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Stephen Colbert addressed the Pizzagate conspiracy theory and its subsequent real-world consequences on Wednesday’s The Late Show.
The host started off by talking about the fake news epidemic, saying it’s important to distinguish between real news, entertainment and fake stories. “I really hope you don’t get your news from me because, news flash: This isn’t news; this is entertainment,” said Colbert. “Don’t go to some anonymous guy on social media, because a lot of the news on social media is a lie.”
Colbert then explained the conspiracy theory behind Pizzagate: that Hillary Clinton and John Podesta were running a child sex ring out of a Washington, D.C., pizza restaurant, smuggling children in and out of tunnels connected to a basement (even though the pizzeria has no basement). The fake news story then became a real-life problem when a man who said he was investigating the theory fired an assault rifle in the popular pizza store Comet Ping Pong. Luckily, nobody was injured.
“Apparently, some alt-right folks were combing through Clinton campaign emails hacked by Russia and published by WikiLeaks and noticed there seems to be more references to pizza and pizzerias than they had expected,” said Colbert, “which can only mean one thing: secret sex ring.”
He said a lot of “uninformed, gullible people” fell for this conspiracy theory, including Donald Trump’s national security adviser pick, Michael Flynn. Flynn tweeted a link to a story about the theory, telling his followers: “U decide.”
“OK, then I decide a guy who spreads this bullshit shouldn’t be in charge of national security,” said Colbert, adding a sarcastic compliment to the Trump transition team for responding to this by firing Flynn’s son, who also spread the story on social media.
Since Colbert mentioned pizza at the end of his special on Election Day, he was brought into the Pizzagate conspiracy. He was also criticized for a leaked email in which a Bill Clinton staffer took credit for booking the former president on The Colbert Report. Colbert teased conspiracy theorists and Infowars‘ Alex Jones for making a big deal out of Colbert conducting preinterviews.
He joked that he’s starting to think late-night shows might be rehearsed and that their use of commercials shows that they are “in it for the money.” Colbert added, “It’s like these shows are some kind of business.”
To drive the point home, Colbert brought out a script of his preinterview with Trump, saying this conspiracy goes all the way to the top. He said he would read Trump’s preinterview script out loud, except he acknowledges there is a tacit agreement with his guests that the preinterviews don’t go public.
“Here’s what these conspiracy theorists don’t get: There’s a difference between a conspiracy and an agreement,” Colbert said. “A conspiracy is what villains do. An agreement is what adults do. Look around the country. Wouldn’t you agree we need some more adults? So WikiLeaks, Alex Jones, and the subreddit sub-geniuses, and I mean this in the nicest way possible: Grow the f— up.”
On Wednesday, the New York Times spoke to the Pizzagate gunman, Edgar Maddison Welch, who has been jailed since his arrest on Sunday.
“I just wanted to do some good and went about it the wrong way,” he said via videoconference. He expressed regret, saying, “I regret how I handled the situation,” but wouldn’t outright dismiss the fake news story that brought him to the pizza shop.
The 28-year-old told the newspaper he intended only to give Comet Ping Pong a “closer look” and the way over felt his “heart breaking over the thought of innocent people suffering.”
When the reporter asked him what he thought when he arrived and found no children in the restaurant, Welch admitted: “The intel on this wasn’t 100 percent.”
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