https://reveal-player.s3-us-west-1.amazonaws.com/723_Reveal_PC.mp3

From anti-vaxxers to QAnon, we look at how misinformation spreads online – and the lives it disrupts. 

There are lots of reasons people give for not getting a COVID-19 vaccine – lack of access, personal choice or general distrust. Then there are the conspiracy theories, which have spiked during the pandemic. The World Health Organization calls it “an infodemic,” where dangerous medical misinformation sows chaos and mistrust. So how do conspiracy theories spread? Reporter and episode host Ike Sriskandarajah unravels the history of the lie that there is a tiny microchip in each vial of the COVID-19 vaccine. 

Then reporter Stan Alcorn digs into the origins of “Stop the Steal.” In 2016, it was the name of a right-wing activist group that spread the idea that the United States’ democratic institutions were rigged against Donald Trump. In 2020, it re-emerged as a hashtag attached to baseless Republican claims of voter fraud, gained huge audiences on social media and became a rallying cry among the violent mob that stormed the U.S. Capitol building Jan. 6. 

We close the show with a conversation between a mother and son who are divided over conspiracy theories. Lucy Concepcion is one of an estimated 75 million Americans who believe the results of the presidential election were illegitimate. She also believes in QAnon. Her son, BuzzFeed reporter Albert Samaha, believes in facts. Samaha describes what it’s like when someone you love believes in an elaborate series of lies, and we listen in as he and his mom discuss their complicated and loving relationship.

Dig Deeper

Read: Where did the microchip vaccine conspiracy theory come from anyway?

Credits

Reporters: Ike Sriskandarajah, Stan Alcorn,  and Albert Samaha | Editors: Brett Myers and Taki Telonidis | Producer: Mia Warren | Lead producer: Ike Sriskandarajah | Production manager: Amy Mostafa | Digital producer: Sarah Mirk | Episode art: Molly Mendoza | Score and sound design: Jim Briggs and Fernando Arruda with help from Claire Mullen, Brett Simpson and Steven Rascón | Executive producer: Kevin Sullivan | Host: Ike Sriskandarajah 

Special thanks to former Reveal reporter/producer Laura Starecheski; Isabel Cristo for her research on Stop the Steal; and the teams at the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab, the University of Washington Center for an Informed Public, Cornell Tech, Zignal Labs and First Draft News that helped analyze social media data around Stop the Steal.

Support for Reveal is provided by the Reva and David Logan Foundation, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the Jonathan Logan Family Foundation, the Ford Foundation, the Heising-Simons Foundation, Democracy Fund, and the Inasmuch Foundation.

Transcript

Reveal transcripts are produced by a third-party transcription service and may contain errors. Please be aware that the official record for Reveal’s radio stories is the audio.

Announcer:This episode is sponsored by Today, Explained, a daily news podcast from Vox. You might know Vox for its award winning explanatory journalism. And that’s what this show brings to audio. In fact, Today, Explained recently won the award for Best News Podcast from the Podcast Academy. It’s a show that will help you wrap your head around the headlines, but they also have a little fun creating original songs, fielding listener questions and covering unexpecting stories in science and pop culture. Find Today, Explained in your favorite podcast app.

Reveal is brought to you by Progressive. Are you thinking more about how to tighten up your budget these days? Drivers who save by switching to Progressive save over $700 on average. And customers can qualify for an average of six discounts when they sign up. A little off your rate each month goes a long way. Get a quote today at progressive.com. Progressive Casualty Insurance Company and affiliates. National annual average insurance savings by new customers surveyed in 2020. Potential savings will vary. Discounts vary and are not available in all states and situations.
Ike Sriskandara…:From The Center for Investigative Reporting and PRX, this is Reveal. I’m Ike Sriskandarajah filling in for Al Letson.

I started working at Reveal in 2015, back before this was a weekly radio show. And I can count on my hands the number of times Al has stepped away from the mic, so you know this is for a good reason. You’ll get to hear the new investigation he’s reporting in a few months. And in the meantime, I get to tell you a story.

Today, we’re going to start back on October 2nd, 2020. President Trump just tested positive for the coronavirus. The country is accelerating into its third wave and vaccines are still months away. But pandemic be damned, here in New York City, you still have to move your car for street sweeping. So early one morning, I walk out of my building with everyone else parked on the Friday side of our narrow street. I get in the car and I turn on my radio…
Charlamagne tha…:Good morning USA.
Ike Sriskandara…:… to The Breakfast Club.
Charlamagne tha…:Yo, yo, yo, yo, yo, yo, yo, yo, yo, yo, yo, yo, yo, yo, yo, yo, yo, yo, yo, yo, yo, yo, yo, yo, yo, yo, yo, yo, yo, yo, yo, yo, yo, yo, yo, yo, yo, yo, yo, yo, yo, yo, yo, yo, yo.
Ike Sriskandara…:Why don’t [crosstalk] we start our show that way?
Charlamagne tha…:This is Charlamagne tha God. Peace to the planet. It’s Friday.
Ike Sriskandara…:The Breakfast Club is a popular radio show based in New York. It’s syndicated across the country and gets eight million listeners a month and millions more watch online. One day, it’s Redman promoting a 420 rap battle. The day before that, it’s Pete Buttigieg talking infrastructure. And this morning, in October, Charlamagne tha God, the most outspoken of the three hosts, is riffing on the president’s positive test.
Charlamagne tha…:What does Charlamagne think? I have a few thoughts. First of all, I’m not about to be happy that Trump and Melania got corona. I would never celebrate something happening to a person that I don’t want to happen to me and mine.
Ike Sriskandara…:And I’m listening along, kind of nodding my head like, “I wonder what is going to happen to the president? He’s in his 70s. He’s overweight.” And as I’m thinking this, Charlamagne takes the conversation in a direct I don’t see coming.
Charlamagne tha…:But, the conspiracy theorist in me simply doesn’t believe it. I really just feel like this is a ploy to change the headlines, or it’s a ploy to get y’all to line up to take that goddamn value menu vaccine that they going to be rolling out, because he going to be the first person to act like he taking it and be the hero. And the next thing you know, all of y’all are going to have microchips in y’all booties right in time for goddamn Thanksgiving.
Ike Sriskandara…:Microchips in the vaccine.
Charlamagne tha…:Millions of people line up to get it and boom, microchip implants for all of y’all.
Ike Sriskandara…:Before we go any further, we got to say, there is no microchip in any of the vaccines. And maybe Charlamagne is assuming that his listeners know this theory is laughably bogus when he says…
Charlamagne tha…:And next thing you know, you’re going to have a microchip in your (beep).
Ike Sriskandara…:But by the fourth time he repeats it, I’m wondering, “We all know he’s joking, right?”

There are lots of reasons people give for not getting a COVID vaccine, lack of access, personal choice, general distrust. Then there are the conspiracy theories, which have spiked during the pandemic.

The World Health Organization calls it an infodemic, where dangerous medical information sows chaos and mistrust and makes the pandemic even worse. Recently, it’s been so bad that the WHO has named vaccine hesitancy one of the top 10 threats to global health.

