Washington Post’s ‘Fake News’ Guilt, by Robert Parry

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Re: Washington Post’s ‘Fake News’ Guilt, by Robert Parry

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Russian operation hacked a Vermont utility, showing risk to U.S. electrical grid security, officials say
By Juliet Eilperin and Adam Entous
December 31, 2016

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Editor’s Note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly said that Russian hackers had penetrated the U.S. electric grid. Authorities say there is no indication of that so far. The computer at Burlington Electric that was hacked was not attached to the grid.

A code associated with the Russian hacking operation dubbed Grizzly Steppe by the Obama administration has been detected within the system of a Vermont utility, according to U.S. officials.

While the Russians did not actively use the code to disrupt operations, according to officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss a security matter, the discovery underscores the vulnerabilities of the nation’s electrical grid. And it raises fears in the U.S. government that Russian government hackers are actively trying to penetrate the grid to carry out potential attacks.

Officials in government and the utility industry regularly monitor the grid because it is highly computerized and any disruptions can have disastrous implications for the country’s medical and emergency services.

Burlington Electric said in a statement that the company detected a malware code used in the Grizzly Steppe operation in a laptop that was not connected to the organization’s grid systems. The firm said it took immediate action to isolate the laptop and alert federal authorities.

Friday night, Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin (D) called on federal officials “to conduct a full and complete investigation of this incident and undertake remedies to ensure that this never happens again.”

“Vermonters and all Americans should be both alarmed and outraged that one of the world’s leading thugs, Vladimir Putin, has been attempting to hack our electric grid, which we rely upon to support our quality-of-life, economy, health, and safety,” Shumlin said in a statement. “This episode should highlight the urgent need for our federal government to vigorously pursue and put an end to this sort of Russian meddling.”

Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.) said he was briefed on the attempts to penetrate the electric grid by Vermont State Police on Friday evening. “This is beyond hackers having electronic joy rides — this is now about trying to access utilities to potentially manipulate the grid and shut it down in the middle of winter,” Leahy said in a statement. “That is a direct threat to Vermont and we do not take it lightly.”

Rep. Peter Welch (D-Vt.) said the attack shows how rampant Russian hacking is. “It’s systemic, relentless, predatory,” Welch said . “They will hack everywhere, even Vermont, in pursuit of opportunities to disrupt our country. We must remain vigilant, which is why I support President Obama’s sanctions against Russia and its attacks on our country and what it stands for.”

American officials, including one senior administration official, said they are not yet sure what the intentions of the Russians might have been. The incursion may have been designed to disrupt the utility’s operations or as a test to see whether they could penetrate a portion of the grid.

Officials said that it is unclear when the code entered the Vermont utility’s computer, and that an investigation will attempt to determine the timing and nature of the intrusion, as well as whether other utilities were similarly targeted.

“The question remains: Are they in other systems and what was the intent?” a U.S. official said.

This week, officials from the Department of Homeland Security, FBI and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence shared the Grizzly Steppe malware code with executives from 16 sectors nationwide, including the financial, utility and transportation industries, a senior administration official said. Vermont utility officials identified the code within their operations and reported it to federal officials Friday, the official said.

The DHS and FBI also publicly posted information about the malware Thursday as part of a joint analysis report, saying that the Russian military and civilian services’ activity “is part of an ongoing campaign of cyber-enabled operations directed at the U.S. government and its citizens.”

Another senior administration official, who also spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss security matters, said in an email that “by exposing Russian malware” in the joint analysis report, “the administration sought to alert all network defenders in the United States and abroad to this malicious activity to better secure their networks and defend against Russian malicious cyber activity.”

According to the report by the FBI and DHS, the hackers involved in the Russian operation used fraudulent emails that tricked their recipients into revealing passwords.

Russian hackers, U.S. intelligence agencies say, earlier obtained a raft of internal emails from the Democratic National Committee, which were later released by WikiLeaks during this year’s presidential campaign.

President-elect Donald Trump has repeatedly questioned the veracity of U.S. intelligence pointing to Russia’s responsibility for hacks in the run-up to the Nov. 8 election. He also has spoken highly of Russian President Vladimir Putin, despite President Obama’s suggestion that the approval for hacking came from the highest levels of the Kremlin.

Trump spokesman Sean Spicer said it would be “highly inappropriate to comment” on the incident given the fact that Spicer has not been briefed by federal authorities at this point.

Obama has been criticized by lawmakers from both parties for not retaliating against Russia before the election. But officials said the president was concerned that U.S. countermeasures could prompt a wider effort by Moscow to disrupt the counting of votes on Election Day, potentially leading to a wider conflict.

Officials said Obama also was concerned that taking retaliatory action before the election would be perceived as an effort to help the campaign of Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton.

On Thursday, when Obama announced new economic measures against Russia and the expulsion of 35 Russian officials from the United States in retaliation for what he said was a deliberate attempt to interfere with the election, Trump told reporters, “It’s time for our country to move on to bigger and better things.”

Trump has agreed to meet with U.S. intelligence officials next week to discuss allegations surrounding Russia’s online activity.

Russia has been accused in the past of launching a cyberattack on Ukraine’s electrical grid, something it has denied. Cybersecurity experts say a hack in December 2015 destabilized Kiev’s power grid, causing a blackout in part of the Ukrainian capital. On Thursday, Ukrainian President Petro ­Poroshenko accused Russia of waging a hacking war on his country that has entailed 6,500 attacks against Ukrainian state institutions over the past two months.

Since at least 2009, U.S. authorities have tracked efforts by China, Russia and other countries to implant malicious software inside computers used by U.S. utilities. It is unclear if the code used in those earlier attacks was similar to what was found in the Vermont case. In November 2014, for example, federal authorities reported that a Russian malware known as BlackEnergy had been detected in the software controlling electric turbines in the United States.

The Russian Embassy did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Representatives for the Energy Department and DHS declined to comment Friday.

Alice Crites, Carol Morello and Ellen Nakashima contributed to this report.

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Russian government hackers do not appear to have targeted Vermont utility, say people close to investigation
By Ellen Nakashima and Juliet Eilperin
January 2, 2017

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The investigation by officials began Friday, when the Vermont utility reported its alert to federal authorities, some of whom told The Washington Post that code associated with the Russian hackers had been discovered within the system of an unnamed Vermont utility. (Kirill Kudryavtsev/AFP/Getty Images)


As federal officials investigate suspicious Internet activity found last week on a Vermont utility computer, they are finding evidence that the incident is not linked to any Russian government effort to target or hack the utility, according to experts and officials close to the investigation.

An employee at Burlington Electric Department was checking his Yahoo email account Friday and triggered an alert indicating that his computer had connected to a suspicious IP address associated by authorities with the Russian hacking operation that infiltrated the Democratic Party. Officials told the company that traffic with this particular address is found elsewhere in the country and is not unique to Burlington Electric, suggesting the company wasn’t being targeted by the Russians. Indeed, officials say it is possible that the traffic is benign, since this particular IP address is not always connected to malicious activity.

Yahoo says one billion accounts exposed in newly discovered security breach
By Jim Finkle and Anya George Tharakan
Dec 15, 2016

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Yahoo Inc warned on Wednesday that it had uncovered yet another massive cyber attack, saying data from more than 1 billion user accounts was compromised in August 2013, making it the largest breach in history.

The number of affected accounts was double the number implicated in a 2014 breach that the internet company disclosed in September and blamed on hackers working on behalf of a government. News of that attack, which affected at least 500 million accounts, prompted Verizon Communication Inc to say in October that it might withdraw from an agreement to buy Yahoo's core internet business for $4.83 billion.

Following the latest disclosure, Verizon said, "we will review the impact of this new development before reaching any final conclusions."

A Yahoo spokesman told Reuters that the company has been in communication with Verizon during its investigation into the breach and that it is confident the incident will not affect the pending acquisition.

Yahoo required all of its customers to reset their passwords - a stronger measure than it took after the previous breach was discovered, when it only recommended a password reset.

Yahoo also said Wednesday that it believes hackers responsible for the previous breach had also accessed the company’s proprietary code to learn how to forge "cookies" that would allow hackers to access an account without a password.

"Yahoo badly screwed up," said Bruce Schneier, a cryptologist and one of the world's most respected security experts. "They weren't taking security seriously and that's now very clear. I would have trouble trusting Yahoo going forward."

Yahoo was tentative in its description of new problems, saying the incident was "likely" distinct from the one it reported in September and that stolen information "may have included" names, e-mail addresses, telephone numbers, dates of birth, hashed passwords and, in some cases, encrypted or unencrypted security questions and answers.

It said it had not yet identified the intrusion that led to the massive data theft and noted that payment-card data and bank account information were not stored in the system the company believes was affected.

Yahoo said it discovered the breach while reviewing data provided to the company by law enforcement. FireEye Inc’s Mandiant unit and Aon Plc's Stroz Friedberg are assisting in the investigation, the Yahoo spokesman told Reuters.

The breach is the latest setback for Yahoo, an internet pioneer that has fallen on hard times in recent years after being eclipsed by younger, fast-growing rivals including Alphabet Inc's Google and Facebook Inc.

Hours before it announced the breach on Wednesday, executives with Google, Facebook and other large U.S. technology companies met with President-elect Donald Trump in New York. Reflecting its diminished stature, Yahoo was not invited to the summit, according to people familiar with the meeting.

The Yahoo spokesman said Chief Executive Marissa Mayer was at the company's Sunnyvale, California headquarters to assist in addressing the new breach.

Yahoo shares were down 2.4 percent to $39.91 in extended trading. Verizon shares were little changed from their close at $51.63.

(Reporting by Jim Finkle in Boston and Anya George Tharakan in Bengaluru; Additional reporting by Dustin Volz in Washington and Jessica Toonkel in New York; Editing by Savio D'Souza, Bernard Orr)


The investigation by officials began Friday, when the Vermont utility reported its alert to federal authorities, some of whom told The Washington Post that code associated with the Russian hackers had been discovered within the system of an unnamed Vermont utility. On Friday evening, The Post published its report, and Burlington Electric released a statement identifying itself as the utility in question and saying the firm had “detected the malware” in a single laptop. The company said in its statement that the laptop was not connected to its grid systems.

The Post initially reported incorrectly that the country’s electric grid had been penetrated through a Vermont utility. After Burlington Electric released its statement saying that the potentially compromised laptop had not been connected to the grid, The Post immediately corrected its article and later added an editor’s note explaining the change.

Officials say Russian government hackers do not appear to have targeted Burlington Electric, a Vermont utility. Editor’s Note: An earlier version of this video incorrectly said that Russian hackers had penetrated the U.S. electric grid. Authorities say there is no indication of that so far. The computer at Burlington Electric that was hacked was not attached to the grid. (Victoria Walker/The Washington Post)


U.S. officials are continuing to investigate the laptop. In the course of their investigation, though, they have found on the device a package of software tools commonly used by online criminals to deliver malware. The package, known as Neutrino, does not appear to be connected with Grizzly Steppe, which U.S. officials have identified as the Russian hacking operation. The FBI, which declined to comment, is continuing to investigate how the malware got onto the laptop.

Initially, company officials publicly said they had detected code that had been linked by the Department of Homeland Security to Grizzly Steppe.

Over the weekend, the company issued a statement, saying only that it had “detected suspicious Internet traffic” on the computer in question.

The murkiness of the information underlines the difficulties faced by officials as they try to root out Grizzly Steppe and share with the public their findings on how the operation works. Experts say the situation was made worse by a recent government report, which they described as a genuine effort to share information with the industry but criticized as rushed and prone to causing confusion. Authorities also were leaking information about the utility without having all the facts and before law enforcement officials were able to investigate further.

The incident comes as President-elect Donald Trump has cast doubt on the findings of intelligence officials that the Russians conducted a hacking operation designed to help him win the White House.

Experts also said that because Yahoo’s mail servers are visited by millions of people each day, the fact that a Burlington Electric employee checking email touched off an alert is not an indication that the Russian government was targeting the utility.

“It’s not descriptive of anything in particular,” said Robert M. Lee, chief executive of Dragos, a cybersecurity firm.

The company said it was told much the same thing by authorities. “Federal officials have indicated that the specific type of Internet traffic, related to recent malicious cyber activity that was reported by us [on Friday], also has been observed elsewhere in the country and is not unique to Burlington Electric,” company spokesman Mike Kanarick said in a statement.

The FBI and DHS released a report last week intended to prompt companies to search their systems for any evidence of a Russian hacking operation that they concluded had infiltrated Democratic Party servers. The document was intended to help companies mitigate Russian hacking and report any suspicious activity to the government. That report itself contained a caution regarding the suspicious IP addresses it listed: “Upon reviewing the traffic from these IPs, some traffic may correspond to malicious activity, and some may correspond to legitimate activity.”

The discovery of the laptop issue has prompted criticism that the government provided overly broad information to companies that was not effective in isolating Russian government hacking.

“That report offered no technical value for defenders,” Lee said. “It was very much high level and nothing in there was specifically descriptive of Russian activity.”

Some in the administration are concerned that this episode with the Vermont utility will cause industry officials to avoid sharing information with the government, for fear that it will be leaked. The company in this case, the U.S. official said, “did what it was supposed to do.”

Experts also expressed concerns regarding the report released by DHS and the FBI on the Russian hacking operation. The report said it was providing “technical details regarding the tools and infrastructure used by the Russian civilian and military intelligence services” to “compromise and exploit” political, government and private computer networks. The government released the document on the same day it announced a series of measures taken to punish the Russian government for its interference in the 2016 presidential election, including the DNC hacks.

But a range of cybersecurity experts say that although the intention of the report was good, it lacked specific details that would enable firms to detect Russian government hackers.

At least 30 percent of the IP addresses listed were commonly used sites such as public proxy servers used to mask a user’s location, and servers run by Amazon.com and Yahoo. (Amazon’s founder and chief executive, Jeffrey P. Bezos, owns The Washington Post.) The IP address information alone is not useful, experts noted. Moreover, a server that is used by Russian spies one year might be used by “granny’s bake shop” the next, Lee said.

“No one should be making any attribution conclusions purely from the indicators in the [government] report,” tweeted Dmitri Alperovitch, chief technology officer of CrowdStrike, which investigated the DNC hack and attributed it to the Russian government. “It was all a jumbled mess.’’

A senior DHS official, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss a sensitive security matter, defended the report.

“We know the Russians are a highly capable adversary who conduct technical operations in a manner intended to blend into legitimate traffic,” the official said. The indicators of compromise contained in the report, he said, “are indicative of that. That’s why it’s so important for net defenders to leverage the recommended mitigations contained in the [report], implement best practices, and analyze their logs for traffic emanating from those IPs, because the Russians are going to try and hide evidence of their intrusion and presence in the network.”

The official said the information shared was “precisely the type of information DHS should be sharing, particularly since we know that cybersecurity capabilities differ among companies and organizations.”

The nation’s electrical grid is not a physical entity, but rather a series of networks that generate, transmit and distribute electricity. There are three primary networks--the Eastern Interconnect, Western Interconnect and the Electric Reliability Council of Texas--and smaller grids within those three groups. Each amounts to an industrial control system that dispatches electricity from where it is generated to the consumers who use it.

While these systems include redundancies to prevent any disruptions in service, and human operators oversee them, the functioning of the country’s grid is also highly automated. Experts say that this results in the system being more vulnerable to hacking attacks.

Utilities connected to the grid are routinely subjected to penetration efforts, but the U.S. electrical grid has never lost its transmission capacity because of such attempts.

“This is an example of the system working, and us getting bad things off our system as soon as they’re known,” said Nathan Mitchell Sr., who directs electric reliability standards and security at the American Public Power Association.

Shumlin: Vermont Better Off Without Nuclear Plant
by Mike Faher
December 26, 2016

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VERNON – At a recent economic development announcement in Brattleboro, Gov. Peter Shumlin confidently declared that Windham County has an advantage because “we can do cash.”

He was referring to a multimillion-dollar pot of money – the Windham County Economic Development Program – that was created via a shutdown settlement agreement with Vermont Yankee owner Entergy.

As he prepares to leave office two years after the Vernon nuclear plant stopped producing power, Shumlin says he is confident that the regional and state economy is headed in the right direction even without Yankee’s 600-plus jobs in the mix.

And from an energy standpoint, Shumlin contends the state is better off without Vermont Yankee’s 605 megawatts of power production due to a new emphasis on renewables and efficiency.

“There’s no question that running an aging, leaking nuclear power plant beyond its design life was not in Vermont’s best interest,” Shumlin said.

Shumlin never made any secret of his opposition to the nuclear plant that operated for 42 years in his home county.

As a state senator, he led a 2010 vote to block Vermont Yankee’s requested 20-year relicensing. Against a backdrop of tritium leaks at the plant, Yankee shutdown was a key issue in Shumlin’s Democratic gubernatorial campaign that same year.

