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

Gathered together in one place, for easy access, an agglomeration of writings and images relevant to the Rapeutation phenomenon.

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

Postby admin » Tue Dec 13, 2016 10:49 pm

Fake News About 'Fake News' - The Media Performance Pyramid
by Editor, Medialens.org
05 December 2016

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In the wake of Brexit and Trump, 'mainstream' media have done the formerly unthinkable by focusing on media bias. The intensity of focus has been such that the Oxford Dictionaries have announced that 'post-truth' is their 'Word of the Year 2016'.

'Post-truth' refers to 'circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief'.

Students of 'brainwashing under freedom' will notice that this bears a striking resemblance to 20th century US policy advisor Reinhold Niebuhr's insistence on the use of 'emotionally potent over-simplifications' to control the public mind. It's nothing new, in other words.

We learn from a lengthy article on Wikipedia that 'post-truth politics' is driven by 'fake news':

'Fake news websites publish hoaxes, propaganda, and disinformation to drive web traffic inflamed by social media.'


This 'fake news' is being harvested by social media that seal unwitting users in airtight 'filter bubbles':

'A filter bubble is a result of a personalized search in which a website algorithm selectively guesses what information a user would like to see based on information about the user (such as location, past click behavior and search history) and, as a result, users become separated from information that disagrees with their viewpoints, effectively isolating them in their own cultural or ideological bubbles.'


The results are terrifying indeed. Author Andrew Smith argued in the Guardian that, post-Trump and Brexit, future historians will decide 'whether this will go down as the year democracy revealed itself unworkable in the age of the internet'. The forecast is grim:

'One day, I suspect, we will look back in disbelief that we let the net-induced friction on civil society reach this pitch, because if we didn't know before, we know now that our stark choice is between social networks' bottom line and democracy. I know which I prefer.'


These words appeared less than two years after the January 2015 Charlie Hebdo massacre, when a Guardian editorial had opined:



Now, it seems, anyone 'serious about liberty' has to resist the free flow of ugly words for fear of 'net-induced friction on civil society'. Whatever that means.

Smith was reacting to 'the accidental or deliberate propagation of misinformation via social media'. Many millions of people 'saw and believed fake reports that the pope had endorsed Trump; Democrats had paid and bussed anti-Trump protesters...'; and so on.

Curiously, Smith made no mention of the relentless 'mainstream' and social media efforts to link Trump with Putin seen by many millions of people around the globe. Nor did Smith mention the upside of social media – the democratisation of outreach, the related growth in popular support for Jeremy Corbyn and Bernie Sanders, and for left-wing movements like Spain's Podemos.

Like the rest of 'mainstream' journalism, Smith had nothing to say about the leading role played by traditional corporate media in the 'deliberate propagation of misinformation'. A remarkable omission, given the unprecedented ferocity of the smear campaign against Jeremy Corbyn.


In one news report, seven different Guardian journalists discussed the rise of 'fake news' around the world without mentioning the key role of 'mainstream' media. This led to conclusions such as:

'Fake news is not a problem of any scale in Australia: the media market, dominated by a handful of key players serving a population of just over 21 million people, does not seem fragmented enough.'


Some perspective was provided by former CIA counterterrorism official Philip Giraldi in 2009:

'The Rupert Murdoch chain has been used extensively to publish false intelligence from the Israelis and occasionally from the British government.'


Another Guardian piece was titled:

'Bursting the Facebook bubble: we asked voters on the left and right to swap feeds - Social media has made it easy to live in filter bubbles, sheltered from opposing viewpoints. So what happens when liberals and conservatives trade realities?'


The problem being:

'Facebook users are increasingly sheltered from opposing viewpoints – and reliable news sources [sic] – and the viciously polarized state of our national politics appears to be one of the results.'


Facebook readers, then, are sheltered from the giant, global corporate media that dominate our newspapers, magazines, publishing companies, cinema, TVs, radios and computer screens – even though social media are themselves corporate media. And presumably we are to believe that readers of 'reliable news sources' – the BBC, Guardian, The Times, Telegraph and other traditional outlets - are forever being exposed to 'opposing viewpoints' by these media.

If we beg to differ, having studied the media intensively for two decades, it may be because we belong on a list of 200 websites that 'are at the very least acting as bona-fide "useful idiots" of the Russian intelligence services, and are worthy of further scrutiny', according to the PropOrNot group.
The Washington Post reports:

'PropOrNot's monitoring report, which was provided to The Washington Post in advance of its public release, identifies more than 200 websites as routine peddlers of Russian propaganda during the election season, with combined audiences of at least 15 million Americans. On Facebook, PropOrNot estimates that stories planted or promoted by the disinformation campaign were viewed more than 213 million times.'


RT breaking the latest Podesta emails before WikiLeaks sparked accusations of collusion with the whistleblowing organization. Actually, no conspiracies were involved – just good journalism.

Having discovered over 1,800 emails date-stamped October 13 on the WikiLeaks site, RT sprung into action.

RT America ✔ @RT_America
#BREAKING: #WikiLeaks releases 6th #Podesta #email batch http://on.rt.com/7rtd #PodestaEmails6
6:09 AM - 13 Oct 2016


Wikileaks followed shortly after by tweeting that #PodestaEmails6 were now available.

WikiLeaks ✔ @wikileaks
RELEASE: The Podesta Emails Part 6 (almost 2000 new emails) https://wikileaks.org/podesta-emails/?q ... archresult … #HillaryClinton #PodestaEmails #PodestaEmails6
6:38 AM - 13 Oct 2016


Despite the documents being public when discovered by RT, accusations soon began that it was proof that Russia and WikiLeaks are somehow working together. Christopher Miller, a journalist for the US government-backed Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, set the wheels of suspicion in motion.

Christopher Miller ✔ @ChristopherJM
Earlier today, @RT_com tweeted & pubbed a story on fresh @wikileaks Podesta emails dump before WL posted them to the site & tweeted a link.
7:41 AM - 13 Oct 2016


Hillary Clinton’s Press Secretary Brian Fallon then followed suit, tweeting that the work by RT journalists was part of a conspiracy “in service of Trump”.

Brian Fallon ✔ @brianefallon
More evidence of Russian collusion with @Wikileaks in service of Trumphttps://twitter.com/ChristopherJM/ ... 29313?s=03
8:47 AM - 13 Oct 2016


WikiLeaks even stepped in to clarify that the emails were available, just not tweeted, and that RT had not acquired them in any other way.

13 Oct
Christopher Miller ✔ @ChristopherJM
Earlier today, @RT_com tweeted & pubbed a story on fresh @wikileaks Podesta emails dump before WL posted them to the site & tweeted a link. pic.twitter.com/nHb0GIq4Am


WikiLeaks ✔ @wikileaks
@ChristopherJM @RT_com No they didn't. The release was visible to anyone looking at https://wikileaks.org/podesta-emails/?q ... archresult … well before our first tweet.
9:30 AM - 13 Oct 2016


Wikileaks - The Podesta emails
WikiLeaks series on deals involving Hillary Clinton campaign Chairman John Podesta. Mr Podesta is a long-term associate of the Clintons and was President Bill Clinton's Chief of Staff from 1998 until...
wikileaks.org


-- RT beats internet to break #Podestaemails6 & everybody loses their minds (conspiracy theory warning), by RT.com


Matt Taibbi notes in Rolling Stone that outlets as diverse as AntiWar.com, LewRockwell.com and the Ron Paul Institute are on the list, although the Washington Post offered no information about the PropOrNot group, 'which offered zero concrete evidence of coordination with Russian intelligence agencies'. Chris Hedges of Truthdig, which is on the list, describes the Post's report as an 'updated form of Red-Baiting.' He added:

'This attack signals an open war on the independent press. Those who do not spew the official line will be increasingly demonized in corporate echo chambers such as the Post or CNN as useful idiots or fifth columnists.'


Significantly, the Guardian experiment in swapping social media concluded with this extraordinary comment from one of the participants, again just two years after Charlie Hebdo:

'Maybe we should stop having social media. For all the things that social media has done in terms of making it easier for me to stay in touch with someone that I was vaguely friends with in college, maybe the ability with social media for people to construct their own reality to create a mob is not worth it.'


A Liberal Breaks Bad

Reporting from the 'fake news' frontline, a Guardian piece titled, '"Alt-right'" online poison nearly turned me into a racist', described the experience of an anonymous commentator: outwardly, a normal, sane liberal:

'I am a happily married, young white man. I grew up in a happy, Conservative household. I've spent my entire life – save the last four months – as a progressive liberal. All of my friends are very liberal or left-leaning centrists.'


It sounds idyllic – presumably he was a Guardian reader and helped the elderly cross the road. But then things started to go wrong:

'This, I think, is where YouTube's "suggested videos" can lead you down a rabbit hole... I unlocked the Pandora's box of "It's not racist to criticise Islam!" content.'


Despite his virtuous liberal heart, 'Anonymous' started to drift to the dark side:

'I'd started to roll my eyes when my friends talked about liberal, progressive things. What was wrong with them?'


Eventually, realising he was becoming an intolerant racist, he confronted himself:

'What you're doing is turning you into a terrible, hateful person.'