In the US, the end of this pandemic feels so close, literally an arm’s length away, but only if enough arms get the vaccine.

Today’s show is about conspiracy theories, lies and misinformation. We’re looking at three different stories about how lies spread and the toll they take.

Up first, does hearing a bogus theory like the one I heard in my car about microchips, does that actually influence people? I called a doctor who works at the closest hospital to where I heard that conspiracy on the radio, Dr. Jordan Dow.
Dr. Jordan Dow:So for the past four years, I’ve been in residency at Kings County Hospital/SUNY Downstate in Brooklyn.
Ike Sriskandara…:Dr. Dow works in a major public ER that serves mostly black and Latino patients. And when we spoke earlier this year, he’d been getting a lot of questions about the COVID vaccines.
Dr. Jordan Dow:Yeah, almost regularly, almost daily, and then also, nursing staff who comes up and asks, “Is this safe?” And other staff in the hospital just says, “Is it safe?”
Ike Sriskandara…:Whenever those questions came up with patients or staff, Dr. Dow listened.
Dr. Jordan Dow:I first have to hear all their concerns. I have to let them get it all out, because I don’t know what of my concerns are irrelevant to them. So I just want to hear, what are the main things that keep you from doing this?
Ike Sriskandara…:Patients would tell him, they’re suspicious of how quickly the drug was developed, the financial interest of drug companies. All of that, Dr. Dow was happy to discuss.
Dr. Jordan Dow:Appropriate skepticism, I think, is essential.
Charlamagne tha…:No, it’s not skepticism. It’s actual distrust.
Ike Sriskandara…:Charlamagne tha God on The Breakfast Club earlier this year takes it even further.
Charlamagne tha…:And I’m sick of people acting like the distrust Black people have for that vaccine isn’t warranted. I’ve never seen this government be in a rush to combat any other ailments in the Black community, not the racial wealth gap, not police brutality, not lack of health care, mental and physical, but all of a sudden, y’all want to come in and save us with this vaccine. It’s been too much malpractice done to melanated people for us to just all of a sudden trust y’all in regards to this vaccine. I don’t care what Black person y’all get to take it publicly.
Ike Sriskandara…:Charlamagne was unconvinced by PSA’s of Black celebrities getting the vaccine. Dr. Dow, who is Black and Latino, also was unmoved by vaccine testimonials. He had to vet the trial studies and the peer reviewed data himself before he was ready to trust the vaccine enough to take it, which eventually he did. Dr. Dow is open about his own distrust of the medical system. But, there is another kind of skepticism he has less patience for.
Dr. Jordan Dow:The things I’m sick of hearing are that, we’re putting a 5G microchip in with the swab.
Ike Sriskandara…:This is a variant on the microchip vaccine conspiracy theory I had heard. Dr. Dow’s patients worried that a tiny piece of tracking technology was at the end of the little COVID test Q-tip going up their nose. And apparently, this conspiracy theory came up a lot.
Dr. Jordan Dow:So I had to swab hundreds of people, and 20% of them thought I was putting something in their nose. I would just look at them like, “This is not the time to play. Can we please move on?”
Ike Sriskandara…:But, lots of Americans are having a hard time moving on from this very concern. A poll found that more than one in four adults said, they don’t know if the COVID vaccines contain a tracking microchip. That’s nearly 70 million Americans.
Joan Donovan:This one in particular, this microchip one, is just big. It’s everywhere.
Ike Sriskandara…:Joan Donovan is the research director of the Shorenstein Center at Harvard. She’s a leading expert on disinformation. And early in the pandemic, she studied the spread of this lie.
Joan Donovan:It touches all different kinds of folks and it keeps coming up in these different ways.
Ike Sriskandara…:The microchip conspiracy theory has infected communities, urban and rural, Black and white, liberal and conservative. And she tracked the lie all the way back to where it started.
Joan Donovan:The microchip stuff comes out of this very nascent conspiracy.
Ike Sriskandara…:So let’s do a little conspiracy contact tracing. Like so many conspiracy theories, this one is based on a tiny kernel of truth. On March 18th, 2020, Bill Gates logged onto a Reddit AMA to answer people’s questions about the new, surging pandemic. And in that chat, he predicted, one day, we would all carry a digital passport for our health records, not a microchip, but some kind of E-vaccination card that we would show to get into places.

