When Stupid Reporting Meets Stupid People

On Tuesday morning, while spending some time interviewing people at Occupy D.C. camps, I noticed a small commotion around a bearded man wearing flannel and jeans, carrying a CD, and sporting a medical bracelet. He walked into the green area around the statue of Gen. McPherson, and made small talk, as an older black man warned people not to talk to him. “He’s been kicked out of here before!” said the man. “He’s been spitting on people.” One of the Occupiers talking to the man waved this off. “When the devil comes at you,” he said, “you come at him with love!” The man noticed that I was a reporter (wearing a suit, hardly undercover), and walked up to offer himself for an interview. “I like people in suits,” he said. “I like you better than these fake poor people.” I was in the middle of another interview, so I told him I’d check in with him later. He ambled away, stumbling into a row of tents. He poked inside of one of them. A huge cry went up. A burly Occupy organizer, who goes by the handle “White Bear,” headed after him, yelling for help. “He tried to break into a woman’s tent!” said White Bear. “Get him the hell out of here!” The man looked for an escape route, and I snapped this photo.
Cops eventually pushed him out. So, why bring this story up? The Occupiers in various cities are keeping up camps. Anyone can show up at the camps. Crazy people can show up. There are obvious downsides to that, such as when your camp is a few blocks from the White House, and a mentally disturbed man shoots at the White House. On Wednesday, a quick ABC News story on the man included this line:

U.S. Park Police say Ortega-Hernandez may have spent time with Occupy D.C. protesters.
May have spent? I didn’t hear back from the park police when I asked about this, but Paul Duggan did the work and got them to clear up the story.
In trying to determine why he traveled to the nation’s capital from the western part of the country, investigators also found no connection between him and the Occupy D.C. protest, according to three law enforcement officials familiar with the case.
There never was a connection, but there’s so much FUD around a campground that it seemed possible. Occupiers who checked headlines yesterday saw stories like “An Occupy shooter?” and were apparently unaware that a headline with a question mark appears above a story that answers the question with a “no.”
Which brings us to this moron in San Diego. The statement is sort of incoherent, but I hear it as: “I think we should have a moment of silence in solidarity for, uh, the person that they said was from the Washington D.C. Occupy, that maybe why did he feel the need to shoot the White House window today? So I feel like we should hold a moment of silence for the White House, and the guy that shot at the White House window today.” Fact is, the shooter wasn’t from the D.C. Occupy branch. But you’re going to get more weirdness, more rumors, and more stuff like this the longer you have camps in city centers and rumor-driven reporting about what’s happening. Another reason why the question begged on Tuesday – why keep camping? – is worth answering.