Using JFK and 9/11 Research To Decode Fake News


Researchers into the causes of President Kennedy's assassination and the 9/11 attacks hold an advantage over most others in deciphering news about national security intrigues that rely on dubious evidence.

Students of those crimes have by now detected so much media self-censorship or exaggeration in reports about those attacks that it’s relatively easy for them to discern similar patterns in treatments of other high-stakes issues.

Democratic and Republican Campaigns DecodedOne is the current alarm by U.S. officials and mass media over “fake news,” particularly as applied to propaganda involving 2016 election results.

Aside from Donald Trump and his supporters applying the term "fake news" to political reporting and commentary they don't like, the term is being applied primarily to independent websites — some of which are indeed outright frauds. National Public Radio's Laura Sydell reported one example last fall in We Tracked Down A Fake-News Creator In The Suburbs. Here's What We Learned. Some of these sites performing political disinformation masquerade as satire sites.

But other independent outlets being smeared as "fake" should be regarded as alternative media. Of varying credibility, they sometimes stumble, sometimes serve up propaganda — and sometimes play a bold, vital role challenging conventional wisdom regarding such historically important events as the 9/11 attacks and assassination of President Kennedy.

Hillary Clinton Madam President Newsweek coverWe focus below on several recent stories that expose credibility problems with Newsweek, its former owner the Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, CBS News, and the New York Times. These examples — including a remarkable screw-up by Newsweek in distributing copies of a magazine showing Hillary Clinton as our elected "Madam President" — help illustrate the credibility gap that mainstream outlets are inflicting on themselves, whether they admit it or not in their crusades against alternative outlets.

The analysis below comes in the midst of the mainstream media's harsh, sudden, and seemingly relentless campaign currently against "fake news." We provide today's column as balance because many of the attacks resemble such previous and now-discredited campaigns as the CIA-driven Operation Mockingbird, in which the nation's 40 major news organizations combined to suppress inconvenient news during the 1950s and 1960s. The CIA's Frank Wisner and Washington Post publisher Philip Graham jointly operated the program, which was exposed in the 1979 book Katharine the Great by Deborah Davis.

The current allegations against Russia, including of hacking U.S. election-related sites and blackmailing GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump, are beyond the scope of today's column. This editor attended a hard-hitting lecture on that topic Jan. 17 by U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power, who delivered one of her last major speeches at the Atlantic Council's headquarters overlooking the Russian Ambassador's residence in Washington, D.C.

Power's claims that a conspiracy exists to promote fake news and hacking is a topic for another day, particularly because the complexities are intertwined with the role of U.S. government propaganda and disinformation. That inevitably points to important but complex and secretive machinations, including those suggested by her husband Cass Sunstein, a top Obama White House regulator in the Office of Management and Budget during the first term. (Sunstein, center, is shown with Power in a White House photo during her 2013 swearing in officiated by Vice President Joe Biden.)

Samantha Power and Cass Sunstein White House PhotoSunstein suggested as a Harvard Law professor in 2008 and then in his 2014 book Conspiracy Theories and Other Dangerous Ideas that the government hire professors and journalists as secret government operatives. Those operatives, he said, could use such professional disguise to disrupt research into such "dangerous ideas" as research that questions the government's account of 9/11 attacks. That is itself a dangerous idea, as Glenn Greenwald has noted in Obama confidant’s spine-chilling proposal.

Also a topic for another day is background on the latest developments in studies related to President Kennedy's assassination and 9/11 research. We have published an ongoing Readers Guide To JFK Assassination, and separately reported a comprehensive overview of 9/11 research in Experts Reject Planes, Fire As Cause For 9/11 WTC Collapses. The latter covered the historic Justice in Focus conference organized by Architects & Engineers for 9/11 Truth in New York City on the occasion of the 15th anniversary last September of the attacks.

Today's analysis focuses instead on exploring shocking shortcomings in basic research recently by several of our most prestigious news outlets coupled with a disturbing reluctance on their part to concede the scope of their credibility problems.

Newsweek's Election Day SNAFU

We start with Newsweek, which the Post sold for $1 in 2010 plus assumption of liabilities to entrepreneur Sidney Harman, husband of then-House Intelligence Committee chair Jane Harman (D-CA). Newsweek still retains some of the cachet of its former stature even though almost all of the 2013 staff is gone after multiple ownership changes.

Special editions prepared under the Newsweek banner for Election NightShortly before the November elections, Newsweek (now owned by IBT Media) printed 125,000 copies of a souvenir magazine shown above featuring Hillary Clinton as the nation's new president. Newsweek understandably sought to scoop the competition with copies, to be sold for $10.99 per copy, as reported by NBC News. The magazine was also ready, if needed, to distribute an alternative issue with a cover reporting that Trump had won.

But a slip-up amid high expectations of Clinton victory caused some of the Clinton covers to be distributed in advance of the election, according to stories about the mess published by the Daily Caller and later amplified by its editor Matthew Cooper in a Fox News interview by host Tucker Carlson, the Daily Caller's editor.

Most remarkable and disturbing about the Newsweek snafu is that its staff did not even write or read the magazine cover story, according to Cooper. Instead, magazine executives authorized use of Newsweek's name to a contractor whose staff wrote compiled a souvenir issue of the magazine that could be sold at premium price.

Mistakes can happen anywhere. But the story behind Newsweek's shows the magazine's slender resources and operational control even as it launches tirades on national and world events as in days of old. 

We next examine the Washington Post, which is in the forefront of outlets denouncing fake news, Russia and President-elect Trump's foreign policies.

Washington Post Smears Websites As Propaganda

A landmark in this post-election campaign against “fake news” was a Nov. 24 Washington Post story headlined Russian propaganda effort helped spread ‘fake news’ during election, experts say by technology reporter Craig Timberg. His column began this way:

Russian FlagThe flood of “fake news” this election season got support from a sophisticated Russian propaganda campaign that created and spread misleading articles online with the goal of punishing Democrat Hillary Clinton, helping Republican Donald Trump and undermining faith in American democracy, say independent researchers who tracked the operation.

Russia’s increasingly sophisticated propaganda machinery — including thousands of botnets, teams of paid human “trolls,” and networks of websites and social-media accounts — echoed and amplified right-wing sites across the Internet as they portrayed Clinton as a criminal hiding potentially fatal health problems and preparing to hand control of the nation to a shadowy cabal of global financiers. The effort also sought to heighten the appearance of international tensions and promote fear of looming hostilities with nuclear-armed Russia.

Two teams of independent researchers found that the Russians exploited American-made technology platforms to attack U.S. democracy at a particularly vulnerable moment, as an insurgent candidate harnessed a wide range of grievances to claim the White House. The sophistication of the Russian tactics may complicate efforts by Facebook and Google to crack down on “fake news,” as they have vowed to do after widespread complaints about the problem.

The Post reporter Timberg cited 200 web news and commentary sites identified by anonymous critics at a new organization called “PropOrNot (short for "Propaganda or Not") as deserving reprisal in as-yet unspecified ways, presumably from government and its private sector allies.

Timberg and his editors granted the new group anonymity while publishing their smear-job against other writers and outlets. That grant signaled that the story was in effect a reflection of management's opinion, if not a hit job, even though the material was presented as a news story.

Timberg's language reflected the theme the newspaper was trying to make in trying to rev up animosity towards Russia and Trump:

There is no way to know whether the Russian campaign proved decisive in electing Trump, but researchers portray it as part of a broadly effective strategy of sowing distrust in U.S. democracy and its leaders. The tactics included penetrating the computers of election officials in several states and releasing troves of hacked emails that embarrassed Clinton in the final months of her campaign.

The response was quick and harsh. 

“I believe this is extremely dangerous to alternative media, to journalists, journalism and democracy," responded  Rob Kall, publisher of OpEdNews, a popular progressive site that PropOrNot cited as one of the suspected purveyors of fake news. Other sites include the popular conservative site Drudge Report, as well as one run by former GOP Texas Congressman Ron Paul.

Rob Kall"Google has announced it will de-monetize ad revenues for websites that are accused of providing fake news," Kall continued in his Nov. 28 column Are the Mainstream Media Trying to Kill Their Competition? Or are Neocons Trying to Silence Critics? "Facebook is also involved in 'dealing' with 'fake news sites,'" Kall said. "That is a huge threat to all alternative media."

Kall (shown in a file photo) continued: "Who decides who or which site is a fake news or propaganda site? According to the Washington Post, some anonymous site which does not define the criteria it uses is who. This is dangerous."

Several other high profile commentators on the media have issued similar warnings, including Robert Parry (who broke the Iran-Contra scandal as a reporter for the Associated Press and Newsweek), Glenn Greenwald, Max Blumenthal, Wayne Madsen, Chris Hedges and Matt Taibbi.

“I was very proud,” wrote another critic, Unz Review Founder and Editor Ron Unz, on Dec. 1, “to see that the Washington Post included The Review in the official list of America’s major ‘Fake News’ Russian propaganda websites, apparently used by the Kremlin to subvert American democracy and thereby foster the spread of Godless Soviet Communism… err, the Russian Orthodox Christianity of Vladimir Putin.”

Unz, former publisher of The American Conservative magazine founded by Patrick Buchanan and a former Republican candidate for governor of California, mocked the Post further in his commentary, entitled Record Traffic for Our "Fake News" Russian Propaganda Website!

Los Angeles Times Touts Young Professor's Smear Of 'Fake' and 'Incredible' Sites

The Los Angeles published a similar smear job Nov. 15 in a column headlined Want to keep fake news out of your newsfeed? College professor creates list of sites to avoid.

The column by writer Jessica Roy drew on the work of Melissa Zimdars, an assistant professor of communication at Merrimack College in North Andover, Massachusetts. Zimdars had worked with students to create a Google.doc that she was publicizing as sites to "avoid" because, according to her rating system, many of those sites were "false, misleading, clickbait-y and satirical 'news' sources" or else unknown to her and her helpers.