The next day, a website that calls itself, “The first and only news source on bio hacking,” wrote about Gates’ comment. I talked with their admin who goes by the name [Cipher]. And this is going to get weird, Cipher belongs to a community of bio hackers who advocate for human implantable microchips. They also have them. And they gave their blog post the untrue headline, “Bill Gates Will Use Microchip Implants to Fight Coronavirus.” But, even these futurists couldn’t have predicted what would happen next.
Adam:Hello, this Adam with Law of Liberty. I want to share an article with you today. Look at this, “Bill Gates Will Use Microchip Implants to Fight Coronavirus.” That’s right, Bill Gates.
Ike Sriskandara…:Just two days after the blog post, a Baptist pastor from Jacksonville, Florida makes a biblical case.
Pastor:It’s not just an implantable ID system. It’s literally worshiping this beast, which is the Antichrist that gives glory to the dragon, which is the Devil. That is Satan. So this mark of Satan that Bill Gates warns about, hey, it’s true.
Ike Sriskandara…:It’s not. But, this video with its incomprehensible logic quickly gets 1.6 million views, in order of magnitude, more than anything the pastor’s account had ever received. A few days later…
Comedian:Bill Gates invents this chip. And they just announced that they are considering using it.
Ike Sriskandara…:… a New York comedian uploads this.
Comedian:Now, once they have that chip in your body, who knows what they’re going to do. Right?
Survivalist:A day later, we know for sure, it’s a plandemic.
Ike Sriskandara…:A survivalist joins in.
Survivalist:Bill Gates doesn’t want anybody moving around in the country or abroad without a certificate verifying that they’ve been vaccinated.
Ike Sriskandara…:Tell me if you’ve heard this one, “A pastor, a comedian, a doomsday prepper all walk into a…” Well, that joke is not worth repeating. But people repeat this lie all over YouTube, TikTok, Twitter and Facebook.
Joan Donovan:But it’s really a story about Roger Stone.
Ike Sriskandara…:Again, Joan Donovan, disinformation researcher at Harvard.
Joan Donovan:Which is just Roger Stone being Roger Stone.
Ike Sriskandara…:Roger Stone, political advisor to Donald Trump who was convicted of repeatedly lying to Congress makes a guest appearance on the Joe Piscopo Show, AM 970 New York City.
Joe Piscopo:Roger Stone is standing by. Joe Piscopo on the radio.
Ike Sriskandara…:Joe Piscopo is an early SNL star who now hosts one of those incredibly long, daily talk shows. And it’s here on April 13th, 2020 during the fourth hour of the Joe Piscopo Show that Roger Stone becomes on of the super-spreaders this lie has been waiting for.
Joe Piscopo:First of all, thank you. Roger Stone, the legend, on the phone with Joe Piscopo.
Ike Sriskandara…:Piscopo barely tees up Stone with a question about the virus before Stone lays in.
Roger Stone:Here is how I try to break it down.
Joe Piscopo:Please.
Roger Stone:Whether Bill Gates played some role in the creation and spread of this virus is open for vigorous debate.
Joe Piscopo:Wow! Wow!
Roger Stone:I have conservative friends who say, it’s ridiculous. I have other who say, it’s absolute. But, here is what I do know for certain, he and other globalists are definitely using it in a drive for mandatory vaccinations and microchipping people, so we can tell, quote unquote, “whether you’ve been tested.” Do you know what I say, Joe?
Joe Piscopo:What’s that?
Roger Stone:Over my dead body. Over my dead body.
Joe Piscopo:[inaudible].
Ike Sriskandara…:Later that afternoon, The New York Post runs the headline, “Roger Stone: Bill Gates May Have Created Coronavirus to Microchip People.”
Joan Donovan:And then it just went totally brr on Facebook.
Ike Sriskandara…:Brr is disinformation expert slang for the moment a rumor jumps from the fringe into popular consciousness. The New York Post’s story and the Baptist pastor’s video are liked and shared all over Facebook.
Joan Donovan:And we don’t really know how it’s developed since then.
Ike Sriskandara…:Since April of 2020, the lie keeps spreading and mutating…
Speaker 12:A recent Microsoft patent 060606, aka 666, involves another implantable device for the [crosstalk].
Ike Sriskandara…:… into new variants…
Speaker 13:They have to have a sensor attached or installed into the body, which you’ll be paid in cryptocurrency. [crosstalk].
Ike Sriskandara…:… reaching new hosts…
Speaker 14:And that these chips, by the way, aren’t just the little passive ones. But the super sensors now, they can [crosstalk].
Ike Sriskandara…:… across the globe.
Speaker 15:[foreign language hh:mm:ss].
Speaker 16:[foreign language hh:mm:ss]. [crosstalk].
Ike Sriskandara…:But the viral lie at the center stays the same.
Speaker 17:Where this ends, and I know this sounds like the stuff of madness and 12 months ago, you would never hear this come out of my mouth, but this does end with a little tiny microchip in our hands, so that it’s easier to get in the pub and out.
Ike Sriskandara…:When I reached out to YouTube to ask how they moderate medical misinformation, no one would talk to me. Instead, a representative sent a statement saying, they’ve removed 900,000 misleading videos about the coronavirus, including 30,000 videos just about vaccines. YouTube even has a policy banning videos that claim there are microchips in the vaccine. But in April, when I was reporting this story, all the YouTubes you heard were still live, including the video that helped spark this whole conspiracy theory, the one from that Baptist pastor in Florida.
Pastor:Embedded quantum dots into the body to keep your medical records. And this is part of a larger agenda. This is part of-
Ike Sriskandara…:It had racked up nearly two million views. So I sent YouTube a link asking why this viral video was still active? 48 hours later and more than a year after it first went up, YouTube decided to take it down. In total, the company removed six out of the seven videos I asked about. The comedian got to stay. TikTok removed five out of six videos I asked about. And Facebook says, it removed 16 million pieces of content that violated its COVID and vaccine misinformation policy, and says, it slapped warning labels on 167 million pieces of content rated false by their fact checking partners. But even that jaw dropping amount is just a fraction of what experts say is out there.

The Center for Countering Digital Hate, an international NGO that studies online misinformation, found that platforms failed to act on 95% of COVID and vaccine-related misinformation reported to them. So when people go looking for information about the vaccine, there is a chance that the first thing they run into might be a lie.
Joan Donovan:It’s a life and death decision.
Ike Sriskandara…:And Joan Donovan says, “That could sway whether or not people choose to get vaccinated.”
Joan Donovan:We don’t know how many people are not showing up to the doctors because they believe this, but the ones that do feel vulnerable, and that vulnerability is totally artificial.
Ike Sriskandara…:If the platforms are Petri dishes of bad information, whose paying attention to those lies and trying to inoculate the public with timely, accurate, real information? Polls show, many Americans haven’t made up their minds yet about the vaccine. And 20% say, they refuse to get it. How much of that has to do with misinformation? And what does that mean for the end of the pandemic? I called one more doctor.
Dr. Lee Riley:So I’m Lee Riley. I’m professor of infectious disease at the School of Public Health at the University of California Berkeley, professor and head of the division of Infectious Disease and Vaccinology.
Ike Sriskandara…:Dr. Riley says something I hadn’t heard anyone else say before. And in a way, it’s good news.
Dr. Lee Riley:I’m not that concerned about the 20% of the people who end up not receiving the vaccine, because many of these people will get naturally infected. And if they get naturally infected, they’ll become immune.
Ike Sriskandara…:Unfortunately, it’s not good news for everybody.
Dr. Lee Riley:If they continue to resist getting the vaccine, yes, they’ll get sick. Many of them will get hospitalized. And some of them will actually die.
Ike Sriskandara…:Well, it sounds a little cold to the people who that are no longer with us.
Dr. Lee Riley:Well, this is their belief system and they made the decision to not get the vaccine, so they can exercise their personal liberty. This is what happens, nature always takes care of itself.
Ike Sriskandara…:But, our information ecosystem doesn’t. If you want to know what the government is or rather, isn’t doing about vaccine misinformation, read our [tech] story. You can find it on The Verge or our site revealnews.org.

Coming up next, from Stop the Spread to Stop the Steal, the little known prequel that set up the Capitol insurrection. That’s next on Reveal.
Announcer:Reveal is brought to you by Progressive. Are you thinking more about how to tighten up your budget these days? Drivers who save by switching to Progressive save over $700 on average. And customers can qualify for an average of six discounts when they sign up. A little off your rate each month goes a long way. Get a quote today at progressive.com.

Progressive Casualty Insurance Company and affiliates. National annual average insurance savings by new customers surveyed in 2020. Potential savings will vary. Discounts vary and are not available in all states and situations.
Ike Sriskandara…:Hello, I’m Ike Sriskandarajah, a senior radio reporter and producer here at Reveal. We’re a nonprofit newsroom, and we rely on support from listeners like you. To become a member, text the word Reveal to 474747. Standard data rates apply. And you can text Stop anytime. And again, text Reveal to 474747. And thank you for supporting the show.

From the Center for Investigative Reporting and PRX, this is Reveal. I’m Ike Sriskandarajah in for Al Letson.

