Donald Trump

KittenFeed Hoax Shows the Perils of Expecting Trump to Act Like Trump

A story about a teenager who was bullied by the president for creating a website that mocked him was not true, but it was sadly plausible.

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KittenFeed.com

Yesterday I decided not to write a post about a San Francisco teenager who supposedly received cease-and-desist letters from the Trump Organization in response to her website mocking the president. Although the widely repeated story was sadly plausible in light of Donald Trump's legendary touchiness and litigiousness, the teenager, identified only as "Lucy," was interviewed by just two outlets, neither of which posted copies of the letters, which the Trump Organization unequivocally denied sending. I contacted the reporters who had communicated with Lucy to see whether and how they had verified the existence of the letters but did not hear back from them. For a good reason, it turns out: The story was a hoax, and the reasons so many writers fell for it are instructive.

On Tuesday morning, under the headline "Exclusive: Trump Sics Lawyers on Teen for Making Silly Site Where Kittens Punch Him," the New York Observer's Sage Lazzaro reported that Lucy originally located her website, which enables visitors to swipe images of Trump's face with virtual cat paws, at TrumpScratch.com. Lazzaro said Lucy switched to KittenFeed.com after receiving "a cease and desist letter from Trump's general counsel stationed in Trump Tower on Fifth Avenue in NYC." The letter complained that Lucy was sullying the Trump brand. Lazzaro said the letter, which was "confirmed by the Observer," "begins [by] touting [Trump] as a 'well-known businessman' and television star and boasts, 'As I'm sure you're aware, the Trump name is internationally known and famous.'" Lucy told Lazzaro the move to KittenFeed.com did not placate the Trump Organization, which "still came at me."

According to a Hollywood Reporter story by Ashley Cullins that was published on Tuesday evening, Trump was irked by a KittenFeed link to "an anti-Trump shirt that is available for purchase on Amazon." Cullins reported that "Lucy removed that link, and hasn't heard anything from the [Trump Organization] since." The lesson, according to Lucy: "This is a president who's clearly more concerned about what people think of him than doing things of substance….The fact that as president he still has teams going around bothering to shut down silly sites like mine is outrageous." Similarly, Lucy told Lazzaro, "It's so sad that his administration is focused more on being liked, burying real news and taking down sites like mine as they supposedly make him look bad."

In a statement published yesterday afternoon, The Hollywood Reporter says it "now has significant doubts about the authenticity of the letter that was initially provided to media outlets by Lucy, who says she is a 17-year-old based in San Francisco and the proprietor of Kittenfeed.com." The letter, dated March 1, appears below the statement. "It's a fake," Alan Garten, the Trump Organization's general counsel, told The Hollywood Reporter. "This letter did not come from us." Garten gave the Observer a similar denial: "This is completely false. No such letter was ever sent by us." So far the Observer has not published a correction or retraction.

As Bryan Menegus points out at Gizmodo (which initially repeated the story, along with Fox News, the New York Daily News, The Daily Telegraph, The Independent, Raw Story, New York, and various other outlets), the timing of the letter is problematic, since it supposedly was sent "three weeks after the site went live," and "trumpscratch.com was first registered on March 22″—the day after the Observer story. (The Washington Free Beacon's Alex Griswold made the same point on Wednesday.) Furthermore, Menegus says, KittenFeed.com "was registered before trumpscratch.com" and acquired by its current owner "around March 2," which contradicts Lucy's story. Yesterday Snopes noted the same clues that Lucy, or whoever played that character, was not on the level.

Menegus also notes that "the site auto-plays Rick Astley's 'Never Gonna Give You Up,'" which is "a classic internet bait-and-switch: deceptive text or a disguised link would lead credulous people to the forgettable '80s jam instead of whatever they were looking for." Although "it's hard to say what's really going on," he concludes, "it sure looks like an opportunist who wanted their site to go viral managed to troll the Observer, the Reporter, and, in the end, us."

Anti-Trump bias is not the only reason this hoax succeeded. The story was accepted because it was consistent with what we know about Trump's character from his behavior before and after he took office. He is an amazingly vain, petty, and thin-skinned man, the sort who publicly brags about the size of his penis and the size of his inauguration audience, who files frivolous lawsuits against people who insult, mock, or diminish him, and who has never hesitated to bully critics with threatening letters from his lawyers.

