In January, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid was seriously injured while he was exercising with a resistance band. The band broke and Reid crashed into some cabinets. Reid broke a number of bones in his face and may lose sight in his right eye.
But the conservative media was certain that something more nefarious was afoot.
Enter Larry Pfeifer, a Las Vegas motivational speaker and life coach. In an interview with ThinkProgress, Pfeifer said he initially called John Hinderaker of the conservative Powerline Blog using the pseudonym “Easton Elliot” to “bitch the guy out” for printing an article suggesting Harry Reid was beaten up by the mafia without any evidence whatsoever.
At the last minute, Pfeifer decided to make a up a story about how Reid was actually beaten up by his brother Larry. “I made up the story off the cuff. It was so outrageous I thought there was no way” he would print it, Pfeifer said.
But Hinderaker took the bait and quickly arranged a phone call between Pfeifer and Rush Limbaugh. On the call Hinderaker and Limbaugh repeatedly asked Pfeifer for evidence to corroborate his story. Each time, Pfeifer refused. It’s hard to corroborate a fake story, after all.
Pfeifer’s admission he was behind the hoax was first reported by the Las Vegas Sun. He said that he pulled off the stunt “to show the lack of credibility and journalist standards” among certain media outlets.
Hinderaker ran with the story, deeming it credible. “Someone attacked Harry Reid on New Year’s Eve or New Year’s Day; that much seems clear from photographs and from the nature of his injuries.” Hinderaker admitted he had not bothered to independently verify the story but said “the inferences [Elliot] draws seem reasonable.” That article was shared over 3,600 times on social media.
From there the story took off like wildfire. Hinderaker invited “Easton Elliott” as a guest a few days later when he was substitute host for Laura Ingraham’s radio show. A couple of weeks later, Rush Limbaugh repeated the rumor on air to millions of listeners. (Limbaugh did acknowledge that he hadn’t verified the story.)
Pfeifer said that Michael Patrick Leahy of Breitbart initially refused to run the story without any backup. But once Limbaugh talked about it on air, he ran the story anyway. Pfeifer said other outlets he spoke to, including the Huffington Post, refused to move forward with the story once he admitted he could not provide corroboration.
Pfeifer spent time in jail “for financial crimes in the early 90s.” But he provided “dozens of emails and recordings” to the Las Vegas Sun to substantiate that he was the source of the hoax. In a follow-up post written Sunday night, Hinderaker essentially admitted he’d been had.
“I did check him out to the extent reasonably possible,” Hinderaker writes. He maintains that Reid’s claim that he was injured while exercising is “implausible at best.”
Pfeifer insists that none of this had anything to do with Harry Reid. “I don’t know Harry Reid… I’m not political. I don’t even vote.”
So why bother?
“Journalism is supposed to uplift society in a moral way. Not turn it to shit.”