I want you to picture a scene, hundreds of people standing on the granite steps of the Capitol building.
Speaker 19:I want you to say, Stop the Steal.
Protestors:Stop the Steal.
Ike Sriskandara…:But, it’s the Capitol building of Colorado in April 2016.
Speaker 19:Do you want your freedom back?
Protestors:Yes.
Ike Sriskandara…:Also worth noting, this crowd is angry at the Republican Party. And the steal they want to stop is the nomination of anyone other than Donald Trump for president.
Protestors:Stop the Steal.
Ike Sriskandara…:This was the beginning of Stop the Steal. And it wasn’t just a catchy chant.
Speaker 21:So we’ve got these pamphlets here. Go to stopthesteal.org, and I think you’ll understand that this is the group that’s going to be key in making sure Colorado’s voices are heard.
Ike Sriskandara…:From the start, Stop the Steal was a group of activists and a set of tactics. In Colorado, it started at the caucus that Saturday when Ted Cruz won all the state’s Republican delegates. Donald Trump start complaining.
Donald Trump:The bosses and the establishment and the people that shouldn’t have this power took all of the power away from the voters.
Ike Sriskandara…:Voters took it out on the local establishment boss, State GOP Chairman Steve House.
Steve House:Every single day when he would say something, my phone would ring with somebody else, “I hope your daughters are burned in cages and raped by extremists,” and, “We’re on the way to your house in Colorado right now.”
Ike Sriskandara…:Stop the Steal was trying to harness that anger Trump had whipped up and pointed at the upcoming Republican Convention in Cleveland to get the party to pick Trump through a show of force.
Roger Stone:Come to Cleveland. March on Cleveland.
Ike Sriskandara…:You might recognize that voice from earlier in the show when he was talking about Bill Gates putting microchips in the vaccine, Stop the Steal founder, Mr. Roger Stone.
Roger Stone:We will disclose the hotels and the room numbers of those delegates who are directly involved in the steal. We urge you to visit their hotel and find them.
Ike Sriskandara…:This plan to storm the 2016 Republican Convention, it didn’t happen. And it was largely forgotten because Trump won the nomination fair and square. But, Stop the Steal didn’t stop there.

Reveal’s Stan Alcorn has been tracing the history of these three little words, and he’s going to tell you what happened next. Here’s Stan.
Stan Alcorn:As soon as he won the nomination, Donald Trump started saying the 2016 election was going to be rigged, and stopthesteal.org explained exactly how. Hillary Clinton and the Democrats were going to reprogram Diebold voting machines and also flood the polls with quote, “illegals.” To stop them, Stop the Steal was calling for an army of volunteers to show up at key precincts on Election Day looking for fraud.

Whatever happened, Laura Starecheski was going to cover it for Reveal by shadowing the Stop the Steal point person in Philadelphia, a Democratic city in a swing state where Trump insisted there would be voter fraud.

As far as you could tell, what was Stop the Steal in Philadelphia in 2016, in reality?
Laura Stareches…:Yeah. There did seem to be grand plans, like when you would go to the website, Stop the Steal looked like they were organizing people. But then when I was with Jack that day, it was kind of just Jack.
Stan Alcorn:Jack is Jack Posobiec, a Game of Thrones blogger turned pro-Trump Twitter troll who was working with Roger Stone. On election morning, Laura caught up with him at the Philly GOP headquarters.
Laura Stareches…:How is your mood right now, would you say?
Jack Posobiec:Oh, I’m excited. Are you kidding me? I live for this. I live for the adrenaline rush of Election Day, exposing the flagrant abuses of our democracy. It’s like Christmas morning.
Laura Stareches…:He’s basically pacing around and waiting for word that something has happened, so he can rush to the scene. And then finally, something happens, and he’s like, “Okay, it’s on.” So we jump in the car.
Jack Posobiec:As you can tell, I’ve been kind of living here.
Laura Stareches…:Jack’s driving and this other guy jumps in the backseat.
Albert Eisenber…:Okay. I’m going to call the lawyer. And then I’m going to call a bunch of media people.
Laura Stareches…:Can you identify yourself?
Albert Eisenber…:Albert Eisenberg, Philly Republican Party.
Laura Stareches…:What’s your role?
Albert Eisenber…:Communications lead. Do you have any napkins or anything? I don’t want to drip [crosstalk].
Stan Alcorn:It’s sounds like he’s eating a sandwich.
Laura Stareches…:Yeah, Albert had a hoagie, and he’s cramming this hoagie in his mouth.
Albert Eisenber…:Hey, Dennis. We are headed to you know. I think this is going to be the story of the day for us, so we’re really going to push this.
Laura Stareches…:And Albert is freaking out.
Albert Eisenber…:You can prep her, just relax her. And keep the message sharp and tight.
Laura Stareches…:He’s so excited.
Albert Eisenber…:That first thing, my name is [Brittany], I forget her last name, Foreman, and today I witnessed voter fraud, period. Awesome.
Laura Stareches…:And he starts making all of these calls…
Albert Eisenber…:Hey, [Ev]. This is Albert Eisenberg. We spoke pretty recently.
Laura Stareches…:… trying to get other media to come to this polling place where we’re headed.
Albert Eisenber…:Hey. We got a really hot issue of voter fraud up in Winfield, and we’re headed there now. I want to tell you [crosstalk].
Stan Alcorn:Meanwhile, Jack is using his phone to talk to his followers on Twitter’s live stream video app, Periscope.
Jack Posobiec:So hey, this is Jack Posobiec. I’ve got another report of voter fraud. Al is working to get some of the more traditional media, but we’re covering it live because that’s how we roll around here.
Laura Stareches…:At the time it seemed clear that they were trying to discredit the election before the election happened, just finding ways to de-legitimize it. And I guess I was just like, “This is so weird. What are they going to say when we get there?” I was really curious to see how Jack would filter what was happening to his followers, and would it work?
Albert Eisenber…:There is Brittany.
Laura Stareches…:So we pull up.
Albert Eisenber…:[inaudible].
Laura Stareches…:And there is this woman, Brittany Foreman. Can you tell me what happened? I’m a reporter for Reveal Radio.
Jack Posobiec:Tell both us [inaudible].
Brittany Forema…:Yes. From the time I came in, it was a issue with the committee person. [crosstalk].
Laura Stareches…:And to be honest with you, it was a little confusing and hard to figure out what exactly the complaint was. At one point, it seemed like she was saying…
Brittany Forema…:Then I witness him actually go, and-
Laura Stareches…:There was someone with the Democratic Party who was going into voting booths with people.
Brittany Forema…:… and offered to assist the elderly inside the voting both.
Laura Stareches…:But then it was like, is that person just helping?
Brittany Forema…:I don’t know what he was doing. I don’t know what he did in there. He could have been hitting the buttons for all I know.
Laura Stareches…:Interestingly, Jack didn’t seem that curious about her or what the account was. And Jack goes off to the side just talking to his followers.
Jack Posobiec:He’s working together, complete collusion.
Laura Stareches…:And I was like, “Oh.”
Jack Posobiec:Allowing him to get away with murder, in terms of politics.
Laura Stareches…:It’s like, go there, be there in person, set it up so that something could have happened, and then you just say that it happened, and you were there. And so, it seems more legitimate to people.
Jack Posobiec:That’s why I’m Periscoping this. That’s why we’ve got other media out here. We’ve got other media coming. And we’re going to expose this for what it is and let people know. So at some point, I would like to-
Stan Alcorn:Meanwhile, across town, the phones are ringing at the hotline set up to deal with allegations like this one. Every call gets a response from the Philadelphia district attorney’s Election Fraud Taskforce made up of several dozen investigators and more than 60 lawyers, including Andrew Wellbrock.
Andrew Wellbroc…:It was all run of the mill complaints. “I went to vote and my name must have been purged from the register.” “Oh, when is the last time you voted?” “1994.” “Okay, that’s why,” nothing actually alleging a crime.
Stan Alcorn:It sounds like it’s a lot of-
Andrew Wellbroc…:Babysitting. Yeah, I mean, we are often put in the position of basically being told, we’re like the referees.
Stan Alcorn:But as the day goes on, they start to hear stories that are more disturbing.
Andrew Wellbroc…:Some of the younger prosecutors started saying things like, “Hey, we’re seeing this on Twitter. We’re seeing this on Twitter.”
Stan Alcorn:It’s like the players are taking their complaints to the fans instead of the refs. The Philly GOP tweets that a voting machine is defaulting to Clinton when voting for Trump. And they tweet out a video of Brittany Foreman, #VoterFraudIllegal. It opens with Albert’s line from the car.
Brittany Forema…:My name is Brittany Foreman. And today, I witnessed voter fraud.
Andrew Wellbroc…:There are people screaming at the internet about all of these things that are happening in Philadelphia, but we weren’t getting phone calls. And at 2:00 PM, we did a big press conference. We have no founded complaints of intimidation, no founded complaints of voter fraud. And we basically said, “Philly GOP please call us, if you have these complaints and we can address them.” And at 2:00 PM they stopped tweeting. So we asked them to put up or shut up, and they decided to shut up rather than provide us with evidence.
Stan Alcorn:But the internet does not shut up. The Brittany Foreman video is re-tweeted by people like Jack Posobiec, and ultimately watched hundreds of thousands of times. It’s picked up by websites like Infowars and Breitbart with headlines like, “Philly Poll Watcher Says She Personally Witnessed Voter Fraud.” But still, all this is a one day story. Trump wins the election that night and most people move on, including Andrew.
Andrew Wellbroc…:To me, it came and went, and that was that.
Stan Alcorn:Until four years later when Andrew would run the Philadelphia Election Task Force for the 2020 election.
Lester Holt:Here we are now, just hours from Election Day 2020.
Speaker 31:The Trump campaign calling for thousands to monitor what the president insists is an election rigged against him.
Donald Trump:Go into the polls and watch very carefully, because bad things happen in Philadelphia, bad things.
Andrew Wellbroc…:When we got that hotline up is when we realized that things were going to be very different. We’re getting calls from guys in Texas, “They’re stealing the vote. They’re putting banners on the buildings.” We’re like, “Sir, that was taken down right when the polls opened at 7:00 AM.” “You’re lying to me.” “All right, what do you want me to do? It’s not there.”
Stan Alcorn:At some point, they start getting calls about a video going around on Twitter.
Gary Feldman:You’re not letting me in.
Speaker 33:[crosstalk] No.
Stan Alcorn:It’s 30 seconds long and a middle aged white man demanding to be let into a funeral parlor where people are voting.
Speaker 34:[crosstalk] call somebody.
Gary Feldman:I have a citywide watcher’s certificate.
Speaker 34:Well, it’s not for this location.
Speaker 33:No, it’s not [crosstalk].
Stan Alcorn:The tweet says, “A poll watcher in Philly was just wrongfully prevented from entering the polling place,” which is technically accurate. The poll watcher, Gary Feldman, should have been let in.
Andrew Wellbroc…:Had Gary Feldman called us to say that, we would have said, “Yes, he is allowed to be there,” but that’s not what they wanted. They wanted a show. They wanted that headline that you referred to.
Stan Alcorn:So he didn’t make a complaint?
Andrew Wellbroc…:No, I mean, that was the guy with deja vu of 2016. It was the same deal all over again.
Stan Alcorn:But, saying it was the same deal as 2016 is kind of like saying two fires are the same, when one is a candle and the other is the fuse of a bomb.