This is a close copy of material that appeared during the original version of McCarthyite hysteria. Between 1948 and 1954, Hollywood made more than forty propaganda films with titles like, 'I Married A Communist', and 'I Was A Communist For The FBI'. Large-circulation magazines were titled, 'How Communists Get That Way' and 'Communists Are After Your Child.' (Quoted, Howard Zinn, A People's History of the United States, Harper Colophon, 1990, pp.427-8)

With perfect irony, this attack on 'fake news' may itself have been faked. Satirist Godfrey Elfwick has since claimed authorship of the Guardian story. Elfwick certainly has form, having previously hoaxed several national news organisations on related issues.

Elsewhere, The Sun newspaper, no less, warned against 'fake news' in an article titled, 'Don't believe the hyperlink':

'Fake news is on the rise. In the past three months of the White House race the top 20 false stories about it were bigger on Facebook than the top 20 from the world's most reputable news outlets.' (Robert Colvile, The Sun, November 19, 2016)


The key word here is 'reputable'. In 2012, The Sun wrote of the Hillsborough football disaster:

'Nothing can excuse The Sun's Page One presentation, under the headline The Truth.

'It was inaccurate, grossly insensitive and offensive. This version of events was NOT the truth.'


Fake news, in other words.

In the Mirror, Pat Flanagan helped clarify the meaning of 'reputable': 'the top 20 fake news stories during the presidential campaign collectively outperformed the top 20 legitimate stories'. (Flanagan, 'Web of lies shows net is strangling democracy', Mirror, November 25, 2016)

But now we have the Post treating an alleged study by supposed “independent researchers” as needing the protection of anonymity to allow the Web site’s executive director to expound on the group’s slanderous assessments without giving his or her name.

In such a case, how is the public supposed to evaluate the smears and whether these researchers are indeed “independent” or are funded by some actual propaganda network, like those financed by the National Endowment for Democracy or USAID or financial speculator George Soros or some military-industrial-complex think tank?

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


So the 'reputable' outlets (the BBC calls them 'legitimate news outlets') were those producing 'legitimate stories'.

In May 2004, the BBC reported of Flanagan's newspaper:

'Daily Mirror editor Piers Morgan has been sacked after the newspaper conceded photos of British soldiers abusing an Iraqi were fake.

'In a statement the Mirror said it had fallen victim to a "calculated and malicious hoax" and that it would be "inappropriate" for Morgan to continue.'


As John Hilley notes on his Zenpolitics blog, the most fantastic moment of post-real irony was reached when the BBC hosted Tony Blair's Iraq spin doctor, Alastair Campbell, defending the term 'post-truth'. Campbell said:

'It's acknowledging that politics, which has always been rough, has moved to a different phase where politicians who lie now appear to get rewarded for it.' (BBC2 Jeremy Vine Show, November 16, 2016)


The Performance Pyramid - Conformity Without Design

To reiterate, 'fake news' is said to refer to 'websites [that] publish hoaxes, propaganda, and disinformation to drive web traffic'. A simple, table-top experiment can help us understand why this definition can be generalised to all corporate media, not just social media.

Place a square wooden framework on a flat surface and pour into it a stream of ball bearings, marbles, or other round objects. Some of the balls may bounce out, but many will form a layer within the wooden framework; others will then find a place atop this first layer. In this way, the flow of ball bearings steadily builds new layers that inevitably produce a pyramid-style shape.

This experiment is used to demonstrate how near-perfect crystalline structures such as snowflakes arise in nature without conscious design. We will use it here as a way of understanding Edward Herman and Noam Chomsky's 'propaganda model' of 'mainstream' performance.

Imagine now that the four sides of the wooden framework are labelled to indicate the framing conditions shaping the corporate media:

1) Corporate nature, elite/parent company ownership and profit-maximising orientation

2) Dependence on allied corporate advertisers for 50% or more of revenues

3) Dependence on cheap, subsidised news supplied by state-corporate allies

4) Political, economic, legal carrots and sticks rewarding corporate media conformity and punishing dissent


When facts, ideas, journalists and managers are poured into this framework, the result is a highly filtered, power-friendly 'pyramid' of media performance. Every aspect of corporate media output is shaped by these framing conditions. Consider media coverage of the recent death of Fidel Castro. In his book, 'Inventing Reality' (1993), political analyst Michael Parenti wrote:

'References may occasionally appear in the press about the great disparities of wealth and poverty in Third World nations, but US corporate imperialism is never treated as one of the causes of such poverty. Indeed, it seems the US press has never heard of US imperialism. Imperialism, the process by which the dominant interests of one country expropriate the land, labor, markets, capital, and natural resources of another, and neo-imperialism, the process of expropriation that occurs without direct colonization, are both unmentionables. Anyone who might try to introduce the subject would be quickly dismissed as "ideological". Media people, like mainstream academics and others, might recognize that the US went through a brief imperialist period around the Spanish-American War. And they would probably acknowledge that there once existed ancient Roman imperialism and nineteenth-century British imperialism and certainly twentieth-century "Soviet imperialism." But not many, if any, mainstream editors and commentators would consider the existence of US imperialism (or neo-imperialism), let alone entertain criticisms of it.

'Media commentators, like political leaders, treat corporate investment as a solution to Third World poverty and indebtedness rather than as a cause. What US corporations do in the Third World is a story largely untold...

'What capitalism as a transnational system does to impoverish people throughout the world is simply not a fit subject for the US news media. Instead, poverty is treated as its own cause. We are asked to believe that Third World people are poor because that has long been their condition; they live in countries that are overpopulated, or there is something about their land, culture, or temperament that makes them unable to cope. Subsistence wages, forced displacement from homesteads, the plunder of natural resources, the lack of public education and public health programs, the suppression of independent labor unions and other democratic forces by US-supported police states, such things - if we were to believe the way they remain untreated in the media - have nothing much to do with poverty in Latin America, Africa, and Asia.' (Parenti, 'Inventing Reality,' 2nd edition, St. Martin's Press, 1993, pp.175-6)


Given the four framing conditions described above, it is easy to understand why Parenti's facts and arguments find no place in the corporate media performance 'pyramid'. This means that everything that appears in the 'pyramid' about the West's relations with the Third World is either fake news, or half-truth presented in a fake context.

Thus a leading article after the death of Fidel Castro in The Times blamed 'the clumsiness of American diplomacy that, in trying to rid the world of an opportunistic agitator, built up his global image as a plucky opponent of Yankee imperialism'. (Leading article, 'Cuba Libre; For half a century Fidel Castro's country has stagnated under his repressive rule. Now the island has a chance to free itself from his malign shadow,' The Times, November 28, 2016)

Parenti's accurate analysis of US imperial violence is replaced by a mocking, fake reference to US 'clumsiness'. The fakery is such that The Times actually reverses the truth of history:

'Washington now has a chance to coax Cuba down the road to liberty.'


In a Guardian leader, Parenti's version of truth was replaced by another fake take:

'Castro's international reputation was built partly on a foreign policy of supporting other third world struggles that, while not perfect, has certainly been far more impressive than most of the west.'


Cuba's foreign policy is thus compared to that of the less 'impressive' West, rather than presented as a desperate attempt to escape and survive Western imperialism. When the Guardian says that, in Castro, some 'see a dictator who trampled human rights', it fails to mention how the British government curtailed democratic freedoms at home when threatened by a far more evenly matched enemy from 1939-1945.

With the truth nowhere in sight, an Independent leader can deliver fake news of fake hope:


'Cuba has no reason to fear a free media, free-trade unions and free trade with her neighbours (assuming her neighbours want it).'


The superpower's long, terrible history of subordinating Latin American people to US profit and power – most recently helping to overthrow democracy in Haiti and Honduras, and supporting a failed coup attempt in Venezuela - is replaced by a faked discussion of Cuba's 'uneasy relationship with its powerful superpower neighbour'. The editors added:

'It would be tragic if misunderstandings and diplomatic blunders wrecked what would be a transformative rebuilding of relations between two nations who have more in common than they care to admit.'


A comment from Noam Chomsky puts all of this in perspective:

'Terrorist activities continued under Nixon, peaking in the mid- 1970s, with attacks on fishing boats, embassies, and Cuban offices overseas, and the bombing of a Cubana airliner, killing all seventy-three passengers...

'So matters proceeded, while Castro was condemned by [Western] editors for maintaining an "armed camp, despite the security from attack promised by Washington in 1962." The promise should have sufficed, despite what followed...'


Put simply, it is not reasonable to expect corporate media to report honestly on a world dominated by corporations. With perfect irony, the latest focus on 'fake news' is itself fake news because the corporate media never have discussed and never will discuss the framing conditions that make it a leading purveyor of 'hoaxes, propaganda, and disinformation'.

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

Postby admin » Tue Dec 13, 2016 11:55 pm

The 'Washington Post' 'Blacklist' Story Is Shameful and Disgusting: The capital's paper of record crashes legacy media on an iceberg
by Matt Taibbi
November 28, 2016

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Last week, a technology reporter for the Washington Post named Craig Timberg ran an incredible story. It has no analog that I can think of in modern times. Headlined "Russian propaganda effort helped spread 'fake news' during election, experts say," the piece promotes the work of a shadowy group that smears some 200 alternative news outlets as either knowing or unwitting agents of a foreign power, including popular sites like Truthdig and Naked Capitalism.

The thrust of Timberg's astonishingly lazy report is that a Russian intelligence operation of some kind was behind the publication of a "hurricane" of false news reports during the election season, in particular stories harmful to Hillary Clinton. The piece referenced those 200 websites as "routine peddlers of Russian propaganda."

