Image: Ben Swann/Facebook

The past few months have been a whirlwind for members of the media as we ask ourselves difficult questions about an uncertain future. How badly did we get played by Russia? (Very.) What will Trump’s America look like? (Bad.) Will the Constitutional rights we enjoy survive the next four years? (...) Atlanta anchor Ben Swann asks: so uhh... what about that unsubstantiated thing with the pizza place and the kid-fucking, guys?

Swann’s Reality Check–an irregular segment which is slotted into CBS46's news programmingaired a story last night at 11pm titled “Is Pizzagate ‘Fake News’ or Has It Just Not Been Officially Investigated?” Lets set aside the deeply butchered meaning of the phrase “fake news” for now and see what insights Ben has to offer as a responsible member of the press.

Swann begins by recapping how this particular conspiracy already led a gunman to open fire inside Comet Ping Pong as part of a vigilante “investigation.” (Don’t let that stop you, Ben!) “To be clear, not one single email in the Podesta emails discusses child sex trafficking or pedophilia,” he admits in his preamble, before launching into a discussion of “pizza” as a potential pedophile code word—a theory even arch conspiracy theorist Alex Jones has dismissed as coincidence. Even Trump, it seems, wants to distance himself from Pizzagate at this point, going so far as to remove Michael Flynn Jr. from his transition team following some tweets in support of this asinine theory.

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Swann claims to have spent a month investigating Pizzagate. His smoking gun is that *gasp* Comet Ping Pong and its owner James Alefantis are mentioned in the Podesta emails. Could it be because Podesta and Alefantis are close personal friends? Yes, it is exactly for that reason. And Swann adds, again, “there is no solid evidence that Comet Ping Pong pizza is being used to run a child sex-trafficking ring.” At any point after writing those words into a script draft, most respectable journalists would either dig for meaningful evidence or abandon the story. But not a renegade like Ben Swann.

Swann then discusses the pizza place down the street from Comet Ping Pong: Besta Pizza. Its logo allegedly contained a “known” symbol meaning “boy lover.” What is the connection to Comet, or to Podesta? And does it even matter, since Besta has since changed their logo and likely did not read the FBI’s 2007 document “Symbols and Logos Used by Pedophiles to Identify Sexual Preferences”? We’ll never know, because Swann presents this information and immediate moves on without drawing any conclusions.

Because of the “limits on broadcasting this on television” and photographs that are “too disturbing,” Swann spares us viewers from the juicy shit (which in this case comes down to a half dozen or so of Alefantis’s innocuous Instagram photos and some weird art Tony Podesta owns). But various “citizen investigators” have compiled the various threads and archived pages related to Pizzagate, and the above hour-long video is the most complete I’ve seen. It also includes the digression that, “many of the so-called Hollywood stars and famous figures could very well be mild-controlled slaves, controlled by forces at work within the United States government.”

The question remains that many of the Podesta emails do contain nonsense phrases that reference food items—suggested by those involved with Pizzagate to be a form of code. That’s entirely possible, and more likely than pretending that John Podesta and all of John Podesta’s friends are continually famished. But would a decades-long Washington insider attempting to conceal his proclivity for young children really be stupid enough to use code that the FBI had identified as far back as 2007?

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Swann is a local anchor on a CBS station owned by Meredith, meaning CBS proper doesn’t own or operate CBS46. But this story managed to lift his profile by tapping into an extant community of online conspiracy theorists on Reddit, 8chan, and the recently-disgraced Wikileaks. Pizzagate has, at this point, been debunked over, and over, and over, and over again. So here’s a conspiracy for you: local news anchor capitalizes on internet commenters’ gullibility to boost ratings.

Of course, like so many of the die-hard Pizzagaters, Swann isn’t suggesting anything in particular is happening at Comet Ping Pong—merely that whatever is definitely not happening there merits investigation. Perhaps by citizen investigators like you who may or may not own a variety of firearms.

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We’ve reached out to CBS46, CBS, and Swann for comment on this boneheaded and irresponsible segment and will update if we hear back.

Update 1/19/17 3:30pm EST: Swann’s Reality Check Pizzagate segment appears to have been pulled from CBS46's website. The page now displays the following boilerplate message:

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CBS46 and CBS proper still have not responded to multiple requests for comment, though Daily Beast reporter Ben Collins was able to obtain two quotes from CBS46 News Director Frank Volpicella which were:

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  • “I will say Ben was meticulous with his fact-finding and sourcing on his Reality Check segment”
  • “I have to go”

We will of course update in the unlikely event we hear back.