One of the many groups monitoring and countering election misinformation that day was First Draft News. Laura Garcia in their UK office had the early shift.
Laura Garcia:So actually the first thing that I remember really digging into on that day is that video.
Stan Alcorn:The tweet doesn’t give a location other than Philadelphia. So Laura tries to look for clues in the video itself.
Laura Garcia:Just because someone says it’s Philly doesn’t mean it’s Philly. [crosstalk].
Stan Alcorn:But, by the time she tracks it down, the tweet is already going viral.
Laura Garcia:It’s one of those worst case scenario things, which is [inaudible]. It’s starting to pop up on Instagram and then somewhere else across different influencers who were talking about it. And we then started to see it in headlines.
Stan Alcorn:The lead story on Breitbart was, “The steal is on in Pennsylvania. Poll watchers denied access.” And then there is the little three word hashtag at the end of the tweet.

What did you think when you first saw those words, Stop the Steal?
Laura Garcia:“Oh, man. It’s such a good hashtag.” It’s short. It’s punchy. It’s active. It tells you as an audience that there is something that you can do about it. Plus, an alliteration in there, which is always nice.
Stan Alcorn:The Stop the Steal hashtag was being tweeted more than 10,000 times an hour at its Election Day peak, attached to all kinds of different conspiracy theories. But, it was all kicked off by this one video of poll watcher Gary Feldman, with a push from someone who met up with Gary later that day to do a Periscope.
Jack Posobiec:So I’m here live. And I’m here with Gary Feldman, who has gone viral this morning a couple [crosstalk].
Stan Alcorn:Yes, that is Jack Posobiec. He went from running the Philly Stop the Steal operation out of his car in 2016 to being able to kick start the nationwide Stop the Steal hashtag in 2020.
Michael E. Hayd…:People don’t realize how centered he’s become in the world of right wing media. He is a huge star.
Stan Alcorn:Michael Edison Hayden wrote an investigative series about Jack’s rise for the Southern Poverty Law Center, where he’s a reporter and spokesperson. Jack’s opening act was at the dedication of the National Museum of African American History and Culture, where Jack showed up in a Hillary Clinton mask carrying a sign that said, “Blacks Are Super Predators.”
Michael E. Hayd…:That’s how he burst out onto the scene. And then from there, the next time he does a live streaming stunt, it is Pizzagate.
Stan Alcorn:He live streamed from a pizzeria…
Jack Posobiec:Comet Pizza. Here we go.
Stan Alcorn:… to play up the conspiracy theory that Democrats were running a child sex ring there.
Jack Posobiec:We’re dealing with some high level stuff here, guys. We’re doing some very high level stuff.
Stan Alcorn:As Michael and others have documented, Jack worked with white supremacists, [doxed] an alleged victim of sexual abuse, and routinely pushed disinformation. But, each controversy just brought him more attention, more followers, and no real negative repercussions from Twitter or from the right wing media.
Michael E. Hayd…:I think on the right, social media is viewed as this battle zone. And they view Jack Posobiec, I think, as a guy who just fights relentlessly. And they don’t care that he fights dirty.
Stan Alcorn:Especially, because of the way he fights for Donald Trump. After Trump praised both sides at the deadly white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Jack asked in a tweet why the mainstream media wasn’t instead covering gun violence in Chicago?
Jack Posobiec:I’m looking at what I’m seeing out there.
Stan Alcorn:Then he went on live stream.
Jack Posobiec:Huh, Trump just re-tweeted me. Dear.
Speaker 37:Yes.
Jack Posobiec:Apparently, the president just re-tweeted me. Can you get your phone or something? I didn’t know this.
Speaker 37:Oh my gosh.
Jack Posobiec:There you go, folks. There you go. There it is. There it is.
Speaker 37:Whoa, [crosstalk].
Stan Alcorn:At the time of the 2020 election, Jack was a correspondent at the One America News Network. And he had more than one million Twitter followers, including President Trump and his two adult sons.