The piece relied on what it claimed were "two teams of independent researchers," but the citing of a report by the longtime anticommunist Foreign Policy Research Institute was really window dressing.

The meat of the story relied on a report by unnamed analysts from a single mysterious "organization" called PropOrNot – we don't know if it's one person or, as it claims, over 30 – a "group" that seems to have been in existence for just a few months.

It was PropOrNot's report that identified what it calls "the list" of 200 offending sites. Outlets as diverse as AntiWar.com, LewRockwell.com and the Ron Paul Institute were described as either knowingly directed by Russian intelligence, or "useful idiots" who unwittingly did the bidding of foreign masters.

Forget that the Post offered no information about the "PropOrNot" group beyond that they were "a collection of researchers with foreign policy, military and technology backgrounds."

Forget also that the group offered zero concrete evidence of coordination with Russian intelligence agencies, even offering this remarkable disclaimer about its analytic methods:

"Please note that our criteria are behavioral. ... For purposes of this definition it does not matter ... whether they even knew they were echoing Russian propaganda at any particular point: If they meet these criteria, they are at the very least acting as bona-fide 'useful idiots' of the Russian intelligence services, and are worthy of further scrutiny."

What this apparently means is that if you published material that meets their definition of being "useful" to the Russian state, you could be put on the "list," and "warrant further scrutiny."

Forget even that in its Twitter responses to criticism of its report, PropOrNot sounded not like a group of sophisticated military analysts, but like one teenager:

"Awww, wook at all the angwy Putinists, trying to change the subject - they're so vewwy angwy!!" it wrote on Saturday.
"Fascists. Straight up muthafuckin' fascists. That's what we're up against," it wrote last Tuesday, two days before Timberg's report.

Any halfway decent editor would have been scared to death by any of these factors. Moreover the vast majority of reporters would have needed to see something a lot more concrete than a half-assed theoretical paper from such a dicey source before denouncing 200 news organizations as traitors.

But if that same source also demanded anonymity on the preposterous grounds that it feared being "targeted by Russia's legions of skilled hackers"? Any sane reporter would have booted them out the door. You want to blacklist hundreds of people, but you won't put your name to your claims? Take a hike.

Yet the Post thought otherwise, and its report was uncritically picked up by other outlets like USA Today and the Daily Beast.
The "Russians did it" story was greedily devoured by a growing segment of blue-state America that is beginning to fall victim to the same conspiracist tendencies that became epidemic on the political right in the last few years.

The right-wing fascination with conspiracy has culminated in a situation where someone like Alex Jones of Infowars (who believes juice boxes make frogs gay) is considered a news source. Jones is believed even by our new president-elect, who just repeated one of his outrageous reports, to the effect that three million undocumented immigrants voted in the November 8th election.

That Jones report was based on a tweet by someone named Greg Phillips of an organization called VoteStand.

When asked to comment on his methodology, Phillips replied in the first person plural, sounding like a lone spree killer claiming to be a national terror network. "No. We will release it in open form to the American people," he said. "We won't allow the media to spin this first. Sorry."

This was remarkably similar to the response of PropOrNot when asked by The Intercept to comment about its "list" report. The only difference was, Phillips didn't use emoticons:

"We're getting a lot of requests for comment and can get back to you today =)" PropOrNot told The Intercept. "We're over 30 people, organized into teams, and we cannot confirm or deny anyone's involvement."

"They" never called The Intercept back.

Most high school papers wouldn't touch sources like these. But in November 2016, both the president-elect of the United States and the Washington Post are equally at ease with this sort of sourcing.

Even worse, the Post apparently never contacted any of the outlets on the "list" before they ran their story. Yves Smith at Naked Capitalism says she was never contacted. Chris Hedges of Truthdig, who was part of a group that won the Pulitzer Prize for The New York Times once upon a time, said the same. "We were named," he tells me. "I was not contacted."

Hedges says the Post piece was an "updated form of Red-Baiting."

"This attack signals an open war on the independent press," he says. "Those who do not spew the official line will be increasingly demonized in corporate echo chambers such as the Post or CNN as useful idiots or fifth columnists."


All of this is an outgrowth of this horrible election season we just lived through.

A lot of reporters over the summer were so scared by the prospect of a Trump presidency that they talked – in some cases publicly – about abandoning traditional ideas about journalistic "distance" from politicians, in favor of open advocacy for the Clinton campaign. "Trump is testing the norms of objectivity in journalism," is how The Times put it.

These journalists seemed totally indifferent to the Pandora's box they were opening. They didn't understand that most politicians have no use for critical media. Many of them don't see alternative points of view as healthy or even legitimate. If you polled a hundred politicians about the profession, 99 would say that all reporters are obstructionist scum whose removal from the planet would be a boon to society.

The only time politicians like the media is when we're helping them get elected or push through certain policies, like for instance helping spread dubious stories about Iraq's WMD capability. Otherwise, they despise us. So news outlets that get into bed with politicians are usually making a devil's bargain they don't fully understand.

They may think they're being patriotic (as many did during the Iraq/WMD episode), but in the end what will happen is that they will adopt the point of view of their political sponsors. They will soon enough denounce other reporters and begin to see themselves as part of the power structure, as opposed to a check on it.

This is the ultimate in stupidity and self-annihilating behavior. The power of the press comes from its independence from politicians. Jump into bed with them and you not only won't ever be able to get out, but you'll win nothing but a loss of real influence and the undying loathing of audiences.

Helping Beltway politicos mass-label a huge portion of dissenting media as "useful idiots" for foreign enemies in this sense is an extraordinarily self-destructive act. Maybe the Post doesn't care and thinks it's doing the right thing. In that case, at least do the damn work.
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Re: Washington Post’s ‘Fake News’ Guilt, by Robert Parry

Postby admin » Wed Dec 14, 2016 3:32 am

Dealing With Assange and the WikiLeaks Secrets (The Times's Dealings With Julian Assange)
By Bill Keller
January 26, 2011

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This past June, Alan Rusbridger, the editor of The Guardian, phoned me and asked, mysteriously, whether I had any idea how to arrange a secure communication. Not really, I confessed. The Times doesn’t have encrypted phone lines, or a Cone of Silence. Well then, he said, he would try to speak circumspectly. In a roundabout way, he laid out an unusual proposition: an organization called WikiLeaks, a secretive cadre of antisecrecy vigilantes, had come into possession of a substantial amount of classified United States government communications. WikiLeaks’s leader, Julian Assange, an eccentric former computer hacker of Australian birth and no fixed residence, offered The Guardian half a million military dispatches from the battlefields of Afghanistan and Iraq. There might be more after that, including an immense bundle of confidential diplomatic cables. The Guardian suggested — to increase the impact as well as to share the labor of handling such a trove — that The New York Times be invited to share this exclusive bounty. The source agreed. Was I interested?

I was interested.
.

The adventure that ensued over the next six months combined the cloak-and-dagger intrigue of handling a vast secret archive with the more mundane feat of sorting, searching and understanding a mountain of data. As if that were not complicated enough, the project also entailed a source who was elusive, manipulative and volatile (and ultimately openly hostile to The Times and The Guardian); an international cast of journalists; company lawyers committed to keeping us within the bounds of the law; and an array of government officials who sometimes seemed as if they couldn’t decide whether they wanted to engage us or arrest us. By the end of the year, the story of this wholesale security breach had outgrown the story of the actual contents of the secret documents and generated much breathless speculation that something — journalism, diplomacy, life as we know it — had profoundly changed forever.

Soon after Rusbridger’s call, we sent Eric Schmitt, from our Washington bureau, to London. Schmitt has covered military affairs expertly for years, has read his share of classified military dispatches and has excellent judgment and an unflappable demeanor. His main assignment was to get a sense of the material. Was it genuine? Was it of public interest? He would also report back on the proposed mechanics of our collaboration with The Guardian and the German magazine Der Spiegel, which Assange invited as a third guest to his secret smorgasbord. Schmitt would also meet the WikiLeaks leader, who was known to a few Guardian journalists but not to us.

Schmitt’s first call back to The Times was encouraging. There was no question in his mind that the Afghanistan dispatches were genuine. They were fascinating — a diary of a troubled war from the ground up. And there were intimations of more to come, especially classified cables from the entire constellation of American diplomatic outposts. WikiLeaks was holding those back for now, presumably to see how this venture with the establishment media worked out. Over the next few days, Schmitt huddled in a discreet office at The Guardian, sampling the trove of war dispatches and discussing the complexities of this project: how to organize and study such a voluminous cache of information; how to securely transport, store and share it; how journalists from three very different publications would work together without compromising their independence; and how we would all assure an appropriate distance from Julian Assange. We regarded Assange throughout as a source, not as a partner or collaborator, but he was a man who clearly had his own agenda.

By the time of the meetings in London, WikiLeaks had already acquired a measure of international fame or, depending on your point of view, notoriety. Shortly before I got the call from The Guardian, The New Yorker published a rich and colorful profile of Assange, by Raffi Khatchadourian, who had embedded with the group. WikiLeaks’s biggest coup to that point was the release, last April, of video footage taken from one of two U.S. helicopters involved in firing down on a crowd and a building in Baghdad in 2007, killing at least 18 people. While some of the people in the video were armed, others gave no indication of menace; two were in fact journalists for the news agency Reuters. The video, with its soundtrack of callous banter, was horrifying to watch and was an embarrassment to the U.S. military. But in its zeal to make the video a work of antiwar propaganda, WikiLeaks also released a version that didn’t call attention to an Iraqi who was toting a rocket-propelled grenade and packaged the manipulated version under the tendentious rubric “Collateral Murder.” (See the edited and non-edited videos here.)