A review of the list suggests that it was assembled and publicized with a shallow knowledge of the subject matter, particularly for a work emanating from a college and presuming to instruct others about reliable research.

Among the striking deficiencies:

Her list described "unknown" the sites of: the Heritage Foundation (arguably the major conservative think tank in the nation's capital); the National Review, founded by William F. Buckley, one of the founders of the modern conservative movement; OpEdNews, one of the nation's most popular progressive sites in terms of web traffic; Strategic-Culture.org, a Russian government-funded commentary site whose ownership arguably fits the professor's theory of state-funded bias; and NomiPrins.com, named for the former Goldman Sachs and Bear Stearns managing director Nomi Prins who became an author and whistleblower well-regarded in progressive circles.

WhoWhatWhyStriking also was the professor's description of the WhoWhatWhy investigative site as "unreliable." Why? The professor does not define her terms for any of these labels (aside from a subjective listing derived from unspecified sources on the basis of unspecified evidence).

WhoWhatWhy founder and Russ Bakereditor Russ Baker holds a stellar reputation as a rigorous fact-checker. Shown in a file photo, he is also the best-selling author of Family of Secrets, the iconic book about the Bush dynasty, as well as an impressive career that has included a stint as an staff writer at the Columbia Journalism Review, and many columns for other prestigious national magazines and newspapers.

I know Russ Baker and his work quite well, and would place him within the top one percent of all journalists I know who care about rigorous sourcing of complex stories. For someone to criticize him as "unreliable" without explanation, therefore, is like someone claiming without explanation that (as some fake news providers recently did) that top Democrats are torturing and murdering children in Washington, DC's abandoned subway tunnels: it's perhaps possible at first glance, but without evidence it reflects worse on those making the allegation than the targets, especially since there are no abandoned subway tunnels in the nation's capital and no reports of missing children.

In sum, it is easy to see why the Los Angeles Times promptly appended an editor's note to its November column:

UPDATE: Nov. 17, 5:52 p.m.: The professor who created the list has taken down the Google doc. She said it was a safety measure in response to threats and harassment she and her students and colleagues had received. She is continuing to work on it and plans to release it in the future in a format other than a Google doc.

Interestingly, that update makes no concession of regret about the clear deficiencies of Professor Zimdars' list, which continued to circulate via other news outlets and social media until currently. For this column, I contacted her for comment.

She responded that the Los Angeles Times sought out her and her list after it became popular on the web. "I have no idea how it came to the attention of the Los Angeles Times," she wrote. "It started going viral on Facebook, and within a day it was reported on there and by NY Mag, and then dozens of other outlets around the world (Guardian, NPR, WashPo, Boston Globe etc.)." She said the list is a work in progress that has been reposted. As of this writing, it showed the same problems cited above from the original published in November.

Similarly, the Washington Post published an editor's note also recognizing the controversy regarding its above-cited news article by reporter Craig Timberg on Nov. 24 that listed supposedly fake or disreputable news sites. The editor's note said:

The Washington Post on Nov. 24 published a story on the work of four sets of researchers who have examined what they say are Russian propaganda efforts to undermine American democracy and interests. One of them was PropOrNot, a group that insists on public anonymity, which issued a report identifying more than 200 websites that, in its view, wittingly or unwittingly published or echoed Russian propaganda.

A number of those sites have objected to being included on PropOrNot’s list, and some of the sites, as well as others not on the list, have publicly challenged the group’s methodology and conclusions. The Post, which did not name any of the sites, does not itself vouch for the validity of PropOrNot’s findings regarding any individual media outlet, nor did the article purport to do so. Since publication of The Post’s story, PropOrNot has removed some sites from its list.

In sum, these major news organizations took scant responsibility after publishing warning lists that smeared independent competition — including political opinion sites and hard-hitting investigative sites probing major stories — by lumping them together with out-and-out scam sites. 

The New York Times Touts Snopes As Fact-Checker, Ignores Snopes Scandal

One of the ways mainstream news organizations reveal their bias is by harping on the government funding for some news outlets and sources while ignoring similar or even vastly greater government funding outlets, personnel and sources favored by news managers. Thus most major Western news organizations avoid sending war correspondents to the long-running war in Syria or quoting the government (cited as "the regime" on rare occasions when it is quoted).

Instead, even our most prestigious newspapers rely heavily on the so-called "White Helmets" (typically described as a humanitarian team of rescue workers in rebel-held Syrian locales) and the "Syrian Observatory for Human Rights." The Observatory is a one-man operation based in the U.K. countryside by a rebel sympathizer who has not been in Syria for more than a decade, as reported by, among others, Global Research in Pro-Democracy Terrorism: The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights is a Propaganda Front funded by the EU.

Both the White Helmets (How a Syrian White Helmets Leader Played Western Media by Dr. Gareth Porter), and the "Observatory" have been reported as funded by Western intelligence as part of the covert operation to fund rebels long enough to overthrow Syria's "regime." But that kind of information is rarely disclosed by the mainstream. Instead, Western audiences read and see year upon year of spin, such as a CBS 60 Minutes episode Dec. 18, Syria's White Helmets: "Hope in a hopeless place, extolling the White Helmets as heroes saving bombing victims in Aleppo.

This is not to argue that such groups as the White Helmets do nothing good because of the source of their funding, only that the mainstream news organizations that extol them tend to ignore completely questions about their funding, mission and obvious participation in propaganda efforts that the news organizations are eager to advance for the ultimate objective of continuing the war and overthrowing the government.

You can see for yourself via a link to the CBS broadcast of Syria's White Helmets by the "60 Minutes" team led by correspondent Scott Pelley.

The issue of government funding is important in part because it is frequently used as a way to disparage competing news outlets that receive such funding. Mainstream media opposed to the Trump administration thus reported breathlessly that his incoming aide Michael Flynn received a payment for appearing on RT television. One can rest assured that whatever trivial honorarium was involved is nothing compared to the kind of money bestowed on retired generals elsewhere, including on boards of defense contractors.

By contrast, the pervasive system of pass-through organizations designed to obscure U.S. government funding of news organizations is seldom mentioned, much less explored. Independent writers, however, have disclosed vast sums laundered through innocuous-sounding foundations, think tanks, and government proprietaries and front companies.

Victoria Nuland, U.S. ambassador to the European Union, even boasted in late 2013 at the National Press Club that the United States had spent $5 billion to create the conditions necessary to overthrow the pro-Russian government in the Ukraine. That spending (largely obscured by laundering through "democracy-building" groups) led to a government overthrow and Nuland's scandalous intercepted phone call when she was caught conspiring with the U.S. ambassador to the Ukraine Geoffrey Pyatt who should lead Ukraine after its revolution, as reported in U.S. diplomat apologizes for profane remarks on E.U. in leaked phone call.

This preamble leads to the bizarre situation in December whereby two separate New York Times reporters quoted Snopes.com, a prominent California fact-checking service without reporting that it had been itself accused of scandalous activity by the editor's ex-wife and co-founder.

The more in-depth of the Times stories on Dec. 26 quoting Snopes co-founder David Mikkelson was For Fact-Checking Website Snopes, a Bigger Role Brings More Attacks. Reporter David Streitfeld began:

The last line of defense against the torrent of half-truths, untruths and outright fakery that make up so much of the modern internet is in a downscale strip mall near the beach. Snopes, the fact-checking website, does not have an office designed to impress, or even be noticed. A big sign outside still bears the name of the previous tenant, a maker of underwater headphones. Inside there’s nothing much — a bunch of improvised desks, a table tennis table, cartons of Popchips and cases of Dr. Pepper. It looks like a dot-com on the way to nowhere.

Streitfeld, an experienced media writer at the Times, mentioned controversy about the site and Mikkelson but quickly dismissed it as "fake news" spread by conservative enemies of the site and without any basis. Here is Streitfeld's treatment:

One way to chart Snopes’s increasing prominence is by measuring the rise in fake news about the site itself. If you believe the internet, the founder of Snopes, David Mikkelson, has a longer rap sheet than Al Capone.

He was supposedly arrested for committing fraud and corruption and running a pit bull ring. In the wake of a deal that Snopes and others made this month to start fact-checking for Facebook, new slurs and allegations poured forth. The underlying message of these spurious attacks is that the movement to fact-check the internet is a left-wing conspiracy whose real goal is to censor the right, and therefore must be resisted at all costs (emphasis added).

Thus Streitfeld and the Times, with no real analysis. dismiss attacks as false.

But here is the part of the story the Times did not see fit to mention either in Streitfeld's article or one published the same day by his colleague Jeremy W. Peters, whose story quoting Snopes in positive fashion was headlined With Claims of ‘Fake News,’ Conservatives Take Aim at Media.

Snopes Scandal

Missing entirely from the Times coverage was a story broken by the Daily Mail five days previously and re-reported by Daily Caller reporter Peter Hasson in Snopes Co-Founder Accused Of Embezzling Company Money, Spending It On Prostitutes.

Hasson continued in his Dec. 21 story:

The founder of mythbusting website Snopes, which was recently tapped by Facebook as one of four “fact-check” organizations patrolling the site for “fake news,” embezzled $98,000 in company funds before spending it on “himself and the prostitutes he hired,” according to legal documents filed by his ex-wife reviewed by the Daily Mail.

After divorcing from his first wife, Barbara Mikkelson, David Mikkelson married Elyssa Young, a former porn star and current escort who now works for Snopes as an administrator, according to the Daily Mail. The Daily Mail also revealed that top Snopes “fact-checker” Kim LaCapria claimed on her personal blog that she has “posted to Snopes” after smoking marijuana. As TheDC previously revealed, LaCapria describes herself as “openly left-leaning” and once claimed that Republicans fear “female agency.” (Related: "Fact-Checking Snopes: Website’s Political ‘Fact-Checker’ Is Just A Failed Liberal Blogger.")

