“Defamers: How Fake News Terrorized a Community and Those Who Dared to Fight It” is a unique book. I wrote about a local online tabloid that regularly and knowingly publishes false news stories in San Luis Obispo County, California. We’ve heard the term “fake news” thrown around by our president and fake news as it pertains to Russian interference in our 2016 presidential election.
Not often do we hear about fake news being something that happens in our hometown.
Sure, we’re generally accustomed to your typical gossip, rumors and innuendo that float around in a community. But when a purported news site that claims to average 10,000 users per week publishes salacious allegations to thousands of impressionable readers daily, there’s no doubt CalCoastNews has left a lasting impression, even though their reputation is far from stellar.
People who’ve read my book had strong reactions. Those reactions were accompanied with questions, which I’ve answered below:
1. “What advice would you give to people who have been targeted by CalCoastNews or any organization like them?”
Don’t respond to them. The more you do, the more creative license you give them to advance their narrative — the more oxygen you give them to thrive from your suffering. In other words, don’t do what I did.
2. “Have they responded or made any adjustments to their practices after ‘Defamers’ was published?”
No. In fact, they’ve continued reporting using the same shady and unethical practices I’ve identified. In fact, I’ve heard from people they’ve targeted since my book was published. They’re going through what I went through for years. I strongly believe CalCoastNews won’t improve.
3. “Given the various criminal allegations you’ve made about them, have you reported them to law enforcement?”
Never one to take things lying down, I’ve reached out to law enforcement and had countless conversations with them since June 2014.
Ironically, the conversations started when CalCoastNews and their contributors falsely accused me of criminality. For the record, California Penal Code 148.5 makes it a misdemeanor to knowingly make a false report of a crime to law enforcement.
4. “How has life been after ‘Defamers’?”
The response to “Defamers” has been overwhelmingly positive. But writing a book about a controversial subject involving controversial people has its drawbacks, naturally.
I’ve applied for a number of jobs throughout the county. I can submit a resume to a potential employer for a job posted on the same day I applied for and — not even an hour later — get an email saying they already hired someone else. Sometimes, I’d go to a job interview and the interviewer would ask me questions about Karen Velie. People have said things like, “I’d love to work with you but we’re afraid she’ll go after us if she finds out.” She has developed a reputation for engaging in behavior I’ve described in the book.
Despite the temporary roadblocks, I ultimately believe it’s important for people to understand the human toll of fake news and how deeply it can impact someone at the center of it. By sharing my story, I hope it emboldens others to not only live their truth but stand by the truth when they’re facing the defamatory opposite.
5. “Why do you feel the news media has largely unaddressed CalCoastNews, their salacious allegations and scandals?”
There’s an idea among the leadership in our local news media that you generally don’t pick fights with other media, as tempting as it sometimes may be. With limited resources and budget cuts, the news media has understandably prioritized issues of community importance over the squabbles from a website that owes $1.1 million in a defamation lawsuit.
However, nationally, we’re seeing a trend where news outlets will fact-check claims by others that go viral oftentimes for the wrong reasons. In an era when public shaming and cyberbullying is prevalent, I believe the media should hold other sources accountable when they fall below the threshold of responsible journalism standards. That said, I believe The Tribune, New Times, KSBY and others should be more determined to ensure both sides of a controversial story get a fair shake. No one should feel compelled to retain an attorney to ensure that process happens so they can fix their reputation.
6. “How do you respond to critics who felt you were heavy-handed, at times, in discussing the mental health of CalCoastNews’ staff?”
As I wrote in the book, I screwed up with how I started that conversation. I could’ve been a lot more sensitive and thoughtful in my approach, but I can’t apologize for the conclusions I’ve naturally drawn based on my personal experiences with them.
Fact of the matter is: if you’re going to call yourself a journalist, you need to admit you’re wrong when you’re wrong. That’s part of the job. CalCoastNews has a publisher who is pathologically wrong. Despite being proven wrong on the record and in the court of law, they have never said, “We screwed up.” Not only that, they’ve everyone who pointed out their false claims of being part of a conspiracy to “cripple” and shut them down. On top of that, they forced me into court to address false allegations they made under oath and in penalty of perjury. How do you rationalize that behavior? You really can’t.
And how credible can CalCoastNews be when someone like that is at the helm? We’ve seen similar discussions involving InfoWars and their conspiracy theorist founder Alex Jones.
7. “What would you say the biggest takeaways readers should draw after reading ‘Defamers’?”
Be vigilant. If the truth is on your side, fight for it. That doesn’t necessarily mean you should respond to the source of the falsehoods. But if you’re going to speak the truth, do so on your terms, not theirs. Set the record straight where you know the record won’t be spoiled.
Humility is not a character flaw. Everyone makes mistakes. Yes, I’ve made quite a few. It’s completely fine to admit to them and correct the record. The more infallible you portray yourself to readers, the more your readers will question your credibility. CalCoastNews wouldn’t be in the dire situation they’re in if they put their collective ego aside, made the necessary corrections and strove to improve themselves. They would’ve saved over a million dollars.
Lastly, you’re not alone. There are many people negatively impacted by fake news. There is a greater support network out there that can be tapped into. Of course, never hesitate to consult with your personal support network. When you’re hit with false allegations left and right and you don’t know what to do, talk to your family, friends and associates. Talk to people you trust. They will listen. There are times you may feel you’re in the dark, but you’re not.