Throughout our dealings, Assange was coy about where he obtained his secret cache. But the suspected source of the video, as well as the military dispatches and the diplomatic cables to come, was a disillusioned U.S. Army private first class named Bradley Manning, who had been arrested and was being kept in solitary confinement.

On the fourth day of the London meeting, Assange slouched into The Guardian office, a day late. Schmitt took his first measure of the man who would be a large presence in our lives. “He’s tall — probably 6-foot-2 or 6-3 — and lanky, with pale skin, gray eyes and a shock of white hair that seizes your attention,” Schmitt wrote to me later. “He was alert but disheveled, like a bag lady walking in off the street, wearing a dingy, light-colored sport coat and cargo pants, dirty white shirt, beat-up sneakers and filthy white socks that collapsed around his ankles. He smelled as if he hadn’t bathed in days.”

Assange shrugged a huge backpack off his shoulders and pulled out a stockpile of laptops, cords, cellphones, thumb drives and memory sticks that held the WikiLeaks secrets.

The reporters had begun preliminary work on the Afghanistan field reports, using a large Excel spreadsheet to organize the material, then plugging in search terms and combing the documents for newsworthy content. They had run into a puzzling incongruity: Assange said the data included dispatches from the beginning of 2004 through the end of 2009, but the material on the spreadsheet ended abruptly in April 2009. A considerable amount of material was missing. Assange, slipping naturally into the role of office geek, explained that they had hit the limits of Excel. Open a second spreadsheet, he instructed. They did, and the rest of the data materialized — a total of 92,000 reports from the battlefields of Afghanistan.

The reporters came to think of Assange as smart and well educated, extremely adept technologically but arrogant, thin-skinned, conspiratorial and oddly credulous. At lunch one day in The Guardian’s cafeteria, Assange recounted with an air of great conviction a story about the archive in Germany that contains the files of the former Communist secret police, the Stasi. This office, Assange asserted, was thoroughly infiltrated by former Stasi agents who were quietly destroying the documents they were entrusted with protecting. The Der Spiegel reporter in the group, John Goetz, who has reported extensively on the Stasi, listened in amazement. That’s utter nonsense, he said. Some former Stasi personnel were hired as security guards in the office, but the records were well protected.

Assange was openly contemptuous of the American government and certain that he was a hunted man. He told the reporters that he had prepared a kind of doomsday option. He had, he said, distributed highly encrypted copies of his entire secret archive to a multitude of supporters, and if WikiLeaks was shut down, or if he was arrested, he would disseminate the key to make the information public.

Schmitt told me that for all Assange’s bombast and dark conspiracy theories, he had a bit of Peter Pan in him. One night, when they were all walking down the street after dinner, Assange suddenly started skipping ahead of the group. Schmitt and Goetz stared, speechless. Then, just as suddenly, Assange stopped, got back in step with them and returned to the conversation he had interrupted.

For the rest of the week Schmitt worked with David Leigh, The Guardian’s investigations editor; Nick Davies, an investigative reporter for the paper; and Goetz, of Der Spiegel, to organize and sort the material. With help from two of The Times’s best computer minds — Andrew Lehren and Aron Pilhofer — they figured out how to assemble the material into a conveniently searchable and secure database.

Journalists are characteristically competitive, but the group worked well together. They brainstormed topics to explore and exchanged search results. Der Spiegel offered to check the logs against incident reports submitted by the German Army to its Parliament — partly as story research, partly as an additional check on authenticity.


Assange provided us the data on the condition that we not write about it before specific dates that WikiLeaks planned on posting the documents on a publicly accessible Web site. The Afghanistan documents would go first, after we had a few weeks to search the material and write our articles. The larger cache of Iraq-related documents would go later. Such embargoes — agreements not to publish information before a set date — are commonplace in journalism. Everything from studies in medical journals to the annual United States budget is released with embargoes. They are a constraint with benefits, the principal one being the chance to actually read and reflect on the material before publishing it into public view. As Assange surely knew, embargoes also tend to build suspense and amplify a story, especially when multiple news outlets broadcast it at once. The embargo was the only condition WikiLeaks would try to impose on us; what we wrote about the material was entirely up to us. Much later, some American news outlets reported that they were offered last-minute access to WikiLeaks documents if they signed contracts with financial penalties for early disclosure. The Times was never asked to sign anything or to pay anything. For WikiLeaks, at least in this first big venture, exposure was its own reward.

Back in New York we assembled a team of reporters, data experts and editors and quartered them in an out-of-the-way office. Andrew Lehren, of our computer-assisted-reporting unit, did the first cut, searching terms on his own or those suggested by other reporters, compiling batches of relevant documents and summarizing the contents. We assigned reporters to specific areas in which they had expertise and gave them password access to rummage in the data. This became the routine we would follow with subsequent archives.

An air of intrigue verging on paranoia permeated the project, perhaps understandably, given that we were dealing with a mass of classified material and a source who acted like a fugitive, changing crash pads, e-mail addresses and cellphones frequently. We used encrypted Web sites. Reporters exchanged notes via Skype, believing it to be somewhat less vulnerable to eavesdropping. On conference calls, we spoke in amateurish code. Assange was always “the source.” The latest data drop was “the package.” When I left New York for two weeks to visit bureaus in Pakistan and Afghanistan, where we assume that communications may be monitored, I was not to be copied on message traffic about the project. I never imagined that any of this would defeat a curious snoop from the National Security Agency or Pakistani intelligence. And I was never entirely sure whether that prospect made me more nervous than the cyberwiles of WikiLeaks itself. At a point when relations between the news organizations and WikiLeaks were rocky, at least three people associated with this project had inexplicable activity in their e-mail that suggested someone was hacking into their accounts.

From consultations with our lawyers, we were confident that reporting on the secret documents could be done within the law, but we speculated about what the government — or some other government — might do to impede our work or exact recriminations. And, the law aside, we felt an enormous moral and ethical obligation to use the material responsibly. While we assumed we had little or no ability to influence what WikiLeaks did, let alone what would happen once this material was loosed in the echo chamber of the blogosphere, that did not free us from the need to exercise care in our own journalism. From the beginning, we agreed that in our articles and in any documents we published from the secret archive, we would excise material that could put lives at risk.

Guided by reporters with extensive experience in the field, we redacted the names of ordinary citizens, local officials, activists, academics and others who had spoken to American soldiers or diplomats. We edited out any details that might reveal ongoing intelligence-gathering operations, military tactics or locations of material that could be used to fashion terrorist weapons. Three reporters with considerable experience of handling military secrets — Eric Schmitt, Michael Gordon and C. J. Chivers — went over the documents we considered posting. Chivers, an ex-Marine who has reported for us from several battlefields, brought a practiced eye and cautious judgment to the business of redaction. If a dispatch noted that Aircraft A left Location B at a certain time and arrived at Location C at a certain time, Chivers edited it out on the off chance that this could teach enemy forces something useful about the capabilities of that aircraft.

The first articles in the project, which we called the War Logs, were scheduled to go up on the Web sites of The Times, The Guardian and Der Spiegel on Sunday, July 25. We approached the White House days before that to get its reaction to the huge breach of secrecy as well as to specific articles we planned to write — including a major one about Pakistan’s ambiguous role as an American ally. On July 24, the day before the War Logs went live, I attended a farewell party for Roger Cohen, a columnist for The Times and The International Herald Tribune, that was given by Richard Holbrooke, the Obama administration’s special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan. A voracious consumer of inside information, Holbrooke had a decent idea of what was coming, and he pulled me away from the crowd to show me the fusillade of cabinet-level e-mail ricocheting through his BlackBerry, thus demonstrating both the frantic anxiety in the administration and, not incidentally, the fact that he was very much in the loop. The Pakistan article, in particular, would complicate his life. But one of Holbrooke’s many gifts was his ability to make pretty good lemonade out of the bitterest lemons; he was already spinning the reports of Pakistani duplicity as leverage he could use to pull the Pakistanis back into closer alignment with American interests. Five months later, when Holbrooke — just 69, and seemingly indestructible — died of a torn aorta, I remembered that evening. And what I remembered best was that he was as excited to be on the cusp of a big story as I was.

We posted the articles on NYTimes.com the next day at 5 p.m. — a time picked to reconcile the different publishing schedules of the three publications. I was proud of what a crew of great journalists had done to fashion coherent and instructive reporting from a jumble of raw field reports, mostly composed in a clunky patois of military jargon and acronyms. The reporters supplied context, nuance and skepticism. There was much in that first round of articles worth reading, but my favorite single piece was one of the simplest. Chivers gathered all of the dispatches related to a single, remote, beleaguered American military outpost and stitched them together into a heartbreaking narrative. The dispatches from this outpost represent in miniature the audacious ambitions, gradual disillusionment and ultimate disappointment that Afghanistan has dealt to occupiers over the centuries.