As originally reported by TheDC, Snopes almost exclusively employs leftists as fact-checkers, many of whom have exhibited a clear distaste for Republican voters. TheDC could not identify a single Snopes fact-checker who comes from a conservative background.

Not covered in these excerpts are claims from the divorce papers that the Mikkelsons were taking huge income from their operation, reputedly $700,000 one year for her and $350,000 for him. That kind of money is not typical for bloggers. No outside (and certainly not the New York Times profile) explored where that money came from.

The gist of the scandal was confirmed also by Forbes Magazine in The Daily Mail Snopes Story And Fact Checking The Fact Checkers. Forbes reporter Kalev Leetaru wrote on Dec. 22, 2016, "When I reached out to David Mikkelson, the founder of Snopes, for comment, I fully expected him to respond with a lengthy email in Snopes’ trademark point-by-point format, fully refuting each and every one of the claims in the Daily Mail’s article and writing the entire article off as “fake news.”

She continued:

It was with incredible surprise therefore that I received David’s one-sentence response which read in its entirety “I'd be happy to speak with you, but I can only address some aspects in general because I'm precluded by the terms of a binding settlement agreement from discussing details of my divorce.”

At the end of the day, it is clear that before we rush to place fact checking organizations like Snopes in charge of arbitrating what is “truth” on Facebook, we need to have a lot more understanding of how they function internally and much greater transparency into their work.

That advice was published in Forbes four days before the New York Times went with its two stories dismissing the attacks on the Snopes operation as totally false and ignoring the contrary material without explanation.

What's the Problem?

These examples show that mainstream media continue to ignore their complicity in what they decry as “fake news.”

Traditional broadcasters and print outlets use many dubious “news” sources that foster the current crisis whereby public-relations techniques, propaganda, and political dirty tricks are destroying civic discourse.

Many of these problems are rooted in a servile and otherwise unprofessional adherence to the ideological, political and financial agendas of an outlet’s ownership, as I have observed over four decades in communications and law.

The apparatus is further supported by vast numbers of bureaucrats in journalism and academia who provide a veneer of respectability to research about "fake news" that cannot withstand in-depth scrutiny. As one of many examples, the School Library Journal published a column Nov. 26 (Truth, truthiness, triangulation: A news literacy toolkit for a “post-truth” world) touting the Snopes, Zimdars and other dubious sources cited here. The column was by Joyce Valenza, an assistant professor of teaching at Rutgers University, who one can charitably say may not be on the front lines of relevant research.

The problems are especially acute for JFK assassination and 9/11 researchers, who must contend with ongoing institutional bias of mainstream and alternative outlets and their personnel who are as quick to decry what they term "fake news" as "conspiracy theory."

The good news, however, is that the bold spirits in these communities are tested, determined and otherwise well-positioned to identify both facts and fakery for the betterment of all.

This column was cross-posted at OpEdNews and at the 9/11 Truth Action Project, and updated as of Jan. 24, 2017.

 

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Spiked cover

Andrew Kreig, a member of the Lawyers Committee for 9/11 Inquiry, is a Washington, D.C.-based lecturer, investigative reporter, attorney and author with more than four decades experience. He edits the work of the non-partisan Justice Integrity Project, has appeared on hundreds of radio, cable and television interviews, and authored two investigative non-fiction books exploring the nation's power Andrew Kreigstructure.

Spiked: How Chain Management Corrupted America's Oldest Newspaper (1987) provided a pioneering case study of how ownership affects news coverage. Presidential Puppetry: Obama, Romney and Their Masters (2013, updated in 2016) documented how every U.S. president after Jimmy Carter developed covert relationships with either the CIA or FBI before entering politics, thereby facilitating their relationships with the power structure that uses such bodies as an operational arm.

Kreig (shown in a file photo) formerly led the Wireless Communications Association for a dozen years as president/CEO in its mission to advance wireless services via the Internet. He holds law degrees from Yale and the University of Chicago, and is an active member of numerous bar, journalism and other civic groups.

 

 

 
 
Contact the author Andrew Kreig
 

 

Related News Coverage (Arranged by topic in order of treatment in the article above)

JFK Assassination and 9/11 Research Overview

Justice Integrity Project, Readers Guide To JFK Assassination, Andrew Kreig, April 3, 2016. To help researchers of President Kennedy's 1963 assassination and its current implications, the Justice Integrity Project began publishing a Reader's Guide in 2013 to coincide with the shooting's 50th anniversary.

Justice Integrity Project, Experts Reject Planes, Fire As Cause For 9/11 WTC Collapses, Andrew Kreig, Sept. 23, 2016. Technical experts are mounting major challenges to official U.S. government accounts of how three World Trade Center skyscrapers collapsed in near-freefall after the 9/11 attacks 15 years ago. Many researchers are focusing especially on the little-known collapse of World Trade Center (WTC) Building 7, portrayed in the 10:08 video above.

The 47-story building, which was not hit by an airplane and was located about two football fields away from WTC 1 and 2, collapsed in approximately 6.5 seconds some seven hours after the other buildings fell. The pattern so resembled controlled demolition that experts who have studied it are increasingly questioning the official causation, which U.S. authorities and the mainstream media ascribed to fire.

Last month, Europhysics News published 15 Years Later: On the physics of high-rise building collapses. The report challenged U.S. government findings that the skyscrapers collapsed because of fire. The four co-authors noted that no other skyscrapers in world history have ever collapsed from fire. Instead, the authors cited evidence that the falls resembled the physics involved in controlled demolition.

Similarly, the conference Justice in Focus convened prominent 9/11 technical and legal researchers in New York City Sept. 10-11 for an in-depth examination of physical evidence on the WTC collapses on the first day. The second day was a strategy session on ways to use legal procedures to advance research and create legal remedies congruent with the new evidence.

Salon, Obama confidant’s spine-chilling proposal, Glenn Greenwald, Jan 15, 2010. Cass Sunstein wants the government to "cognitively infiltrate" anti-government groups. Cass Sunstein has long been one of Barack Obama’s closest confidants. Often mentioned as a likely Obama nominee to the Supreme Court, Sunstein is currently Obama’s head of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs where, among other things, he is responsible for “overseeing policies relating to privacy, information quality, and statistical programs.”

In 2008, while at Harvard Law School, Sunstein co-wrote a truly pernicious paper proposing that the U.S. Government employ teams of covert agents and pseudo-“independent” advocates to “cognitively infiltrate” online groups and websites — as well as other activist groups — which advocate views that Sunstein deems “false conspiracy theories” about the Government.  This would be designed to increase citizens’ faith in government officials and undermine the credibility of conspiracists.  The paper’s abstract can be read, and the full paper downloaded, here.

Wayne Coste demonstrator Jan. 21, 2017

Connecticut-based engineer Wayne Coste, an advocate of truthful official research about the causes of 9/11 attacks in 2001, protests current official reports with a sign on Pennsylvania Avenue Jan. 21, 2017 in Washington, DC (Personal photo).

Actual Fake News: A Case Study

National Public Radio, We Tracked Down A Fake-News Creator In The Suburbs. Here's What We Learned, Laura Sydell, Nov. 23, 2016. A lot of fake and misleading news stories were shared across social media during the election. One that got a lot of traffic had this headline: "FBI Agent Suspected In Hillary Email Leaks Found Dead In Apparent Murder-Suicide." The story is completely false, but it was shared on Facebook over half a million times.

Hillary ClintonWe wondered who was behind that story and why it was written. It appeared on a site that had the look and feel of a local newspaper. Denverguardian.com even had the local weather. But it had only one news story — the fake one. We tried to look up who owned it and hit a wall. The site was registered anonymously. So we brought in some professional help. By day, John Jansen is head of engineering at Master-McNeil Inc., a tech company in Berkeley, Calif. In the interest of real news he helped us track down the owner of Denverguardian.com.

The whole idea from the start was to build a site that could kind of infiltrate the echo chambers of the alt-right, publish blatantly or fictional stories and then be able to publicly denounce those stories and point out the fact that they were fiction. The sites include NationalReport.net, USAToday.com.co, WashingtonPost.com.co. All the addresses linked to a single rented server inside Amazon Web Services. That meant they were all very likely owned by the same company. Jansen found an email address on one of those sites and was able to link that address to a name: Jestin Coler.

Online, Coler was listed as the founder and CEO of a company called Disinfomedia. Coler's LinkedIn profile said he once sold magazine subscriptions, worked as a database administrator and as a freelance writer for among others, International Yachtsman magazine. And, using his name, we found a home address.

Newsweek's Election Day SNAFU

NBC News, 'Madam President' Newsweek Copies for Sale Online — But Buyer Beware, Alex Johnson, Nov. 30, 2016. Newsweek published 125,000 copies of a $10.99 commemorative magazine with Clinton's picture on the cover and the headline "Madam President." Those copies were quickly recalled — but hundreds of copies are still being offered for sale in online markets, for prices as low as 99 cents to as high as $9,995.

Special editions prepared under the Newsweek banner for Election NightNewsweek election covers; Special editions prepared under the Newsweek banner for Election Night

HotAir.com, Fake news update: Newsweek never read their own “Madam President” issue, Jazz Shaw, Dec. 4, 2016. For something which is being described as common practice, I’m certainly not familiar with it, at least to this extent. Many of us had a bit of a chuckle when we learned that Newsweek had shipped out their “Madam President” issue of the magazine a bit prematurely (to put it kindly). This wasn’t unexpected, nor was the fact that they also had a backup version showing “President Trump” on the cover. For an event of this magnitude, a publication of that size would clearly be ready to roll in advance and the fact that they shipped the wrong one is at least forgivable since they were falling for the same polls everyone else was using.

What was less widely reported was just what a “throne sniffing” example of bowing and scraping to the historic First Female President was hiding between the covers, as well as the fact that nobody at Newsweek even read it before the copies were loaded onto the trucks (as reported by the Washington Examiner).