Shumlin carried that advocacy into the governor’s office, contending Vermonters had lost faith in the plant’s corporate owners – whom he referred to as “Entergy Louisiana.”

During a recent interview with VTDigger.org, Shumlin said his opposition to Vermont Yankee was based partly on tritium leak scandal. But he also believed that the plant should not operate beyond its initial, 40-year licensure period.

“I felt strongly like, in a state where your word is your bond, the deal had been changed after it had been agreed to,” Shumlin said. “It should be retired on time as promised to Vermonters.”

Ultimately, the state didn’t close the plant. The federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission granted a renewed license for Vermont Yankee in 2011, and a federal judge subsequently ruled that the facility could continue to operate beyond a March 21, 2012 shutdown date that had been set by the state.

When Entergy in 2013 announced Vermont Yankee’s planned closure, the company cited financial reasons including the price of natural gas and the costs of operating the plant. There was no mention of the state’s long-standing opposition.

Shumlin, however, still believes that the state played a role. He says it’s no coincidence that Vermont Yankee’s closure came first in a series of nuclear shutdown announcements for Entergy.

“It was a very unhappy relationship” between the state and Entergy, Shumlin said. “And I’m sure that when they made the decision based on economics … to shut a plant down, we had a shiny gold star on our heads.”

Whatever the reason for Entergy’s decision, Shumlin believes it was for the best.

As he exits the governor’s office after three terms, Shumlin often touts his track record in boosting renewable energy sources such as wind and solar. Though the state still buys nuclear power from a plant in New Hampshire, Shumlin says emphasizing renewables and energy efficiency is the right thing to do environmentally and economically.

“We are an example of how to reduce your carbon footprint and do electric generation right,” he said.

The governor said the loss of Vermont Yankee employees has been “a heartbreaking and tragic thing for all of us to go through,” and he said he is not denying the economic impact of the plant’s closure.

At the same time, though, he sees renewable energy as an economic engine for the future. “Now, in Vermont, if you have 17 people in a room, one of them is working in the renewable energy sector,” Shumlin said. “And they tend to be young, vigorous, excited about living in Vermont.”

Shumlin says he’s also proud of a 2013 shutdown agreement the state struck with Entergy. The deal allocated at least $2.6 million in Entergy money for clean energy development activities “in or for the benefit of Windham County.”

Some of that cash has gone toward a wood-heat initiative, and another $400,000 recently was awarded to start a renewable energy grant program in the county.

The state settlement deal also committed Entergy to paying $2 million a year for five years to boost economic development in Windham County. The resulting Windham County Economic Development Program has funded a variety of projects including major expansions at Chroma Technologies in Bellows Falls and G.S. Precision and Commonwealth Dairy in Brattleboro.

“This is the kind of economic incentive that Windham County needs to continue to be economically prosperous,” the governor said.

For the most part, the Shumlin administration has been unsuccessful when attempting to intervene in the federally regulated Vermont Yankee decommissioning process. But officials can still point to the 2013 settlement deal with Entergy as an important victory with long-lasting impacts.

Chris Recchia, whom Shumlin appointed in 2012 to lead the Vermont Public Service Department, echoed the governor in praising Entergy’s recent willingness to negotiate with the state.

“I’ve been very pleased with the discussions we had with Entergy in recent years. I think the (2013) settlement was a good outcome for Vermont,” Recchia said.

Like Shumlin, Recchia also believes the state is “better off without relying on (nuclear) power.”

VERNON RESIDENTS PUSH BACK

Not everyone shares those sentiments. In Vernon, there remains resentment about the state’s fight against Vermont Yankee and doubt about Shumlin’s economic development efforts.

A few months after Entergy announced Vermont Yankee’s pending closure, Vernon resident Josh Unruh titled his first batch of home brew “Shumlin’s Shutdown.” The bottle’s label proclaimed that the beer had been “brewed in Montpelier by politics and ignorance.”

Now a member of Vernon Selectboard, Unruh’s ire hasn’t abated. He says the Shumlin administration’s focus on closing Vermont Yankee “was a short-sighted view.”

As for the impact on Vernon, “my personal view is, I don’t think they care a whole lot,” Unruh said of state officials.

State Rep. Mike Hebert, R-Vernon, says that impact has been “devastating to Vernon and to Windham County in general.”

In addition to employment and tax revenue losses, Hebert said, “people have lost a lot of friends. And we’ve lost a lot of brainpower and a lot of volunteers for organizations in Windham County.”

Hebert isn’t sure the state played much role in Vermont Yankee’s shutdown. But he believes state officials could have done much more to prevent it.

“Had (Shumlin) made efforts as he did with other businesses to keep them in the state, something could have been done to make it easier to have stayed here,” Hebert said.

Hebert and Unruh also question the effectiveness and intent of the Windham County Economic Development Program. That money, they argue, should be doing more to boost entrepreneurs and small businesses – especially in Vernon.

Shumlin doesn’t shy away from criticism, acknowledging that he has denied grants and loans to many applicants because he didn’t feel they had enough economic impact.

“I didn’t want it frittered away on projects that all had good intentions but wouldn’t have resulted necessarily in real jobs for hard-working people,” Shumlin said.

SHUMLIN TOUTS DECOMMISSIONING PLAN

Economics aren’t the only beef some have with Shumlin’s Vermont Yankee policies.

The Brattleboro-based anti-nuclear group New England Coalition won’t give the governor a ringing endorsement as he departs. Coalition trustee and staff member Clay Turnbull argues that Shumlin and his staff should have worked to set site restoration standards and to ensure spent nuclear fuel was stored in a different location than the one Entergy chose.

“It would have been so much better if his legacy was that the waste was much farther from the Connecticut River,” Turnbull said.

While Turnbull said the state deserves some credit for opposing Vermont Yankee’s continued operation, he doesn’t think that was a deciding factor in Entergy’s shutdown decision.

“Every bit of resistance made it easier for them to throw in the towel,” Turnbull said. “But ultimately, if there was money to be made, they would still be operating. That’s the bottom line.”

State Rep. Mike Mrowicki, D-Putney, is more complimentary of Shumlin’s Vermont Yankee work. While there were “a lot of factors” contributing to shutdown, Mrowicki said, “I don’t think Peter’s contribution can be ignored.”

Asked whether he agreed with Shumlin’s declaration that the state is better off without Vermont Yankee, Mrowicki responded that he would “have to say yes, in the long term.”

“The big question mark is, will it get cleaned up … on time and on budget,” Mrowicki said.

The answer to that question may lie with New York-based NorthStar Group Services, which has promised to have most of the Vermont Yankee site cleared by 2030 if state and federal regulators approve its purchase of the property.

Shumlin won’t have a direct role in vetting that sale. But he said the NorthStar deal has the potential to ensure that the plant won’t “sit there rotting” for decades before cleanup work begins.

“If they can really get …. that plant decommissioned as quickly as possible so that we can (develop) that site for another use, that’s a huge help to Windham County,” Shumlin said.


He added that while federal authorities inform utilities on a daily basis about potential threats to the grid, when it came to Thursday’s joint report, “A presidential directive and a high-profile release on this brought it to the forefront.”

Adam Entous contributed to this report.
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Re: Washington Post’s ‘Fake News’ Guilt, by Robert Parry

Postby admin » Sun Jan 29, 2017 8:30 pm

Glenn Greenwald: Mainstream U.S. media is culpable for disseminating fake & deceitful news on Russia. "Any story that bolsters the prevailing D.C. orthodoxy on the Russia Threat, no matter how dubious, is spread far and wide."
by Amy Goodman
January 5, 2017

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We are joined by Glenn Greenwald, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and one of the founding editors of The Intercept. His latest article is headlined “WashPost Is Richly Rewarded for False News About Russia Threat While Public Is Deceived.” In it, he writes, “Any story that bolsters the prevailing D.C. orthodoxy on the Russia Threat, no matter how dubious, is spread far and wide. And then, as has happened so often, when the story turns out to be false or misleading, little or nothing is done to correct the deceitful effects.”

TRANSCRIPT: This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: We’re talking about WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange and allegations of Russian cyber-attacks. During his interview with Fox News’ Sean Hannity this week, Assange was asked whether mainstream media in the U.S. is dishonest.

JULIAN ASSANGE: It’s very dishonest. “Corrupt” is interesting; it depends on your definition. If you look at what we published in the Podesta emails—

SEAN HANNITY: Wait a minute. If they’re colluding with Hillary, that’s not corrupt?

JULIAN ASSANGE: It’s an ethical corruption.

SEAN HANNITY: They’re not identifying it to their audiences. They claim that they’re objective journalists.

JULIAN ASSANGE: It’s ethically corrupt, corrupt by its – “corruption” also means something in law, which is that you’re taking money in exchange.

SEAN HANNITY: OK.

JULIAN ASSANGE: So I don’t that—

SEAN HANNITY: Collusion.

JULIAN ASSANGE: They’re colluding, yeah.

SEAN HANNITY: Because they share her political agenda. Well, why else would they collude? Or they hate Donald Trump.

JULIAN ASSANGE: I think that’s an optimistic interpretation, that they share the political agenda.

SEAN HANNITY: Well, explain that.

JULIAN ASSANGE: It’s more like, “You rub my back, I’ll rub yours.” I’ll give you – you know, I’ll give you information. You’ll be – you’ll come to my – I’ll invite you to my child’s christening or our next big party or – do you know what I mean?


AMY GOODMAN: That’s WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange on Fox News. Glenn Greenwald, your latest article for The Intercept is headlined “WashPost Is Richly Rewarded for False News About Russia Threat While Public Is Deceived.” So, could you comment on what Assange said and your own findings regarding mainstream media coverage of alleged Russian cyber-attacks?

GLENN GREENWALD: So let’s focus on the extraordinary behavior of The Washington Post for the moment. They have produced two of the most humiliating debacles in American journalism over the last several years. And these two humiliations have taken place just within the last six weeks, both of which were about completely fictitious and fabricated claims about the threat posed by Vladimir Putin and Russia.

The first was on November 24th, when they claimed, based on a newly formed anonymous group, that there has been a very widespread, successful effort to implant Kremlin propaganda in the American discourse. And they accomplish this by giving credence to this secret list that this anonymous group of cowards had created in which they claim that a whole range of American media outlets and websites, such as the Drudge Report and other libertarian critics of Hillary Clinton on the right and long-standing left-wing critics of the Democratic Party, like Naked Capitalism and Truthout and Truthdig on the left – they decree them to be tools of Kremlin propaganda. And The Washington Post created this huge story, that went all over the place, based upon giving credence to this list and saying that Russian propaganda had been viewed more than 200 million times in the United States. Journalists all over Twitter, throughout the American media, mindlessly spread it, aggressively endorsed it. It became a huge story. And over the course of the next two weeks, the story completely collapsed, and there’s now a major editor’s note at the top of the article disclaiming the key source, saying that they did not intend to in any way vouch for the validity of the findings of the source on which the entire story was based.

But even more embarrassing was this weekend, when the Post trumpeted this story on Friday night that Vladimir Putin and Russia had hacked into the electric grid of the United States through a Vermont utility, which caused Vermont officials like the governor and Senator Pat Leahy to issue statements saying Vladimir Putin is trying to endanger the safety and the welfare of Vermonters by stealing their heat in the winter. The whole story, from start to finish, turned out to be a complete fabrication. There was no invasion of the American electric grid. The malware that was found on one laptop had nothing to do with Russia. The story was completely false. And again, the American media, in this hysteria, kept spreading and endorsing it.

And in both cases, the retractions were barely noted. So you have millions of people being misled into this hysteria, into this view that Russia is this grave threat, and when the story journalistically collapses, they barely hear about it. And it happened over and over through the election, with Slate saying that a secret server had been found between Donald Trump and a Russian bank, which turned out to be completely false. The Post aired allegations that Putin had poisoned Hillary Clinton on the day that she collapsed on 9/11. And so, it’s not really just dishonesty. It’s the kind of behavior we saw in 2002, where American media outlets are willing to publish anything that the U.S. government tells them to publish, to inflate and expand the threat posed by Russia, to raise fear levels to the highest possible degree. And it’s an incredibly irresponsible and dangerous form of behavior that media outlets, led by The Washington Post, are engaging in.


AMY GOODMAN: And you talk about how retractions obviously don’t get anything like the play of the story, that also has to do with what’s tweeted by the publication, even when they retract, and what isn’t, Glenn.

GLENN GREENWALD: Right. So let me just give you two examples of just the corruption that’s at play here. So, when the Post unveiled their huge story about Russia fake news based on this McCarthyite list that has been proven to be a fraud, they had Marty Baron, the executive editor, the widely respected executive editor of the paper, go onto Twitter and announce this huge exposé. And predictably, it got tweeted and retweeted and shared thousands and thousands of times by all of the biggest journalists with the biggest social media followings. When the story collapsed over the next two weeks and they appended this huge editor’s note, The Washington Post did nothing to bring anyone’s attention to the fact that the key claims of the story have been gutted. Marty Baron refused to answer any questions over that two weeks about what the paper did, and he uttered not one syllable on Twitter or anywhere else to tell all the followers that he alerted to this story that the story had collapsed.

With the story that I just talked about over the weekend of the – of how Putin had wanted to steal the heat from Vermonters to make them suffer in the winter, Brent Staples, who works for The New York Times editorial page, went on Twitter and said, “Our friend Putin has invaded the U.S. electric grid.” And when that story collapsed and The Washington Post retracted it, he did something even worse: He just went and quietly deleted his tweet a day later, as though it never happened, and also failed to tell his 30,000 followers that what he had just told them the day before, that caused them to run around and share with all their friends on Facebook and Twitter that this has happened, was in fact a complete fiction.

And you see this over and over and over again. And remember, these are the people who keep saying that fake news is a huge problem, that Facebook has to suppress it. And yet it’s America’s leading journalistic outlets that are doing more to disseminate false and deceitful stories than Macedonian teenagers by a huge amount. And when they do it and it turns out that the stories are discredited, they take very little to no steps to alert the people that they’ve misled about the fact that the stories were false. And it’s incredibly reckless journalistically. And these are the same people pretending to be crusaders against fake news, who are themselves disseminating it more aggressively than anyone else.


NERMEEN SHAIKH: Well, Glenn Greenwald, let me ask you about the possible use of Twitter for the dissemination of other kinds of possibly fake information. You’ve repeatedly emphasized, as you just did, the role of Twitter in spreading false news by news media outlets. But this may be the first time in global history that a head of state, and that, too, of the most powerful state in the world, seems likely to use precisely this medium as one of his principal modes of communication. Do you think there are similar risks involved with official pronouncement conveyed through Twitter as you say and have explained are with journalistic use of this medium?

GLENN GREENWALD: So I think there are two sides to this. One is, there’s a potential – a potential virtue to having politicians being able to communicate directly to their constituents and the people they represent without having to be mediated by American media outlets, especially ones that have proven to be untrustworthy. So, in some sense, I actually think it’s positive, under the right circumstances, for a political leader – not Donald Trump, but just for political officials generally – to have a means to communicate directly to the people who they’re supposed to be representing and who can then hear feedback back from those people. I mean, in theory, that would be a good model.

The problem with Donald Trump using this is twofold. One is that when you’re the actual president of the world’s largest superpower with a massive nuclear arsenal, using Twitter is an extremely dangerous venue because it inherently has all kinds of ambiguities and possibilities for being misunderstood and for misleading people into what your actual intentions are. And that has happened over and over, where so many of his tweets are not even susceptible to reasoned discourse, where you don’t even know what he means. And when a president is issuing those kinds of ambiguous statements, those are the kinds of things that can ratchet up tensions unintentionally and even spark wars.

But I think there’s another sort of more pernicious aspect to it, which is what Trump is doing is he’s trying to discredit every single source of information other than Donald Trump. So, he’s telling his followers, “Don’t listen to the American media, because they’re liars.” He’s telling them, “Don’t listen to the intelligence community, because they defrauded you with Iraq.” He’s telling them, “Don’t listen to experts, because these experts are all corrupted and they’re part of the D.C. swamp,” that he wants to drain. “The only truth that you should trust comes from me, Donald Trump.” And that is a very dangerous framework. It’s pure authoritarianism when a political leader also becomes the only source of information that the population trusts. But, unfortunately, his biggest allies in that are media outlets who have done the kinds of things that I just explained The Washington Post having done and journalists having helped them. They’re the reason why people are losing faith in American media outlets. And that’s what gives space to a demagogue like Donald Trump to say, “I’m the only person who you can trust.” And his use of Twitter is really a weapon, a powerful weapon, in achieving that dangerous state of affairs.

AMY GOODMAN: China’s state news agency Xinhua said, “Twitter should not become an instrument of foreign policy,” warning President-elect Trump. But, Glenn, as we wrap up, your concerns right now? In the headline, we just said that Donald Trump says he’s going to overhaul the intelligence agencies, which many might think is a good thing, cutting back Virginia, the headquarters, less computer internet surveillance, more human surveillance, getting more spies out on the streets. Where is this country going now, Glenn? Your perspective, from outside now, though as an American?

