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When you one day sit your grandchildren on your knee to tell the story of how Judge Roy Moore’s Senate campaign was rocked by a Washington Post story bringing to light a cavalcade of alleged sexual improprieties, it’s unlikely that a retired Navy SEAL and Secret Service agent named Jason Douglas Lewis will make an appearance in the tale. But Lewis played a pivotal role in the brouhaha, one that speaks volumes about the sorry morass that political discourse has become.

It’s all the more impressive considering he never existed.

Let’s rewind the tape, shall we?

Under the Twitter handle “umpire43,” Lewis had become a minor celebrity, sharing his rabidly pro-Trump musings with some 18,000 followers. He weighed in with impressive regularity on issues like the NFL boycott and the validity of President Obama’s birth certificate. On Friday, he tweeted that he had a scoop. A biggie!

Using the classically imprecise language of urban legends, Lewis claimed that a “family friend who lives in Alabama” said that a Washington Post reporter named “Beth” had offered her money (designated as 1000$, like they do in, you know, Russia) to accuse Roy Moore.

There was even a tape of the exchange! And a photo! That had been delivered to the Etowah County DA!

The rightwing “media” machine revved into high gear. The tweet from some rando guy was reported on with dead seriousness by outlets like Gateway Pundit, InfoWars and One America News Network, where ‘journalists’ somehow didn’t laugh out loud reporting a story whose source was – and I quote – “an unnamed Alabama resident.” Because, you know, that’s how they teach you to do it in J school. (The video that accompanied the original OANN report appears to have been pulled from their site, but MediaMatters has a copy.)

And because a reputable news outlet like OANN had it, people believed that “truth would prevail.” Those wannabes at the Post, with their scores of on-the-record sources, were clearly missing the point.

“Doug’s” tweet was even shared by at least one Republican member of Congress.

The only problem was that, naturally, it never happened. A reporter for the Alabama Media Group interviewed the Etowah county DA and confirmed that they had not been approached with any such tape or photo. (Doktor Zoom called them too, but they were pretty busy.) Sad trombone.

But what about “Doug”? It turned out he’d made the same $1000 bribe claim in September of last year. (“LA Times and NY Times are offering 1000.00 for any dirt on Donald J Trump.Is this what the crooked evil Democrats have sunk to??) And it didn’t take long to see that he had, well, some issues with credibility.

For starters, he couldn’t quite get the number of purple hearts he’d won right.

He was also a little shaky on the years he served.

And where he was born.

There was the puzzle of his brother Richard, who’d been killed in Vietnam, but then somehow also was a double amputee who nonetheless stood for the anthem, unlike that fucker Colin Kaepernick.

Angry vets quickly discovered that Doug was – shocker! – not actually a SEAL.

The Daily Beast did a deep dive debunk on Doug’s “serial fabulis[m],” but I’m not sure it quite highlights the degree to which Doug was the Internet’s very own Forrest Gump. Or Kaiser Soze. Or Zelig. Because every time there was big news, Doug suddenly had a personal connection to the story.

Ted Cruz’s Canadian birth? Doug worked right there at the Canadian consulate, yo! Although he was a little unsure of which years.

Oh, and his brother was conveniently an expert on the validity of birth certificates.

Benghazi? Naturally, Doug’s kid was actually there.

Ben Carson? Yup! Doug went to high school with him! At the very same time he was working at the embassy in Calgary and serving in Viet Nam! Never mind that he had said he was 74 and Ben is only 66. Details, people. Details.

He also served with John McCain. Thank you for your service, Doug.

But best of all, when people doubted Donald Trump’s claim that there were people celebrating 9/11 on rooftops, Doug came through. And I mean really came through. HE SAW IT WITH HIS OWN EYES, MAN! And conveniently provided documentary evidence – a trucker’s log dated that very day! And naturally, Trump’s social media guy Dan Scavino tweeted this.

I don’t know about you, but all I could think of seeing this piece of “proof” was that time my kids told me they found a treasure map from 1873 in our house. Because, you know, it says 1873 on it. And it’s torn and stuff.

When Melania Trump was accused of plagiarism, Doug’s wife was right there to shed light.

I could go on and on and on. Just about the only thing Doug Lewis hadn’t done was raise Lazarus from the dead. Oh wait, actually he kind of did. With his brother.

Having participated in many a troll debunking, I’ll give Doug credit: He hung in longer than I expected, calmly replying to his critics once his story began to unravel and doubling down. But then all the telltale signs of a faker on the run appeared. He briefly made his Twitter account private, and then began deleting all of his old tweets. And late on Monday night, after first claiming (natch!) that he’d been hacked, Lewis deleted his account entirely and skulked back to whatever corner he came out of, be it some depressing Cold War high rise in Russia, or a trailer park in Apopka. (In addition to his weird dollar sign inversion, “Doug” was fond of non-American elocutions like “in university” and “in hospital.”)

A day after his lies got the better of him, however, the story he concocted had taken on a life of its own, spreading like a many-headed hydra. Its provenance, like far too many a fake news phenomenon, was painfully irrelevant. The “fact” that a Post reporter named Beth had offered someone a bribe was now an actual thing that people believed.

The umpire43 story is yet another cautionary tale, a disturbing look at how the fake news sausage gets made these days. Anyone can say virtually anything on social media, no matter how preposterous, and it can take on the patina of truth and become, well, a thing. A fact. Which is depressing as shit. Except for the part where “Unnamed Alabama Resident” is totally my new band name. And if I ever have any trucking needs in Apopka, FL – or maybe Norwalk, CA or Flint, MI, where Doug said he lived at various times, I am calling Wolfpack Trucking. I hear they are super reliable.

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