A Newsweek editor admitted Wednesday that he and other staffers didn’t actually read their recalled commemorative “Madam President” election issue before it was published. Newsweek political editor Matthew Cooper said Wednesday on Fox News’ “Tucker Carlson Tonight” that the magazine’s issue, which incorrectly anticipated a Hillary Clinton win, was not produced by Newsweek but by a third party.

“Well, no one on our staff wrote that,” Cooper said. “Again, we subcontract out to a company.”

That interview with Tucker Carlson was pretty brutal. One topic was the obvious question as to how something of that magnitude was produced and shipped without anyone from Newsweek actually looking at or approving it. According to the Examiner, the entire job was done by a company called Topix Media Lab. Now, the idea of having magazines and newspapers outsource some of their content isn’t unknown. There are certain routine sections of publications which require some regularly scheduled drudge work such as death notices, legislative reports, etc. which can be shopped out. But even when that’s done, wouldn’t you think it was a given that somebody in the organization would be responsible for at least reviewing and approving the material before it went out with your name on it?

If they had, they might have noticed what an unbelievable festival of toadying Clinton worship was contained in the text. MRC extracted some of the goodies from the Carlson interview and it’s truly beyond the pale.

So does this not qualify as “fake news” just because they issued a recall? Clearly Newsweek places a lot of faith in Topix Media Lab if they allow them to ship an entire issue under the Newsweek banner without even checking their work. Will they continue to use their services? We might also wonder how many other outlets are printing their content without our knowing it. All of these calls for transparency in the government sound great, but perhaps we need significantly increased clarity from the media which is supposed to be providing it.

InfoWars via SouthFront, Fake News: Newsweek Admits They Didn’t Proof Read ‘Madam President’ Issue; They Didn’t Even Write It, Staff report, Dec. 4, 2016. A Newsweek editor admitted Wednesday that the infamous Hillary Clinton ‘Madam President’ issue was not proof read before being shipped out, and no one on the staff at the magazine had any hand in writing it.

Appearing on Tucker Carlson Tonight, Newsweek political editor Matt Cooper attempted to defend the fact that Newsweek printed and shipped out commemorative issues declaring Hillary Clinton the next US President, days before the election even took place. The outlet even had Hillary sign some of the 125,000 copies of the magazine, which in its introduction labeled Trump supporters as “deplorable” and described his campaign as “fear and hate-based conservatism”.

Cooper admitted to Carlson that he personally did not read the content of the issue before it was sent out, and neither did anyone on his staff. What’s more, none of them even know who wrote the thing. “The writing in this is, shall we say, not up to the editorial standards of Newsweek,” Cooper said, adding “no one on our staff wrote it. We subcontract out to a company.”

“But when you read it before it went out, what did you say?” Carlson asked.

“Well, no, we didn’t [read it],” Cooper replied. “We subcontract these commemorative issues to a company … so it’s sort of been done on a separate track, and we did not review it before it went out.”

Things then got downright weird as Carlson asked what would’ve happened if the subcontractor printed something insane like the writings of Hitler, and then sent it out under the Newsweek banner, without the staff proof reading it.

“Well, if they had reprinted Mein Kampf, that would be even worse,” Cooper said, claiming that in future the magazine will work harder to review the content being printed in such issues. So there you have it, an arm of the corporate media literally printing politically biased fake news, admitting it is fake, and admitting it doesn’t bother to review it or even write it in the first place.

 

Washington Post Smears Websites As Propaganda

Washington Post, Russian propaganda effort helped spread ‘fake news’ during election, experts say, Craig Timberg, Nov. 24, 2016. Researchers found that Russians used sophisticated tools to boost Donald Trump and target Hillary Clinton, and exploited various platforms to attack U.S. democracy at a particularly vulnerable moment. The techniques may complicate efforts by Facebook and Google to crack down on “fake news,” as they have vowed to do.

The flood of “fake news” this election season got support from a sophisticated Russian propaganda campaign that created and spread misleading articles online with the goal of punishing Democrat Hillary Clinton, helping Republican Donald Trump and undermining faith in American democracy, say independent researchers who tracked the operation.

Russia’s increasingly sophisticated propaganda machinery — including thousands of botnets, teams of paid human “trolls,” and networks of websites and social-media accounts — echoed and amplified right-wing sites across the Internet as they portrayed Clinton as a criminal hiding potentially fatal health problems and preparing to hand control of the nation to a shadowy cabal of global financiers. The effort also sought to heighten the appearance of international tensions and promote fear of looming hostilities with nuclear-armed Russia.

Two teams of independent researchers found that the Russians exploited American-made technology platforms to attack U.S. democracy at a particularly vulnerable moment, as an insurgent candidate harnessed a wide range of grievances to claim the White House. The sophistication of the Russian tactics may complicate efforts by Facebook and Google to crack down on “fake news,” as they have vowed to do after widespread complaints about the problem.

Washington Post, Trump’s ‘news’ source: Alien lizards, fluoride mind control and voter fraud, Dana Milbank, Nov. 29, 2016 (print edition). We learned last week that President-elect Trump has been turning away his intelligence briefers, leaving the tedious task of learning about national-security threats to his understudy, Vice President-elect Pence.

Alex JonesSo where is Trump getting his information? Well, now we know. On Sunday, Trump tweeted out the wild allegations that “millions of people” voted illegally for his opponent. He also tweeted that there was “serious voter fraud” in three states that went for Hillary Clinton, “so why isn’t the media reporting on this?”

The media wasn’t reporting on this because it’s a load of hooey. But one “media” outlet has been “reporting” the groundless allegations, and it’s one that Trump relied on frequently during the campaign: Alex Jones’s Infowars, the radio and Internet home of the grassy-knoll crowd. For two weeks before Trump made his allegations, Jones had been alleging this very thing, saying there was a “wall of fraud” and that at least “five states were stolen” by Clinton. Jones alleged that Trump “clearly won the popular vote,” asserting that in addition to 3 million illegal immigrants who voted, 4 million dead people voted.

Trump, with his mixture of the incendiary and the fanciful, invented the “Infowars campaign.” Now comes the Infowars presidency. Let’s see what else is being promoted by the outlet where the next leader of the free world gets his news.

Washington Post, In today’s world, the truth is losing, David Ignatius, Nov. 29, 2016. Propaganda is rampant thanks to social media and those with no concern for facts. Richard Stengel, the State Department’s undersecretary for public diplomacy, bluntly states the problem that has been worrying him and should worry us all: “In a global information war, how does the truth win?”  

The very idea that the truth won’t be triumphant would, until recently, have been heresy to Stengel, a former managing editor of Time magazine. But in the nearly three years since he joined the State Department, Stengel has seen the rise of what he calls a “post-truth” world, where the facts are sometimes overwhelmed by propaganda from Russia and the Islamic State.

 

Pushback By Alternative Leaders Against Mainstream Hypocrisy on Frauds

Consortium News, The Orwellian War on Skepticism. Robert Parry (shown in a file photo, and former AP and Newsweek reporter breaking the Iran-Contra story in the 1980s), Dec. 2, 2016. Battling “Fake News.” Under the cover of battling “fake news,” the mainstream U.S. news media and officialdom are taking aim Robert Parryat journalistic skepticism when it is directed at the pronouncements of the U.S. government and its allies.

One might have hoped that the alarm about “fake news” would remind major U.S. news outlets, such as The Washington Post and The New York Times, about the value of journalistic skepticism. However, instead, it seems to have done the opposite.

The idea of questioning the claims by the West’s officialdom now brings calumny down upon the heads of those who dare do it. “Truth” is being redefined as whatever the U.S. government, NATO and other Western interests say is true. Disagreement with the West’s “group thinks,” no matter how fact-based the dissent is, becomes “fake news.”

Alternet, Washington Post promotes shadowy website that accuses 200 publications of being Russian propaganda plants, Max Blumenthal, Nov. 25, 2016. A shady website that claims “Russia is Manipulating US Opinion Through Online Propaganda” has compiled a blacklist of websites its anonymous authors accuse of pushing fake news and Russian propaganda. The blacklist includes over 200 outlets, from the right-wing Drudge Report and Russian government-funded Russia Today, to Wikileaks and an array of marginal conspiracy and far-right sites. The blacklist also includes some of the flagship publications of the progressive left, including Truthdig, Counterpunch, Truthout, Naked Capitalism, and the Black Agenda Report, a leftist African-American opinion hub that is critical of the liberal black political establishment.

Despite the Washington Post’s charitable description of PropOrNot as a group of independent-minded researchers dedicated to protecting the integrity of American democracy, the shadowy group bears many of the qualities of the red enemies it claims to be battling. In addition to its blacklist of Russian dupes, it lists a collection of outlets funded by the U.S. State Department, NATO and assorted tech and weapons companies as “allies.” PropOrNot’s methodology is so shabby it is able to peg widely read outlets like Naked Capitalism, a leading left-wing financial news blog, as Russian propaganda operations.

OpEdNews, Are the Mainstream Media Trying to Kill Their Competition? Or are Neocons Trying to Silence Critics? Rob Kall (shown below), Nov. 28 2016. There's a threat to the future of Democracy, which I believe is highly Rob Kalldependent upon alternative media casting light on truth and challenging the Top Down establishment's lies, distortions, false claims and omissions. That threat is manifesting as a fake news perpetrated by the mainstream media, which claim to be fighting fake news and propaganda. OpEdNEws has been listed, by an anonymous website, registered using a proxy registrar to maintain anonymity, among 200 sites they claim are Russian propaganda sites.

That would not be significant if the Washington Post had not featured a headline article citing this anonymous website, propornot.com. I consider this pathological journalistic malpractice. It's really worse than that. This latest salvo by the mainstream media appears to be an attack against alternative media, an effort to kill alternative news voices. OpEdNews is not alone. Many progressive, left of liberal sites are being listed, such as counterpunch, wikileaks, nakedcapitalism, thiscantbehappening, PaulCraigRoberts, antiwar, BaltimoreGazette, blackagendareport, consortiumnews, globalresearch, truth-out, truthdig, whatreallyhappened

And libertarian/conservative websites are also listed: DrudgeReport, Prison Planet, and RonPaulInstitute.