GLENN GREENWALD: I mean, I think it really remains to be seen, but there are definitely fundamental changes taking place. If you look, for example, at recent polling, what you find is that the CIA is now one of the most admired and defended institutions among Democrats, while Republicans don’t like the CIA and actually prefer Vladimir Putin even to Barack Obama. You have radical shifts taking place in coalitions, in alliances, in alignments, and it can – it’s very unpredictable how it can play out. Sometimes instability could produce positive outcomes. Trump abrogated the TPP. He wants to limit Boeing and Lockheed and the amount of money that’s spent on them. He wants to bring jobs back to the U.S. But it can also have very dangerous outcomes, as well, because of its unpredictability. And so, I think it’s a very dangerous time for the United States, and it’s one of the reasons why I’m hoping Democrats find their footing and become a lot more focused and reasoned and stop sort of wallowing in these radical conspiracy theories that make them appear unhinged, because Donald Trump needs a cohesive and focused and effective opposition.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to leave it there, Glenn Greenwald. Thanks so much for being with us, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, one of the founding editors of The Intercept. We’ll link to your pieces, most recently, “WashPost Is Richly Rewarded for False News About Russia Threat While Public Is Deceived.”
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Re: Washington Post’s ‘Fake News’ Guilt, by Robert Parry

Postby admin » Mon Jan 30, 2017 10:29 pm

'Fake News' And How The Washington Post Rewrote Its Story On Russian Hacking Of The Power Grid
by Kalev Leetaru
Jan 1, 2017

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On Friday the Washington Post sparked a wave of fear when it ran the breathless headline “Russian hackers penetrated U.S. electricity grid through a utility in Vermont, U.S. officials say.” The lead sentence offered “A code associated with the Russian hacking operation dubbed Grizzly Steppe by the Obama administration has been detected within the system of a Vermont utility, according to U.S. officials” and continued “While the Russians did not actively use the code to disrupt operations of the utility, according to officials who spoke on condition of anonymity in order to discuss a security matter, the penetration of the nation’s electrical grid is significant because it represents a potentially serious vulnerability.”

Yet, it turns out this narrative was false and as the chronology below will show, illustrates how effectively false and misleading news can ricochet through the global news echo chamber through the pages of top tier newspapers that fail to properly verify their facts.

The original article was posted online on the Washington Post's website at 7:55PM EST. Using the Internet Archive's Wayback Machine, we can see that sometime between 9:24PM and 10:06PM the Post updated the article to indicate that multiple computer systems at the utility had been breached ("computers" plural), but that further data was still being collected: “Officials said that it is unclear when the code entered the Vermont utility’s computers, and that an investigation will attempt to determine the timing and nature of the intrusion.” Several paragraphs of additional material were added between 8PM and 10PM, claiming and contextualizing the breach as part of a broader campaign of Russian hacking against the US, including the DNC and Podesta email breaches.

Despite the article ballooning from 8 to 18 paragraphs, the publication date of the article remained unchanged and no editorial note was appended, meaning that a reader being forwarded a link to the article would have no way of knowing the article they were seeing was in any way changed from the original version published 2 hours prior.

Yet, as the Post’s story ricocheted through the politically charged environment, other media outlets and technology experts began questioning the Post’s claims and the utility company itself finally issued a formal statement at 9:37PM EST, just an hour and a half after the Post's publication, pushing back on the Post’s claims: “We detected the malware in a single Burlington Electric Department laptop not connected to our organization’s grid systems. We took immediate action to isolate the laptop and alerted federal officials of this finding.”

From Russian hackers burrowed deep within the US electrical grid, ready to plunge the nation into darkness at the flip of a switch, an hour and a half later the story suddenly became that a single non-grid laptop had a piece of malware on it and that the laptop was not connected to the utility grid in any way.

However, it was not until almost a full hour after the utility’s official press release (at around 10:30PM EST) that the Post finally updated its article, changing the headline to the more muted “Russian operation hacked a Vermont utility, showing risk to U.S. electrical grid security, officials say” and changed the body of the article to note “Burlington Electric said in a statement that the company detected a malware code used in the Grizzly Steppe operation in a laptop that was not connected to the organization’s grid systems. The firm said it took immediate action to isolate the laptop and alert federal authorities.” Yet, other parts of the article, including a later sentence claiming that multiple computers at the utility had been breached, remained intact.

The following morning, nearly 11 hours after changing the headline and rewriting the article to indicate that the grid itself was never breached and the “hack” was only an isolated laptop with malware, the Post still had not appended any kind of editorial note to indicate that it had significantly changed the focus of the article.

This is significant, as one driving force of fake news is that as much of 60% of the links shared on social media are shared based on the title alone, with the sharer not actually reading the article itself. Thus, the title assigned to an article becomes the story itself and the Post’s incorrect title meant that the story that spread virally through the national echo chamber was that the Russians had hacked into the US power grid.

Only after numerous outlets called out the Post’s changes did the newspaper finally append an editorial note at the very bottom of the article more than half a day later saying “An earlier version of this story incorrectly said that Russian hackers had penetrated the U.S. electric grid. Authorities say there is no indication of that so far. The computer at Burlington Electric that was hacked was not attached to the grid.”

Yet, even this correction is not a true reflection of public facts as known. The utility indicated only that a laptop was found to contain malware that has previously been associated with Russian hackers. As many pointed out, the malware in question is actually available for purchase online, meaning anyone could have used it and its mere presence is not a guarantee of Russian government involvement. Moreover, a malware infection can come from many sources, including visiting malicious websites and thus the mere presence of malware on a laptop computer does not necessarily indicate that Russian government hackers launched a coordinated hacking campaign to penetrate that machine - the infection could have come from something as simple as an employee visiting an infected website on a work computer.

Moreover, just as with the Santa Claus and the dying child story, the Post story went viral and was widely reshared, leading to embarrassing situations like CNBC tweeting out the story and then having to go back and retract the story.

Particularly fascinating that the original Post story mentioned that there were only two major power utilities in Vermont and that Burlington Electric was one of them, meaning it would have been easy to call both companies for comment. However, while the article mentions contacting DHS for comment, there is no mention of any kind that the Post reached out to either of the two utilities for comment. Given that Burlington issued its formal statement denying the Post’s claims just an hour and a half later, this would suggest that had the Post reached out to the company it likely could have corrected its story prior to publication.

When I reached out to Kris Coratti, Vice President of Communications and Events for the Washington Post for comment, she responded that regarding the headline change, “Headlines aren’t written by story authors. When editors realized it overreached, as happens from time to time with headlines, it was corrected.” She also indicated that posting the editor’s note at the bottom of the article instead of the top was a mistake and indeed this was corrected shortly after my email to her inquiring about it.

Ms. Coratti’s response regarding the article headline is a fascinating reminder of just how many different people and processes combine to produce a single article in a newspaper – that contrary to popular belief, a reporter doesn’t sit down and write a story, choose a headline and then hit “Publish” and have the story go live on the newspaper website. Most newspapers, like the Washington Post, either employ dedicated headline writers or have their editors write the headlines for each piece and articles typically go through an elaborate review process designed to catch these sorts of issues prior to publication.

It is also interesting to note that the Post said it was an error for the editorial note to be buried at the very bottom of the page instead of at the top of the article, as was done for the Santa Claus story. This reflects the chaotic nature of newsrooms in which an editorial note is frequently added by an editor simply logging into a CMS portal and updating a live page, rather than a templated system which automatically places all editorial notes in the same place with the same style and formatting to ensure consistency.

Equally fascinating, neither Ms. Coratti nor Post Public Relations responded to any of my remaining queries regarding the article’s fact checking process. In particular, the Post did not respond when I asked how headlines are fact checked and if headline writers conduct any form of fact checking to ensure their summarized version is consistent with known facts. The Post also did not respond to a request for comment on why it took nearly half a day from the time the article was rewritten until an editorial note was finally appended acknowledging that the conclusions of the original article were false and that the article had been substantively rewritten to support a different conclusion, nor did the Post comment on why the editor’s note was originally placed at the bottom of the article and only moved after I inquired about its location.

Yet, perhaps most intriguing is that, as with the Santa Claus story, the Post did not respond to repeated requests for comment regarding how it conducts fact checking for its stories. This marks twice in a row that the Post has chosen not to respond in any fashion to my requests for more detail on its fact checking processes. Given the present atmosphere in which trust in media is in freefall and mainstream outlets like the Post are positioning themselves as the answer to “fake news” it certainly does not advance trust in the media when a newspaper will not even provide the most cursory of insight into how it checks its facts.

As with the Santa Claus story, the Post appears to have run this story without even attempting to perform the most basic of fact checks before publication. The original story noted that there were only two utilities in Vermont and yet the article states that the Post only attempted to contact DHS and does not mention any attempt to contact either of the utilities. Standard journalistic practice would have required that the Post mention that it attempted to reach either utility even if neither responded. The Post did not respond to a request for comment when I asked if it had attempted to reach either utility for comment prior to publication.

Putting this all together, what can we learn from this? The first is that, as with the Santa Claus and PropOrNot stories, the journalism world tends to rely far more on trust than fact checking. When one news outlet runs a story, the rest of the journalism world tends to follow suit, each writing their own version of the story without ever going back to the original sources for verification. In short – once a story enters the journalism world it spreads without further restraint as each outlet assumes that the one before performed the necessary fact checking.

The second is that the news media is overly dependent on government sources. Glenn Greenwald raises the fantastic point that journalists must be more cautious in treating the word of governments as absolute truth. Indeed, a certain fraction of the world’s false and misleading news actually comes from the mouths of government spokespeople. Yet, in the Post’s case, it appears that a government source tipped off the post about a sensational story of Russians hacking the US power grid and instead of reaching out to the utilities themselves or gathering further detail, the Post simply published the story as fed to them by the government officials.

The third is that breaking news is a source of a tremendous amount of false and misleading news as rumors and falsehoods spread like wildfire in the absence of additional information. Top tier newspapers like the Washington Post are supposed to be a bulwark against these falsehoods, by not publishing anything until it has been thoroughly fact checked against multiple sources. Yet, it appears this is not the case – in the rush to be the first to break a story and not be scooped, reporters even at the nation’s most prestigious news outlets will take shortcuts and rush a story out the door. What would have happened in the Post had waited another day or two to collect responses from all involved, including Burlington Electric? It would have avoided publishing false information, but it also likely would have been scooped by another newspaper who wanted to be the first to break the story.

Indeed, “breaking news” is a tremendous problem for mainstream outlets in which they frequently end up propagating “fake news” in their rush to be the first to break a story. In a world beset by false and misleading news, do top tier news outlets have a professional responsibility to step back from breaking stories and only report on them after all details are known and they have had an opportunity to speak with all parties involved and understand more definitively what has happened? Financially this would likely be devastating in a share-first click-first world in which to the victor go the advertising dollars, but it would seem the only way to truly stop “fake news” from spreading.
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Re: Washington Post’s ‘Fake News’ Guilt, by Robert Parry

Postby admin » Mon Jan 30, 2017 10:43 pm

What Santa And The Dying Child Story Teaches Us About Fake News, Data And Verification
By Kalev Leetaru
December 15, 2016

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Some of the world’s most prestigious and reputable news outlets took a moment this week to carry the heartwarming story of a Santa Claus actor who held a boy in his arms at the hospital before he died, offering him comforting words in the spirit of the Christmas season. Outlets covering the story included a veritable who’s who of the media world both in the US and across the world, including the Washington Post, BBC, CNN, NBC, Daily Mail, Japan Times, Today, People, Cosmopolitan, Mashable, BuzzFeed and many many more. However, last night the Knoxville News Sentinel, the originator of the story, published a note from its editor warning that after further investigation it could not verify the substance and details of the story and was no longer standing by its contents. While stopping short of saying the story did not happen, the paper noted that each of the major hospitals in the area had confirmed that the events as described did not occur in their facility, casting doubt on key details of the account, even as the actor himself stood by his story.

While in an ordinary week such a story might simply be written off as another possible viral hoax, what makes this series of events so remarkable is that they occurred in a week saturated with discussion of “fake news” and the need to do a better job of fact checking and verifying the information we consume. Indeed, several of the same outlets carrying the Santa Claus story have also run pieces this week and last arguing that citizens must turn to mainstream media to protect themselves against “fake news” because of the immense amount of verification and fact checking that journalists at these outlets do before reporting on a story. Slate went so far as to create a browser plugin where its editors will screen news coverage and flag articles they believe to be fake. Yet, if some of the world’s most respected news outlets like the Washington Post, BBC and CNN all freely published an unverified story, how could we trust them to somehow do so much better on other stories?

First, its important to ask how such a story went viral in the midst of journalism’s soul searching about “fake news.” It all started with a news outlet: the Knoxville News Sentinel, which ran the original story. The News Sentinel is part of the USA Today Network and the story was rapidly picked up by its other properties and then from there went viral across the national and international news spheres. The News Sentinel’s editor wrote last night that the paper had not performed additional fact checking before running the story and only after the article went viral and outlets like Snopes began to question its veracity, did the newspaper finally reach out to local hospitals and determine that the events as written in the article did not occur at any of their facilities. As each additional news outlet rushed to cover the viral story, they too failed to perform basic journalistic diligence in picking up the phone and calling around to local hospitals for verification and more detail. Instead, essentially a giant trust game played out in that each outlet wrote about the story because it trusted that the earlier outlet had performed the necessary due diligence on it.

The News Sentinel did not respond to a request for a comment on why it did not perform additional verification on the story until after it had gone viral nor what its standard policies on pre-publication verification are. The Washington Post also did not respond to a request for comment as to why, in at least the second time in the last few weeks, it ran a major story without performing additional steps to verify it.

In the case of the Washington Post's earlier PropOrNot story, the newspaper initially strongly defended its work, arguing that it had thoroughly vetted its reporting, offering “The Post reviewed its findings, and our questions about them were answered satisfactorily during the course of multiple interviews.” Only after extensive reporting by other outlets did the Post reverse its stance to claim it performed no verification of any kind, saying in an Editor’s Note “The Post … does not itself vouch for the validity of PropOrNot’s findings regarding any individual media outlet, nor did the article purport to do.”

When asked to comment on the Post’s pre-publication verification and vetting processes and why it did not ask for comment from other researchers in the field to offer additional perspectives before publishing the PropOrNot story, a Post spokeswoman offered only that the paper would have no further comment on the matter. The Post also declined to outline its verification workflow or the steps it takes to verify a story prior to publication.

Such silence is especially troubling in an era when newspapers like the Post are positioning themselves as a bulwark against “fake news” by arguing that their immense verification and vetting workflows ensure they have positively confirmed all elements of a story prior to publication and thus readers can rest assured that a story that appears on their pages has undergone the most rigorous fact checking imaginable. Yet, the reality appears to be precisely the opposite: in the Post’s case, it first claimed to have rigorously investigated the PropOrNot story, only to reverse itself in the face of criticism and say it was merely reporting what it had been told and not standing behind the results in any way.

In the case of the Santa Claus story, it appears the Post similarly did not perform the most basic of due diligence to call around to the local hospitals in the area to confirm the basic details of the story before running it. Yet, more concerningly, the editorial note it subsequently appended to the story places the blame solely on the News Sentinel, while not saying a word about why the Post itself didn’t do any fact checking of its own. In short, the Post’s argument is that it simply trusted another outlet to do due diligence and that once a story enters the news cycle, no other outlet bears responsibility to verify it. This is remarkably similar to the castle defense formerly popular in cyber security circles, in which a company would assume that the outer layers of its network would verify that incoming network traffic was trusted and that once traffic entered the network it could be trusted without additional verification.

Of course, one might argue that it simply isn’t worth the time of a newspaper like the Post to expend precious journalistic resources verifying the minute details of a personal interest story. On the other hand, most would likely agree that publishing a media blacklist like the PropOrNot story certainly does deserve extensive fact checking. The problem is that there is no way to know, when reading a typical newspaper story, how much (if any) fact checking the details of that story underwent. There is no appendix that lists all of the details the reporter did or did not confirm. Indeed, this is the case in all major Western news outlets, but this practice creates the illusion of trust that the reporter must have verified the story before the newspaper would even think of publishing it.

In many ways, the Santa Claus story that went viral without a bit of verification is merely a reflection of the broader problems facing both the news industry and the data science world as a whole. As I noted last week, the inverted pyramid of journalism allows stories like this to flourish by placing the emphasis on conclusions and story rather than underlying facts. Similarly, in our information-saturated realtime-focused society, we’re more interested in short punchy conclusions than we are in the reams of data and caveats that accompany them.

In the case of a large data analysis, the original analytic report might contain pages of caveats, nuances, assumptions and explanations on how to interpret the result. In turn, that result and a few of the caveats are repacked for the next level of decision making, which in turn strips out even more detail to present to the next level of management, until at the highest level of decision making authority, only the final strengthened conclusion remains, absent all of the critical evidence that might call it into question. A single analyst’s tentative conclusion, offered with just 20% probability of being correct, might, through a giant game of telephone, become a definitive answer supported by the entire analytic community.

