While explaining why his family would not be together celebrating Thanksgiving this year, Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker blasted online accusations that his daughter broke COVID-19 protocols at a restaurant gathering.
“A parody Twitter account posted a picture of a group of individuals eating outside a Chicago restaurant, supposedly breaking the COVID rules the city put in place,” Pritzker said at a Nov. 17 press conference. “And the person posting the photo claimed one of the people in it was my daughter.”
“My office put out a statement making clear this wasn’t my daughter,” Pritzker said. “But that didn’t stop Republican elected officials, a network of propaganda publications in the state and some radio shock jocks from telling people that the picture was of my daughter, despite knowing that this was a lie.”
Pritzker said his teenage daughter, Teddi, was in Florida with his wife, and would “remain there indefinitely” because she had started receiving “hateful and threatening messages.”
Teddi is not identifiable among the group of 14 diners in the published photo. So we decided to find out where the misinformation came from and who had shared it. What we learned shows the governor was correct about how the rumors spread.
The photo was originally shared on Twitter by an account called @deuxmoiworld, according to a thread written by Pritzker’s chief of staff, Anne Caprara. That account links to a website that describes it as a purveyor of “rumors and conjecture.” By the time we checked it, the image was deleted and the account’s operator had apologized for sharing it.
But the image was already being spread on other Twitter accounts, Caprara documented in her thread, including one that described itself as “a parody account.”
Then a website with connections to conservative political operatives called Chicago City Wire picked it up, publishing a post based solely on the parody account’s tweet. That account’s tweets are now private. The story does not say which person in the photo is purportedly Pritzker’s daughter nor what date the photo was taken, though servers in the background are wearing masks.
Chicago City Wire is produced by Local Government Information Services, a company run by conservative radio talk show host Dan Proft, state records show.
In October, Proft was featured in a New York Times investigation into a nationwide string of local sites that purport to be news sites, but are instead vehicles for stories ordered up by GOP groups and corporate PR firms. In 2015, Proft teamed up with another controversial internet entrepreneur, Brian Timpone, to start a chain of such publications in Illinois.
Proft and Timpone did not respond to requests for comment.
Following complaints to the Illinois Board of Elections about political funding behind the Illinois sites, the Times reported, a disclaimer on their “About” pages now says they are funded, “in part, by advocacy groups who share our beliefs in limited government.” That disclaimer now appears on Chicago City Wire.
We confirmed with Pritzker’s office these were the websites he was referring to as “propaganda publications.”
Propaganda includes “ideas, facts, or allegations spread deliberately to further one’s cause or to damage an opposing cause,” according to Merriam-Webster. While there’s room for disagreement about the perimeters of the term, Pritzker’s use of it to describe these sites is reasonable in light of the New York Times’ findings.
Pritzker’s spokeswoman also pointed to Proft’s radio show, Chicago’s Morning Answer to explain his reference to “radio shock jocks” sharing the story.
On the Nov. 13 episode of the show, a listener called in to ask co-host Amy Jacobson and a guest host if they would confront the governor about City Wire’s story.
Jacobson dismissed that suggestion, but still gave credence to the claim that Teddi was pictured, saying, “I’m glad that she’s out socializing outside, I’m glad that she’s living and not existing.”
When reached by phone, Jacobson declined to comment for this fact-check.
Several state Republican lawmakers also chose to share the post, backing up the most serious portion of Pritzker’s claim.
“Like I’ve been saying from the beginning, this is how you handle a lockdown!” Rep. Darren Bailey of Xenia wrote in a Facebook post sharing the City Wire story. Bailey’s post has since been shared by more than 700 of his followers.
Rep. Grant Wehrli of Naperville also retweeted a post from a Twitter user who shared the story. That user has since apologized for spreading false information and deleted her original tweet.
Neither Bailey nor Wehrli responded to email inquiries or calls to their district offices asking why they believed the post was credible.
Pritzker said “Republican elected officials, a network of propaganda publications in the state and some radio shock jocks” were spreading “a lie” about his daughter dining outside at a restaurant with a large group of people during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The false claim Pritzker is referring to is based on a photograph of 14 individuals gathered around a table, none of which are identifiable as his daughter. It was spread by gossip and parody accounts on Twitter before being picked up by a website operated by a company that accepts money from partisan groups and is run by a conservative talk show radio host whose co-host later repeated the claim on-air. While definitions of “propaganda” may vary, Pritzker’s use of the term here is reasonable given the context. Two GOP state lawmakers also shared the post on social media.
We rate Pritzker’s claim True.
TRUE — The statement is accurate and there’s nothing significant missing.
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