouder of how Snopes has evolved since then. Snopes has grown beyond our roots as a ‘one-man band’ website into a newsroom of dedicated, professional journalists who serve the public with trustworthy information. Thanks to their efforts, Snopes has published original reporting on the COVID-19 pandemic, the recent elections, Russian disinformation efforts and so much more.”

Mikkelson makes it sound as if his plagiarism is from the distant past. According to BuzzFeed, it happened as recently as 2019.

Mikkelson’s alias, “Jeff Zarronandia,” came about because Mikkelson apparently didn’t want to face criticism and “hate” for writing about controversial topics.

 During a brief but memorable career, his byline, which linked to a bio detailing his Pulitzer Prize and his skill at mule-skinning, appeared on at least 23 Snopes articles on topics like Donald Trump’s financial woes and false rumors about Hillary Clinton. His reporting made enemies of hoaxsters and fabulists across the political spectrum, including former Trump campaign adviser Roger Stone and the late “fake-news kingpin” Paul Horner, both of whom were unaware of his true identity.

“It’s just a David Mikkelson alt,” Snopes’ former managing editor Brooke Binkowski explained when BuzzFeed News inquired. “He used to write about topics he knew would get him hate mail under that assumed name. Plus it made it appear he had more staff than he had.”

Between 2015 and 2019, Mikkelson regularly plagiarized reporting from other news outlets in an effort, he said, to scoop up traffic.

If Snopes’ “mission” was to “combat misinformation online,” why did the founder have to use an alias to hide behind?

In an interview with BuzzFeed News, Mikkelson said that he created the Zarronandia pseudonym as a joke intended to mislead the trolls and conspiracy theorists who frequently targeted the site and its writers in the run-up to the 2016 US presidential election.

“It was kind of a stress-relief thing [after] spending 20 years seeing people trying to discredit our work by just making stuff up about us,” Mikkelson said. “Let’s have some fun and watch these people vent their spleen inventing reasons why this nonexistent persona is biased.”

How are we supposed to know what was a “joke” and what was actually fact-checking? What an arrogant man.

Since Snopes is a liberal fact-checking site, all will be forgiven and we little people will be informed that the website is once again in the good graces of the left and it’s OK to believe them.

Not that many of us ever paid much attention to their “fact-checking,” but now we have even less reason to believe them.