An Observer article, "Clinton Distraction Circus Hits Panic Mode Over Russia And 'Fake News,'" suggests this is a ploy of Hillary Clinton's pathetic campaign team, saying, "Panic over 'Fake news' is being manufactured by Clinton partisans as another attempt by mainstream media outlets to avoid accountability and responsibility in elevating Donald Trump, and improving their coverage to better reflect the issues Americans actually care about."

As a Clinton Campaign strategy, blaming Russia didn't work in the general election, but now these same Clinton propagandists are pushing anti-Russia narratives as a smokescreen to push false narratives, without having to provide actual evidence to substantiate their claims. The enigma of Russia provides a convenient source for these conclusions."

Josh Mitteldorf has written an article, "Fake News and OpEd News" and Donn Marten has written one, "OpEdNews Included On List of Russian Propaganda Sites Promoted By Washington Post," covering these developments.

There are questions about who's behind this new McCarthyist red-baiting 2.0 combined with the narrative that's evolving on fake news.

I believe this is extremely dangerous to alternative media, to journalists, journalism and democracy. Google has announced it will de-monetize ad revenues for websites that are accused of providing fake news. Facebook is also involved in "dealing" with "fake news sites." That is a huge threat to all alternative media. Who decides who or which site is a fake news or propaganda site? According to the Washington Post, some anonymous site which does not define the criteria it uses is who. This is dangerous.

The WaPo and the NYTimes, even NPR are going after fake news sites like McCarthy went after people they accused of being communist sympathizers. Now WaPo is going after websites that criticize the US government's policies on Russia. The First Amendment is under greater threat than perhaps any time since the early colonial days when people were charged with sedition.

These are dangerous times in so many ways. We really don't know if these efforts are originating with sleaze ball Clinton campaign people, as the Observer article suggests, or whether this is a strategy by neocons and neoliberals to silence alternative media on moth ideological sides which question the establishment's narrative.

I don't have an answer on what to do about this. Maybe you do. That's part of makes the Bottom Up alternative media so essential to the future of Democracy. YOU get a voice in the conversation.

Intercept, Washington Post Disgracefully Promotes a McCarthyite Blacklist From a New, Hidden, and Very Shady Group, Ben Norton and Glenn Greenwald (shown in file photo), Nov. 26, 2016. The Washington Post on Thursday night Glenn Greenwald The Interceptpromoted the claims of a new, shadowy organization that smears dozens of U.S. news sites that are critical of U.S. foreign policy as being “routine peddlers of Russian propaganda.”

The article by reporter Craig Timberg — headlined “Russian propaganda effort helped spread ‘fake news’ during election, experts say” — cites a report by an anonymous website calling itself PropOrNot, which claims that millions of Americans have been deceived this year in a massive Russian “misinformation campaign.”

The group’s list of Russian disinformation outlets includes WikiLeaks and the Drudge Report, as well as Clinton-critical left-wing websites such as Truthout, Black Agenda Report, Truthdig, and Naked Capitalism, as well as libertarian venues such as Antiwar.com and the Ron Paul Institute.

This Post report was one of the most widely circulated political news articles on social media over the last 48 hours, with dozens, perhaps hundreds, of U.S. journalists and pundits with large platforms hailing it as an earth-shattering exposé. It was the most-read piece on the entire Post website on Friday after it was published.

Yet the article is rife with obviously reckless and unproven allegations, and fundamentally shaped by shoddy, slothful journalistic tactics. It was not surprising to learn that, as BuzzFeed’s Sheera Frenkel noted, “a lot of reporters passed on this story.” Its huge flaws are self-evident. But the Post gleefully ran with it and then promoted it aggressively, led by its Executive Editor Marty Baron:

In casting the group behind this website as “experts,” the Post described PropOrNot simply as “a nonpartisan collection of researchers with foreign policy, military and technology backgrounds.” Not one individual at the organization is named. The executive director is quoted, but only on the condition of anonymity, which the Post said it was providing the group “to avoid being targeted by Russia’s legions of skilled hackers.”

In other words, the individuals behind this newly created group are publicly branding journalists and news outlets as tools of Russian propaganda — even calling on the FBI to investigate them for espionage — while cowardly hiding their own identities. The group promoted by the Post thus embodies the toxic essence of Joseph McCarthy, but without the courage to attach individual names to the blacklist.

Some of the websites on PropOrNot’s blacklist do indeed publish Russian propaganda — namely Sputnik News and Russia Today, which are funded by the Russian government. But many of the aforementioned blacklisted sites are independent, completely legitimate news sources that often receive funding through donations or foundations and have been reporting and analyzing news for many years.

The group commits outright defamation by slandering obviously legitimate news sites as propaganda tools of the Kremlin.

Global Research, Who is Behind “Fake News”?  Michel Chossudovsky, Nov. 24, 2016. The lies and fabrications of the MSM are not the result of “sloppy journalism.” They are deliberate and are intended to mislead the public. The mainstream media routinely uses fake images and videos in its coverage of the war on Syria. The campaign against alternative and independent media seeks to limit freedom of expression.

Zero Hedge, House Quietly Passes Bill Targeting "Russian Propaganda" Websites, Tyler Durden, Dec. 2, 2016. On November 30, one week after the Washington Post launched its witch hunt against "Russian propaganda fake news," with 390 votes for, the House quietly passed "H.R. 6393, Intelligence Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2017," sponsored by California Republican Devin Nunes (whose third largest donor in 2016 is Google parent Alphabet, Inc), a bill which deals with a number of intelligence-related issues, including Russian propaganda, or what the government calls propaganda, and hints at a potential crackdown on "offenders."

A quick skim of the bill reveals "Title V — Matters relating to foreign countries",  whose Section 501 calls for the government to "counter active measures by Russia to exert covert influence … carried out in  coordination with, or at the behest of, political leaders or the security services of the Russian Federation and the role of the Russian Federation has been hidden or not acknowledged publicly.”

Strategic Culture Foundation, The Major Purveyor of ‘Fake News’ is the CIA-Corporate Complex, Wayne Madsen, Nov. 28, 2016. The editor of "The Wayne Madsen Report" subscription investigative report is shown in a file photo below. He has authored of 15 non-fiction books — most recently "The Almost Classified Guide to CIA Front Companies, Proprietaries & Contractors," a 350-page encyclopedia — after a career as a Navy intelligence officer, NSA analyst and think tank fellow. He has appeared as security expert on nearly every television and cable network, and has authored op-eds appearing hundreds of times in U.S. newspapers,

The US corporate media, its strings pulled by the modern version of the Central Intelligence Agency’s old Operation Mockingbird media influencing operation, is laughably accusing Russia of generating "fake news" to influence the outcome of the American presidential election. '

In a November 24, 2016, article in the CIA-connected Washington Post, reporter Craig Timberg reported: "Russia’s increasingly sophisticated propaganda machinery — including thousands of botnets, teams of paid human ‘trolls,’ and networks of websites and social-media accounts — echoed and amplified right-wing sites across the Internet as they portrayed Clinton as a criminal hiding potentially fatal health problems and preparing to hand control of the nation to a shadowy cabal of global financiers."

The Post’s article is worthy of the CIA-generated propaganda spun by the paper at the height of the Cold War-era Mockingbird.

Contrary to what the Post reported about right-wing accounts of Hillary Clinton’s ties to "a shadowy cabal of global financiers," the vanquished Democratic presidential nominee and her husband, via the slush fund known as the Clinton Foundation, was closely linked to a variety of "shadowy global financiers," including those who serve as executives of Goldman Sachs and J P Morgan Chase. The Clinton cabal was more at home in the gatherings of the secretive syndicates of the Bilderberg Group, Bohemian Club, and the Council on Foreign Relations than they were at labor union and student meetings.

The Post was clearly fed its poorly-sourced and anecdotal-based article on Russian "fake news" by the usual suspects of Russia-bashers and CIA mouthpieces, including The Daily Beast; former US ambassador to Moscow Michael McFaul; Rand Corporation; George Washington University’s Elliott School of International Affairs; the Foreign Policy Research Institute in Philadelphia; and a website called "PropOrNot.com" or "Is It Propaganda Or Not?, which is linked not only to George Soros-funded anti-Russia websites but also to conveyors of CIA disinformation like Snopes.com. The Post article is nothing more than an advertisement for PropOrNot.com, which bills itself as a "Propaganda Identification Service, since 2016."

The media influencing operation targeting Russia appears to be an outgrowth of the US State Department’s Counter-Information Team of the Bureau of International Information Programs. The team, established under the George W. Bush administration, was a resurrection of the Cold War-era US Information Agency’s (USIA) Bureau of Information, which was designed to counter "Soviet" disinformation.

In 2013, Amazon signed a $600 million contract with the CIA to provide cloud computing services to the agency. Amazon’s owner, Jeff Bezos, also happens to own The Washington Post. Considering the long close relationship between the newspaper and the CIA, the Post is the last media outlet that should be writing about fake news.

Many of the blacklisted websites have something in common: they supported Trump for president. The Washington Post heartily endorsed Hillary Clinton for president, which makes the blacklist appear to be, in part, nothing more than sour grapes on the part of the Post and its unnamed «experts» working for PropOrNot.com.

The blacklist highlighted by The Washington Post appears to be more of a censorship target list developed for the not-to-be Hillary Clinton administration. For the Post to engage in blacklisting other press outlets merely because it does not care for their news content is shameful beyond belief. If any outlet should be ordered to cease its operations for not acting in the public interest, it is The Washington Post for grossly distorting the news and misleading the public from the end of World War II to the present day.

