On Sunday afternoon, as the political press debated whether Donald Trump was attacking voters' confidence in an election he continued to call "rigged," a denizen of "Weird Twitter" named @randygdub made the online equivalent of an eye-roll.
He tweeted, "i love working at the post office in Columbus, Ohio and ripping up absentee ballots that vote for trump."
It was not the most credible of pranks. For one, @randygdub's Twitter profile had him living in California, not Ohio. ("California is a diversion," he explained/joked in DM today.) For another, the "ripping up ballots" line was perfectly in sync with a persona that mocked Trump supporters for believing any rumor that flew in from the Internet.
But as The Daily Beast's Betsy Woodruff was first to recount, the "ripping up ballots" tweet rocketed through the bloodstream of conservative media. On Monday morning, blogger Jim Hoft, whose Gateway Pundit website regularly wins links from the Drudge Report, ran with the @randygdub tweet with no apparent attempt to check its facts.
"An Ohio(?) man who describes himself as a postal worker bragged online this weekend about destroying Donald Trump absentee ballots," Hoft wrote.
And @randygdub triumphantly retweeted it.
He wrote, "lmao jim hoft did a story on me."
Within an hour, Hoft's story was featured at the top of the Drudge Report - and @randygdub retweeted it. To anyone who wanted to spend a few seconds clicking through, a major conservative news source had just pranked itself. But a few hours later, Rush Limbaugh shared the "postal worker" story with his millions of listeners, accusing the media (apart from Drudge) of ignoring a damning story of political corruption.
"If a postal worker went on social media, don't care whether it was Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Reddit, you name it, and was bragging about destroying Hillary absentee ballots, do you think they'd be trying to hunt this guy down and put him in jail with the guy who made the video that started Benghazi?" Limbaugh said. "They wouldn't be stopping. They'd find this guy, they'd hunt him down, give him to Marilyn Mosby and say, 'Have at him.' Charge him here, charge him there, put him in the back of a Baltimore police van and let's see what he looks like when he comes out. Whatever it takes. They would be unearthing everything to find out who this guy is. What Trump is talking about with rigged election is without doubt completely in the tank for Hillary media, which isn't media, again, and it's not even journalism anymore."
While Limbaugh was speaking, the information account of the U.S. Postal Service answered a worried question about the "postal worker" tweet.
"The Postal Service has completed an initial investigation of the mentioned tweets and does not believe these tweets were made by a postal employee," wrote the USPS information office. "However, the Postal Service will continue to monitor this situation and if it is determined that the individual making the tweets is a postal employee and there is substantiated evidence of mail being tampered with or destroyed, then the Postal Service will take appropriate corrective action to address the situation."
By late Monday afternoon, The Daily Beast and plenty of other outlets had written up the tweet for what it was - a joke at the expense of people worried about election fraud.
That did not stop Jon Husted, Ohio's secretary of state, from telling his followers that he, too, would look into the grave matter of @randygdub's tweet.
He tweeted, "I've contacted @USPS about posts alleging destruction of absentee ballots. We'll get the #facts & if true, hold anyone guilty accountable."
David Weigel is a national political correspondent covering the 2016 election and ideological movements.
(c) 2016, The Washington Post · David Weigel