What does it say that Jack has been able to achieve that level of legitimacy?
Michael E. Hayd…:Or at least the appearance of legitimacy.
Stan Alcorn:Yeah.
Michael E. Hayd…:I think what it says is that the right in this country, they have created an entirely bizarro ecosystem of media and commentary. If you look at some of the figures who’ve promoted Stop the Steal, for example, of which Jack Posobiec was one of them, I mean, these are people with no discernible credentials whatsoever outside of social media manipulation.
Stan Alcorn:Not only had Jack become a star, he was part of a whole new Trump media galaxy.

Four of the top institutions studying social media misinformation got together for the 2020 election as the Election Integrity Project. And they put out a list of the most influential repeat spreaders of false and misleading stories on Twitter. The top 20 included Breitbart News, Fox’s Sean Hannity, and right between Donald Trump himself and an account with the user name Catturd2 was Jack Posobiec. Jack declined to comment on this, by the way, other than to say he shares things his followers might find interesting.

Anyways, after Election Day, the viral lies that these and other influencers were sharing got increasingly detached from reality. In Philadelphia, the first big new allegation Andrew Wellbrock had to deal with was a claim that Republican poll watchers couldn’t see the counting of the votes.
Andrew Wellbroc…:We didn’t get any calls about it, but we saw it online. And was it Corey Lewandowski was outside of the convention center yelling that into a megaphone? So I walked into the room, “Hey, who is a Republican poll watcher?” I think five, six people raised their hands. “Can you see?” “Yeah.” “All right. My work here is done.” And I left.
Stan Alcorn:But, Andrew’s work was just beginning. He’s now prosecuting two men who drove up to the vote count from Virginia with an assault rifle in the back of their Hummer after one of them texted, “Going to PA. Have a truckload of fake ballots we’re going to raid.”
Andrew Wellbroc…:There is a disconnect from reality that will continue to surprise me always.
Stan Alcorn:The men were initially let out on bail until they showed up at the US Capitol on January 6th.
Joan Donovan:They are motivated because they think democracy is being stolen, their rights are being curtailed.
Stan Alcorn:I called up Joan Donovan, the misinformation expert from Harvard.
Joan Donovan:This is a reason why people go to war.
Stan Alcorn:And these false beliefs, they didn’t stop with the attack on the Capitol. A majority of Republicans still think Trump won the election. Joan thinks that’s in part due to being saturated with misinformation repeatedly in post after post and redundantly on platform after platform, Facebook, Twitter, TV, radio.
Joan Donovan:And the repetition plus the redundancy starts to take on the character of something that must be true because a lot of people are saying it. And that’s really what media manipulators and disinformers bank on. That’s what their strategic advantage is.
Stan Alcorn:Joan see misinformation as a feature of social media, not a bug. And she thinks dealing with it is a problem a lot more people need to actively be working on in the federal government and also at the social media companies themselves.
Joan Donovan:If these companies do not start to take bold positions and action on authoritarians especially, then we’re going to be in serious, serious problems, because we’re on 10 years in to the social media era.
Stan Alcorn:Joan thinks another five years down the road we’ve been traveling could lead to a really dark place, but also she thinks it’s not too late to pull the emergency brake and head somewhere different.
Ike Sriskandara…:That was Reveal’s Stan Alcorn.

Lies, misinformation and conspiracy theories aren’t just a political problem. After the break, we hear from a family that’s split between two realities. That’s coming up on Reveal.
Speaker 38:If you like what we do and you want to help, well, it’s pretty simple. Just write us a review on Apple Podcast. It’s easy and only takes a few seconds. Just open the Apple Podcast app on your phone, search for Reveal, then scroll down to where you see write a review. And there, tell them how much you love the host.

Your review makes it easy for listeners to find us, and, well, it really does make a difference. And if you do it, you will get a personal thank you from me like right now. Not him, not, no, you, yes you, thank you so much. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. All right.
Ike Sriskandara…:From The Center for Investigative Reporting and PRX, this is Reveal. I’m Ike Sriskandarajah in for Al Letson.

Roughly a third of American adults believe that the results of the 2020 presidential election were fraudulent. That’s about 75 million people who believe the lie that the election was stolen from Donald Trump. Lucy [Concepcion] is one of them.
Lucy Concepcion:I like Trump. I see the conservative agenda that he brings to the country. And I know that there are corrupt politicians that is fighting and all that stuff, but then to you, it seems like it’s a conspiracy.
Ike Sriskandara…:The you Lucy is talking to is her son, Albert Samaha, an investigative reporter at BuzzFeed where he first wrote about their strained relationship.
Albert Samaha:What have been the main challenges?
Lucy Concepcion:Well, the challenge may be that my ideas are different from yours. You know that I believe in QAnon. Right?
Ike Sriskandara…:Lucy treads in the world of QAnon. Albert works in the world of verifiable information.
Lucy Concepcion:You think you’re right, but to me, I think not. So I think the challenge that you have is to convince me that you’re right. Well, then, knowing your mom, who is very strong in her faith, it will be hard to convince.
Ike Sriskandara…:It’s a dynamic that so many American families are trying to navigate. What do you do when someone you love believes in an elaborate series of lies? So we asked Albert to tell us how he and his mom do it? How do they manage to stay a part of each other’s lives while living in fundamentally different realities?
Albert Samaha:When I was growing up, I was an only child. She was a single mom. So it’s just us two against the world at every step. It was my voice that she gave most weight to, whether it was, should I keep dating this guy, or should I take this job or that job? We were paddling in the same direction, and I valued the same things she valued.

What are your hopes for the future?
Lucy Concepcion:For you or for me?
Albert Samaha:Both, for both of us, for each of us.
Lucy Concepcion:Well, I wish you would be on the same conservative, political views. That’s my hope.
Albert Samaha:Anything else? That’s it. Nothing else matter except that.
Lucy Concepcion:Yeah, for me, because I mean, it’s just, I think you were trained differently from where I was coming from, what I learned about politics.
Albert Samaha:She grew up in the Philippines and Ferdinand Marcos, who was president at the time, declares martial law in 1972. The presidency becomes a dictatorship. She grew up believing that America was the most stable place in the world.