If anyone doubted that the three publications operated independently, the articles we posted that day made it clear that we followed our separate muses. The Guardian, which is an openly left-leaning newspaper, used the first War Logs to emphasize civilian casualties in Afghanistan, claiming the documents disclosed that coalition forces killed “hundreds of civilians in unreported incidents,” underscoring the cost of what the paper called a “failing war.” Our reporters studied the same material but determined that all the major episodes of civilian deaths we found in the War Logs had been reported in The Times, many of them on the front page. (In fact, two of our journalists, Stephen Farrell and Sultan Munadi, were kidnapped by the Taliban while investigating one major episode near Kunduz. Munadi was killed during an ensuing rescue by British paratroopers.) The civilian deaths that had not been previously reported came in ones and twos and did not add up to anywhere near “hundreds.” Moreover, since several were either duplicated or missing from the reports, we concluded that an overall tally would be little better than a guess.

Another example: The Times gave prominence to the dispatches reflecting American suspicions that Pakistani intelligence was playing a double game in Afghanistan — nodding to American interests while abetting the Taliban. We buttressed the interesting anecdotal material of Pakistani double-dealing with additional reporting. The Guardian was unimpressed by those dispatches and treated them more dismissively.

Three months later, with the French daily Le Monde added to the group, we published Round 2, the Iraq War Logs, including articles on how the United States turned a blind eye to the torture of prisoners by Iraqi forces working with the U.S., how Iraq spawned an extraordinary American military reliance on private contractors and how extensively Iran had meddled in the conflict.

By this time, The Times’s relationship with our source had gone from wary to hostile. I talked to Assange by phone a few times and heard out his complaints. He was angry that we declined to link our online coverage of the War Logs to the WikiLeaks Web site, a decision we made because we feared — rightly, as it turned out — that its trove would contain the names of low-level informants and make them Taliban targets. “Where’s the respect?” he demanded. “Where’s the respect?” Another time he called to tell me how much he disliked our profile of Bradley Manning, the Army private suspected of being the source of WikiLeaks’s most startling revelations. The article traced Manning’s childhood as an outsider and his distress as a gay man in the military. Assange complained that we “psychologicalized” Manning and gave short shrift to his “political awakening.”

The final straw was a front-page profile of Assange by John Burns and Ravi Somaiya, published Oct. 24, that revealed fractures within WikiLeaks, attributed by Assange’s critics to his imperious management style. Assange denounced the article to me, and in various public forums, as “a smear.”


Assange was transformed by his outlaw celebrity. The derelict with the backpack and the sagging socks now wore his hair dyed and styled, and he favored fashionably skinny suits and ties. He became a kind of cult figure for the European young and leftish and was evidently a magnet for women. Two Swedish women filed police complaints claiming that Assange insisted on having sex without a condom; Sweden’s strict laws on nonconsensual sex categorize such behavior as rape, and a prosecutor issued a warrant to question Assange, who initially described it as a plot concocted to silence or discredit WikiLeaks.

I came to think of Julian Assange as a character from a Stieg Larsson thriller — a man who could figure either as hero or villain in one of the megaselling Swedish novels that mix hacker counterculture, high-level conspiracy and sex as both recreation and violation.

In October, WikiLeaks gave The Guardian its third archive, a quarter of a million communications between the U.S. State Department and its outposts around the globe. This time, Assange imposed a new condition: The Guardian was not to share the material with The New York Times. Indeed, he told Guardian journalists that he opened discussions with two other American news organizations — The Washington Post and the McClatchy chain — and intended to invite them in as replacements for The Times. He also enlarged his recipient list to include El País, the leading Spanish-language newspaper.

The Guardian was uncomfortable with Assange’s condition. By now the journalists from The Times and The Guardian had a good working relationship. The Times provided a large American audience for the revelations, as well as access to the U.S. government for comment and context. And given the potential legal issues and public reaction, it was good to have company in the trenches. Besides, we had come to believe that Assange was losing control of his stockpile of secrets. An independent journalist, Heather Brooke, had obtained material from a WikiLeaks dissident and joined in a loose alliance with The Guardian. Over the coming weeks, batches of cables would pop up in newspapers in Lebanon, Australia and Norway. David Leigh, The Guardian’s investigations editor, concluded that these rogue leaks released The Guardian from any pledge, and he gave us the cables.

On Nov. 1, Assange and two of his lawyers burst into Alan Rusbridger’s office, furious that The Guardian was asserting greater independence and suspicious that The Times might be in possession of the embassy cables. Over the course of an eight-hour meeting, Assange intermittently raged against The Times — especially over our front-page profile — while The Guardian journalists tried to calm him. In midstorm, Rusbridger called me to report on Assange’s grievances and relay his demand for a front-page apology in The Times. Rusbridger knew that this was a nonstarter, but he was buying time for the tantrum to subside. In the end, both he and Georg Mascolo, editor in chief of Der Spiegel, made clear that they intended to continue their collaboration with The Times; Assange could take it or leave it. Given that we already had all of the documents, Assange had little choice. Over the next two days, the news organizations agreed on a timetable for publication.

[Julian Assange] History is not only modified, it has ceased to have ever existed. It is Orwell's dictum, "He who controls the present controls the past and he who controls the past controls the future." It is the undetectable erasure of history in the West, and that's just post-publication censorship. Pre-publication self-censorship is much more extreme but often hard to detect. We've seen that with Cablegate as Wikileaks works with different media partners all over the world, so we can see which ones censor our material.

For example the New York Times redacted a cable that said that millions of dollars were distributed to covertly influence politically connected Libyans via oil companies operating in Libya. The cable didn't even name a specific oil company -- the New York Times simply redacted the phrase "oil services companies." Probably the most flagrant was the New York Times' use of a sixty-two page cable about North Korea's missile program, and whether they had sold missiles to the Iranians, from which the New York Times used two paragraphs in order to argue, in a story, that Iran had missiles that could strike Europe, whereas elsewhere in the cable just the opposite was argued.

The Guardian redacted a cable about Julia Tymoshenko, the former prime minister of Ukraine, which said that she might be hiding her wealth in London. It censored out allegations that the Kazakhstani elite in general was corrupt -- not even a named person -- and an allegation that both ENI, the Italian energy company operating in Kazakhstan and British Gas were corrupt. Essentially the Guardian censored instances where a rich person was accused of something in a cable, unless the Guardian had an institutional agenda against that rich person. So, for example, in a cable about Bulgarian organized crime there was one Russian, and the Guardian made it look like the whole thing was about him, but he was just one person on a long list of organizations and individuals associated with Bulgarian organized crime. Der Spiegel censored out a paragraph about what Merkel was doing -- no human rights concern whatsoever, purely political concerns about Merkel. There are lots of examples

-- Cypherpunks: Freedom and the Future of the Internet, by Julian Assange, with Jacob Appelbaum, Andy Muller-Maguhn and Jeremie Zimmermann


The following week, we sent Ian Fisher, a deputy foreign editor who was a principal coordinator on our processing of the embassy cables, to London to work out final details. The meeting went smoothly, even after Assange arrived. “Freakishly good behavior,” Fisher e-mailed me afterward. “No yelling or crazy mood swings.” But after dinner, as Fisher was leaving, Assange smirked and offered a parting threat: “Tell me, are you in contact with your legal counsel?” Fisher replied that he was. “You had better be,” Assange said.

Fisher left London with an understanding that we would continue to have access to the material. But just in case, we took out a competitive insurance policy. We had Scott Shane, a Washington correspondent, pull together a long, just-in-case article summing up highlights of the cables, which we could quickly post on our Web site. If WikiLeaks sprang another leak, we would be ready.

Because of the range of the material and the very nature of diplomacy, the embassy cables were bound to be more explosive than the War Logs. Dean Baquet, our Washington bureau chief, gave the White House an early warning on Nov. 19. The following Tuesday, two days before Thanksgiving, Baquet and two colleagues were invited to a windowless room at the State Department, where they encountered an unsmiling crowd. Representatives from the White House, the State Department, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, the C.I.A., the Defense Intelligence Agency, the F.B.I. and the Pentagon gathered around a conference table. Others, who never identified themselves, lined the walls. A solitary note-taker tapped away on a computer.

The meeting was off the record, but it is fair to say the mood was tense. Scott Shane, one reporter who participated in the meeting, described “an undertone of suppressed outrage and frustration.”

Subsequent meetings, which soon gave way to daily conference calls, were more businesslike. Before each discussion, our Washington bureau sent over a batch of specific cables that we intended to use in the coming days. They were circulated to regional specialists, who funneled their reactions to a small group at State, who came to our daily conversations with a list of priorities and arguments to back them up. We relayed the government’s concerns, and our own decisions regarding them, to the other news outlets.

The administration’s concerns generally fell into three categories. First was the importance of protecting individuals who had spoken candidly to American diplomats in oppressive countries. We almost always agreed on those and were grateful to the government for pointing out some we overlooked.

“We were all aware of dire stakes for some of the people named in the cables if we failed to obscure their identities,” Shane wrote to me later, recalling the nature of the meetings. Like many of us, Shane has worked in countries where dissent can mean prison or worse. “That sometimes meant not just removing the name but also references to institutions that might give a clue to an identity and sometimes even the dates of conversations, which might be compared with surveillance tapes of an American Embassy to reveal who was visiting the diplomats that day.”

The second category included sensitive American programs, usually related to intelligence. We agreed to withhold some of this information, like a cable describing an intelligence-sharing program that took years to arrange and might be lost if exposed. In other cases, we went away convinced that publication would cause some embarrassment but no real harm.