Here, it appears that each news outlet covering this story simply assumed that the one before had performed the necessary fact checking and as the number of major outlets covering the story grew, so too did its perceived trustworthiness, as readers assumed that all of these outlets had independently verified the details, subjecting it to an ever greater collection of fact checking and verification.

At the end of the day, we simply don’t know if this heartwarming story is true or false or somewhere in between and the Santa Claus actor at the heart of the story stands firmly by his account. However, what we do know is that of the myriad news outlets covering the story, including some of the world’s best-known and most reputable brands in journalism, not one of them made even the most basic of efforts to verify the story before publishing it, content instead to happily spread a viral feel-good holiday narrative. Moreover, in their post-postmortems this morning, not one of these major outlets has accepted ownership over this failure to verify, placing the blame instead on the News Sentinel. In a world besieged by “fake news” how can these same news outlets ask the world’s citizens to turn to them as skilled fact checkers and arbiters of the truth if they can’t be bothered to make a few fact checking phone calls before rushing a story out the door?
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Re: Washington Post’s ‘Fake News’ Guilt, by Robert Parry

Postby admin » Tue Jan 31, 2017 2:11 am

BBC Propaganda Watch: Tell-Tale Signs That Slip Through The Cracks
by Medialengs.org Editor
December 13, 2016

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Even the most powerful systems of propaganda inadvertently allow uncomfortable truths to slip out into the public domain. Consider a recent BBC News interview following the death of Cuba's former leader Fidel Castro. Dr Denise Baden, Associate Professor in Business Ethics at the University of Southampton, who has studied Castro's leadership and Cuban business models, was asked by BBC News presenter Maxine Mawhinney for her views on Cuba and Castro. It's fair to say that Baden's responses didn't follow the standard establishment line echoed and amplified in much of the 'mainstream' media.

Mawhinney kicked off the interview with the standard Western propaganda line about Castro:

'He ruled with an iron fist, didn't he?'


Baden immediately challenged the cliché:

[img]'Well,%20that's%20something%20that%20everyone's%20fond%20of%20saying.%20But%20when%20I%20talk%20to%20the%20people%20who%20live%20in%20Cuba,%20and%20the%20Cubans%20who've%20come%20to%20live%20in%20the%20UK,%20that's%20not%20the%20story%20that%20I%20get.%20The%20feeling%20that%20comes%20through%20is%20of%20Fidel%20Castro%20almost%20as%20a%20father%20figure.%20So,%20the%20older%20generation%20tend%20to%20see%20him%20as%20a%20hero%20of%20the%20revolution.%20They're%20aware%20that%20many%20of%20them%20wouldn't%20even%20be%20here%20if%20it%20wouldn't%20have%20been%20for%20the%20health%20advances%20and%20the%20equalisation%20of%20resources%20that%20he%20provided.'[/img]

The academic, who visited the island in 2013 and 2014, 'drawn by its record on sustainability', then pointed out that it was the crippling US embargo on Cuba that was responsible for much of the hardships suffered by the Cubans for over five decades: a crucial point that the BBC interviewer significantly did not pursue.

Mawhinney then raised Castro's human rights record. Baden addressed the issue of free speech first:

'When I went to talk to people in Cuba, I found it remarkable how freely they all spoke about Fidel Castro, and Raul Castro, and the policies. I was expecting from the discourse we hear that people would be afraid to speak out. And that wasn't what I found - people spoke out very freely.'


The BBC interviewer pressed her on whether Cuban people really did speak out:

'Did they criticise the regime?'


Baden:

'Oh yes. I had the head of a topical newspaper who was quite critical of the government in some ways. Not all ways, but some ways. And I think what it is, is the [Western] media's been dominated by America. So, for example, when Obama visited Havana [in March 2016] you had the Cuban Ladies in White come out to protest against the human rights abuses. And so, of course, that dominates the headlines. But they're paid for by Americans – people don't realise that; an American agency pays for them. The Cubans don't take them seriously.'


Once again, the BBC interviewer did not pick up the uncomfortable point about US support, including financial sponsorship, of anti-Castro activism. Imagine the reverse case if Cuba, or another foreign power, were responsible for funding or otherwise fomenting activism inside the United States. Indeed, look at the media outrage at alleged interference by 'Putin's Russia' in the recent US election, with a new explosion of coverage devoted to evidence-free assertions made by anonymous CIA officials.

The BBC interviewer returned to Castro:

'But he did carry out human rights abuses. Look, let's just take one section. Gay people and those with Aids – completely persecuted.'


Again, Baden's response deviated from the 'mainstream' script:

'I think when you look back at the time at which the revolution was considered to be a little bit homophobic, which was in the 60s, I'm not sure many countries could hold their heads up high and say that they were as open as they should be. So, I think you have to look at it in context of the period as well.'


Trying a different tack, Mawhinney continued:

'You seem quite fond of Fidel Castro.'


Rather than rise to this personalised bait, Baden pointed out that, like many Western consumers of news broadcasts, she had long 'been exposed to the Miami voice [often privileged Cuban exiles], which is the very dominant voice, and I think I was just surprised when I went there not to find this browbeaten people who felt oppressed.'

She continued:

'And I think that made me a little bit cross actually because I think we have been exposed to a lot of misinformation, and this quite small minority in Florida has dominated the headlines today and over the past fifty years.'


This implicit criticism of BBC News was left hanging in the air.

By now sounding quite incredulous, the BBC interviewer asked:

'So, are you saying that what he did, the things that we would see as a human rights abuse was okay?'


Baden's calm challenge was professorial:

'Well, do you want to be more specific?'


Mawhinney followed up in hand-waving fashion:

'Well, the prisoners, the political prisoners, the problems with gay people, et cetera, et cetera.'


Baden replied:

'Well no, I don't think political prisoners are ever okay. And I don't think persecuting gay people is ever okay.'


Crucially, the academic then made the point that matters:

'What I'm disputing is that Fidel Castro of Cuba was any worse than any other country. I think if you expose America to the same lens, then you'd have a stack of crimes that would overshadow what Fidel Castro has done.'


It's a rare moment when even a mention of American crimes is carried on BBC airwaves, never mind stating that they would dwarf the alleged crimes of an Official Enemy.

Baden continued with the context that was routinely missing from, or downplayed in, recent coverage of Cuba following Castro's death:

'I think the important thing to realise is the moment Fidel came into power in the revolution, at the time at which there was very strong anti-Communist feeling, the Americans did everything they could to subvert that. They invaded in the Bay of Pigs, the Cuban missile crisis was a response to an expected additional invasion, and there was, I think, an estimated 638 CIA-sponsored attempts on Fidel Castro's life. So, I think you have to understand the responses and the fear of open speech in context of a constant aggression coming from ninety miles over the water.'


Again, the notion of 'constant aggression' from the US is virtually verboten on the BBC.

This remarkable segment of BBC News would most likely have been lost down the Memory Hole were it not for Media Lens reader Steve Ennever who captured it, uploaded it to YouTube, and then informed people about it (including us). The clip quickly went viral. At the time of writing, it has had around 140,000 views on YouTube, with around half a million views on the Media Lens Facebook page and 2.7 million views via EvolvePolitics. This truly shows the power of social media.

Most public commenters were highly appreciative of the way Baden handled the BBC interview. A few preferred to say instead: 'Well done BBC for showing this', as though the corporation had upheld its commitment to impartiality. But those people are rather missing the point. The BBC line of interviewing – in reality, assertions with a token question mark added at the end - consisted of propaganda bullet points. Thanks to Baden, here was a rare and welcome example of that propaganda line being dismantled live on BBC News.

Yes, it is possible to praise the interviewer, or BBC News, for 'allowing' that to happen here; Maxine Mawhinny did at least refrain from constantly interrupting the interviewee in the way of Andrew Neil, Andrew Marr or John Humphrys. By 'balancing' praise with criticism, some argue, the BBC will be 'encouraged' to 'improve' its performance. Perhaps marginally. But, as seen over many years, the very structure of the BBC means there is a systemic bias in favour of the state, big business, elites and power. Praising a prison guard for being a little less harsh is futile when the prison system remains essentially unchanged. Are we really meant to be pathetically grateful for tiny bits of comfort?

Such are the perils of live television, then, for BBC News. An interviewee may end up querying, perhaps rejecting, the ideological script presented by a BBC News journalist. The script may even be turned on its head, by pointing out that the West is guilty of far worse crimes than the Bogeyman in question – Fidel Castro, as we saw above.

'A Grand Bargain'

Another potentially vulnerable moment for the BBC in maintaining the correct ideological stance is the live artificial 'chat' that takes place between a BBC News presenter and a journalist who is on location, or sitting across a glossy table from the presenter in the studio. Normally these are such tightly managed affairs between two highly trained and carefully selected media professionals that nothing 'untoward' happens. But very occasionally, the impromptu language allows over-reaching or unguarded thoughts to spill out, making alert viewers do a double-take.

For example, BBC Business Editor Simon Jack inadvertently delivered a tasty morsel of newspeak on BBC News at Ten last month (BBC One, November 21, 2016). Jack was describing Prime Minister Theresa May's keynote speech to business leaders at the CBI conference. Supposedly, her tone was more 'conciliatory' compared to a previous 'withering attack' a week earlier when she had pointed out 'some abuses she saw in capitalism and their [business leaders'] behaviour in some corners of British business'. May's vague words then about curbing 'the worst excesses of capitalism' did not exactly herald a revolution. Instead, they smacked of appeasing 'populism' in the wake of Brexit and Trump's US electoral win.

Jack paraphrased May's key message to the CBI:

'I know you've got some problems. And there's going to be a grand bargain. I'll do some things, I'll lower taxes, I'll invest in productivity. You clean up your act and make sure the wealth is shared.'


BBC viewers may well have thought: 'Run that past me again?' Did you really report without comment, far less journalistic scrutiny, that the Prime Minister instructed business elites to 'make sure the wealth is shared'? Is the British public expected to believe that big business will actually 'make sure the wealth is shared'? As ever, there was no proper scepticism towards government pronouncements or policy. In reality, Jack's role is the BBC News editor for business – and government. Sometimes the bias is that blatant.

Another point in BBC News where viewers can be rewarded for particular vigilance is at the start of the programme; or when a specific news story is being introduced. Here the required establishment view – the perspective of 'our' government or big business - is sometimes especially obvious.

For example, on November 16, Fiona Bruce introduced an item on BBC News at Ten with:

'In Iraq, special forces are slowly pushing back so-called Islamic State in the country's second city, Mosul. But the fighting is hard...'


This was propaganda-style reporting once again from BBC News; no doubt similar to how the Russian media report on Russian forces pushing back against terrorists in Syria. Indeed, as we have pointed out before, there are many parallels between British and Russian/Soviet propaganda reporting of foreign policy and military action (see here, here and here).

'The World Wants America As Its Policeman'

And then there are those brave people who enter the labyrinthine den of the BBC 'complaints system'. This is a soul-crushing experience that even the former BBC chairman Lord Grade once described as 'grisly' due to a system that is 'absolutely hopeless'. So what hope for us mere mortals? Anyone who makes the attempt is surely forever disabused of the notion that BBC News engages with, or indeed serves, the public in any meaningful way. Long-time readers may recall that Helen Boaden, then head of BBC News, once joked that she evaded public complaints that were sent to her on email:

'Oh, I just changed my email address.'


One of our favourite cases was a challenge made about an article by that avuncular epitome of BBC gravitas, World Affairs Editor John Simpson. In a 2014 article, 'Barack Obama's best years could still be ahead of him', Simpson claimed that:

'The world (well, most of it) wants an active, effective America to act as its policeman, sorting out the problems smaller countries can't face alone.'


One of our readers (name withheld) read the article, then submitted a complaint to the BBC, noting that:

'In an international opinion poll by Gallup this year the US was found to be the greatest threat to peace in the world, voted three times more dangerous to world peace than the next country. The BBC article is therefore, at worst, incorrect and biased or at best highly inaccurate. Will you be retracting the statement?'


Needless to say, the BBC did no such thing. In fact, Sean Moss, whose job title reads 'BBC Complaints Adviser for BBC News website', delivered a comical reply (forwarded to us, 13 November 2014):

'In fact the poll referenced in your complaint was from the end of last year rather than this year. It is an annual end of year survey which in this edition "explores the outlook, expectations, hopes and fears of people from 65 countries around the world" from 2013.

'Given that we're now nearly at the end of 2014 and they will be conducting a new poll next month we're unclear on what basis you feel these views are still applicable.'


'Unclear' if 'still applicable'? Far from being a rogue result, the US regularly tops polls of global public opinion as the world's greatest threat to peace. As Noam Chomsky noted in an interview earlier this year when discussing nuclear weapons:

'Iran is not a threat, period. The world doesn't regard Iran as a threat. That's a U.S. obsession. You look at global—polls of global opinion taken by Gallup's international affiliate, the leading U.S. polling agencies—agency, one of the questions that they ask is, "Which country is the greatest threat to world peace?" Answer: United States, by a huge margin. Iran is barely mentioned. Second place is Pakistan, inflated by the Indian vote, that's way behind the United States. That's world opinion. And there are reasons for it. Americans are protected from this information.'


Not only Americans. British – indeed, global - audiences too; thanks in no small measure to the BBC.

The requirement to keep awkward facts hidden or marginalised is especially pressing on those BBC journalists who are entrusted to report from the United States. Thus, in an online report titled 'The decline of US power?', the BBC New York correspondent Nick Bryant had to tread carefully in even mentioning America's 'approval rating', as measured by Gallup:

'In Asia, America's median approval rating in 2014, as measured by Gallup, was 39%, a 6% drop since 2011.

'In Africa, the median approval went down to 59%, the lowest since polling began, despite Obama hosting the US-Africa Leaders' Summit in Washington in August, last year.'


There was no mention that, as mentioned, global public opinion regularly regards the US as the greatest threat to world peace, and by a considerable margin.

However, there was plenty of space for Bryant to churn out the usual BBC boilerplate about America's 'national interest' and Obama's 'pragmatism' and 'diplomatic dexterity'; all this about a leader who boasted he had bombed seven countries, rapidly escalated a killer drone programme and broke his pledge to shut down the US Guantanamo torture camp in Cuba.

Dying In A Ditch For BBC News 'Impartiality'

The irony in the ongoing corporate media allegations about 'fake news' (see our previous media alert) is that, as Glenn Greenwald noted, 'those who most loudly denounce Fake News are typically those most aggressively disseminating it.' That is because the corporate media fears losing control of the media agenda.

As for BBC News, its privileged, publicly-funded position as supposedly the world's most trusted broadcaster is under threat. So, while reasonable questions can be asked of the growing behemoths of the media landscape – Google, YouTube and Facebook – 'mainstream' journalists know full well not to publicly scrutinise their own industry's output of state-corporate 'fake news'.

Thus, BBC Technology correspondent Rory Cellan-Jones can safely hold Facebook up to the light and ask:

'If Facebook or something similar had not existed, would Donald Trump still be heading for the White House?

'That is hard to say but what does seem likely is that social media served to polarise views in what was already a bitter election and may have encouraged a few hesitant voters to come out for Mr Trump.

'This makes Facebook's claims that it just a technology platform, rather than a hugely powerful media company with Mark Zuckerberg as editor-in-chief, look very thin indeed. But there are few signs that the company is ready to face up to this heavy responsibility or engage in some serious soul-searching.' (our emphasis)


It would be virtually unthinkable for a BBC journalist to write of his employer:

'there are few signs that the broadcaster is ready to face up to this heavy responsibility or engage in some serious soul-searching.'


But then, as John Pilger noted recently:

'Propaganda is most effective when our consent is engineered by those with a fine education – Oxford, Cambridge, Harvard, Columbia — and with careers on the BBC, the Guardian, the New York Times, the Washington Post.'


As a prime example, consider Laura Kuenssberg, the BBC's political editor. Last week, Press Gazette awarded her the accolade of 'Journalist of the Year'. She told the trade paper proudly that:

'I would die in a ditch for the impartiality of the BBC.'


Two former senior BBC figures would dispute that self-serving depiction of wonderful BBC 'impartiality'. Greg Dyke, a former BBC director general, believes that:

'The BBC is part of a "conspiracy" preventing the "radical changes" needed to UK democracy.'


He says that a parliamentary commission should look into the 'whole political system', adding that:

'I fear it will never happen because I fear the political class will stop it.'


And Sir Michael Lyons, former chairman of the BBC Trust , said earlier this year that there had been 'some quite extraordinary attacks' on Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn by the BBC.

Readers may recall that Kuenssberg was behind the on-air resignation of a Labour shadow foreign minister in an apparent attempt to manipulate the news agenda and heap pressure on Corbyn. Former British diplomat Craig Murray describes her as:

'the most openly biased journalist I have ever seen on the BBC'.