 

Los Angeles Times, Other Major Newspapers Tout Young Professor's Smear Of 'Fake' and 'Incredible' Sites

Los Angeles Times, Want to keep fake news out of your newsfeed? College professor creates list of sites to avoid, Jessica Roy, Nov. 15, 2016. UPDATE: Nov. 17, 5:52 p.m.: The professor who created the list has taken down the Google doc. She said it was a safety measure in response to threats and harassment she and her students and colleagues had received. She is continuing to work on it and plans to release it in the future in a format other than a Google doc.

During the election, many people fell prey to fake news stories on social media -- even the president-elect ended up retweeting fake statistics. A professor of communication has created a list of unreliable news sites to help people do better. Melissa Zimdars, an assistant professor of communication at Merrimack College in Massachusetts, put together a publicly available Google.doc cataloging "False, misleading, clickbait-y and satirical 'news' sources." It's been making the rounds on social media as people seek to cleanse their newsfeeds of misinformation. Many of the sites on the list are aggregators – they take news stories from other sources and rewrite them with more inflammatory headlines and without contextual facts.

Washington Post, My ‘fake news list’ went viral. But made-up stories are only part of the problem, Melissa Zimdars (assistant professor of communication and media at Merrimack College), Nov. 18, 2016. I put together a resource for students in my media class, “False, Misleading, Clickbait-y, and/or Satirical ‘News’ Sources.” Shortly after creating it, I set it to be visible to the general public. My own Facebook friends were already asking to share it with other teachers or professors whom I didn’t know.

Nearly 40 percent of adults, and 100 percent of my class, get their news online. It’s hard to tell how much fake news there is on Facebook, specifically, or across the Internet as a whole, but there is evidence that fake news drew more engagement on Facebook than real news did during the closing weeks of the election. I’m hesitant of claims saying without a doubt that this influenced the election — we need way more research on the topic — but I am sure it played a role in shaping and, especially, reinforcing political beliefs.

White Helmets

CBS 60 Minutes, Syria's White Helmets: "Hope in a hopeless place," Scott Pelley with producer Nicole Young and associate producer Katie Kerbstat, Dec. 18, 2017.

Victoria NulandWashington Post, U.S. diplomat apologizes for profane remarks on E.U. in leaked phone call, Anne Gearan, Feb. 6, 2014. Victoria Nuland dismissively referred to slow-moving European efforts to address the crisis in Ukraine. The top U.S. diplomat for Europe apologized Thursday for comments about the European Union that were — to put it lightly — undiplomatic. “F--- the E.U.,” Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Victoria Nuland, left, said in a private telephone call to U.S. Ambassador to the Ukraine Geoffrey Pyatt, right, that was intercepted and leaked online.

Geoffrey PyatttState Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki acknowledged that the recording was authentic and said Nuland had apologized to E.U. officials. But U.S. officials were also quick to point the finger at Russia, which has bristled at U.S. involvement in Ukraine.

Washington Post, A quick guide to the people in the call on Ukraine, Terri Rupar, Feb. 6, 2014. Who Victoria Nuland is discussing in her phone call about the situation in Ukraine. In the call, Nuland, a former U.S. ambassador to NATO and State Department spokeswoman, was dismissively referring to slow-moving European efforts to address political paralysis and a looming fiscal crisis in Ukraine. But it was the blunt nature of her remarks, rather than U.S. diplomatic calculations, that seemed exceptional. Nuland also assessed the political skills of Ukrainian opposition figures with unusual candor and, along with the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, Geoffrey Pyatt, debated strategy for their cause, laying bare a deep degree of U.S. involvement in affairs that Washington officially says are Ukraine’s to resolve.

Victoria Nuland, Geoffrey Pyattt and Petro Poroschenko 2014Nuland is shown in a 2014 photo with U.S. ambassador Geoffrey Pyatt (center) and Petro Poroschenko, the billionaire they helped install as the Ukraine's president. Secretary of State John Kerry is at far right in the background.

'Unknown' Sites

Truthout via Buzzflash, The Heritage Foundation: A Heritage of Propaganda as News, Bill Berkowitz, Jan. 25, 2017. During the Trump transition, staffers from the Heritage Foundation were quite active developing policies and pointing out potential nominees for government positions. That was only foreplay.

Not since those halcyon days of the George W. Bush administration have folks at the Heritage Foundation been this giddy. If you are looking to understand where the underpinning of the Trump Administration's deregulation, tax breaks for the wealthy, Obamacare repeal and replace alternatives, climate change denial, and privatization agenda will be coming from, look no further than the Washington D.C. based Heritage Foundation, America's most influential right-wing think tank.
 
Almost every day for eight years, The Daily Signal, Heritage's e-mail newsletter, sounded the alarm about the Obama administration's misdeeds and the wrongheadedness of liberal policies. Now Heritage, a 501(c)(3) charitable organization, has pivoted to providing a broad-based agenda for Team Trump.

 

The New York Times Touts Snopes As Fact-Checker, Ignores Snopes Scandal Reports

New York Times, For Fact-Checking Website Snopes, a Bigger Role Brings More Attacks, David Streitfeld, Dec. 26, 2016 (print edition). The last line of defense against the torrent of half-truths, untruths and outright fakery that make up so much of the modern internet is in a downscale strip mall near the beach. Snopes, the fact-checking website, does not have an office designed to impress, or even be noticed. A big sign outside still bears the name of the previous tenant, a maker of underwater headphones. Inside there’s nothing much — a bunch of improvised desks, a table tennis table, cartons of Popchips and cases of Dr. Pepper. It looks like a dot-com on the way to nowhere.

Appearances deceive. This is where the muddled masses come by the virtual millions to establish just what the heck is really going on in a world turned upside down. “Rationality seems to have fallen out of vogue,” said Brooke Binkowski, Snopes’s managing editor. “People don’t know what to believe anymore. Everything is really strange right now.”

That is certainly true at Snopes itself. For 20 years, the site was dedicated to urban legends, like the purported existence of alligators in New York City sewers, and other benign misinformation. But its range and readership increased significantly during a prolonged presidential election campaign in which the facts became a partisan issue and reality itself seemed up for grabs.

One way to chart Snopes’s increasing prominence is by measuring the rise in fake news about the site itself. If you believe the internet, the founder of Snopes, David Mikkelson, has a longer rap sheet than Al Capone.

He was supposedly arrested for committing fraud and corruption and running a pit bull ring. In the wake of a deal that Snopes and others made this month to start fact-checking for Facebook, new slurs and allegations poured forth. The underlying message of these spurious attacks is that the movement to fact-check the internet is a left-wing conspiracy whose real goal is to censor the right, and therefore must be resisted at all costs.

New York Times, With Claims of ‘Fake News,’ Conservatives Take Aim at Media, Jeremy W. Peters, Dec. 26, 2016 (print edition). The term once referred to fabricated accounts intended to deceive, but many on the right have turned it against news they see as hostile to their agenda. 

The C.I.A., the F.B.I. and the White House may all agree that Russia was behind the hacking that interfered with the election. But that was of no import to the website Breitbart News, which dismissed reports on the intelligence assessment as “left-wing fake news.” Rush Limbaugh has diagnosed a more fundamental problem. “The fake news is the everyday news” in the mainstream media, he said on his radio show recently. “They just make it up.” Some supporters of President-elect Donald J. Trump have also taken up the call. As reporters were walking out of a Trump rally this month in Orlando, Fla., a man heckled them with shouts of “Fake news!”

Until now, that term had been widely understood to refer to fabricated news accounts that are meant to spread virally online. But conservative cable and radio personalities, top Republicans and even Mr. Trump himself, incredulous about suggestions that that fake stories may have helped swing the election, have appropriated the term and turned it against any news they see as hostile to their agenda.

In defining “fake news” so broadly and seeking to dilute its meaning, they are capitalizing on the declining credibility of all purveyors of information, one product of the country’s increasing political polarization. And conservatives, seeing an opening to undermine the mainstream media, a longtime foe, are more than happy to dig the hole deeper.

“Over the years, we’ve effectively brainwashed the core of our audience to distrust anything that they disagree with. And now it’s gone too far,” said John Ziegler, a conservative radio host, who has been critical of what he sees as excessive partisanship by pundits. “Because the gatekeepers have lost all credibility in the minds of consumers, I don’t see how you reverse it.”

Journalists who work to separate fact from fiction see a dangerous conflation of stories that turn out to be wrong because of a legitimate misunderstanding with those whose clear intention is to deceive. A report, shared more than a million times on social media, that the pope had endorsed Mr. Trump was undeniably false. But was it “fake news” to report on data models that showed Hillary Clinton with overwhelming odds of winning the presidency? Are opinion articles fake if they cherry-pick facts to draw disputable conclusions?

“Fake news was a term specifically about people who purposely fabricated stories for clicks and revenue,” said David Mikkelson, the founder of Snopes, the myth-busting website. “Now it includes bad reporting, slanted journalism and outright propaganda. And I think we’re doing a disservice to lump all those things together.”

New York Times, Lessons From 2016 for the News Media, as the Ground Shifts, Jim Rutenberg, Dec. 26, 2016 (print edition). A presidential race that made fools of pundits and prognosticators suggests reporters should hew closely to hard facts and leave received wisdom on ice, our columnist writes. 

Starting a weekly column about the nexus between media, technology, culture and politics in the middle of the 2016 presidential campaign was like parachuting into a hail of machine-gun crossfire. Dense smoke was everywhere as the candidates and their supporters unloaded on one another and, frequently, the news media, which more than occasionally was drawn into the fighting. The territory that was at stake was the realm of the true, and how all sides would define it in the hyperpartisan debate to come under a new president. With the campaign behind us and a new administration quickly taking shape, that territory remains very much in dispute.

So the ammunition keeps flying, especially at the national news media, which emerges from the election invigorated in its mission to report on plate-shifting news while rooting out the truth. And yet it has never been more besieged or, if the Gallup Organization had it right, distrusted. Sitting at my desk as I write this sentence on a Thursday night, our offices littered with empty champagne cups and cake crumbs on paper plates — the detritus of too many sayonara toasts to sage colleagues leaving with buyout packages — I’m trying to think my way to the big takeaway from the year American journalism just lived through that can help it in the downsized year ahead.

