Did former Tonight Show host Jay Leno pass away at the age of 71, and was he a lifelong Republican and Trump supporter? No, that's not true. The story was published by a liberal website that tries to mislead Trump supporters and Republicans into sharing made up stories that are clearly marked as satire when you actually click them. Articles from the site are frequently copied by foreign-run fake news websites. The people liking and sharing these stories are enriching foreign website operators or a liberal from Maine via the ad revenue generated with the content, which is probably not what they expected or wanted.
The death hoax appeared as an article published by ConservativeTears.com on April 16, 2020, titled "Jay Leno, Lifelong Republican and Trump Supporter, Dead at 71" (archived here) which opened:
Jay Leno, Comedian, car enthusiast, and longtime host of the popular Tonight Show, was found dead today at his home in California.
Leno was a huge Trump supporter and a lifelong Republican. He truly believed in the causes of freedom and limited government, the kind Trump is so strongly in favor of, especially when he says he has "absolute authority." Jay Leno will be sorely missed by his friends in the Republican party.
Leno was (and still is) not especially well known for taking sides in politics. In a 2019 Vanity Fair article, he is quoted as saying:
On Tuesday, former Tonight Show host Jay Leno appeared on the third hour of the Today show and said he doesn't miss being a late-night host, because nowadays, "everyone has to know your politics." Rather than offending both sides equally as he once did, Leno said, people now see late-night hosts as "one-sided," which makes the job tougher than it was in his day.
Later in the story, a supposed friend of Leno named "Joe Barron" is quoted:
"I'm speechless. Jay was such a great guy, I ve known him since we were 10 years old. When I saw the news this morning, I couldn't believe it! Jay couldn't be dead. I refused to believe it and I just knew it had to be from one of those clearly labeled satire sites that lazy fact-checkers waste their time 'fact checking.' I was relieved to find out it was. Such a relief.
And no, we didn't really waste much time on this fact check, it took us less than 15 minutes to write and publish this story.
Conservativetears.com does come with several satire disclaimers:
- The header of the site has the slogan "Death hoaxes for your thoughts and prayers"
- The story itself was posted in a category named "Death hoax"
- There are (tiny) satire logos in the header and in the eye of the eagle shown in the picture used to illustrate the story.
- The site has an "About" page that explains the purpose of the site.
The site is part of the "America's Last Line of Defense" network of satire websites run by self-professed liberal troll Christopher Blair from Maine, along with a loose confederation of friends and allies. Blair has been in a feud with fact-checking website Snopes for some time now and has also criticized other fact checkers in the past who labeled his work "fake news" instead of satire. In reaction to this, he has recently rebranded all his active websites and Facebook pages so they carry visible disclaimers everywhere.
Every site in the network has an about page that reads (in part):
Before you complain and decide satire is synonymous with "comedy":
The use of humor, irony, exaggeration, or ridicule to expose and criticize people's stupidity or vices, particularly in the context of contemporary politics and other topical issues.
Everything on this website is fiction. It is not a lie and it is not fake news because it is not real. If you believe that it is real, you should have your head examined. Any similarities between this site's pure fantasy and actual people, places, and events are purely coincidental and all images should be considered altered and satirical. See above if you're still having an issue with that satire thing.
Articles from Blair's sites frequently get copied by "real" fake news sites that often omit the satire disclaimer and any other hints the stories are fake. Blair has tried to get these sites shut down in the past, but new ones keep cropping up.
Here is a video of Blair explaining how his process works:
If you are interested in learning more about Blair and the history of his sites, here is something to get you started:
The Ultimate Christopher Blair and America's Last Line of Defense Reading List | Lead Stories
STORY UPDATED: check for updates below. Yesterday Eli Saslow at the Washington Post wrote a fantastic article about Christopher Blair, a man from Maine who has been trolling conservatives and Trump supporters online for years and occasionally even made a living out of it.
If you see one of his stories on a site that does not contain a satire disclaimer, assume it is fake news. If you do see the satire disclaimer, it is, of course, also fake news.
NewsGuard, a company that uses trained journalist to rank the reliability of websites, describes conservativetears.com as:
A hoax website that publishes false stories about celebrity deaths.
According to NewsGuard, the site does not maintain basic standards of accuracy and accountability. Read their full assessment here.