The third category consisted of cables that disclosed candid comments by and about foreign officials, including heads of state. The State Department feared publication would strain relations with those countries. We were mostly unconvinced.

The embassy cables were a different kind of treasure from the War Logs. For one thing, they covered the entire globe — virtually every embassy, consulate and interest section that the United States maintains. They contained the makings of many dozens of stories: candid American appraisals of foreign leaders, narratives of complicated negotiations, allegations of corruption and duplicity, countless behind-the-scenes insights. Some of the material was of narrow local interest; some of it had global implications. Some provided authoritative versions of events not previously fully understood. Some consisted of rumor and flimsy speculation.

Unlike most of the military dispatches, the embassy cables were written in clear English, sometimes with wit, color and an ear for dialogue. (“Who knew,” one of our English colleagues marveled, “that American diplomats could write?”)

Even more than the military logs, the diplomatic cables called for context and analysis. It was important to know, for example, that cables sent from an embassy are routinely dispatched over the signature of the ambassador and those from the State Department are signed by the secretary of state, regardless of whether the ambassador or secretary had actually seen the material. It was important to know that much of the communication between Washington and its outposts is given even more restrictive classification — top secret or higher — and was thus missing from this trove. We searched in vain, for example, for military or diplomatic reports on the fate of Pat Tillman, the former football star and Army Ranger who was killed by friendly fire in Afghanistan. We found no reports on how Osama bin Laden eluded American forces in the mountains of Tora Bora. (In fact, we found nothing but second- and thirdhand rumors about bin Laden.) If such cables exist, they were presumably classified top secret or higher.

And it was important to remember that diplomatic cables are versions of events. They can be speculative. They can be ambiguous. They can be wrong.

One of our first articles drawn from the diplomatic cables, for example, reported on a secret intelligence assessment that Iran had obtained a supply of advanced missiles from North Korea, missiles that could reach European capitals. Outside experts long suspected that Iran obtained missile parts but not the entire weapons, so this glimpse of the official view was revealing. The Washington Post fired back with a different take, casting doubt on whether the missile in question had been transferred to Iran or whether it was even a workable weapon. We went back to the cables — and the experts — and concluded in a subsequent article that the evidence presented “a murkier picture.”

The tension between a newspaper’s obligation to inform and the government’s responsibility to protect is hardly new. At least until this year, nothing The Times did on my watch caused nearly so much agitation as two articles we published about tactics employed by the Bush administration after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. The first, which was published in 2005 and won a Pulitzer Prize, revealed that the National Security Agency was eavesdropping on domestic phone conversations and e-mail without the legal courtesy of a warrant. The other, published in 2006, described a vast Treasury Department program to screen international banking records.

I have vivid memories of sitting in the Oval Office as President George W. Bush tried to persuade me and the paper’s publisher to withhold the eavesdropping story, saying that if we published it, we should share the blame for the next terrorist attack. We were unconvinced by his argument and published the story, and the reaction from the government — and conservative commentators in particular — was vociferous.

This time around, the Obama administration’s reaction was different. It was, for the most part, sober and professional. The Obama White House, while strongly condemning WikiLeaks for making the documents public, did not seek an injunction to halt publication. There was no Oval Office lecture. On the contrary, in our discussions before publication of our articles, White House officials, while challenging some of the conclusions we drew from the material, thanked us for handling the documents with care. The secretaries of state and defense and the attorney general resisted the opportunity for a crowd-pleasing orgy of press bashing. There has been no serious official talk — unless you count an ambiguous hint by Senator Joseph Lieberman — of pursuing news organizations in the courts. Though the release of these documents was certainly embarrassing, the relevant government agencies actually engaged with us in an attempt to prevent the release of material genuinely damaging to innocent individuals or to the national interest.

The broader public reaction was mixed — more critical in the first days; more sympathetic as readers absorbed the articles and the sky did not fall; and more hostile to WikiLeaks in the U.S. than in Europe, where there is often a certain pleasure in seeing the last superpower taken down a peg.

In the days after we began our respective series based on the embassy cables, Alan Rusbridger and I went online to answer questions from readers. The Guardian, whose readership is more sympathetic to the guerrilla sensibilities of WikiLeaks, was attacked for being too fastidious about redacting the documents: How dare you censor this material? What are you hiding? Post everything now! The mail sent to The Times, at least in the first day or two, came from the opposite field. Many readers were indignant and alarmed: Who needs this? How dare you? What gives you the right?

Much of the concern reflected a genuine conviction that in perilous times the president needs extraordinary powers, unfettered by Congressional oversight, court meddling or the strictures of international law and certainly safe from nosy reporters. That is compounded by a popular sense that the elite media have become too big for their britches and by the fact that our national conversation has become more polarized and strident.

Although it is our aim to be impartial in our presentation of the news, our attitude toward these issues is far from indifferent. The journalists at The Times have a large and personal stake in the country’s security. We live and work in a city that has been tragically marked as a favorite terrorist target, and in the wake of 9/11 our journalists plunged into the ruins to tell the story of what happened here. Moreover, The Times has nine staff correspondents assigned to the two wars still being waged in the wake of that attack, plus a rotating cast of photographers, visiting writers and scores of local stringers and support staff. They work in this high-risk environment because, while there are many places you can go for opinions about the war, there are few places — and fewer by the day — where you can go to find honest, on-the-scene reporting about what is happening. We take extraordinary precautions to keep them safe, but we have had two of our Iraqi journalists murdered for doing their jobs. We have had four journalists held hostage by the Taliban — two of them for seven months. We had one Afghan journalist killed in a rescue attempt. Last October, while I was in Kabul, we got word that a photographer embedded for us with troops near Kandahar stepped on an improvised mine and lost both his legs.

We are invested in the struggle against murderous extremism in another sense. The virulent hatred espoused by terrorists, judging by their literature, is directed not just against our people and our buildings but also at our values and at our faith in the self-government of an informed electorate. If the freedom of the press makes some Americans uneasy, it is anathema to the ideologists of terror.

So we have no doubts about where our sympathies lie in this clash of values. And yet we cannot let those sympathies transform us into propagandists, even for a system we respect.

I’m the first to admit that news organizations, including this one, sometimes get things wrong. We can be overly credulous (as in some of the prewar reporting about Iraq’s supposed weapons of mass destruction) or overly cynical about official claims and motives. We may err on the side of keeping secrets (President Kennedy reportedly wished, after the fact, that The Times had published what it knew about the planned Bay of Pigs invasion, which possibly would have helped avert a bloody debacle) or on the side of exposing them. We make the best judgments we can. When we get things wrong, we try to correct the record. A free press in a democracy can be messy. But the alternative is to give the government a veto over what its citizens are allowed to know. Anyone who has worked in countries where the news diet is controlled by the government can sympathize with Thomas Jefferson’s oft-quoted remark that he would rather have newspapers without government than government without newspapers.

The intentions of our founders have rarely been as well articulated as they were by Justice Hugo Black 40 years ago, concurring with the Supreme Court ruling that stopped the government from suppressing the secret Vietnam War history called the Pentagon Papers: “The government’s power to censor the press was abolished so that the press would remain forever free to censure the government. The press was protected so that it could bare the secrets of government and inform the people.”

There is no neat formula for maintaining this balance. In practice, the tension between our obligation to inform and the government’s obligation to protect plays out in a set of rituals. As one of my predecessors, Max Frankel, then the Washington bureau chief, wrote in a wise affidavit filed during the Pentagon Papers case: “For the vast majority of ‘secrets,’ there has developed between the government and the press (and Congress) a rather simple rule of thumb: The government hides what it can, pleading necessity as long as it can, and the press pries out what it can, pleading a need and a right to know. Each side in this ‘game’ regularly ‘wins’ and ‘loses’ a round or two. Each fights with the weapons at its command. When the government loses a secret or two, it simply adjusts to a new reality.”

In fact, leaks of classified material — sometimes authorized — are part of the way business is conducted in Washington, as one wing of the bureaucracy tries to one-up another or officials try to shift blame or claim credit or advance or confound a particular policy. For further evidence that our government is highly selective in its approach to secrets, look no further than Bob Woodward’s all-but-authorized accounts of the innermost deliberations of our government.

The government surely cheapens secrecy by deploying it so promiscuously. According to the Pentagon, about 500,000 people have clearance to use the database from which the secret cables were pilfered. Weighing in on the WikiLeaks controversy in The Guardian, Max Frankel remarked that secrets shared with such a legion of “cleared” officials, including low-level army clerks, “are not secret.” Governments, he wrote, “must decide that the random rubber-stamping of millions of papers and computer files each year does not a security system make.”

Beyond the basic question of whether the press should publish secrets, criticism of the WikiLeaks documents generally fell into three themes: 1. That the documents were of dubious value, because they told us nothing we didn’t already know. 2. That the disclosures put lives at risk — either directly, by identifying confidential informants, or indirectly, by complicating our ability to build alliances against terror. 3. That by doing business with an organization like WikiLeaks, The Times and other news organizations compromised their impartiality and independence.