Daily Caller, Snopes Co-Founder Accused Of Embezzling Company Money, Spending It On Prostitutes, Peter Hasson, Dec. 21, 2016. The founder of mythbusting website Snopes, which was recently tapped by Facebook as one of four “fact-check” organizations patrolling the site for “fake news,” embezzled $98,000 in company funds before spending it on “himself and the prostitutes he hired,” according to legal documents filed by his ex-wife reviewed by the Daily Mail.

After divorcing from his first wife, Barbara Mikkelson, David Mikkelson married Elyssa Young, a former porn star and current escort who now works for Snopes as an administrator, according to the Daily Mail. The Daily Mail also revealed that top Snopes “fact-checker” Kim LaCapria claimed on her personal blog that she has “posted to Snopes” after smoking marijuana. As TheDC previously revealed, LaCapria describes herself as “openly left-leaning” and once claimed that Republicans fear “female agency.” (RELATED: Fact-Checking Snopes: Website’s Political ‘Fact-Checker’ Is Just A Failed Liberal Blogger)

As originally reported by TheDC, Snopes almost exclusively employs leftists as fact-checkers, many of whom have exhibited a clear distaste for Republican voters. TheDC could not identify a single Snopes fact-checker who comes from a conservative background.

Washington Post, Trump adviser Michael T. Flynn on his dinner with Putin and why Russia Today is just like CNN, Dana Priest, Aug. 15, 2016. The Washington Post’s Dana Priest recently interviewed retired Lt. Gen. Michael T. Flynn twice — once in person, once by phone — and conducted follow-up email exchanges. The following is a condensed transcript of the in-person interview. For more on Flynn (shown in an official photo): He was one of the most respected intel officers of his generation. Now he’s leading ‘Lock her up’ chants.

Michael  FlynnPRIEST: Tell me about the RT [state-run Russian Television] relationship?

FLYNN: I was asked by my speaker’s bureau, LAI (Leading Authorities, Inc., which arranges high-paid speeches for many American political and media figures). I do public speaking. It was in Russia. It was a paid speaking opportunity. I get paid so much. The speaker’s bureau got paid so much, based on our contract.

PRIEST: Can you tell me how much you got for that?

FLYNN: No.

PRIEST: No? Because you don’t want to get your fees out there?

FLYNN: Yeah, I don’t.

PRIEST: What was the gig?

FLYNN: The gig was to do an interview with [RT correspondent] Sophie Shevardnadze. It was an interview in front of the forum, probably 200 people in the audience. My purpose there was I was asked to talk about radical Islam in the Middle East. They asked me to talk about what was going on in the situation unfolding in the Middle East. … The speaking agreement was done before Russian went into Syria, which was actually more interesting to me because … one of my discussions, I talked about the attacks in France … and the negative role that Iran was playing where I thought Russian could actually have a role. The statement that I made was actually: “Russia ought to get Iran to back out of the proxy wars they are involved in,” to include Syria, so we, the rest of the international community, could settle this situation down.

National Public Radio, We Tracked Down A Fake-News Creator In The Suburbs. Here's What We Learned, Laura Sydell, Nov. 23, 2016. A lot of fake and misleading news stories were shared across social media during the election. One that got a lot of traffic had this headline: "FBI Agent Suspected In Hillary Email Leaks Found Dead In Apparent Murder-Suicide." The story is completely false, but it was shared on Facebook over half a million times.

Hillary ClintonWe wondered who was behind that story and why it was written. It appeared on a site that had the look and feel of a local newspaper. Denverguardian.com even had the local weather. But it had only one news story — the fake one. We tried to look up who owned it and hit a wall. The site was registered anonymously. So we brought in some professional help. By day, John Jansen is head of engineering at Master-McNeil Inc., a tech company in Berkeley, Calif. In the interest of real news he helped us track down the owner of Denverguardian.com.

The whole idea from the start was to build a site that could kind of infiltrate the echo chambers of the alt-right, publish blatantly or fictional stories and then be able to publicly denounce those stories and point out the fact that they were fiction. The sites include NationalReport.net, USAToday.com.co, WashingtonPost.com.co. All the addresses linked to a single rented server inside Amazon Web Services. That meant they were all very likely owned by the same company. Jansen found an email address on one of those sites and was able to link that address to a name: Jestin Coler.

Online, Coler was listed as the founder and CEO of a company called Disinfomedia. Coler's LinkedIn profile said he once sold magazine subscriptions, worked as a database administrator and as a freelance writer for among others, International Yachtsman magazine. And, using his name, we found a home address.

Coler is a soft-spoken 40-year-old with a wife and two kids. He says he got into fake news around 2013 to highlight the extremism of the white nationalist alt-right. He was amazed at how quickly fake news could spread and how easily people believe it. He wrote one fake story for NationalReport.net about how customers in Colorado marijuana shops were using food stamps to buy pot.

During the run-up to the presidential election, fake news really took off. "It was just anybody with a blog can get on there and find a big, huge Facebook group of kind of rabid Trump supporters just waiting to eat up this red meat that they're about to get served," Coler says. "It caused an explosion in the number of sites. I mean, my gosh, the number of just fake accounts on Facebook exploded during the Trump election."

Coler says his writers have tried to write fake news for liberals — but they just never take the bait. Coler's company, Disinfomedia, owns many faux news sites — he won't say how many. But he says his is one of the biggest fake-news businesses out there, which makes him a sort of godfather of the industry.

At any given time, Coler says, he has between 20 and 25 writers. And it was one of them who wrote the story in the Denver Guardian that an FBI agent who leaked Clinton emails was killed. Coler says that over 10 days the site got 1.6 million views. He says stories like this work because they fit into existing right-wing conspiracy theories.

"The people wanted to hear this," he says. "So all it took was to write that story. Everything about it was fictional: the town, the people, the sheriff, the FBI guy. And then ... our social media guys kind of go out and do a little dropping it throughout Trump groups and Trump forums and boy it spread like wildfire." And as the stories spread, Coler makes money from the ads on his websites. He wouldn't give exact figures, but he says stories about other fake-news proprietors making between $10,000 and $30,000 a month apply to him. Coler fits into a pattern of other faux news sites that make good money, especially by targeting Trump supporters.

Coler, a registered Democrat, says he has no regrets about his fake news empire. He doesn't think fake news swayed the election. "There are many factors as to why Trump won that don't involve fake news," he says. "As much as I like Hillary, she was a poor candidate. She brought in a lot of baggage."

Counterpunch, The CIA and the Press: When the Washington Post Ran the CIA’s Propaganda Network, Jeffrey St. Clair and Alexander Cockburn, Nov. 30, 2016. (This article is adapted from our book End Times: the Death of the Fourth Estate.) Last week, the Washington Post published a scurrilous piece by a heretofore obscure technology reporter named Craig Timberg, alleging without the faintest evidence that Russian intelligence was using more than 200 independent news sites to pump out pro-Putin and anti-Clinton propaganda during the election campaign.

Under the breathless headline, “Russian propaganda effort helped spread ‘fake news’ during election, experts say,” Timberg concocted his story based on allegations from a vaporous group called ProporNot, run by nameless individuals of unknown origin, whom Timberg (cribbing from the Bob Woodward stylesheet) agreed to quote as anonymous sources. ProporNot’s catalogue of supposed Putin-controlled outlets reeks of the McCarthyite smears of the Red Scare era. The blacklist includes some of the most esteemed alternative news sites on the web, including Anti-war.com, Black Agenda Report, Truthdig, Naked Capitalism, Consortium News, Truthout, Lew Rockwell.com, Global Research, Unz.com, Zero Hedge and, yes, CounterPunch, among many others. I’ll have more on Timberg and ProporNot in my Friday column.

In the meantime, here is a brief historical note on how at the height of the Cold War the CIA developed it’s very own stable of writers, editors and publishers (swelling to as many as 3,000 individuals) that it paid to scribble Agency propaganda under a program called Operation Mockingbird. The disinformation network was supervised by the late Philip Graham, former publisher of Timberg’s very own paper, the Washington Post.

Craig Timberg’s story, which was about as substantial as anonymous slurs scrawled on a bathroom stall, lends rise to the suspicion that the Post may still be a player in the same old game it perfected in the 1950s and continued across the decades culminating in its 1996 hatchet-job on my old friend Gary Webb and his immaculate reporting on drug-running by the CIA-backed contras in the 1980s. The Post’s disgusting assault on Webb was spearheaded, in part, by the paper’s intelligence reporter Walter Pincus, himself an old CIA hand.

For Timberg, this was probably just another day at the office: fling some red slurs on the wall and see what sticks before moving on to his next big tech scoop (courtesy of hot tips from a couple of anonymous teenagers in Cupertino) on software glitches in the i-Phone 7.

For the subjects of hit-and-run journalism such as this, however, it’s often a different matter entirely. In Webb’s case, the Post’s deplorable and baseless attacks killed his career as an investigative reporter and sparked a spiraling depression that ended with Gary taking his own life. Although the CIA’s own inspector general, Frederick Hitz, later confirmed Webb’s reporting, the Post never retracted its slanderous stories or apologized for ruining the life of one of the country’s finest and most courageous journalists. Now it appears that the paper is circling round for yet another drive-by.

Almost from its founding in 1947, the CIA had journalists on its payroll, a fact acknowledged in ringing tones by the Agency in its announcement in 1976 when G.H.W. Bush took over from William Colby that “Effective immediately, the CIA will not enter into any paid or contract relationship with any full-time or part-time news correspondent accredited by any US news service, newspaper, periodical, radio or television network or station.”