Up to and including dying in a ditch, Kuenssberg would do anything to defend the impartiality of the BBC. Well, perhaps not anything. Asked for her 'impartial' view on why 35,000 members of the public had signed a petition calling for her to be sacked for her bias, Kuenssberg replied rather less heroically: 'I'm not going to get into that.'

Des Freedman, Professor of Media and Communications at Goldsmiths, University of London, notes that the kind of bias displayed by Kuenssberg:

'isn't an accident or a one-off example of "bad journalism" but is built into a media system that is intertwined with the interests that run the country.'


He adds:

'This doesn't mean that there's a smoke-filled room somewhere where anti-Corbyn people get together. I think you just call it a routine editorial meeting. The point is many senior journalists ... reflect the dominant strain that runs through their newsrooms – one based on the assumed benefits of neoliberalism and foreign intervention and the undesirability (or the sheer madness of the idea) of redistribution, nationalisation and people like Jeremy Corbyn who don't share the same social circles or ideological commitments.'


As Freedman rightly concludes:

'We need a wholly different media system: one that's not afraid to challenge power because it's not steeped in power in the first place.'


DC and DE
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Re: Washington Post’s ‘Fake News’ Guilt, by Robert Parry

Postby admin » Tue Feb 28, 2017 12:28 am

The art of the Trumpaclysm. How the U.S. invaded, occupied, and remade itself.
by Tom Engelhardt
February 27, 2017

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It’s been epic! A cast of thousands! (Hundreds? Tens?) A spectacular production that, five weeks after opening on every screen of any sort in America (and possibly the world), shows no sign of ending. What a hit it’s been! It’s driving people back to newspapers (online, if not in print) and ensuring that our everyday companions, the 24/7 cable news shows, never lack for “breaking news” or audiences. It’s a smash in both the Hollywood and car accident sense of the term, a phenomenon the likes of which we’ve simply never experienced. Think of Nero fiddling while Rome burned and the cameras rolled. It’s proved, in every way, to be a giant leak. A faucet. A spigot. An absolute flood of non-news, quarter-news, half-news, crazed news, fake news, and over-the-top actual news.

And you know exactly what – and whom – I’m talking about. No need to explain. I mean, you tell me: What doesn’t it have? Its lead actor is the closest we’ve come in our nation’s capital to an action figure. Think of him as the Mar-a-Lego version of Batman and the Joker rolled into one, a president who, as he told us at a news conference recently, is “the least anti-Semitic person that you’ve ever seen in your entire life” and the “least racist person” as well. As report after report indicates, he attacks, lashes out, mocks, tweets, pummels, charges, and complains, showering calumny on others even as he praises his achievements without surcease. Think of him as the towering inferno of twenty-first-century American politics or a modern Godzilla eternally emerging from New York harbor.

As for his supporting cast? Islamophobes, Iranophobes, white nationalists; bevies of billionaires and multimillionaires; a resurgent stock market gone wild; the complete fossil fuel industry and every crackpot climate change “skeptic” in town; a press spokesman immortalized by Saturday Night Live whose afternoon briefings are already beating the soap opera General Hospital in the ratings; a White House counselor whose expertise is in “alternative facts”; a national security adviser who (with a tenure of 24 days) seemed to sum up the concept of “insecurity”; a White House chief of staff and liaison with the Republicans in Congress who’s already being sized up for extinction, as well as a couple of appointees who were “dismissed” or even frog-marched out of their offices and jobs for having criticized The Donald and not fessed up… honestly, you couldn’t make this stuff up, or rather only Trump himself can do so. And by the way, just so you know, based on the last weeks of “news” I could keep this paragraph going more or less forever without even breaking into a sweat.

Among so many subjects I haven’t even mentioned, including Melania and former wife Ivana – is it even possible that she could become the U.S. ambassador to the Czech Republic? – there are, of course, the Trump kids and their businesses and the instantly broken promises on (such an old-fashioned phrase) their conflicts of interest and the conflicts about those conflicts and the presidential tweets, threats, and bluster that have gone with them, not to speak of the issue of for-pay access to the new president. And how about Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner (another walking conflict of you-know-what), who reputedly had a role in the appointment of the new ambassador to Israel, a New York bankruptcy lawyer known for raising millions of dollars to fund a West Bank Jewish settlement and for calling supporters of the liberal Jewish group J Street “far worse than kapos” (Jews who aided the Nazis in their concentration camps). Kushner has now been ordained America’s ultimate peacemaker in the Middle East. And don’t forget that sons Donald and Eric are already saving memorabilia for the future Trump presidential library, a concept that should take your breath away. (Just imagine a library with those giant golden letters over its entrance to honor a man who proudly doesn’t read books and, as with presidential executive orders and possibly even volumes he’s “written,” signs off on things he’s barely bothered to check out.)

And speaking of Rome (remember Nero fiddling?), have you noticed that these days all news roads lead back to… well, Donald Trump? Take my word for it: nothing happens in our world any longer that doesn’t relate to him and his people (or, by definition, it simply didn’t happen). Since he rode that Trump Tower escalator to the presidential race in June 2015, his greatest skill has, without any doubt, been his ability to suck up all the media air in any room, whether that “room” is the Oval Office, Washington, or the world at large. He speaks at a news conference with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and, amid angry outbursts on leaks from the intelligence community and attacks on “the dishonest media” for essentially firing his national security adviser, he suddenly turns his attention to the Israeli-Palestinian issue and says, “So, I’m looking at two-state and one-state and I like the one that both parties like. I’m very happy with the one that both parties like. I can live with either one. I thought for a while the two-state looked like it may be the easier of the two but honestly, if Bibi and if the Palestinians – if Israel and the Palestinians are happy, I’m happy with the one they like the best.” And the world as we’ve known it in the Middle East is suddenly turned upside down and inside out.

Generalizing

In its way, even 20 months after it began, it’s all still so remarkable and new, and if it isn’t like being in the path of a tornado, you tell me what it’s like. So no one should be surprised at just how difficult it is to step outside the storm of this never-ending moment, to find some – any – vantage point offering the slightest perspective on the Trumpaclysm that’s hit our world.

Still, odd as it may seem under the circumstances, Trump’s presidency came from somewhere, developed out of something. To think of it (as many of those resisting Trump now seem inclined to do) as uniquely new, the presidential version of a virgin birth, is to defy both history and reality.

Donald Trump, whatever else he may be, is most distinctly a creature of history. He’s unimaginable without it. This, in turn, means that the radical nature of his new presidency should serve as a reminder of just how radical the 15 years after 9/11 actually were in shaping American life, politics, and governance. In that sense, to generalize (if you’ll excuse the pun), his presidency already offers a strikingly vivid and accurate portrait of the America we’ve been living in for some years now, even if we’d prefer to pretend otherwise.


After all, it’s clearly a government of, by, and evidently for the billionaires and the generals, which pretty much sums up where we’ve been heading for the last decade and a half anyway. Let’s start with those generals. In the 15 years before Trump entered the Oval Office, Washington became a permanent war capital; war, a permanent feature of our American world; and the military, the most admired institution of American life, the one in which we have the most confidence among an otherwise fading crew, including the presidency, the Supreme Court, public schools, banks, television news, newspapers, big business, and Congress (in that descending order).

Support for that military in the form of staggering sums of taxpayer dollars (which are about to soar yet again) is one of the few things congressional Democrats and Republicans can still agree on. The military-industrial complex rides ever higher (despite Trumpian tweets about the price of F-35s); police across the country have been armed like so many military forces, while the technology of war on America’s distant battlefields – from Stingrays to MRAPs to military surveillance drones – has come home big time, and we’ve been SWATified.

This country has, in other words, been militarized in all sorts of ways, both obvious and less so, in a fashion that Americans once might not have imagined possible. In the process, declaring and making war has increasingly become – the Constitution be damned – the sole preoccupation of the White House without significant reference to Congress. Meanwhile, thanks to the drone assassination program run directly out of the Oval Office, the president, in these years, has become an assassin-in-chief as well as commander-in-chief.

Under the circumstances, no one should have been surprised when Donald Trump turned to the very generals he criticized in the election campaign, men who fought 15 years of losing wars that they bitterly feel should have been won. In his government, they have, of course, now taken over – a historic first – what had largely been the civilian posts of secretary of defense, secretary of homeland security, national security adviser, and National Security Council chief of staff. Think of it as a junta light and little more than the next logical step in the further militarization of this country.

It’s striking, for instance, that when the president finally fired his national security adviser, 24 days into his presidency, all but one of the other figures that he reportedly considered for a post often occupied by a civilian were retired generals (and an admiral), or in the case of the person he actually tapped to be his second national security adviser, a still-active Army general. This reflects a distinct American reality of the twenty-first century that The Donald has simply absorbed like the human sponge he is. As a result, America’s permanent wars, all relative disasters of one sort or another, will now be overseen by men who were, for the last decade and a half, deeply implicated in them. It’s a formula for further disaster, of course, but no matter.

Other future Trumpian steps – like the possible mobilization of the National Guard, more than half a century after guardsmen helped desegregate the University of Alabama, to carry out the mass deportation of illegal immigrants – will undoubtedly be in the same mold (though the administration has denied that such a mobilization is under serious consideration yet). In short, we now live in an America of the generals and that would be the case even if Donald Trump had never been elected president.

Add in one more factor of our moment: we have the first signs that members of the military high command may no longer feel completely bound by the classic American prohibition from taking any part in politics. General Raymond “Tony” Thomas, head of the elite U.S. Special Operations Command, speaking recently at a conference, essentially warned the president that we are “at war” and that chaos in the White House is not good for the warriors. That’s as close as we’ve come in our time to direct public military criticism of the White House.

The ascendancy of the billionaires

As for those billionaires, let’s start this way: a billionaire is now president of the United States, something that, until this country was transformed into a 1% society with 1% politics, would have been inconceivable. (The closest we came in modern times was Nelson Rockefeller as vice president, and he was appointed by President Gerald Ford in 1974, not elected.) In addition, never have there been so many billionaires and multimillionaires in a cabinet – and that, in turn, was only possible because there are now so staggeringly many billionaires and multimillionaires in this country to choose from. In 1987, there were 41 billionaires in the United States; in 2015, 536. What else do you need to know about the intervening years, which featured growing inequality and the worst economic meltdown since 1929 that only helped strengthen the new version of the American system?

In swift order in these years, we moved from billionaires funding the political system (after the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United decision opened the financial floodgates) to actually heading and running the government. As a result, count on a country even friendlier to the already fantastically wealthy – thanks in part to whatever Trump-style “tax cuts” are put in place – and so the possible establishment of a new “era of dynastic wealth.” From the crew of rich dismantlers and destroyers Donald Trump has appointed to his cabinet, expect, among other things, that the privatization of the U.S. government – a process until now largely focused on melding warrior corporations with various parts of the national security state – will proceed apace in the rest of the governing apparatus.

We were, in other words, already living in a different America before November 8, 2016. Donald Trump has merely shoved that reality directly in all our faces. And keep in mind that if it weren’t for the one-percentification of this country and the surge of automation (as well as globalization) that destroyed so many jobs and only helped inequality flourish, white working class Americans in particular would not have felt so left behind in the heartland of their own country or so ready to send such an explosive figure into the White House as a visible form of screw-you-style protest.

Finally, consider one other hallmark of the first month of the Trump presidency: the “feud” between the new president and the intelligence sector of the national security state. In these post-9/11 years, that state within a state – sometimes referred to by its critics as the “deep state,” though given the secrecy that envelops it, “dark state” might be a more accurate term – grew by leaps and bounds. In that period, for instance, the U.S. gained a second Defense Department, the Department of Homeland Security with its own security-industrial complex, while the intelligence agencies, all 17 of them, expanded in just about every way imaginable. In those years, they gained a previously inconceivable kind of clout, as well as the ability to essentially listen in on and monitor the communications of just about anyone on the planet (including Americans). Fed copiously by taxpayer dollars, swollen by hundreds of thousands of private contractors from warrior corporations, largely free of the controlling hand of either Congress or the courts, and operating under the kind of blanket secrecy that left most Americans in the dark about its activities (except when whistle-blowers revealed its workings), the national security state gained an ascendancy in Washington as the de facto fourth branch of government.

Now, key people within its shadowy precincts find Donald Trump, the president who is in so many ways a product of the same processes that elevated them, not to their liking – even less so once he compared their activities to those of the Nazi era – and they seem to have gone to war with him and his administration via a remarkable stream of leaks of damaging information, especially about now-departed National Security Adviser Michael Flynn.
As Amanda Taub and Max Fisher of the New York Times wrote, “For concerned government officials, leaks may have become one of the few remaining means by which to influence not just Mr. Flynn’s policy initiatives but the threat he seemed to pose to their place in democracy.”

This, of course, represented a version of whistle-blowing that, when directed at them in the pre-Trump era, they found appalling. Like General Thomas’s comments, that flood of leaks, while discomfiting Donald Trump, also represented a potential challenge to the American political system as it once was known. When the fiercest defenders of that system begin to be seen as being inside the intelligence community and the military you know that you’re in a different and far more perilous world.

So much of what’s now happening may seem startlingly new and overwhelming. In truth, however, it’s been in development for years, even if the specifics of a Trump presidency were not so long ago unimaginable. In March of 2015, for instance, two months before The Donald tossed his hair into the presidential ring, in a post at TomDispatch I asked if “a new political system” was emerging in America and summed the situation up this way:

“Still, don’t for a second think that the American political system isn’t being rewritten on the run by interested parties in Congress, our present crop of billionaires, corporate interests, lobbyists, the Pentagon, and the officials of the national security state. Out of the chaos of this prolonged moment and inside the shell of the old system, a new culture, a new kind of politics, a new kind of governance is being born right before our eyes. Call it what you want. But call it something. Stop pretending it’s not happening.”


We’re now living in Donald Trump’s America (which I certainly didn’t either predict or imagine in March 2015); we’re living, that is, in an ever more chaotic and aberrant land run (to the extent it’s run at all) by billionaires and retired generals, and overseen by a distinctly aberrant president at war with aberrant parts of the national security state. That, in a nutshell, is the America created in the post-9/11 years. Put another way, the U.S. may have failed dismally in its efforts to invade, occupy, and remake Iraq in its own image, but it seems to have invaded, occupied, and remade itself with remarkable success. And don’t blame this one on the Russians.

No one said it better than French King Louis XV: Après moi, le Trump.
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Re: Washington Post’s ‘Fake News’ Guilt, by Robert Parry

Postby admin » Tue Feb 28, 2017 5:20 am

Bill O’Reilly hosted a fake Swedish defense “advisor” to fearmonger about refugees. Swedish Armed Forces Press Secretary: "We do not know who he is."
by Nick Fernandez
February 27, 2017

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Fox News has been accused, yet again, of using deceptive tactics to fearmonger about refugees in Sweden.

On the February 23 edition of Fox News’ The O’Reilly Factor, host Bill O’Reilly brought on a guest named Nils Bildt, who was introduced as “a Swedish defense and national security advisor,” to discuss Sweden’s refugee policies. During the segment, Bildt argued that Swedish authorities “are unable … to socially integrate” refugees, and claimed that, as a result, “There is a problem with socially deviant activity, there is a problem with crime, [and] there is a problem with areas or hotspots of crime” in Sweden. Bildt alleged that these “problems” are“not being openly and honestly discussed … because if you don’t agree with the liberal, shall we say, common agenda, then you are viewed as an outsider or not even taken seriously.”

The Swedish Armed Forces, however, do not appear to know who Bildt is. According to a translation of an article in the Swedish outlet Göteborgs-Posten, the press secretary of the Swedish Armed Forces has said that they “do not know who [Bildt] is,” and that he is “definitely not a spokesman for the Armed Forces.” The translated Göteborgs-Posten article reported that Bildt currently lives in Japan.

O’Reilly’s characterization of Bildt as “a Swedish defense and national security adviser” is the latest deceptive attempt from Fox News to portray the refugee population in Sweden as deviant and “unable … to socially integrate.” Just two days earlier, on February 21, Fox host Tucker Carlson showed an interview between filmmaker Ami Horowitz and two Swedish police officers about the supposed surge in refugee violence in the country. After the segment ran, the officers featured in the interview were “shocked” by the deceptive editing of the interview, claimed they were not asked about immigration at all, and asserted “that their testimony had been taken out of context.”

Right-wing media have claimed that the Swedish government is “importing thousands of men from countries … that embrace rape for men as something that is acceptable” and that Swedish authorities “don’t want to tell the world what is going on” with their refugee population, and have attempted to revive the fearmongering myth of Muslim “no-go zones” in Sweden.

__________________________________________________

Fake Sweden expert on Fox News – has criminal convictions in US, no connection to Swedish security
by Dagens Nyheter
February 26, 2017

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Fox News continues to focus on the debate about how immigration is breaking Sweden. One guest last night, described as a ”Swedish defense and national security advisor”, spoke about the problems caused by criminality in Swedish cities and suburbs. But neither the Swedish Defense Ministry nor Foreign Office have heard of the expert. Nils Bildt, who called for an “open and honest” debate on crime, has previously been convicted of a violent offence in the United States.

