One of the most remarkable things about the symbiotic relationship between the mainstream media and hate crime hoaxers is how long a particular pattern of reporting has been going on. When I first began my research, I half expected hate hoaxes to be a phenomenon unique to the social media era, the result of activists realizing that few things could get more likes than a YouTube video of a popular campus radical with a perfectly blacked eye ranting against racism. Not so. Laird Wilcox’s Crying Wolf, published in the mid-1990s, contains nearly as many cases of note as the data set I collected over a similar length of time. In fact, it would appear that the rate of hate crime hoaxes has been fairly consistent for at least the past twenty to twenty-five years. For that entire time and longer, mainstream media coverage of hoax incidents has followed the same template.
The general pattern of media coverage of fake or questionable hate crimes is (1) get wind of a sensationalist allegation of a hate attack; (2) dramatically report it, often on the front page or during prime time; (3) ignore growing evidence that the allegation is a hoax; (4) finally receive indisputable proof that the allegation is a hoax; and (5) run a retraction of the original front-page story on page twenty-six of the Leisure and Pet Cats section. This template accurately describes the coverage of Yasmin Seweid’s false claim that Trump supporters attacked her for wearing a hijab—but also the reporting on the infamous rape accusations against the Duke lacrosse team in 2006 and the 1992 claims of Azalea Cooley that “Burn N*gger Burn” had been painted on her house along with a swastika. Though this has been going on for at least three decades, it has apparently never occurred to many reporters and media executives to be suspicious of wildly unlikely hate crime allegations.