Reporter at right-leaning news website quits after site publishes Obama conspiracy theory

A reporter at the Independent Journal Review resigned on Thursday and another apologised following the decision to publish a story that suggested there was a potential connection between former President Barack Obama’s Hawaii vacation and a state judge’s ruling blocking President Donald Trump’s second travel ban.

One source told Business Insider that Congressional reporter Joe Perticone decided to quit on Thursday for various reasons, but the story “seems to have been the straw that broke the camel’s back.”

Earlier in the day, Kyle Becker, the website’s viral editor, wrote a story titled “Ex-President Obama Made ‘Surprise Visit’ to Hawaii, Just Days Before Judge Issued Travel Ban Ruling.” 

In the story, he pointed out that Obama visited Hawaii “just days ahead” of a judge’s decision to halt Trump’s executive order barring individuals from six countries from travelling to the US. The story also mentioned that that the president stayed at a “private undisclosed location,” and that the judge who ruled in the case and Obama attended Harvard at the same time.

“This is not to allege the former president met with Judge Derrick Watson, but merely to point out the timing and the opportunity was there ahead of a controversial court ruling,” Becker wrote.

Observers quickly noted that there was no evidence to support the story, which resembled a piece posted on the far-right conspiracy site InfoWars on Thursday.

IJR later removed the piece, saying in an editor’s note that the article “does not meet our editorial standards of represent IJR’s vision or values.”

In an internal email to IJR staffers, obtained by Business Insider, Becker apologised to his colleagues, saying it was “unwarranted to fuel baseless speculation,” and he “should have shown restraint by not publishing the story in the first place.”

“I take responsibility for showing a lack of judgment with the execution of a story this morning of already dubious pedigree that I would have done better just avoiding,” Becker wrote.

He added: “I let the company down at a time when there’s a lot of national attention on us, and it is not lost on me that the spillover of the story onto us as a company was harmful and unnecessary.”

Thursday’s story came at a time of heightened scrutiny on the five-year-old digital publication, which has taken fire for its close relationship with the Trump administration

The right-leaning news site first broke the news that Neil Gorsuch would be Trump’s nominee to replace late-Justice Antonin Scalia on the Supreme Court, and got tipped-off to a dinner Trump attended at his hotel that other reporters were bared from.

IJR’s Erin McPike was also granted the only seat on the plane with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson during his first major international trip, breaking with precedent that reporters pay to rent a seat on the plane with the secretary. The State Department said the decision was an attempt for the department to save money, but was also “part of an effort to include a broader representation of U.S. media.”

Perticone joins other recent high-profile departures from the site, which was created by two former Republican staffers, and focuses on political news with a focus on conservative millennials.

“Joe’s a fantastic reporter with great instincts for covering the Hill,” IJR founder Alex Skatell said in a statement. “He’ll be an asset wherever he goes.”

Politico reported on Wednesday that several of the high-profile recent departures from the site were concerned by the increasingly right-wing bent, and noted that several of the reporters originally hailed from more traditional news outlets.

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