President Trump's statements about Sweden, based on a report on his favourite TV-channel Fox News, continue to drive the debate about the country in the United States. Sweden is portrayed as a nation plagued by crime and rape, in large part due to immigration.

This Friday the matter was the focus of debate during the conservative Fox-presenter Bill O’Reilly's show, where Nils Bildt confirmed Donald Trump's negative view of Sweden. Nils Bildt was introduced by Fox as a ”Swedish defense and national security advisor”, which has caused more than a few raised eyebrows.

Bildt said that it is impossible to ”have an open and honest debate in Sweden about integration” and that the politicians ”has absolutely no systematic plan for integrating mass amounts of immigrants to become productive members of society”.

– The Swedish political debate is completely false. If you don’t agree with the liberal, common agenda you are viewed as an outsider and not taken seriously, said Bildt also.

And, commenting about crime:

– There is a problem with crime, there is a problem with areas or hotpost of crime, be it in Malmö, Gothenburg and Stockholm or the suburbs thereof and these things are not openly discussed.

Marie Pilsäter at the Swedish Defense Ministry says that no-one called Nils Bildt works there. ”We have no spokesman by that name”, she said. The Foreign Office also denies that he works there. ”We do not know who he is.”

Nils Bildt is the son of Sven Tolling, well know in Swedish equestrian circles. Nils Bildt emigrated from Sweden in 1994. Nine years later he changed his last name from Tolling to Bildt, and he now runs several security companies in the United States. His last known address, according to Swedish registers, is in Tokyo. It is unclear if his companies are still in business.

Nils Bildt, who spoke on Fox News about crime in Sweden, is convicted of a violent offence himself, according to documents from Arlington General District Court in Virginia. Bildt was arrested on the 19th of June, 2014, for assaulting a law enforcement person and for obstruction of justice, after threatening an official [Case number: GC14002638-00].

He was sentenced to one year in prison on the 10th of November the same year. He was also convicted of public inebriation at the same time. Nils Bildt, in an e-mail to DN, says he is ”unaware of the allegations” and therefore cannot comment.

Nils Bildt sent a short e-mail to DN earlier on Friday, explaining why he was given the title of ”Swedish defense and national security advisor”: ”I appeared on Bill O'Reilly's show on Fox News. The title was chosen by Fox News's editor – I had no personal control over what title they chose. I am an independent analyst based in the USA”, he wrote.

In a statement from Fox New to Dagens Nyheter, the producer of the network’s news show The O’Reilly Factor, David Tabacoff, says:

”Our booker made numerous inquiries and spoke to people who recommended Nils Bildt and after pre-interviewing him and reviewing his bio, we agreed that he would make a good guest for the topic that evening.”

Johan Wiktorin, a former defense analyst at the Military Intelligence and Security Service, MUST, says that he has never heard of Nils Bildt. ”He is unknown in Sweden as an expert on national security. The depiction of Sweden as a problem country in American media is a disturbing trend.”

English translation by Amanda Johansson Murie.

Correction: Marie Pilsäter was incorrectly spelled Marie Pisäter in an earlier version of this article.
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Re: Washington Post’s ‘Fake News’ Guilt, by Robert Parry

Postby admin » Wed Mar 01, 2017 4:27 am

This Is How Your Hyperpartisan Political News Gets Made. BuzzFeed News traced a group of liberal and conservative websites back to the same company. “The product they’re pitching is outrage,” said one liberal writer.
by Craig Silverman
Feb. 27, 2017

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Liberal Society / Conservative 101

The websites Liberal Society and Conservative 101 appear to be total opposites. The former publishes headlines such as “WOW, Sanders Just Brutally EVISCERATED Trump On Live TV. Trump Is Fuming.” Its conservative counterpart has stories like “Nancy Pelosi Just Had Mental Breakdown On Stage And Made Craziest Statement Of Her Career.”

So it was a surprise last Wednesday when they published stories that were almost exactly the same, save for a few notable word changes.

After CNN reported White House counselor Kellyanne Conway was “sidelined from television appearances,” both sites whipped up a post — and outrage — for their respective audiences. The resulting stories read like bizarro-world versions of each other — two articles with nearly identical words and tweets optimized for opposing filter bubbles. The similarity of the articles also provided a key clue BuzzFeed News followed to reveal a more striking truth: These for-the-cause sites that appeal to hardcore partisans are in fact owned by the same Florida company.

Liberal Society and Conservative 101 are among the growing number of so-called hyperpartisan websites and associated Facebook pages that have sprung up in recent years, and that attracted significant traffic during the US election. A previous BuzzFeed News analysis of content published by conservative and liberal hyperpartisan sites found they reap massive engagement on Facebook with aggressively partisan stories and memes that frequently demonize the other side’s point of view, often at the expense of facts.

Jonathan Albright, a professor at Elon University, published a detailed analysis of the hyperpartisan and fake news ecosystem. Given the money at stake, he told BuzzFeed News he’s not surprised some of the same people operate both liberal and conservative sites as a way to “run up their metrics or advertising revenue.”

“One of the problems that is a little overlooked is that it’s not one side versus the other — there are people joining in that are really playing certain types of political [views] against each other,” Albright said.

And all it takes to turn a liberal partisan story into a conservative one is to literally change a few words.

Liberal Society’s story about Conway’s alleged TV ban ran with the headline, “White House FINALLY Gives Kellyanne Conway The Boot, Are You Glad?” Things were more grim over at Conservative 101: “White House Just Gave Conway The Boot, Prepare To Be Infuriated.”

Both stories talked of her being given “the boot,” and both underplayed the fact that her absence from TV was temporary, given she was due to be on Fox News that very night.

The stories unfolded in tandem from there.

“Kellyanne Conway has been a terrible communications director for Donald Trump,” were the first words of the story for liberals.

“Kellyanne Conway has been the go-to communications director for Donald Trump,” said the one for conservatives.

They embedded the same tweets from Conway and MSNBC host Mika Brzezinski. They used the same quotes from the CNN story. They chose almost the exact same wording to talk about Conway being “banned” from major TV networks. But, critically, the conservative version inserted a reference to the “mainstream liberal media”:

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“Are you glad to see Conway gone?” asked Liberal Society at the end of its post.

“Will you miss seeing Conway on TV?” asked Conservative 101.

The stories read like they were stamped out of the same content machine because they were. Using domain registration records and Google Analytics and AdSense IDs, BuzzFeed News determined that both sites are owned by American News LLC of Miami.

That company also operates another liberal site, Democratic Review, as well as American News, a conservative site that drew attention after the election when it posted a false article claiming that Denzel Washington endorsed Trump. It also operates GodToday.com, a site that publishes religious clickbait.

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Ben Collins ✔ @oneunderscore__
This Facebook trending story is 100% made up.
Nothing in it is true.
This post of it alone has 10k shares in the last six hours.
2:01 PM - 14 Nov 2016


Liberal Society, Democratic Review, and God Today all have the same Google Analytics ID in their source code, which means they are connected. Domain registration records show that American News LLC is the owner of God Today. (The other two sites have private ownership records.)

Conservative 101 and American News have the same Google AdSense ID and domain records show that the latter is also registered to American News LLC. Corporate records list John Crane and Tyler Shapiro as officers of the company, and Crane is listed in domain ownership records. They did not respond to three emails and a phone message from BuzzFeed News.

Domain records suggest they began as conservative news publishers. John Crane acquired the AmericanNews.com domain in 2014 and added Conservative101.com in May of 2016. The company moved into liberal partisan news with the registration of DemocraticReview.com in June of last year and LiberalSociety.com a month later. (Their religious clickbait site, GodToday.com, was registered in February of last year.)

They also appear to run several large Facebook pages that play a major role in helping their partisan content generate social engagement and traffic. Content from American News is pushed out via a page with more than 5 million fans, while Liberal Society’s stories are promoted on a page with over 2 million fans.

Given the anti-Trump aspect of the Conway story, it’s not surprising that the liberal version performed better on Facebook than the conservative one. Liberal Society’s story generated over 40,000 shares, reactions, and comments, while the Conservative 101 version earned less than 4,000.

That’s not the norm for these sites. An analysis of their top-performing content on Facebook using data from BuzzSumo found that American News is by far the most successful of the sites. It also appears to push the envelope more than the others when it comes to misleading and false headlines. Since the election, it has generated huge engagement for stories that falsely claimed Miley Cyrus and Rosie O’Donnell were moving away from the US “for good” due to Trump’s victory. It also scored a hit with a false report that Nicole Kidman was “blackballed” in Hollywood for saying the country should come together to support Trump now that he’s the president. Those three stories alone generated more than 2.5 million Facebook engagements.

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American News

In contrast, Liberal Society’s biggest hit since the election is headlined “Obama Addresses Republicans: ‘I Didn’t Create Trump, Your Bigotry Toward Me Did’ – But He Has A Plan.” It generated just over 360,000 Facebook engagements. Even though the headline presents it as a direct quote, Obama did not say those exact words. It appears the headline was largely copied from a March 2016 article on liberal site Occupy Democrats, which reported accurately on comments Obama made at the time. (It also did not use quotation marks in its original headline.)

Grant Stern is a progressive who writes a column for Occupy Democrats and is the executive director of Photography Is Not A Crime. BuzzFeed News sent him American News LLC’s liberal and conservative sites and asked him to comment on the fact that they’re run by the same company.

“Those websites are marketing websites,” he said after looking at the content, “and the product they’re pitching is outrage.”

It’s unclear if the people running American News LLC use the same writers for their conservative and liberal websites, or if they have separate teams. What is clear is at least one of their sites is using fake author photos. The author page for God Today lists two writers, Henry Freeman and John Sullivan. The photos for these writers are taken from stock video footage. Sullivan appears in a Shutterstock video entitled “Mature man playing golf on golf course.” Freeman’s photo is taken from footage entitled, “Young man writing in notebook in city park.” (After this article was published, God Today removed the photos and bios for Sullivan and Freeman from the authors page.)

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Liberal Society / Shutterstock

Liberal Society is the only partisan site owned by the group that lists its writers. It does not have photos but the bios for Travis Davidson and Jacob Richardson are written in an identical style to the ones on God Today. Here’s Henry Freeman’s from God Today:

Henry Freeman grew up in North Carolina and attended the University of Alabama, where he studied journalism. He has a passion for writing and thoroughly enjoys bringing smiles to the faces of his readers. He hopes to one day become an entrepreneur and give back to his community.


This is Jacob Richardson’s on Liberal Society:

Jacob Richardson was raised in New York City. He attended UC Berkeley where he studied Political Science and Journalism. He now lives in California and says he will live there for the rest of his life. He has a passion for staying current with global news, including politics, business, and sports. He plans on getting married in the near future and starting a family.


Now that it has at least two liberal sites and two conservative ones, American News LLC appears to be setting its sights on expanding its presence in the religious clickbait space. On Feb. 17 John Crane registered two new domains: DevoutAmerica.com and EthicalAmerican.com. Neither are active as of now.
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Re: Washington Post’s ‘Fake News’ Guilt, by Robert Parry

Postby admin » Sun Mar 26, 2017 3:50 am

Provoking nuclear war by media
by John Pilger
23 August 2016

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The exoneration of a man accused of the worst of crimes, genocide, made no headlines. Neither the BBC nor CNN covered it. The Guardian allowed a brief commentary. Such a rare official admission was buried or suppressed, understandably. It would explain too much about how the rulers of the world rule.

The International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) in The Hague has quietly cleared the late Serbian president, Slobodan Milosevic, of war crimes committed during the 1992-95 Bosnian war, including the massacre at Srebrenica.

Far from conspiring with the convicted Bosnian-Serb leader Radovan Karadzic, Milosevic actually "condemned ethnic cleansing", opposed Karadzic and tried to stop the war that dismembered Yugoslavia. Buried near the end of a 2,590 page judgement on Karadzic last February, this truth further demolishes the propaganda that justified Nato's illegal onslaught on Serbia in 1999.


Milosevic died of a heart attack in 2006, alone in his cell in The Hague, during what amounted to a bogus trial by an American-invented "international tribunal". Denied heart surgery that might have saved his life, his condition worsened and was monitored and kept secret by US officials, as WikiLeaks has since revealed.

Milosevic was the victim of war propaganda that today runs like a torrent across our screens and newspapers and beckons great danger for us all. He was the prototype demon, vilified by the western media as the "butcher of the Balkans" who was responsible for "genocide", especially in the secessionist Yugoslav province of Kosovo. Prime Minister Tony Blair said so, invoked the Holocaust and demanded action against "this new Hitler". David Scheffer, the US ambassador-at-large for war crimes [sic], declared that as many as "225,000 ethnic Albanian men aged between 14 and 59" may have been murdered by Milosevic's forces.

This was the justification for Nato's bombing, led by Bill Clinton and Blair, that killed hundreds of civilians in hospitals, schools, churches, parks and television studios and destroyed Serbia's economic infrastructure. It was blatantly ideological; at a notorious "peace conference" in Rambouillet in France, Milosevic was confronted by Madeleine Albright, the US secretary of state, who was to achieve infamy with her remark that the deaths of half a million Iraqi children were "worth it".

Albright delivered an "offer" to Milosevic that no national leader could accept. Unless he agreed to the foreign military occupation of his country, with the occupying forces "outside the legal process", and to the imposition of a neo-liberal "free market", Serbia would be bombed. This was contained in an "Appendix B", which the media failed to read or suppressed. The aim was to crush Europe's last independent "socialist" state.

Once Nato began bombing, there was a stampede of Kosovar refugees "fleeing a holocaust". When it was over, international police teams descended on Kosovo to exhume the victims of the "holocaust". The FBI failed to find a single mass grave and went home. The Spanish forensic team did the same, its leader angrily denouncing "a semantic pirouette by the war propaganda machines". The final count of the dead in Kosovo was 2,788. This included combatants on both sides and Serbs and Roma murdered by the pro-Nato Kosovo Liberation Front. There was no genocide. The Nato attack was both a fraud and a war crime.

All but a fraction of America's vaunted "precision guided" missiles hit not military but civilian targets, including the news studios of Radio Television Serbia in Belgrade. Sixteen people were killed, including cameramen, producers and a make-up artist. Blair described the dead, profanely, as part of Serbia's "command and control". In 2008, the prosecutor of the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, Carla Del Ponte, revealed that she had been pressured not to investigate Nato's crimes.

This was the model for Washington's subsequent invasions of Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and, by stealth, Syria. All qualify as "paramount crimes" under the Nuremberg standard; all depended on media propaganda. While tabloid journalism played its traditional part, it was serious, credible, often liberal journalism that was the most effective - the evangelical promotion of Blair and his wars by the Guardian, the incessant lies about Saddam Hussein's non-existent weapons of mass destruction in the Observer and the New York Times, and the unerring drumbeat of government propaganda by the BBC in the silence of its omissions.

At the height of the bombing, the BBC's Kirsty Wark interviewed General Wesley Clark, the Nato commander. The Serbian city of Nis had just been sprayed with American cluster bombs, killing women, old people and children in an open market and a hospital. Wark asked not a single question about this, or about any other civilian deaths. Others were more brazen. In February 2003, the day after Blair and Bush had set fire to Iraq, the BBC's political editor, Andrew Marr, stood in Downing Street and made what amounted to a victory speech. He excitedly told his viewers that Blair had "said they would be able to take Baghdad without a bloodbath, and that in the end the Iraqis would be celebrating. And on both of those points he has been proved conclusively right." Today, with a million dead and a society in ruins, Marr's BBC interviews are recommended by the US embassy in London.

Marr's colleagues lined up to pronounce Blair "vindicated". The BBC's Washington correspondent, Matt Frei, said, "There's no doubt that the desire to bring good, to bring American values to the rest of the world, and especially to the Middle East ... is now increasingly tied up with military power."

This obeisance to the United States and its collaborators as a benign force "bringing good" runs deep in western establishment journalism. It ensures that the present-day catastrophe in Syria is blamed exclusively on Bashar al-Assad, whom the West and Israel have long conspired to overthrow, not for any humanitarian concerns, but to consolidate Israel's aggressive power in the region. The jihadist forces unleashed and armed by the US, Britain, France, Turkey and their "coalition" proxies serve this end. It is they who dispense the propaganda and videos that becomes news in the US and Europe, and provide access to journalists and guarantee a one-sided "coverage" of Syria.

The city of Aleppo is in the news. Most readers and viewers will be unaware that the majority of the population of Aleppo lives in the government-controlled western part of the city. That they suffer daily artillery bombardment from western-sponsored al-Qaida is not news. On 21 July, French and American bombers attacked a government village in Aleppo province, killing up to 125 civilians. This was reported on page 22 of the Guardian; there were no photographs.