I think like a lot of immigrants, her American dream was rooted in the opportunities of her children. I think she also, at least for a time, achieved the American dream that she wouldn’t say was primary, which was her own success, because there was a moment in the mid 2000s when we were flying super high. She was a real estate agent and she was selling a dozen houses a year. She bought a Benz. And then like millions of other people, my mom was hit really hard by the housing crash. And when the market collapsed, she had to sell my childhood home at a loss. And she has been trying to claw her way back since.

So this is now around 2010. As the financial troubles were happening, the voices she trusted were calling Obama a Muslim and un-American and making up all this disinformation about him. She was beginning to turn to more and more of these far right wing sites that were popping up on the internet.
Lucy Concepcion:My friends, we’re all conservatives, right, so we share the same ideas. But then, to you, it seems like it’s a conspiracy. And I don’t blame you. It’s just because you don’t see it. I know that, especially as a journalist, you have to see evidence. Okay. My friends, we believe what is being said.
Albert Samaha:She had grown up in a society in the Philippines under a dictatorship where she always believed that there were dirty machinations happening on behind the curtains.

By 2018, she starts to tell me about these posts online that claim to be written by a high level government operative with Q level clearance. And this person claims this sprawling, global, child trafficking cabal.
Lucy Concepcion:People will be shocked. People will be shocked when they find out about Oprah Winfrey, a lot of Hollywood people, a lot of politicians. I mean, people just don’t realize-
Albert Samaha:Trump is battling this deep state. He’s got this grand plan to arrest everybody involved. And that’s what this is about.
Lucy Concepcion:The reason why it’s not being exposed yet is because a lot of people, they might just go crazy if they find out, “What? Tom Hanks, he drinks adrenochrome? This guy is a pedophilia. He’s supposed to be a good person.”
Albert Samaha:Especially as an investigative reporter where my entire vocation comes down to proving the truth to other people, the fact that I couldn’t convince my mom of what I found to be obvious truths was very frustrating.
Lucy Concepcion:How has it felt to navigate these past few years, our relationship?
Albert Samaha:It’s been difficult, I think, because we’re both pretty hardheaded. I think, we’re frustrated by the same things, which is that there is nothing we can say to convince the other person.
Lucy Concepcion:I feel right now, it has come to a point that whatever. Okay, if that’s what you feel, that’s fine, I still love you. I cannot convince you. I think the [inaudible] you.
Albert Samaha:I shifted my measure of success away from having to persuade her and to more so try to understand her. And it occurred to me that this was also a much more productive approach for our relationship.
Lucy Concepcion:At least our, sometimes, well, argument, it’s not even arguments anymore, but when we share whatever beliefs we have, this can just be the spice of life. It just makes life better or more fun than if there wasn’t anything to talk about. So I think it’s okay.
Ike Sriskandara…:Albert and Lucy have spent more than a decade arguing, trying to convince each other what’s true and what’s not. So at this point, they joke about it, about whether or not the alleged cabal of blood drinking Hollywood sex traffickers will be brought to justice.
Albert Samaha:Well, we have our bet, right? It’s supposed to be, it has to happen by August. If it doesn’t happen by August, then I win the bet.
Lucy Concepcion:Yes, a dollar. What are your hopes for yourself and for me?
Albert Samaha:I want to be rich enough, so that you never have to work again. I want you to have peace and to be able to spend your days doing whatever you want.
Lucy Concepcion:That’s the most that I can ask for.
Albert Samaha:If the arrests don’t happen by August, will you still believe?
Lucy Concepcion:We will talk about the date when Trump is back in office.
Albert Samaha:You’re changing the terms of the wager now. Good talking to you, mom.
Lucy Concepcion:Nice talking to you, [inaudible] love. I love you. Take care.
Albert Samaha:I love you too, mom. We’ll talk soon.
Ike Sriskandara…:That’s BuzzFeed reporter, Albert Samaha and his mom, Lucy Concepcion. Albert is writing a book about his family’s immigration story. It comes out later this year. Mia Warren produced this story.

Brett Meyers and Taki Telonidis edited the show. I was our lead producer. Thanks to Isabelle [Cristo] for her research on the Stop the Steal story. Thanks also to the teams at the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab, University of Washington Center for an Informed Public, Cornell Tech, Zignal Labs and First Draft News. They helped analyze social media data around Stop the Steal.

Victoria Baranetsky is our general counsel. Our production manager is Amy Mostafa. Score and sound design by Jim Briggs and Fernando Arruda. They had help this week from [Claire Mullin], Brett Simpson and Steven Rascon. Our digital producer is Sarah Mirk. Our interim CEO is Annie Chabel. Sumi Aggarwal is our interim editor-in-chief. And our executive producer is Kevin Sullivan. Our theme music is by [Kommorado] Lightning.

Support for Reveal is provided by The Reva and David Logan Foundation, the John D. & Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the Jonathan Logan Family Foundation, the Ford Foundation, the Heising-Simons Foundation, the Democracy Fund, and the Ethics and Excellence in Journalism Foundation.

Reveal is a co-production of The Center for Investigative Reporting and PRX. I’m Ike Sriskandarajah in for Al Letson, who I’m sure would want me to remind you, there is always more to the story.
Speaker 41:From PRX.

Ike Sriskandarajah

Ike Sriskandarajah is a senior reporter, producer, and fill-in host for Reveal. He has worked on projects that have won an Emmy, two medals from Investigative Reporters and Editors, and awards from Third Coast, the Education Writers Association, and the New York Associated Press Association. He was a narrative audio producer at The New York Times, making investigative episodes for "The Daily." Sriskandarajah is from Wisconsin and reports from New York City.

Stan Alcorn is a reporter and producer for Reveal. His radio work at Reveal has won awards including a Peabody Award, several Online Journalism Awards, an NABJ Salute to Excellence Award, and a Best of the West Award, as well as making him a finalist for a Livingston Award for Young Journalists. He previously was a reporter for Marketplace, covering business and economic news – from debit card fees levied on the formerly incarcerated to the economic impact of Beyoncé's hair. He has helped launch new shows at Marketplace, Slate, and WNYC; contributed research to books by journalists at Time and CNBC; and reported for outlets including NPR, PRI's The World, 99% Invisible, WNYC, FiveThirtyEight, Fast Company, High Country News, Narratively, and Digg. He is based in Reveal's Emeryville, California office.

Brett Myers is a senior radio editor for Reveal. His work has received more than 20 national honors, including a George Foster Peabody Award, four nationalEdward R. Murrow Awards and multipleThird Coast/Richard H. Driehaus Competition awards. Before joining Reveal, he was a senior producer at Youth Radio, where he collaborated with teenage reporters to file stories for "Morning Edition," "All Things Considered" and "Marketplace." 

Prior to becoming an audio producer, Myers trained as a documentary photographer and was named one of the 25 best American photographers under the age of 25. He loves bikes, California and his family. Before that, he was an independent radio producer and worked with StoryCorps, Sound Portraits and The Kitchen Sisters. Myers is based in Reveal's Emeryville, California, office.

