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Elon Musk Shares a False Claim About Media Coverage of ‘Pizzagate’
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Elon Musk Shares a False Claim About Media Coverage of ‘Pizzagate’

A former journalist convicted on child pornography charges never investigated the sex trafficking conspiracy theory.

Elon Musk (Photo by Carina Johansen/NTB/AFP/Getty Images.)

On Tuesday morning, tech billionaire Elon Musk tweeted an image related to the Pizzagate conspiracy and a journalist sentenced for charges related to child pornography. He deleted the tweet, but not before it racked up more than 10 million views.

In a follow-up post, Musk clarified that the “expert” referred to in the meme is former ABC News investigative journalist James Gordon Meek, who pleaded guilty in July 2023 to federal charges related to the transportation and possession of child sexual abuse material. A screenshot of a supposed New York Post headline—reading “Award Winning ABC Journalist Who ‘Debunked’ Pizzagate, Pleads Guilty in Horrific Child Porn Case”—circulated online a month later, but Reuters’ fact-checking team noted at the time that such a headline did not exist in the New York Post’s archives and that Meek did not conduct an investigation of the Pizzagate conspiracy while at ABC News. (Meek does feature as one of three authors of an article about Russian propaganda in Syria that mentions Pizzagate in passing.)

Meek—who primarily covered the justice system, military, and foreign intelligence while at ABC News—pleaded guilty to charges that he used an online messaging platform to send and receive explicit images and videos of minors during a visit to South Carolina in February 2020. An investigation began after the FBI received a tip from Dropbox about explicit content in an account connected to Meek, and on September 29 the former reporter was sentenced to six years in federal prison by a Virginia federal court.

Meek may have not debunked the “Pizzagate” conspiracy theory himself, but plenty of reputable journalists have: Both the New York Times and Snopes reported in November 2016 that the conspiracy had no basis in fact. That did not stop the theory from spreading however, and on December 6, 2016, 28-year-old Edgar Welch fired a rifle inside Comet Ping Pong—a Washington, D.C. pizzeria—following the proliferation of conspiracy theories online linking the restaurant to prominent Democrat officials and child sex trafficking. The conspiracy is considered by some to be a precursor to many of the QAnon conspiracies that arose during the Trump presidency.

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Alex Demas is a fact checker at The Dispatch and is based in Washington, D.C. Prior to joining the company in 2023, he worked in England as a financial journalist and earned his MA in Political Economy at King's College London. When not heroically combating misinformation online, Alex can be found mixing cocktails, watching his beloved soccer team Aston Villa lose a match, or attempting to pet stray cats.