Having created and underwritten jihadism in Afghanistan in the 1980s as Operation Cyclone - a weapon to destroy the Soviet Union - the US is doing something similar in Syria. Like the Afghan Mujahideen, the Syrian "rebels" are America's and Britain's foot soldiers. Many fight for al-Qaida and its variants; some, like the Nusra Front, have rebranded themselves to comply with American sensitivities over 9/11. The CIA runs them, with difficulty, as it runs jihadists all over the world.

The immediate aim is to destroy the government in Damascus, which, according to the most credible poll (YouGov Siraj), the majority of Syrians support, or at least look to for protection, regardless of the barbarism in its shadows. The long-term aim is to deny Russia a key Middle Eastern ally as part of a Nato war of attrition against the Russian Federation that eventually destroys it.

The nuclear risk is obvious, though suppressed by the media across "the free world". The editorial writers of the Washington Post, having promoted the fiction of WMD in Iraq, demand that Obama attack Syria. Hillary Clinton, who publicly rejoiced at her executioner's role during the destruction of Libya, has repeatedly indicated that, as president, she will "go further" than Obama.

Gareth Porter, a samidzat journalist reporting from Washington, recently revealed the names of those likely to make up a Clinton cabinet, who plan an attack on Syria. All have belligerent cold war histories; the former CIA director, Leon Panetta, says that "the next president is gonna have to consider adding additional special forces on the ground".
What is most remarkable about the war propaganda now in floodtide is its patent absurdity and familiarity. I have been looking through archive film from Washington in the 1950s when diplomats, civil servants and journalists were witch-hunted and ruined by Senator Joe McCarthy for challenging the lies and paranoia about the Soviet Union and China. Like a resurgent tumour, the anti-Russia cult has returned.

In Britain, the Guardian's Luke Harding leads his newspaper's Russia-haters in a stream of journalistic parodies that assign to Vladimir Putin every earthly iniquity. When the Panama Papers leak was published, the front page said Putin, and there was a picture of Putin; never mind that Putin was not mentioned anywhere in the leaks.

Like Milosevic, Putin is Demon Number One. It was Putin who shot down a Malaysian airliner over Ukraine. Headline: "As far as I'm concerned, Putin killed my son." No evidence required. It was Putin who was responsible for Washington's documented (and paid for) overthrow of the elected government in Kiev in 2014. The subsequent terror campaign by fascist militias against the Russian-speaking population of Ukraine was the result of Putin's "aggression". Preventing Crimea from becoming a Nato missile base and protecting the mostly Russian population who had voted in a referendum to rejoin Russia - from which Crimea had been annexed - were more examples of Putin's "aggression". Smear by media inevitably becomes war by media. If war with Russia breaks out, by design or by accident, journalists will bear much of the responsibility.

In the US, the anti-Russia campaign has been elevated to virtual reality. The New York Times columnist Paul Krugman, an economist with a Nobel Prize, has called Donald Trump the "Siberian Candidate" because Trump is Putin's man, he says. Trump had dared to suggest, in a rare lucid moment, that war with Russia might be a bad idea. In fact, he has gone further and removed American arms shipments to Ukraine from the Republican platform. "Wouldn't it be great if we got along with Russia," he said.

This is why America's warmongering liberal establishment hates him. Trump's racism and ranting demagoguery have nothing to do with it. Bill and Hillary Clinton's record of racism and extremism can out-trump Trump's any day. (This week is the 20th anniversary of the Clinton welfare "reform" that launched a war on African-Americans). As for Obama: while American police gun down his fellow African-Americans the great hope in the White House has done nothing to protect them, nothing to relieve their impoverishment, while running four rapacious wars and an assassination campaign without precedent.

The CIA has demanded Trump is not elected. Pentagon generals have demanded he is not elected. The pro-war New York Times - taking a breather from its relentless low-rent Putin smears - demands that he is not elected. Something is up. These tribunes of "perpetual war" are terrified that the multi-billion-dollar business of war by which the United States maintains its dominance will be undermined if Trump does a deal with Putin, then with China's Xi Jinping. Their panic at the possibility of the world's great power talking peace - however unlikely - would be the blackest farce were the issues not so dire.

"Trump would have loved Stalin!" bellowed Vice-President Joe Biden at a rally for Hillary Clinton. With Clinton nodding, he shouted, "We never bow. We never bend. We never kneel. We never yield. We own the finish line. That's who we are. We are America!"

In Britain, Jeremy Corbyn has also excited hysteria from the war-makers in the Labour Party and from a media devoted to trashing him. Lord West, a former admiral and Labour minister, put it well. Corbyn was taking an "outrageous" anti-war position "because it gets the unthinking masses to vote for him".

In a debate with leadership challenger Owen Smith, Corbyn was asked by the moderator: "How would you act on a violation by Vladimir Putin of a fellow Nato state?" Corbyn replied: "You would want to avoid that happening in the first place. You would build up a good dialogue with Russia... We would try to introduce a de-militarisation of the borders between Russia, the Ukraine and the other countries on the border between Russia and Eastern Europe. What we cannot allow is a series of calamitous build-ups of troops on both sides which can only lead to great danger."

Pressed to say if he would authorise war against Russia "if you had to", Corbyn replied: "I don't wish to go to war - what I want to do is achieve a world that we don't need to go to war."

The line of questioning owes much to the rise of Britain's liberal war-makers. The Labour Party and the media have long offered them career opportunities. For a while the moral tsunami of the great crime of Iraq left them floundering, their inversions of the truth a temporary embarrassment. Regardless of Chilcot and the mountain of incriminating facts, Blair remains their inspiration, because he was a "winner".

Dissenting journalism and scholarship have since been systematically banished or appropriated, and democratic ideas emptied and refilled with "identity politics" that confuse gender with feminism and public angst with liberation and wilfully ignore the state violence and weapons profiteering that destroys countless lives in faraway places, like Yemen and Syria, and beckon nuclear war in Europe and across the world.

The stirring of people of all ages around the spectacular rise of Jeremy Corbyn counters this to some extent. His life has been spent illuminating the horror of war. The problem for Corbyn and his supporters is the Labour Party. In America, the problem for the thousands of followers of Bernie Sanders was the Democratic Party, not to mention their ultimate betrayal by their great white hope. In the US, home of the great civil rights and anti-war movements, it is Black Lives Matter and the likes of Codepink that lay the roots of a modern version.

For only a movement that swells into every street and across borders and does not give up can stop the warmongers. Next year, it will be a century since Wilfred Owen wrote the following. Every journalist should read it and remember it...

If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori.


--
Follow John Pilger on twitter @johnpilger
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Re: Washington Post’s ‘Fake News’ Guilt, by Robert Parry

Postby admin » Sun Mar 26, 2017 8:39 pm

George Orwell: ‘Nineteen Eighty-Four’

Appendix

THE PRINCIPLES OF NEWSPEAK


Newspeak was the official language of Oceania and had been devised to meet the ideological needs of Ingsoc, or English Socialism. In the year 1984 there was not as yet anyone who used Newspeak as his sole means of communication, either in speech or writing. The leading articles in the Times were written in it, but this was a tour de force which could only be carried out by a specialist. It was expected that Newspeak would have finally superseded Oldspeak (or Standard English, as we should call it) by about the year 2050. Meanwhile it gained ground steadily, all Party members tending to use Newspeak words and grammatical constructions more and more in their everyday speech. The version in use in 1984, and embodied in the Ninth and Tenth Editions of the Newspeak Dictionary, was a provisional one, and contained many superfluous words and archaic formations which were due to be suppressed later. It is with the final, perfected version, as embodied in the Eleventh Edition of the Dictionary, that we are concerned here.

The purpose of Newspeak was not only to provide a medium of expression for the world-view and mental habits proper to the devotees of Ingsoc, but to make all other modes of thought impossible. It was intended that when Newspeak had been adopted once and for all and Oldspeak forgotten, a heretical thought — that is, a thought diverging from the principles of Ingsoc — should be literally unthinkable, at least so far as thought is dependent on words. Its vocabulary was so constructed as to give exact and often very subtle expression to every meaning that a Party member could properly wish to express, while excluding all other meanings and also the possibility of arriving at them by indirect methods. This was done partly by the invention of new words, but chiefly by eliminating undesirable words and by stripping such words as remained of unorthodox meanings, and so far as possible of all secondary meanings whatever. To give a single example. The word free still existed in Newspeak, but it could only be used in such statements as ‘This dog is free from lice’ or ‘This field is free from weeds’. It could not be used in its old sense of ‘politically free’ or ‘intellectually free’ since political and intellectual freedom no longer existed even as concepts, and were therefore of necessity nameless. Quite apart from the suppression of definitely heretical words, reduction of vocabulary was regarded as an end in itself, and no word that could be dispensed with was allowed to survive. Newspeak was designed not to extend but to diminish the range of thought, and this purpose was indirectly assisted by cutting the choice of words down to a minimum.


Newspeak was founded on the English language as we now know it, though many Newspeak sentences, even when not containing newly-created words, would be barely intelligible to an English-speaker of our own day. Newspeak words were divided into three distinct classes, known as the A vocabulary, the B vocabulary (also called compound words), and the C vocabulary. It will be simpler to discuss each class separately, but the grammatical peculiarities of the language can be dealt with in the section devoted to the A vocabulary, since the same rules held good for all three categories.

The A vocabulary. The A vocabulary consisted of the words needed for the business of everyday life — for such things as eating, drinking, working, putting on one's clothes, going up and down stairs, riding in vehicles, gardening, cooking, and the like. It was composed almost entirely of words that we already possess, words like hit, run, dog, tree, sugar, house, field — but in comparison with the present-day English vocabulary their number was extremely small, while their meanings were far more rigidly defined. All ambiguities and shades of meaning had been purged out of them. So far as it could be achieved, a Newspeak word of this class was simply a staccato sound expressing one clearly understood concept. It would have been quite impossible to use the A vocabulary for literary purposes or for political or philosophical discussion. It was intended only to express simple, purposive thoughts, usually involving concrete objects or physical actions.

The grammar of Newspeak had two outstanding peculiarities. The first of these was an almost complete interchangeability between different parts of speech. Any word in the language (in principle this applied even to very abstract words such as if or when) could be used either as verb, noun, adjective, or adverb. Between the verb and the noun form, when they were of the same root, there was never any variation, this rule of itself involving the destruction of many archaic forms. The word thought, for example, did not exist in Newspeak. Its place was taken by think, which did duty for both noun and verb. No etymological principle was followed here: in some cases it was the original noun that was chosen for retention, in other cases the verb. Even where a noun and verb of kindred meaning were not etymologically connected, one or other of them was frequently suppressed. There was, for example, no such word as cut, its meaning being sufficiently covered by the noun-verb knife. Adjectives were formed by adding the suffix -ful to the noun-verb, and adverbs by adding -wise. Thus for example, speedful meant ‘rapid’ and speedwise meant ‘quickly’. Certain of our present-day adjectives, such as good, strong, big, black, soft, were retained, but their total number was very small. There was little need for them, since almost any adjectival meaning could be arrived at by adding -ful to a noun-verb. None of the now-existing adverbs was retained, except for a very few already ending in -wise: the -wise termination was invariable. The word well, for example, was replaced by goodwise.

In addition, any word — this again applied in principle to every word in the language — could be negatived by adding the affix un-, or could be strengthened by the affix plus-, or, for still greater emphasis, doubleplus-. Thus, for example, uncold meant ‘warm’, while pluscold and doublepluscold meant, respectively, ‘very cold’ and ‘superlatively cold’. It was also possible, as in present-day English, to modify the meaning of almost any word by prepositional affixes such as ante-, post-, up-, down-, etc. By such methods it was found possible to bring about an enormous diminution of vocabulary. Given, for instance, the word good, there was no need for such a word as bad, since the required meaning was equally well — indeed, better — expressed by ungood. All that was necessary, in any case where two words formed a natural pair of opposites, was to decide which of them to suppress. Dark, for example, could be replaced by unlight, or light by undark, according to preference.

The second distinguishing mark of Newspeak grammar was its regularity. Subject to a few exceptions which are mentioned below all inflexions followed the same rules. Thus, in all verbs the preterite and the past participle were the same and ended in -ed. The preterite of steal was stealed, the preterite of think was thinked, and so on throughout the language, all such forms as swam, gave, brought, spoke, taken, etc., being abolished. All plurals were made by adding -s or -es as the case might be. The plurals of man, ox, life, were mans, oxes, lifes. Comparison of adjectives was invariably made by adding -er, -est (good, gooder, goodest), irregular forms and the more, most formation being suppressed.

The only classes of words that were still allowed to inflect irregularly were the pronouns, the relatives, the demonstrative adjectives, and the auxiliary verbs. All of these followed their ancient usage, except that whom had been scrapped as unnecessary, and the shall, should tenses had been dropped, all their uses being covered by will and would. There were also certain irregularities in word-formation arising out of the need for rapid and easy speech. A word which was difficult to utter, or was liable to be incorrectly heard, was held to be ipso facto a bad word: occasionally therefore, for the sake of euphony, extra letters were inserted into a word or an archaic formation was retained. But this need made itself felt chiefly in connexion with the B vocabulary. Why so great an importance was attached to ease of pronunciation will be made clear later in this essay.

The B vocabulary. The B vocabulary consisted of words which had been deliberately constructed for political purposes: words, that is to say, which not only had in every case a political implication, but were intended to impose a desirable mental attitude upon the person using them. Without a full understanding of the principles of Ingsoc it was difficult to use these words correctly. In some cases they could be translated into Oldspeak, or even into words taken from the A vocabulary, but this usually demanded a long paraphrase and always involved the loss of certain overtones. The B words were a sort of verbal shorthand, often packing whole ranges of ideas into a few syllables, and at the same time more accurate and forcible than ordinary language.

The B words were in all cases compound words(2). They consisted of two or more words, or portions of words, welded together in an easily pronounceable form. The resulting amalgam was always a noun-verb, and inflected according to the ordinary rules. To take a single example: the word goodthink, meaning, very roughly, ‘orthodoxy’, or, if one chose to regard it as a verb, ‘to think in an orthodox manner’. This inflected as follows: noun-verb, goodthink; past tense and past participle, goodthinked; present participle, goodthinking; adjective, goodthinkful; adverb, goodthinkwise; verbal noun, goodthinker.

The B words were not constructed on any etymological plan. The words of which they were made up could be any parts of speech, and could be placed in any order and mutilated in any way which made them easy to pronounce while indicating their derivation. In the word crimethink (thoughtcrime), for instance, the think came second, whereas in thinkpol (Thought Police) it came first, and in the latter word police had lost its second syllable. Because of the great difficulty in securing euphony, irregular formations were commoner in the B vocabulary than in the A vocabulary. For example, the adjective forms of Minitrue, Minipax, and Miniluv were, respectively, Minitruthful, Minipeaceful, and Minilovely, simply because -trueful, -paxful, and -loveful were slightly awkward to pronounce. In principle, however, all B words could inflect, and all inflected in exactly the same way.

Some of the B words had highly subtilized meanings, barely intelligible to anyone who had not mastered the language as a whole. Consider, for example, such a typical sentence from a Times leading article as Oldthinkers unbellyfeel Ingsoc. The shortest rendering that one could make of this in Oldspeak would be: ‘Those whose ideas were formed before the Revolution cannot have a full emotional understanding of the principles of English Socialism.’ But this is not an adequate translation. To begin with, in order to grasp the full meaning of the Newspeak sentence quoted above, one would have to have a clear idea of what is meant by Ingsoc. And in addition, only a person thoroughly grounded in Ingsoc could appreciate the full force of the word bellyfeel, which implied a blind, enthusiastic acceptance difficult to imagine today; or of the word oldthink, which was inextricably mixed up with the idea of wickedness and decadence. But the special function of certain Newspeak words, of which oldthink was one, was not so much to express meanings as to destroy them. These words, necessarily few in number, had had their meanings extended until they contained within themselves whole batteries of words which, as they were sufficiently covered by a single comprehensive term, could now be scrapped and forgotten. The greatest difficulty facing the compilers of the Newspeak Dictionary was not to invent new words, but, having invented them, to make sure what they meant: to make sure, that is to say, what ranges of words they cancelled by their existence.