Yesterday Newsweek ran a piece by Ryan Bort that used the phony Lucy story as a news hook for a review of "Donald Trump's ridiculous cease-and-desist letters," including a 2013 letter threatening to sue anti-Trump activist Angelo Carusone, a 2016 letter threatening to sue Art of the Deal ghostwriter Tony Schwartz, a 2016 letter threatening to sue The New York Times for reporting the allegations of women who say Trump groped or kissed them without their consent, a 2015 letter threatening to sue the Club for Growth for sponsoring an ad criticizing Trump, a 2015 letter threatening to sue a Jeb Bush donor for sponsoring an ad criticizing Trump, and a 2016 letter threatening to sue Ted Cruz for sponsoring an ad criticizing Trump. Unlike the threats against the possibly nonexistent Lucy, all of that really happened.

Given Trump's long history of bullying people who make him look bad, the idea that he would threaten to sue a teenager over a silly website is entirely within the realm of possibility. And given his long history of flagrantly misrepresenting reality, the fact that a spokesman denied the story might almost be considered a confirmation.

None of this is meant to excuse the reporters and editors who thought this story was too good to check. To the contrary, the episode provides a much-needed lesson in how easily journalists can be led astray by their preconceptions, even when those preconceptions are well-grounded in fact.

When Trump suggested that bomb threats against Jewish institutions, which had been cited as evidence that his election had fostered a rise in anti-Semitism, might not be what they seemed, he was widely mocked, because we have come to assume the president is making shit up, especially when his ego is at stake. But yesterday the Israeli police announced that they had arrested the person they believe was behind the vast majority of those threats, and it turned out he was an Israeli Jew. Trump has discredited himself to the point that his statements are automatically dismissed even when he happens to be right. That is a problem for him, but it is also a problem for us.

NEXT: Friday Funnies: Democrats v. Gorsuch

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  1. He is an amazingly vain, petty, and thin-skinned man, the sort who brags about the size of his penis and the size of his inauguration audience, who files frivolous lawsuits against people who insult, mock, or diminish him, and who has never hesitated to bully critics with threatening letters from his lawyers.

    B-b-b-b-but Hillary!

    1. Donald Trump is awful. I have yet to be convinced that Hillary would have been better. She may have been more organized and less insane, but when it comes to actual actions, I still have zero regret not voting for either.

      1. Wait a minute. If you didn’t vote for Trump, you must have voted for Hillary. That’s how it works. There is no other option. When I criticize Trump, I reveal myself as a Clintonista. It is written.

        1. The choices were Darth Vader, Jabba the Hutt, Jar Jar Binks…

          1. I voted for Jar Jar.

    2. The only way Hillary could win was if Trump also ran. The only way Trump could win is if Hillary ran.

  2. What jake wrote makes sense.

    For lefty journos I doubt it matters…they would be doing the same thing even if trump didnt do those things. I think trump was a real shot to their ego and the notion of all their influence l. He won despite all their negativity which suggests people dont listen to them. Plus the states he won lefty journos hate those people

  3. But Trump’s travel ban did still kill that Iraqi immigrant’s mother, right?

  4. How is this “a problem for us”?
    Which “us” do you think this is a problem for?

    It seems an odd closing phrase, particularly in light of the preceding paragraph’s “the episode provides a much-needed lesson in how easily journalists can be led astray by their preconceptions”.

    1. Trump has discredited himself to the point that his statements are automatically dismissed even when he happens to be right. That is a problem for him, but it is also a problem for us.

      If by “us”, Jacob means “myself and everyone else who thinks Trump is a complete anomaly for a politician, and thus uniquely hateable, whereas Clinton would have been someone we didn’t feel the need to hate so much.” Sometimes that jackass does something that makes sense — proposing reversing CAFE rules that make it impossible to build cars and massively cutting the EPA’s budget” — and sometimes he does stuff that is braindead — building an even bigger border wall and trying to start a trade war.

      Politics attracts the worst among us, but that doesn’t mean automatically demonizing everything they do is a smart idea.

  5. So it Trump’s fault that journalists can be taken in so easily? You can just as easily argue that Trump’s rantings about the press are also “all too believable” because the media regularly prove themselves to be incredibly gullible.

