The Texas politician whom President-elect Donald Trump is said to be considering for his Cabinet doesn’t let the truth get in the way of a good story.
Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller has been taken to task for disseminating misinformation on his Facebook page to his nearly 340,000 followers. His penchant for posting unsubstantiated stories came into the spotlight along with the news that he was in the running for U.S. agriculture secretary under the forthcoming Trump administration.
“I’m not a news organization. Y’all are holding me to the same standards as you would a news organization, and you know it’s just Facebook,” Miller said in an interview with Austin-based KUT News on Wednesday.
Nevertheless, citizens who are apt to trust information coming from the head of a state agency might now erroneously believe that the U.S. Communist Party endorsed Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign or that the FBI discovered a jihadi training compound in Texas but could not act because of red tape.
Miller told KUT News that he would take down stories if someone points out to him that they are inaccurate or false but insists that Facebook is not a reliable source for news anyway. He said he can’t be bothered to check whether information he’s posting is correct before sharing it.
“I’m not a news source. I shouldn’t be held to that standard,” he reiterated. “I put things up there. I’m very, very active on it. Hundred and fifty posts a week. No, I’m not going to research every one of them. If it’s thought-provoking, I’ll put it up there and let the readers decide. Everybody that reads that is grownups.”
The Texas politician described himself as “edgy” and said he has a “strong personality” and that he does not “apologize for that,” even though no one took issue with his “edginess” — they found fault in his inaccurate information.
“I’m not like any other statewide official. I’ve never been politically correct. I really never cared what the press said or does. I do my thing,” Miller told KUT News.
This is not the first time his social media activity has drawn outrage. He infamously called Clinton a “c***” on Twitter (which he later blamed on a staffer) and called for nuking the “Muslim world” on Facebook (for which he did not apologize).
On Dec. 3, the Texas Tribune published an analysis of Miller’s social media history, which focused on 10 different postings of “demonstrably false, misleading or unsupported information.” The Tribune points out that these fake stories typically came from obscure far-right websites and were accompanied with commentary from Miller.
Among the batch were articles claiming that President Obama smiled while holding up a T-shirt featuring Communist revolutionary Che Guevara in Cuba, a Texan was forced to take down his American flag as to not offend Muslims, pop star Lady Gaga planned to cover her face until Trump is fired from the Oval Office and Clinton wanted to draft young women into the military.
In response to the report, like clockwork, Miller took to social media to boast that he has more Facebook followers (335,000) than the Tribune (75,000). He said he trusts his “social media family” to determine what’s newsworthy.
“Regardless whether the Texas Tribune or other members of the mainstream media likes it, we will continue to post things we find newsworthy, interesting, thought-provoking. funny, or controversial and let our followers decide whether its news, satire, or something else,” he wrote. “As they say over at Fox News. We report. You decide!”
Another major Trump administration hire, retired Army Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, has also been caught repeatedly sharing fake news and interacting with conspiracy theorists. Flynn is set to be Trump’s national security adviser. His son, Michael Flynn Jr., was kicked off the transition team after he backed a false conspiracy theory that led to a gunman attacking a pizzeria in Washington, D.C. (No one was harmed.)
The prevalence of fake news has been a hot topic since the general election. In her first speech since losing the general election, Clinton decried the “epidemic of fake news” on Thursday.
“It’s now clear that so-called fake news can have real-world consequences,” she said during a speech on Capitol Hill. “This isn’t about politics or partisanship. Lives are at risk.”