I’m a little puzzled by the complaint that most of the embassy traffic we disclosed did not profoundly change our understanding of how the world works. Ninety-nine percent of what we read or hear on the news does not profoundly change our understanding of how the world works. News mostly advances by inches and feet, not in great leaps. The value of these documents — and I believe they have immense value — is not that they expose some deep, unsuspected perfidy in high places or that they upend your whole view of the world. For those who pay close attention to foreign policy, these documents provide texture, nuance and drama. They deepen and correct your understanding of how things unfold; they raise or lower your estimation of world leaders. For those who do not follow these subjects as closely, the stories are an opportunity to learn more. If a project like this makes readers pay attention, think harder, understand more clearly what is being done in their name, then we have performed a public service. And that does not count the impact of these revelations on the people most touched by them. WikiLeaks cables in which American diplomats recount the extravagant corruption of Tunisia’s rulers helped fuel a popular uprising that has overthrown the government.


As for the risks posed by these releases, they are real. WikiLeaks’s first data dump, the publication of the Afghanistan War Logs, included the names of scores of Afghans that The Times and other news organizations had carefully purged from our own coverage. Several news organizations, including ours, reported this dangerous lapse, and months later a Taliban spokesman claimed that Afghan insurgents had been perusing the WikiLeaks site and making a list. I anticipate, with dread, the day we learn that someone identified in those documents has been killed.

WikiLeaks was roundly criticized for its seeming indifference to the safety of those informants, and in its subsequent postings it has largely followed the example of the news organizations and redacted material that could get people jailed or killed. Assange described it as a “harm minimization” policy. In the case of the Iraq war documents, WikiLeaks applied a kind of robo-redaction software that stripped away names (and rendered the documents almost illegible). With the embassy cables, WikiLeaks posted mostly documents that had already been redacted by The Times and its fellow news organizations. And there were instances in which WikiLeaks volunteers suggested measures to enhance the protection of innocents. For example, someone at WikiLeaks noticed that if the redaction of a phrase revealed the exact length of the words, an alert foreign security service might match the number of letters to a name and affiliation and thus identify the source. WikiLeaks advised everyone to substitute a dozen uppercase X’s for each redacted passage, no matter how long or short.

Whether WikiLeaks’s “harm minimization” is adequate, and whether it will continue, is beyond my power to predict or influence. WikiLeaks does not take guidance from The New York Times. In the end, I can answer only for what my own paper has done, and I believe we have behaved responsibly.

The idea that the mere publication of such a wholesale collection of secrets will make other countries less willing to do business with our diplomats seems to me questionable. Even Defense Secretary Robert Gates called this concern “overwrought.” Foreign governments cooperate with us, he pointed out, not because they necessarily love us, not because they trust us to keep their secrets, but because they need us. It may be that for a time diplomats will choose their words more carefully or circulate their views more narrowly, but WikiLeaks has not repealed the laws of self-interest. A few weeks after we began publishing articles about the embassy cables, David Sanger, our chief Washington correspondent, told me: “At least so far, the evidence that foreign leaders are no longer talking to American diplomats is scarce. I’ve heard about nervous jokes at the beginning of meetings, along the lines of ‘When will I be reading about this conversation?’ But the conversations are happening. . . . American diplomacy has hardly screeched to a halt.”


As for our relationship with WikiLeaks, Julian Assange has been heard to boast that he served as a kind of puppet master, recruiting several news organizations, forcing them to work in concert and choreographing their work. This is characteristic braggadocio — or, as my Guardian colleagues would say, bollocks. Throughout this experience we have treated Assange as a source. I will not say “a source, pure and simple,” because as any reporter or editor can attest, sources are rarely pure or simple, and Assange was no exception. But the relationship with sources is straightforward: you don’t necessarily endorse their agenda, echo their rhetoric, take anything they say at face value, applaud their methods or, most important, allow them to shape or censor your journalism. Your obligation, as an independent news organization, is to verify the material, to supply context, to exercise responsible judgment about what to publish and what not to publish and to make sense of it. That is what we did.

But while I do not regard Assange as a partner, and I would hesitate to describe what WikiLeaks does as journalism, it is chilling to contemplate the possible government prosecution of WikiLeaks for making secrets public, let alone the passage of new laws to punish the dissemination of classified information, as some have advocated. Taking legal recourse against a government official who violates his trust by divulging secrets he is sworn to protect is one thing. But criminalizing the publication of such secrets by someone who has no official obligation seems to me to run up against the First Amendment and the best traditions of this country.
As one of my colleagues asks: If Assange were an understated professorial type rather than a character from a missing Stieg Larsson novel, and if WikiLeaks were not suffused with such glib antipathy toward the United States, would the reaction to the leaks be quite so ferocious? And would more Americans be speaking up against the threat of reprisals?

Whether the arrival of WikiLeaks has fundamentally changed the way journalism is made, I will leave to others and to history. Frankly, I think the impact of WikiLeaks on the culture has probably been overblown. Long before WikiLeaks was born, the Internet transformed the landscape of journalism, creating a wide-open and global market with easier access to audiences and sources, a quicker metabolism, a new infrastructure for sharing and vetting information and a diminished respect for notions of privacy and secrecy. Assange has claimed credit on several occasions for creating something he calls “scientific journalism,” meaning that readers are given the raw material to judge for themselves whether the journalistic write-ups are trustworthy. But newspapers have been publishing texts of documents almost as long as newspapers have existed — and ever since the Internet eliminated space restrictions, we have done so copiously.

Nor is it clear to me that WikiLeaks represents some kind of cosmic triumph of transparency. If the official allegations are to be believed, most of WikiLeaks’s great revelations came from a single anguished Army private — anguished enough to risk many years in prison. It’s possible that the creation of online information brokers like WikiLeaks and OpenLeaks, a breakaway site announced in December by a former Assange colleague named Daniel Domscheit-Berg, will be a lure for whistle-blowers and malcontents who fear being caught consorting directly with a news organization like mine. But I suspect we have not reached a state of information anarchy. At least not yet.

As 2010 wound down, The Times and its news partners held a conference call to discuss where we go from here. The initial surge of articles drawn from the secret cables was over. More would trickle out but without a fixed schedule. We agreed to continue the redaction process, and we agreed we would all urge WikiLeaks to do the same. But this period of intense collaboration, and of regular contact with our source, was coming to a close.

Just before Christmas, Ian Katz, The Guardian’s deputy editor, went to see Assange, who had been arrested in London on the Swedish warrant, briefly jailed and bailed out by wealthy admirers and was living under house arrest in a country manor in East Anglia while he fought Sweden’s attempt to extradite him. The flow of donations to WikiLeaks, which he claimed hit 100,000 euros a day at its peak, was curtailed when Visa, MasterCard and PayPal refused to be conduits for contributors — prompting a concerted assault on the Web sites of those companies by Assange’s hacker sympathizers. He would soon sign a lucrative book deal to finance his legal struggles.

The Guardian seemed to have joined The Times on Assange’s enemies list, first for sharing the diplomatic cables with us, then for obtaining and reporting on the unredacted record of the Swedish police complaints against Assange. (Live by the leak. . . .) In his fury at this perceived betrayal, Assange granted an interview to The Times of London, in which he vented his displeasure with our little media consortium. If he thought this would ingratiate him with The Guardian rival, he was naïve. The paper happily splashed its exclusive interview, then followed it with an editorial calling Assange a fool and a hypocrite.

At the mansion in East Anglia, Assange seated Katz before a roaring fire in the drawing room and ruminated for four hours about the Swedish case, his financial troubles and his plan for a next phase of releases. He talked vaguely about secrets still in his quiver, including what he regards as a damning cache of e-mail from inside an American bank.

He spun out an elaborate version of a U.S. Justice Department effort to exact punishment for his assault on American secrecy. If he was somehow extradited to the United States, he said, “I would still have a high chance of being killed in the U.S. prison system, Jack Ruby style, given the continual calls for my murder by senior and influential U.S. politicians.”

While Assange mused darkly in his exile, one of his lawyers sent out a mock Christmas card that suggested at least someone on the WikiLeaks team was not lacking a sense of the absurd.

The message:

“Dear kids,

Santa is Mum & Dad.

Love,

WikiLeaks.”

Bill Keller is the executive editor of The New York Times. This essay is adapted from his introduction to “Open Secrets: WikiLeaks, War and American Diplomacy: Complete and Expanded Coverage from The New York Times,” an ebook available for purchase at nytimes.com/opensecrets.
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Re: Washington Post’s ‘Fake News’ Guilt, by Robert Parry

Postby admin » Tue Dec 27, 2016 5:17 am

Fixing Fake News
By Jay Stanley, Senior Policy Analyst, ACLU Speech, Privacy, and Technology Project
December 12, 2016

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There has been a lot of discussion lately “fake news,” which appears to have circulated with fierce velocity on social media throughout this past election season. This has prompted calls for the likes of Facebook and Google to fix the problem.

What are we to think of this from a free speech and civil liberties perspective?

With Facebook, which has been a particular subject of calls for reform, there are actually two issues that should be thought about separately. The first involves Facebook’s “Trending News” section, which was the subject of a flap earlier this year when it emerged that it was actually edited by humans, rather than being generated by a dumb algorithm that simply counted up clicks. A former employee alleged that the human curators were biased against conservative material. In the wake of that controversy, Facebook took the humans out of the loop, making the “Trending News” more of a simple mirror held up to the Facebook user base showing them what is popular.

As I said in a blog post at the time, I’m ambivalent about this part of the fake news controversy. On the one hand, it can be valuable and interesting to see what pieces are gaining circulation on Facebook, independent of their merit. On the other hand, Facebook certainly has the right, acting like any publisher, to view the term “trending” loosely and publish a curated list of interesting material from among those that are proving popular at a given time. One advantage of their doing so is that crazy stuff won’t get amplified further through the validation of being declared “News” by Facebook. A result of the decision to take human editors out of the loop is that a number of demonstrably false news items have subsequently appeared in the “Trending News” list.