As we have already seen in the case of the word free, words which had once borne a heretical meaning were sometimes retained for the sake of convenience, but only with the undesirable meanings purged out of them. Countless other words such as honour, justice, morality, internationalism, democracy, science, and religion had simply ceased to exist. A few blanket words covered them, and, in covering them, abolished them. All words grouping themselves round the concepts of liberty and equality, for instance, were contained in the single word crimethink, while all words grouping themselves round the concepts of objectivity and rationalism were contained in the single word oldthink. Greater precision would have been dangerous. What was required in a Party member was an outlook similar to that of the ancient Hebrew who knew, without knowing much else, that all nations other than his own worshipped ‘false gods’. He did not need to know that these gods were called Baal, Osiris, Moloch, Ashtaroth, and the like: probably the less he knew about them the better for his orthodoxy. He knew Jehovah and the commandments of Jehovah: he knew, therefore, that all gods with other names or other attributes were false gods.
In somewhat the same way, the party member knew what constituted right conduct, and in exceedingly vague, generalized terms he knew what kinds of departure from it were possible. His sexual life, for example, was entirely regulated by the two Newspeak words sexcrime (sexual immorality) and goodsex (chastity). Sexcrime covered all sexual misdeeds whatever. It covered fornication, adultery, homosexuality, and other perversions, and, in addition, normal intercourse practised for its own sake. There was no need to enumerate them separately, since they were all equally culpable, and, in principle, all punishable by death. In the C vocabulary, which consisted of scientific and technical words, it might be necessary to give specialized names to certain sexual aberrations, but the ordinary citizen had no need of them. He knew what was meant by goodsex — that is to say, normal intercourse between man and wife, for the sole purpose of begetting children, and without physical pleasure on the part of the woman: all else was sexcrime. In Newspeak it was seldom possible to follow a heretical thought further than the perception that it was heretical: beyond that point the necessary words were nonexistent.

No word in the B vocabulary was ideologically neutral. A great many were euphemisms. Such words, for instance, as joycamp (forced-labour camp) or Minipax (Ministry of Peace, i.e. Ministry of War) meant almost the exact opposite of what they appeared to mean. Some words, on the other hand, displayed a frank and contemptuous understanding of the real nature of Oceanic society. An example was prolefeed, meaning the rubbishy entertainment and spurious news which the Party handed out to the masses. Other words, again, were ambivalent, having the connotation ‘good’ when applied to the Party and ‘bad’ when applied to its enemies.
But in addition there were great numbers of words which at first sight appeared to be mere abbreviations and which derived their ideological colour not from their meaning, but from their structure.

So far as it could be contrived, everything that had or might have political significance of any kind was fitted into the B vocabulary. The name of every organization, or body of people, or doctrine, or country, or institution, or public building, was invariably cut down into the familiar shape; that is, a single easily pronounced word with the smallest number of syllables that would preserve the original derivation. In the Ministry of Truth, for example, the Records Department, in which Winston Smith worked, was called Recdep, the Fiction Department was called Ficdep, the Teleprogrammes Department was called Teledep, and so on. This was not done solely with the object of saving time. Even in the early decades of the twentieth century, telescoped words and phrases had been one of the characteristic features of political language; and it had been noticed that the tendency to use abbreviations of this kind was most marked in totalitarian countries and totalitarian organizations. Examples were such words as Nazi, Gestapo, Comintern, Inprecorr, Agitprop. In the beginning the practice had been adopted as it were instinctively, but in Newspeak it was used with a conscious purpose. It was perceived that in thus abbreviating a name one narrowed and subtly altered its meaning, by cutting out most of the associations that would otherwise cling to it. The words Communist International, for instance, call up a composite picture of universal human brotherhood, red flags, barricades, Karl Marx, and the Paris Commune. The word Comintern, on the other hand, suggests merely a tightly-knit organization and a well-defined body of doctrine. It refers to something almost as easily recognized, and as limited in purpose, as a chair or a table. Comintern is a word that can be uttered almost without taking thought, whereas Communist International is a phrase over which one is obliged to linger at least momentarily. In the same way, the associations called up by a word like Minitrue are fewer and more controllable than those called up by Ministry of Truth. This accounted not only for the habit of abbreviating whenever possible, but also for the almost exaggerated care that was taken to make every word easily pronounceable.

In Newspeak, euphony outweighed every consideration other than exactitude of meaning. Regularity of grammar was always sacrificed to it when it seemed necessary. And rightly so, since what was required, above all for political purposes, was short clipped words of unmistakable meaning which could be uttered rapidly and which roused the minimum of echoes in the speaker's mind. The words of the B vocabulary even gained in force from the fact that nearly all of them were very much alike. Almost invariably these words — goodthink, Minipax, prolefeed, sexcrime, joycamp, Ingsoc, bellyfeel, thinkpol, and countless others — were words of two or three syllables, with the stress distributed equally between the first syllable and the last. The use of them encouraged a gabbling style of speech, at once staccato and monotonous. And this was exactly what was aimed at. The intention was to make speech, and especially speech on any subject not ideologically neutral, as nearly as possible independent of consciousness. For the purposes of everyday life it was no doubt necessary, or sometimes necessary, to reflect before speaking, but a Party member called upon to make a political or ethical judgement should be able to spray forth the correct opinions as automatically as a machine gun spraying forth bullets. His training fitted him to do this, the language gave him an almost foolproof instrument, and the texture of the words, with their harsh sound and a certain wilful ugliness which was in accord with the spirit of Ingsoc, assisted the process still further.

So did the fact of having very few words to choose from. Relative to our own, the Newspeak vocabulary was tiny, and new ways of reducing it were constantly being devised. Newspeak, indeed, differed from most all other languages in that its vocabulary grew smaller instead of larger every year. Each reduction was a gain, since the smaller the area of choice, the smaller the temptation to take thought. Ultimately it was hoped to make articulate speech issue from the larynx without involving the higher brain centres at all. This aim was frankly admitted in the Newspeak word duckspeak, meaning ‘to quack like a duck’. Like various other words in the B vocabulary, duckspeak was ambivalent in meaning. Provided that the opinions which were quacked out were orthodox ones, it implied nothing but praise, and when the Times referred to one of the orators of the Party as a doubleplusgood duckspeaker it was paying a warm and valued compliment.

From power of the people to polyarchy

Definitions of concepts are not theoretically neutral and are not simply the result of individual taste or preference of the writer... Definitions of concepts are also mandated by the dominant usages in a group or society, made authoritative by dictionaries, by sanctions against the "wrong" usage. And definitions are also part of the hegemony of language itself, the "deep structure" of meanings buried in the foundations of social order. To broaden the classic statement of Marx, the ruling ideas of an age are not only the ideology of its ruling class but also the vocabulary of dominant elites.

-- Robert Alford and Roger Friedland [58]

Democracy means only that the people have the opportunity of accepting or refusing the men who are to rule them.

-- Joseph Schumpeter [59]

Democracy is what philosopher W. B. Gallie terms an essentially contested concept.60 This refers to a concept in which different and competing definitions exist, such that terms themselves are problematic since they are not reducible to "primitives." Each definition yields different interpretations of social reality. In and of themselves, these terms are hollow and their meaning is only discernible from the vantage point of the social and theoretical context of their usage. By their nature, these terms involve implicit assumptions, are enveloped in ideology, and are therefore subsets of broader discourse which sets the framework of the social-political or theoretical agenda in question. Each essentially contested concept comes to have multiple and internally contradictory meanings which are given to it by specific class and group interests with a stake in its definition. Ideological positions, or more precisely, the intersubjective expression of vested class and group interests, are often ensconced in what is presented as scientific, objective discussion of democracy. Analysis should thus uncover these assumptions and their relation to interests.

What US policymakers mean by "democracy promotion" is the promotion of polyarchy, a concept which developed in US academic circles closely tied to the policymaking community in the United States in the post-World War II years (the word was first coined by Robert DahI 61). Polyarchy refers to a system in which a small group actually rules and mass participation in decision-making is confined to leadership choice in elections carefully managed by competing elites. The pluralist assumption is that elites will respond to the general interests of majorities, through polyarchy's "twin dimensions" of "political contestation" and "political inclusiveness," as a result of the need of those who govern to win a majority of votes. It is theoretically grounded in structural-functionalism - and behind it, the positivist focus on the separate aspects and the external relations of things - in which the different spheres of the social totality are independent, each performing systems maintenance functions and externally related to each other in a larger Parsonian "social system." Democracy is limited to the political sphere, and revolves around process, method and procedure in the selection of "leaders." This is an institutional definition of democracy. Political scientist Samuel Huntington notes that the classic definition of democracy as power/rule by the people - rooted in the original Greek, power or rule (eralos) of the people (demos) - and "its derivatives and applications over the ages" have "sharply declined, at least in the American scholarly discussions, and have been replaced by efforts to understand the nature of democratic institutions." Huntington concludes: "Democracy has a useful meaning only when it is defined in institutional terms. The key institution of democracy is the selection of leaders through competitive elections."62 In turn, polyarchy has been conflated to the staple definition of democracy in both "democratization" and "democracy promotion" literature.63

The concept of polyarchy is an outgrowth of late nineteenth and early twentieth-century elite theories developed by Italian social scientists Gaetano Mosca and Vilfredo Pareto. On the one hand, these theories were developed to legitimize the rapid increase in the concentration of wealth and political power among dominant elites, and their ever-greater control over social life, with the rise of corporate capitalism. On the other hand, democracy, by the late nineteenth century, had ceased being an instrument of this industrial elite against the old feudal oligarchy and was instead becoming a vehicle for the demands of those it dominated. In the latter part of their careers, Mosca went on to argue that "democratic" rather than fascist methods are best suited to defend the ruling class and preserve the social order, whereas Pareto went on to embrace fascism as the best method. This split, on the basis of a shared commitment to preserving the social order, constitutes an historical analogy to the debate in US foreign policy-making circles over whether "democracy" or authoritarianism in the Third World is actually the best method of preserving international order. "In perceiving the insight underlying the apparent paradox that democratic methods prudently used can enhance the strength and stability of a ruling class, Mosca solved his problem," notes political scientist Peter Bachrach. "But before his theory could be successfully integrated within the context of modern democratic theory, the theory of democracy itself required a radical revision."64 That radical revision took place in US academia in the post-World War II years.

The institutional definition embodied in polyarchy came to substitute, at the level of mainstream Western social science, the classic definition of democracy. Despite the emergence of the earlier elite theories, the classic definition had been fairly well established until the post-World War II period. This redefinition thus coincided with a worldwide upsurge of democratic aspirations and movements in the wake of the defeat of fascism and the breakup of the old colonial system. Behind the birth of dozens of newly independent nations, the spread of democratic and national liberation movements, and several successful Third World revolutions were struggles over what new social and political systems would replace the crumbling colonial order. The redefinition of democracy also took place alongside the postwar construction of a new international system and the emergence of the United States as the undisputed world power. It began with Joseph Schumpeter's 1942 study, Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy, in which he rejected the "classical theory of democracy" defined in terms of "the will of the people" and "the common good." Instead, Schumpeter advanced "another theory" of democracy: "institutional arrangements for arriving at political decisions in which individuals acquire the power to decide by means of a competitive struggle for the people's vote."65 This redefinition gave "democratic" content to the anti-democratic essence of Mosca's and Pareto's earlier elitism theories, thus providing for their legitimization. According to Huntington, the debate between the institutional and the classical definition of democracy went on for several decades after World War II, and was concluded with the publication of Robert Dahl's Polyarchy in 1971.

In its Parsonian-Schumpeterian version, the polyarchic definition of democracy is equated with the stability of the capitalist social order. By definitional fiat, power is exercised in the general welfare and any attempt to change the social order is a pathological challenge to democracy. "The maintenance of democratic politics and the reconstruction of the social order are fundamentally incompatible," states Huntington.66 There is no contradiction in this model in affirming that "democracy" exists and also acknowledging massive inequalities in wealth and social privilege. The problem is posed as to how these inequalities might negatively affect the maintenance of "democracy." Therefore, the notion that there may be a veritable contradiction in terms between elite or class rule, on the one hand, and democracy, on the other, does not enter -- by theoretical-definitional fiat -- into the polyarchic definition. At best, the polyarchic conception leaves open the possibility as to whether "political democracy" may or may not facilitate "social and economic democracy." In contrast, I am arguing that polyarchy as a distinct form of elite rule performs the function of legitimating existing inequalities, and does so more effectively than authoritarianism.

Historian Raymond Williams holds that a class perspective on the politics of language is necessary, since "many crucial meanings have been shaped by a dominant class."67 Sociologists Robert Alford and Roger Friedland argue that "concepts come to be part of dominant or subordinate paradigms. Clusters of terms come to control discourse when a particular school of thought dominates a university department, a professional association, or a government agency." As such, "paradigms of inquiry become part of the substructure of meanings, which may disappear into the underpinnings of a discipline as its ideology."68 The polyarchic definition of democracy, which is only one variant of an essentially contested concept, has come to enjoy hegemony, in the Gramscian sense, in social scientific, political, and mass public discourse.

-- Promoting Polyarchy: Globalization, U.S. Intervention, and Hegemony, by William I. Robinson


The C vocabulary. The C vocabulary was supplementary to the others and consisted entirely of scientific and technical terms. These resembled the scientific terms in use today, and were constructed from the same roots, but the usual care was taken to define them rigidly and strip them of undesirable meanings. They followed the same grammatical rules as the words in the other two vocabularies. Very few of the C words had any currency either in everyday speech or in political speech. Any scientific worker or technician could find all the words he needed in the list devoted to his own speciality, but he seldom had more than a smattering of the words occurring in the other lists. Only a very few words were common to all lists, and there was no vocabulary expressing the function of Science as a habit of mind, or a method of thought, irrespective of its particular branches. There was, indeed, no word for ‘Science’, any meaning that it could possibly bear being already sufficiently covered by the word Ingsoc.

From the foregoing account it will be seen that in Newspeak the expression of unorthodox opinions, above a very low level, was well-nigh impossible.
It was of course possible to utter heresies of a very crude kind, a species of blasphemy. It would have been possible, for example, to say Big Brother is ungood. But this statement, which to an orthodox ear merely conveyed a self-evident absurdity, could not have been sustained by reasoned argument, because the necessary words were not available. Ideas inimical to Ingsoc could only be entertained in a vague wordless form, and could only be named in very broad terms which lumped together and condemned whole groups of heresies without defining them in doing so. One could, in fact, only use Newspeak for unorthodox purposes by illegitimately translating some of the words back into Oldspeak. For example, All mans are equal was a possible Newspeak sentence, but only in the same sense in which All men are redhaired is a possible Oldspeak sentence. It did not contain a grammatical error, but it expressed a palpable untruth — i.e. that all men are of equal size, weight, or strength. The concept of political equality no longer existed, and this secondary meaning had accordingly been purged out of the word equal. In 1984, when Oldspeak was still the normal means of communication, the danger theoretically existed that in using Newspeak words one might remember their original meanings. In practice it was not difficult for any person well grounded in doublethink to avoid doing this, but within a couple of generations even the possibility of such a lapse would have vanished. A person growing up with Newspeak as his sole language would no more know that equal had once had the secondary meaning of ‘politically equal’, or that free had once meant ‘intellectually free’, than for instance, a person who had never heard of chess would be aware of the secondary meanings attaching to queen and rook. There would be many crimes and errors which it would be beyond his power to commit, simply because they were nameless and therefore unimaginable. And it was to be foreseen that with the passage of time the distinguishing characteristics of Newspeak would become more and more pronounced — its words growing fewer and fewer, their meanings more and more rigid, and the chance of putting them to improper uses always diminishing.

When Oldspeak had been once and for all superseded, the last link with the past would have been severed. History had already been rewritten, but fragments of the literature of the past survived here and there, imperfectly censored, and so long as one retained one's knowledge of Oldspeak it was possible to read them. In the future such fragments, even if they chanced to survive, would be unintelligible and untranslatable. It was impossible to translate any passage of Oldspeak into Newspeak unless it either referred to some technical process or some very simple everyday action, or was already orthodox (goodthinkful would be the Newspeak expression) in tendency. In practice this meant that no book written before approximately 1960 could be translated as a whole. Pre-revolutionary literature could only be subjected to ideological translation — that is, alteration in sense as well as language. Take for example the well-known passage from the Declaration of Independence:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among men, deriving their powers from the consent of the governed. That whenever any form of Government becomes destructive of those ends, it is the right of the People to alter or abolish it, and to institute new Government...


It would have been quite impossible to render this into Newspeak while keeping to the sense of the original. The nearest one could come to doing so would be to swallow the whole passage up in the single word crimethink. A full translation could only be an ideological translation, whereby Jefferson's words would be changed into a panegyric on absolute government.

A good deal of the literature of the past was, indeed, already being transformed in this way. Considerations of prestige made it desirable to preserve the memory of certain historical figures, while at the same time bringing their achievements into line with the philosophy of Ingsoc. Various writers, such as Shakespeare, Milton, Swift, Byron, Dickens, and some others were therefore in process of translation: when the task had been completed, their original writings, with all else that survived of the literature of the past, would be destroyed. These translations were a slow and difficult business, and it was not expected that they would be finished before the first or second decade of the twenty-first century. There were also large quantities of merely utilitarian literature — indispensable technical manuals, and the like — that had to be treated in the same way. It was chiefly in order to allow time for the preliminary work of translation that the final adoption of Newspeak had been fixed for so late a date as 2050.

1949

____

2) Compound words such as speakwrite, were of course to be found in the A vocabulary, but these were merely convenient abbreviations and had no special ideologcal colour.
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