Taki Telonidis is the senior supervising editor for Reveal. Previously, he was the media producer for the Western Folklife Center, where he created more than 100 radio features for NPR’s "All Things Considered," "Weekend Edition" and other news magazines. He has produced and directed three public television specials, including "Healing the Warrior’s Heart," a one-hour documentary that explores how the ancient spiritual traditions of our nation’s first warriors, Native Americans, are helping today’s veterans diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder. Telonidis also was senior content editor for NPR’s "State of the Re:Union." Before moving to the West, he worked for NPR in Washington, where he was senior producer of "Weekend All Things Considered" between 1994 and 1998. His television and radio work has garnered a George Foster Peabody Award, three Rocky Mountain Emmy Awards and the Overseas Press Club Award for breaking news. Telonidis is based in Salt Lake City.

Amy Mostafa is the production manager for Reveal. She is pursuing a master's degree in journalism with a focus on audio and data at the University of California, Berkeley, where she is a Dean’s Merit Fellow and an Islamic Scholarship Fund scholar. She has reported on science, health and the environment in Anchorage for Alaska Public Media and on city government in Berkeley and San Francisco for KQED. Her work also has appeared on KALW and KALX.  Mostafa holds a bachelor's degree in English literature and public policy. She is based in Reveal’s Emeryville, California, office. 

Sarah Mirk (she/her) is a digital engagement producer for Reveal. Since 2017, she has worked as an editor at The Nib, an online daily comics publication focused on political cartoons, graphic journalism, essays and memoirs about current affairs. She works with artists to create nonfiction comics on a variety of complex topics, from personal narratives about queer identities to examinations of overlooked history. Before that, Mirk was the online editor of national feminist media outlet Bitch, a podcast host and a local news reporter. She is also the author of several books, including “Year of Zines,” a collection of 100 handmade zines, and “Guantanamo Voices,” a collection of illustrated oral histories of the world’s most infamous prison. Mirk is based in Portland, Oregon.

Jim Briggs III is the senior sound designer, engineer and composer for Reveal. He supervises post-production and composes original music for the public radio show and podcast. He also leads Reveal's efforts in composition for data sonification and live performances.

Prior to joining Reveal in 2014, Briggs mixed and recorded for clients such as WNYC Studios, NPR, the CBC and American Public Media. Credits include “Marketplace,” “Selected Shorts,” “Death, Sex & Money,” “The Longest Shortest Time,” NPR’s “Ask Me Another,” “Radiolab,” “Freakonomics Radio” and “Soundcheck.” He also was the sound re-recording mixer and sound editor for several PBS television documentaries, including “American Experience: Walt Whitman,” the 2012 Tea Party documentary "Town Hall" and “The Supreme Court” miniseries. His music credits include albums by R.E.M., Paul Simon and Kelly Clarkson.

Briggs' work with Reveal has been recognized with an Emmy Award (2016) and two Alfred I. duPont-Columbia University Awards (2018, 2019). Previously, he was part of the team that won the Dart Award for Excellence in Coverage of Trauma for its work on WNYC’s hourlong documentary special “Living 9/11.” He has taught sound, radio and music production at The New School and Eugene Lang College and has a master's degree in media studies from The New School. Briggs is based in Reveal's Emeryville, California, office.

Fernando Arruda

Fernando Arruda is the sound designer, engineer and composer for Reveal. A composer and multi-instrumentalist, he contributes to the scoring, recording, editing and mixing of the weekly public radio show and podcast. Prior to joining Reveal, Arruda toured as an international DJ and taught music technology at Dubspot and ESRA International Film School. He co-founded a film scoring boutique called Manhattan Composers Collective and worked at Antfood, a creative audio studio geared toward media and ad spots. Arruda worked with clients such as Marvel and Samsung and ad agencies such as Framestore, Trollbäck + Company, Buck and Vice. Arruda releases experimental music under the alias FJAZZ and has performed with many jazz, classical and pop ensembles such as Krychek, Dark Inc., the New York Arabic Orchestra and Art&Sax. His credits in the podcast and radio world include NPR’s “51 percent,” WNYC’s “Bad Feminist Happy Hour” and its live broadcast of Orson Welles’ “The Hitchhiker.” Arruda has scored extensively for theatrical, orchestral and chamber music formats, some of which have premiered worldwide. He holds a master’s degree in film scoring and composition from NYU Steinhardt. Arruda is based in Reveal's Emeryville, California, office.

Brett Simpson (she/her) is an assistant producer for Reveal. She is pursuing a master's degree at the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism, where she focuses on audio, print and investigative reporting. She has received fellowships from the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing, the National Press Club, the White House Correspondents’ Association and the UC Berkeley Human Rights Center. She is also the graduate researcher at UC Berkeley's Investigative Reporting Program. Most recently, Simpson reported breaking news for the San Francisco Chronicle and covered the coronavirus outbreak in the San Francisco Bay Area for The New York Times. She received a bachelor's degree in English at Princeton University, where she twice won the Ferris Prize for Outstanding Undergraduate Projects in Journalism. Simpson is based in Reveal’s Emeryville, California, office.

Claire Mullen worked at The Center for Investigative Reporting until September 2017. is an associate sound designer and audio engineer for Reveal. Before joining Reveal, she was an assistant producer at Radio Ambulante and worked with KALW, KQED, the Association of Independents in Radio and the San Francisco Bay Guardian. She studied humanities and media studies at Scripps College.

Steven Rascón (he/they) is a production assistant for Reveal. He is pursuing a master's degree at the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism with a Kaiser Permanente Institute for Health Policy Fellowship. His focus is investigative reporting and audio documentary. He has written for online, magazines and radio. His reporting on underreported fentanyl overdoses in Los Angeles' LGBTQ community aired on KCRW and KQED. Rascón is passionate about telling diverse stories for radio through community engagement. He holds a bachelor of fine arts degree in theater arts and creative writing.

Kevin Sullivan is the executive producer of Reveal’s public radio show and podcast. He joined Reveal from the daily news magazine show “Here & Now,” where he was senior managing editor. There, he helped lead the expansion of the show as part of a unique partnership between NPR and WBUR. Prior to radio, Sullivan worked as a documentary film producer. That work took him around the world, with stories ranging from reconciliation in Northern Ireland to the refugee crisis during the war in Kosovo.

Following the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Sullivan launched an investigative unit for CBS in Baltimore, where he spearheaded investigations on bioterrorism and the U.S. government’s ability to respond to future threats. He also dug into local issues. His exposé of local judges found widespread lax sentencing of repeat-offender drunken drivers. Other investigations included sexual abuse by Roman Catholic priests, and doctors who sold OxyContin for cash. Sullivan has won multiple journalism awards, including several Edward R. Murrow awards, a Third Coast / Richard H. Driehaus Foundation Competition award and an Emmy. He has an MBA from Boston University.

Sullivan is based in Reveal's Emeryville, California, office.