You've heard it out there. You know the story already. USA Today "broke" it in a huge scoop on Monday: "Exclusive: Secret Service depletes funds to pay agents because of Trump's frequent travel, large family."
That's yuuuge. Trump is bankrupting America! America, d*mn it!
"The Secret Service," the explosive lead said, "can no longer pay hundreds of agents it needs to carry out an expanded protective mission - in large part due to the sheer size of President Trump's family and efforts necessary to secure their multiple residences up and down the East Coast."
The "scoop" came from Secret Service Director Randolph "Tex" Alles, who in his interview with USA Today said that "more than 1,000 agents have already hit the federally mandated caps for salary and overtime allowances that were meant to last the entire year."
"The president has a large family, and our responsibility is required in law," Mr. Alles said. "I can't change that. I have no flexibility."
Under former President Barack Obama, 31 people were protected by the Secret Service. Under Trump the number rose to 42, including 18 family members. Shocking.
CNN got all wee-weed up with the "exclusive": "Secret Service can't pay agents for Trump and his family, report says." Lots of other mainstream media outlets followed the salacious story - Trump and his family are bankrupting America!
But it turns out the whole story was just plain old fake news.
Mr. Alles, in clarification to USA Today's breathless report, later said that funding for roughly 1,100 agents working overtime in 2017 is not an issue "that can be attributed to the current administration's protection requirements alone, but rather has been an ongoing issue for nearly a decade due to an overall increase in operational tempo."
So, wait, it's NOT Trump? It's been happening for "nearly a decade" - so, uh, starting in, oh, say, 2009, 2010? When Barack Obama was president.
But Mr. Alles went on. It's not at all what USA Today reported. "The Secret Service has the funding it needs to meet all current mission requirements for the remainder of the fiscal year and compensate employees for overtime within statutory pay caps," the USSS director said in the later statement. "The Secret Service estimates that roughly 1,100 employees will work overtime hours in excess of statutory pay caps during calendar year 2017. Our agency experienced a similar situation in calendar year 2016 that resulted in legislation that allowed Secret Service employees to exceed statutory caps on pay."
And more: "To remedy this ongoing and serious problem, the agency has worked closely with the Department of Homeland Security, the administration and the Congress over the past several months to find a legislative solution."
Both sides in Congress have, so far, worked together to make sure the Secret Service has the operating budget it needs. But don't look for the same bipartisan spirit this time around. Even though the problem has existed for "nearly a decade" - which means it began some time in Mr. Obama's first term - the MSM and the left will no doubt blame Mr. Trump.
And here's the really interesting part: It doesn't matter - now - that the story was shot down. Trump and his family didn't cause the problem, it's existed for a decade. But the story - the fake report that Trump and his family are to blame - is out there now, alive on the interwebs. And that story feeds the half of America that voted against Trump. "Did you hear? All of Trump's travel is bankrupting the Secret Service!" will be heard 'round the water cooler this week.
So it doesn't matter if it's true - it's out there. And it doesn't matter that the USSS director later added context. Nor does it matter that when Obama and his wife took separate planes to Hawaii, one day apart - costing taxpayers an extra million dollars - that liberals and the MSM defended them. Because (and here's the real point here) EVERYTHING TRUMP DOES IS WRONG.
There. You got it? Good. Remember - everything, wrong.
And that's how fake news works.
• Joseph Curl has covered politics for 25 years, including 12 years as White House correspondent at The Washington Times. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @josephcurl.