    1. We just can’t believe a word they say!

  6. the widely repeated story was sadly plausible in light of Donald Trump’s legendary touchiness and litigiousness

    *sigh*

    It is a poor reporter who blames others for his fuck ups.

  7. FAKE BUT ACCURATE

    1. Dude, you’re so cool.

      1. He typed that while modeling his latest vintage torpedo bra.

  8. FAKE BUT ACCURATE

  9. FAKE BUT ACCURATE

  10. FAKE BUT ACCURATE

  11. FAKE BUT ACCURATE

  12. FAKE BUT ACCURATE

  13. FAKE BUT ACCURATE

  14. FAKE BUT ACCURATE

  15. FAKE BUT ACCURATE

  16. FAKE BUT ACCURATE

  17. FAKE BUT ACCURATE

  18. FAKE BUT ACCURATE

  19. FAKE BUT ACCURATE

    1. Dude, we get it: tertiary bird syphilis is a terrible affliction.

  20. You know, Jake, this keeps happening. And each time it happens you all try to lay some blame on Trump–‘it’s plausible because of the way he is’.

    But if he was the way you insist he is this wouldn’t keep happening.

    And then there’s this–

    Trump has discredited himself to the point that his statements are automatically dismissed even when he happens to be right.

    But has he? Or have you all tried to apply that to him and been repeatedly shown to be making it up? Let’s fix it.

    The media has discredited itself to the point that their statements are automatically dismissed because even when they’re right, they’re still peddling lies.

    There. That shows us the sad truth of our news media.

    Oooh! It works for the headline, too!

    KittenFeed Hoax Shows the Value of Expecting the Media to Act Like The Media

  21. “we have come to assume the president is making shit up”

    Who’s “we”, paleface ?

    If anything, I have come to assume that 99% of journalists are going to spin anything about Trump in the most negative hyperbolic way.

    A year from now Trump’s cease and desist letter to a teenager will have morphed into a fact. Thanks journalists !

    1. Who’s “we”, paleface ?

      Objective observers who are not gullible, partisan Trumpkins.

  22. ACCURATE BUT FAKE

  23. ACCURATE BUT FAKE

  24. ACCURATE BUT FAKE

  25. ACCURATE BUT FAKE

  26. ACCURATE BUT FAKE

  27. ACCURATE BUT FAKE

  28. ACCURATE BUT FAKE

  29. ACCURATE BUT FAKE

  30. ACCURATE BUT FAKE

  31. ACCURATE BUT FAKE

  32. ACCURATE BUT FAKE

  33. Trump is a blowhard who makes things up. That doesnt excuse journos (sans reason as they are good for most part and more principle ed) from falling for crap because they hate trump while huffing and puffing about press good for democracy

    1. Trump is only showing America that everybody else in politics and media who thinks they are so enlightened and principled are actually not any better than Trump. When Trump went low, they were more than willing to sink just as low and sometimes lower.
      I’ll give credit where credit’s due, though. The Obamas were the ONLY ones that took the high road that Michelle talked about. I just hope he stays out of this like he’s been doing.

  34. Anti-Trump bias is not the only reason this hoax succeeded. The story was accepted because it was consistent with “what we know about Trump’s character from his behavior before and after he took office.”

    Well, to be fair, bias against intellectual property lawyers may also have contributed to the success of this story. Because “Given [their] long history of bullying people who [make fair use of trademarks and other intellectual property], the idea that [they] would threaten to sue a teenager over a silly website is entirely within the realm of possibility.”

    First thing we do, let’s kill all the IP lawyers.

  35. For a good reason, it turns out: The story was a hoax, and the reasons so many writers fell for it are instructive.

    I hate Trump just as much as the next guy, but damn is it easy to troll the Democrats and the media laptops this season!

    Remember when Colbert had his schtick about “Truthyness”. Turns out that progressives are far more susceptible to truthyness. Stories are true because they want them to be true, they “feel” them to be true. It was on a meme on Facebook, it must be true! If it were Monday I would cry, but it’s Friday so I’m laughing my ass off.

  36. If you love cats as much as I am you need to navigate here. Let’s write an essay!

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