Alternet, How a Syrian White Helmets Leader Played Western Media, Gareth Porter, Nov. 28, 2016. Reporters who rely on the White Helmets' leader in Aleppo ignore his record of deception and risk Syrian White Helmet via Wikipediamanipulation. The White Helmets, founded to rescue victims trapped under the rubble of buildings destroyed by Syrian and Russian bombing, have become a favorite source for Western news media covering a story on Russian-Syrian bombing. Portrayed as humanitarian heroes for over the past year and even nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize last summer, the White Helmets have been accorded unquestioned credibility b

If one wants «fake news» the intelligence-corporate complex is the place to go. From corporate media reports about bogus Iraqi weapons of mass destruction and the Pentagon’s hiring of British public relations firm Bell Pottinger to create fake news stories about terrorist attacks in Iraq to the use of a group called the «White Helmets» that pumps out fake stories regarding the Syrian government, the corporate media is full of «fake news» fed to it by an omnipresent US intelligence-run psychological warfare infrastructure.

Global Research, “Pro-Democracy Terrorism”: The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights is a Propaganda Front funded by the EU, Tony Cartalucci, April 12, 2013. The NYT admits fraudulent Syrian human rights group is UK-based “one-man band” funded by EU and one other “European country.” In reality, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights has long ago been exposed as an absurd propaganda front operated by Rami Abdul Rahman out of his house in England’s countryside. According to a December 2011 Reuters article titled, “Coventry – an unlikely home to prominent Syria activist,” Abdul Rahman admits he is a member of the so-called “Syrian opposition” and seeks the ouster of Syrian President Bashar Al Assad:

After three short spells in prison in Syria for pro-democracy activism, Abdulrahman came to Britain in 2000 fearing a longer, fourth jail term. “I came to Britain the day Hafez al-Assad died, and I’ll return when Bashar al-Assad goes,” Abdulrahman said, referring to Bashar’s father and predecessor Hafez, also an autocrat.

One could not fathom a more unreliable, compromised, biased source of information, yet for the past two years, his “Observatory” has served as the sole source of information for the endless torrent of propaganda emanating from the Western media. Perhaps worst of all, is that the United Nations uses this compromised, absurdly overt source of propaganda as the basis for its various reports – at least, that is what the New York Times now claims in their recent article, “A Very Busy Man Behind the Syrian Civil War’s Casualty Count.”

Bureau of Investigative Journalism, Fake news and false flags: How the Pentagon paid a British PR firm $500M for top secret Iraq propaganda, Crofton Black and Abigail Fielding-Smith, Oct. 2, 2016. The Pentagon gave a controversial UK PR firm over half a billion dollars to run a top secret propaganda program in Iraq, the Bureau of Investigative Journalism can reveal. Bell Pottinger’s output included short TV segments made in the style of Arabic news networks and fake insurgent videos which could be used to track the people who watched them, according to a former employee.

The agency’s staff worked alongside high-ranking US military officers in their Baghdad Camp Victory headquarters as the insurgency raged outside. Bell Pottinger's former chairman Lord Tim Bell confirmed to the Sunday Times, which worked with the Bureau on this story, that his firm had worked on a “covert” military operation “covered by various secrecy agreements.” Bell Pottinger reported to the Pentagon, the CIA and the National Security Council on its work in Iraq, he said.

Bell, one of Britain’s most successful public relations executives, is credited with honing Margaret Thatcher’s steely image and helping the Conservative party win three elections. The agency he co-founded has had a roster of clients including repressive regimes and Asma al-Assad, the wife of the Syrian president. In the first media interview any Bell Pottinger employee has given about the work for the US military in Iraq, video editor Martin Wells – who no longer works for the company – told the Bureau his time in Camp Victory was "shocking, eye-opening, life-changing.”

David PetraeusThe firm’s output was signed off by former General David Petraeus – then commander of the coalition forces in Iraq (and shown in a file photo) – and on occasion by the White House, Wells said. Bell Pottinger produced reams of material for the Pentagon, some of it going far beyond standard communications work.

There were three types of media operations commonly used in Iraq at the time, said a military contractor familiar with Bell Pottinger’s work there. “White is attributed, it says who produced it on the label,” the contractor said. “Grey is unattributed and black is falsely attributed. These types of black ops, used for tracking who is watching a certain thing, were a pretty standard part of the industry toolkit.”

Bell Pottinger changed ownership after a management buyout in 2012 and its current structure has no connections with the unit that operated in Iraq, which closed in 2011. It is understood the key people who worked in that unit deny any involvement with tracking software as described by Wells.

Bell Pottinger’s work in Iraq was a huge media operation which cost over a hundred million dollars a year on average. A document unearthed by the Bureau shows the company was employing almost 300 British and Iraqi staff at one point. The Bureau has identified transactions worth $540 million between the Pentagon and Bell Pottinger for information operations and psychological operations on a series of contracts issued from May 2007 to December 2011. A similar contract at around the same annual rate – $120 million – was in force in 2006, we have been told.

“Nobody could work out how a British company could get hundreds of millions of dollars of US funding when there were equally capable US companies who could have done it,” said Andrew Garfield, an ex-employee of the Lincoln Group who is now a senior fellow at the Foreign Policy Research Institute. “The American companies were pissed.”

Alternet, Inside the Shadowy PR Firm That’s Lobbying for Regime Change in Syria, Max Blumenthal, Oct. 3, 2016. Posing as a non-political solidarity organization, the Syria Campaign leverages local partners and media contacts to push the U.S. into toppling another Middle Eastern government.

The Syria Campaign presents itself as an impartial, non-political voice for ordinary Syrian citizens that is dedicated to civilian protection. Yet behind the lofty rhetoric about solidarity and the images of heroic rescuers rushing in to save lives is an agenda that aligns closely with the forces from Riyadh to Washington clamoring for regime change. Indeed, The Syria Campaign has been pushing for a no-fly zone in Syria that would require at least “70,000 American servicemen” to enforce, according to a Pentagon assessment, along with the destruction of government infrastructure and military installations. There is no record of a no-fly zone being imposed without regime change following — which seems to be exactly what The Syria Campaign and its partners want.

“For us to control all the airspace in Syria would require us to go to war against Syria and Russia. That’s a pretty fundamental decision that certainly I’m not going to make,” said Gen. Joseph Dunford, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, at a hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee this month.

Among The Syria Campaign’s most prominent vehicles for promoting military intervention is a self-proclaimed "unarmed and impartial" civil defense group known as the White Helmets. But like The Syria Campaign, the White Helmets are anything but impartial. Indeed, the group was founded in collaboration with the United States Agency for International Development (USAID)’s Office of Transitional Initiatives, an explicitly political wing of the agency that has funded efforts at political subversion in Cuba and Venezuela. USAID is the White Helmets’ principal funder, committing at least $23 million to the group since 2013. This money was part of $339.6 million budgeted by USAID for “supporting activities that pursue a peaceful transition to a democratic and stable Syria" -- or establishing a parallel governing structure that could fill the power vacuum once Bashar Al-Assad was removed.

 

A Brave New '1984' For Our Times?

Aldous Huxley Quotation

New Yorker, Orwell's '1984' and Trump's America, Adam Gopnik, Jan. 27, 2017. Donald Trump’s lies, and his urge to tell them, are pure Big Brother crude, however oafish their articulation. As the British author New Yorker logoAnthony Burgess pointed out a long time ago, [George] Orwell’s modern hell was basically a reproduction of British misery in the postwar rationing years, with the malice of Stalin’s police-state style added on. That other ninth-grade classic, Aldous Huxley’s “Brave New World,” where a permanent playground of sex and drugs persists in a fiercely inegalitarian society, seemed to me far more prescient, and so did any work of Philip K. Dick’s that extrapolated forward our bizarre American entertainment obsessions into an ever more brutal future in which Ken and Barbie might be worshipped as gods.

Donald Trump buttonAn unbidden apology rises to the lips, as Orwell’s book duly climbs high in the Amazon rankings: it was far better and smarter than good times past allowed us to think. What it took, of course, to change this view was the Presidency of Donald Trump. Because the single most striking thing about his matchlessly strange first week is how primitive, atavistic, and uncomplicatedly brutal Trump’s brand of authoritarianism is turning out to be. We have to go back to “1984” because, in effect, we have to go back to 1948 to get the flavor.

There is nothing subtle about Trump’s behavior. He lies, he repeats the lie, and his listeners either cower in fear, stammer in disbelief, or try to see how they can turn the lie to their own benefit.

And so, rereading Orwell (shown in a file photo), one is reminded of what Orwell got right about this kind of brute authoritarianism — and that was essentially that it rests on lies told so often, and so repeatedly, that fighting the lie becomes not simply more dangerous but more exhausting than repeating it. Orwell saw, to his credit, that the act of falsifying reality is only secondarily a way of changing perceptions. It is, above all, a way of asserting power.

George OrwelllWhen Trump repeats the ridiculous story about the three million illegal voters — a story that no one who knows, that not a single White House “staffer,” not a single Republican congressman actually believes to be true — he does not really care if anyone believes it, even if, at some crazy level, he does, sort of. People aren’t meant to believe it; they’re meant to be intimidated by it. The lie is not a claim about specific facts; the lunacy is a deliberate challenge to the whole larger idea of sanity. Once a lie that big is in circulation, trying to reel the conversation back into the territory of rational argument becomes impossible.

And so CNN’s Jake Tapper, to his credit, may announce boldly that the story is false from beginning to end — but then he is led by his own caution and sense of professionalism to ask Trump whether, if he sees it as true, there ought to be an investigation into it.

Tapper, like everyone else, knows perfectly well that a minimally honest investigation would turn up no proof of this absurdity at all. But that, of course, is the trap, the game. Watch: there will be a “commission” consisting of experts borrowed from Breitbart; it will hold no hearings, or hold absurdly closed ones; or hold ones with testimony from frequent callers to “The Alex Jones Show” — and this clownish commission will then baldly conclude that there is, indeed, widespread evidence of voter fraud. And Trump will reassert the lie and point to his commission’s findings as his evidence.