How a pro-Hillary meltdown trapped this man in a fake news nightmare

John Grkovic is a passionate guy. We saw that in a CNN man-on-the-street interview the day after the election during a protest in Chicago.

His fervor shone through the dark Chicago streets, as did his ardent Hillary Clinton support and frustration with the electoral college system in a two-minute clip that aired live.

Soon after his appearance on CNN, his TV moment took a turn. Grkovic’s full name and phone number got out and he was bombarded with calls and emails from people who believe he is a CNN cameraman who was paid to look like a protester. Dubious news outlets picked up on this line of thinking and wrote online stories about him posing as a protester. The story started to spread.

Mashable had seen the interview in a tweet the night after the election and wrote a story about the mostly humorous rant. The man was unidentified in the interview with reporter Ryan Young and our story also didn’t name him.

But then almost a month after the election, Grkovic, 35, got in touch with Mashable and identified himself as the man in the video. He explained that because of his appearance on live TV, thousands of retweets, and online articles about the rant, a false storyline started to emerge.

In a Facebook message, Grkovic wrote that since that “live TV meltdown of mine many fake news organizations including Anonymous have written stories about how I was planted by CNN.”

In a phone call with Mashable, Grkovic, a freelance video producer in Chicago, said he’s been overwhelmed by angry people who think he’s part of a media conspiracy. It’s slowed down in the weeks since, but he’s still contacted a few times a day, he said.

“It completely backfired and made it even worse.”

“I woke up the day after the election feeling voiceless,” Grkovic said in the call. “I went to try to bring all the problems to light and it completely backfired and made it even worse.”

He said he’s received countless death threats and even his mother has gotten calls. He said a man from Georgia called and told him, “I cant believe you are selling your soul to CNN for $250. Grkovic has no idea where the man got that figure from. Other commenters say he won too many trophies as a kid and call him a social justice warrior, or SJW for short.

He says the readers who want to believe this made-up story “think what they are doing is helping. They think that the media is lying to them, but not what they are reading.” He is confounded and frustrated with the double standards about media consumption.

How the story spread

The fake story appears to have started after comments came in on the source of the clip a YouTube video of the interview recorded by musician Logan Lynn on his band’s YouTube and Twitter pages.

From there, Ebaum’s World, Anonymous’s news site, InfoWars and “fake news” sources like the Conservative Tribune ran with the planted cameraman story. InfoWars even posted a copy of Grkovic’s resume in their article.

Grkovic has approached most of the sites and people posting online to remove any false information.

Anonymous took down their story, but most of the misleading information is still up on those other sites. None of the outlets have issued retractions. Even after Grkovic emailed with the editor-in-chief of Ebaum’s World, the story with the headline, “CNN caught using their own cameramen as fake protester” remains up. (Grkovic shared his email correspondence with Mashable.)

Still going strong

Just a few days before Christmas, Grkovic emailed Mashable about a new video on a social video site, In The Now,using the CNN clip and calling Grkovic a “Super-Hillary-Fan cameraman” in a bigger piece on fake news.

“If you Google my name, it’s in every different language that its all fake,” Grkovic said. “My life is ruined.”

How ranting and raving turns into fake news

While at the protest Grkovic said he went up to several different camera crews. He wanted to talk about a more strategic way to protest the new president. He wanted to go on TV and talk about protesting with a specific call to action like his focus on dismantling the electoral college.

Eventually a crew told him to stick around and they might go live with him in the next segment, which they did. It turned out the camera was from CNN Grkovic told Mashable it was not labeled and he had no idea which network he was talking to.

A small detail that got the media conspiracy wheels turning was at the end of the full clip where the street reporter throws the camera back to Don Lemon at the studio. At the very end, Lemon says, “Yea, Ryan, you know I used to live there and I know that guy, that’s John Grkovic. He actually went to Africa with me.”

A small detail got the media conspiracy wheels turning.

Mashable checked in with CNN, and a spokeswoman confirmed that CNN never pays for interviews. Another spokeswoman said Grkovic never worked for CNN. She said his only connection comes from working in a “freelance capacity” with the network in Chicago. Grkovic also worked on a reporting project in Malawi, which is where he would have crossed paths with Lemon in Africa, but that was before Lemon had started at CNN.

Grkovic himself says he lists CNN on his resume as one of the many freelance jobs he’s taken on over the years, but doesn’t claim to have ever worked at the company. He said his work with Lemon was from about a decade ago.

In a recorded taping of the interview, Grkovic showed the whole clip and added some of his own commentary while watching himself. “Wait for it,” Grkovic says into the camera before his interview starts to play. Toward the end, he corrects how Lemon pronounces his last name.

Logan Lynn, the Oregon musician and writer, said he saw the clip live on TV and it resonated with him, so he shared it out to his nearly 60,000 Twitter followers and on his YouTube channel. “I wanted to have a meltdown similarly like he had done,” Lynn told Mashable in a phone interview a few days before Christmas.

“Holy crap this guy has found my voice,” Lynn said he thought when he first saw the interview. “He is my spirit animal.”

But after posting, Lynn quickly saw the comments going south.

Now more than a month and a half later, Lynn said the video is still getting some traction, even if it’s waning. Just that day the video had been retweeted 10 times.

Lynn’s concerned that the fake information stems from his posts and he considered taking the video down. “But no hes still funny, still making sense,” Lynn has decided.

“Hes still funny, still making sense.”

Lynn, who often uses his public persona and online presence for mental health and LGBTQ advocacy, says once you are visible, whether it’s on social media or a major cable news station, you run the risk of having your thoughts and intentions twisted around. “Even with something like this that is so benign,” he said.

It’s nearly impossible to know what will be manipulated into a fake news story (just look at #Pizzagate and how that ended disastrously with a gun at a pizza parlor), but like Lynn realized from his bizarre involvement in this fake story, it’s a real person with a life, family and career behind the made-up information.

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