But Facebook plays a separate, far more significant function than their role as publisher of Trending News: it serves as the medium for a peer-to-peer communications network. I can roam anywhere on the Internet, get excited by some piece of material, brilliant or bogus, and post it on Facebook for my Friends to see. If some of them like it, they can in turn post it for their Friends to see.

The question is, do we want Facebook in its role as administrator of this peer-to-peer communications network to police the veracity of the material that users send each other? If I don’t post something stupid on Facebook, I can telephone my friends to tell them about it, or text them the link, or tell them about it in a bar. Nobody is going to do anything to stop the spread of fake news through those channels. Facebook doesn’t want to get into that business, and I don’t think we want them to, either. Imagine the morass it would create. There will be easy, clear cases, such as a piece telling someone to drink Drano to lose weight, which is not only obviously false but also dangerous. But there would also be a thicket of hard-to-call cases. Is acupuncture effective? Are low-carb diets “fake”? Is barefoot running good for you? These are examples of questions where an established medical consensus may have once been confidently dismissive, but which now are, at a minimum, clouded with controversy. How is Facebook to evaluate materials making various claims in such areas, inevitably made with highly varying degrees of nuance and care—let alone politically loaded claims about various officeholders? Like all mass censorship, it would inevitably lead the company into a morass of inconsistent and often silly decisions and troubling exercises of power. It might sound easy to get rid of “fake news,” but each case will be a specific, individual judgment call, and often, a difficult one.

The algorithm

It is true that in some ways Facebook already interposes itself between users and their Friends—that unlike, say, the telephone system, it does not serve as a neutral medium for ideas and communications. If Facebook got out of the way and let every single posting and comment from every one of your Friends flow through your newsfeed, you would quickly be overwhelmed. So they use “The Algorithm” to try to assess what they think you’ll be most interested in, and place that in your feed. The company says this algorithm tries to assess content for whether it’s substantive, whether you’ll find it relevant to you personally based on your interests, and also how interested you are in the Friend who posted it, based on how often you click on their stuff (Facebook actually assigns you numbers for each of your Friends, a “stalking score” that indicates how interested you seem to be in each of them).

Facebook provides some details on how its algorithm works in its “News Feed FYI” blog. Some of those mechanisms already arguably constitute censorship of a sort. For example, the company heavily downgrades items with headlines that it judges to be “clickbaity,” based on a Bayesian algorithm (similar to those used to identify spam) trained on a body of such headlines. That means that if you write a story with a headline that fits that pattern, it is unlikely to be seen by many Facebook users because the company will hide it. Since January 2015 Facebook has also heavily downgraded stories that Facebook suspects are “hoaxes,” based on their being flagged as such by users and frequently deleted by posters. (That would presumably cover something like the Drano example.)

Most of this interference with the neutral flow of information among Friends is aimed at making Facebook more fun and entertaining for its users. Though I’m uncomfortable with the power they have, I don’t have any specific reason to doubt that their algorithm is currently oriented toward that stated goal, especially since it aligns with the company’s commercial incentives as an advertiser.

[Jeremie] I had the occasion to talk with some people from China -- and I don't know if they were in some position in the state, or if they were selected in order to be able to go outside to talk to me -- but when talking to them about internet censorship I very often had this answer: "Well, it's for the good of the People. There is censorship, yes, because if there wasn't censorship then there would be extremist behavior, there would be things that we would all dislike, and so the government is taking those measures in order to make sure that everything goes well."

***

[Julian Assange] Western societies specialize in laundering censorship and structuring the affairs of the powerful such that any remaining public speech that gets through has a hard time affecting the true power relationships of a highly fiscalized society, because such relationships are hidden in layers of complexity and secrecy.

-- Cypherpunks: Freedom and the Future of the Internet, by Julian Assange, with Jacob Appelbaum, Andy Muller-Maguhn and Jeremie Zimmermann


There are of course very real and serious questions about how Facebook’s algorithmic pursuit of “fun” for its users contributes to the Filter Bubble, in which we tend to see only material that confirms our existing views. The difference between art and commerce has been defined as the difference between that which expands our horizons by getting us out of our comfort zone—i.e. by making us uncomfortable—and that which lets us stay complacently where we already are with pleasing and soothing confirmations of our existing views. In that, Facebook’s Newsfeed is definitely commerce, not art. It does not pay to challenge people and make them uncomfortable.

But for Facebook to assume the burden of trying to solve a larger societal problem of fake news by tweaking these algorithms would likely just make the situation worse. To its current role as commercially motivated curator of things-that-will-please-its-users would be added a new role: guardian of the social good. And that would be based on who-knows-what judgment of what that good might be at a given time. If the company had been around in the 1950s and 1960s, for example, how would it have handled information about Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, gay rights, and women’s rights? A lot of material that is now seen as vital to social progress would then have been widely seen as beyond the pale. The company already has a frightening amount of power, and this would increase it dangerously. We wouldn’t want the government doing this kind of censorship—that would almost certainly be unconstitutional—and many of the reasons that would be a bad idea would also apply to Facebook, which is the government of its own vast realm. For one thing, once Facebook builds a giant apparatus for this kind of constant truth evaluation, we can’t know in what direction it may be turned. What would Donald Trump’s definition of “fake news” be?

The ACLU’s ideal is that a forum for free expression that is as central to our national political conversations as Facebook has become would not feature any kind of censorship or other interference with the neutral flow of information. It already does engage in such interference in response to its commercial interest in tamping down the uglier sides of free speech, but to give Facebook the role of national Guardian of Truth would exponentially increase the pitfalls that approach brings. The company does not need to interfere more heavily in Americans’ communications. We would like to see Facebook go in the other direction, becoming more transparent about the operation of its algorithms to ordinary users, and giving them an ever-greater degree of control over how that algorithm works.

The real problem

At the end of the day, fake news is not a symptom of a problem with our social-communications sites, but a societal problem. Facebook and other sites are just the medium.

Writing in the New Yorker, Nicholas Lemann looks beyond information regulation by Facebook to another possible solution to the fake news problem: creating and bolstering public media like the BBC and NPR. But whatever the merits of public media may be, the problem today is not that there aren’t good news outlets; the problem is that there is a large group of Americans who don’t believe what those outlets say, and have aggressively embraced an alternate, self-contained set of facts and sources of facts. This is not a problem that can be fixed either by Mark Zuckerberg or by turning PBS into another BBC.

There are two general (albeit overlapping) problems here. The first is simply that there are a lot of credulous people out there who create a marketplace for mercenary creators of fake news, which can be about any topic. The timeless problem of gullible people has been exacerbated by the explosion of news sources and people’s inability to evaluate their credibility. For much of the 20th century, most people got most of their news from three television networks and a hometown newspaper or two. If a guy was handing out a leaflet on a street corner, people knew to question its value. If he was working for their union or for the Red Cross, they might trust him. If he was a random Macedonian teenager, they might not. The wonderful and generally healthy explosion of information sources made possible by the Internet has a downside, which is that it has collapsed the distinctions between established newspapers and the online equivalent of people handing out material on street corners. The physical cues that signal to people whether or not to trust pamphleteers in the park are diminished, and many people have not yet learned to read them.

We can hope that someday the entire population will be well-educated enough to discriminate between legitimate and bogus sources online—or at least adapt and learn to be more discriminating online as it’s natural to be off. But until that day arrives, gullibility will always be a problem.

The second problem is the existence of a specific political movement that rejects the “mainstream media” in favor of a group of ideological news outlets like Breitbart and Infowars—a movement of politically motivated people who eagerly swallow not just opinions but also facts that confirm their views and attitudes and aggressively reject anything that challenges those views. Left and right have always picked and chosen from among established facts to some extent, and constructed alternate narratives to explain the same facts. But what is new is a large number of Americans who have rejected the heretofore commonly accepted sources of the facts that those narratives are built out of. The defense mechanisms against intellectual challenge by those living in this world are robust. I have encountered this in my own social media debates when I try to correct factual errors. When I point posters to a news article in a source like the New York Times or Washington Post, I am told that those “liberal mainstream media sources” can’t be trusted. While these sources certainly make mistakes, and like everyone are inevitably subject to all kinds of systemic biases in what they choose to publish and how they tell stories, they are guided by long-evolved professional and reputational standards and do not regularly get major facts wrong without being called to task.
When I point people to the highly reputable fact-checking site Snopes, I am told that it is “funded by George Soros,” and for that reason can apparently be dismissed. (This is itself a false fact; Snopes says it is entirely self-funded through advertising revenues.)

This phenomenon has been dubbed “epistemic closure.” While originally a charge levied at intellectuals at Washington think tanks, it is an apt term for everyday readers of Breitbart and its ilk who close themselves off from alternate sources of information.

This is not a problem that can be fixed by Facebook; it is a social problem that exists at the current moment in our history. The problems with bogus material on Facebook and elsewhere (and their as-yet-undetermined role in the 2016 election) merely reflect these larger societal ills. Attempting to program those channels to somehow make judgments about and filter out certain material is the wrong approach.

Note: I participated in a panel discussion on this issue at the 92nd Street Y in New York City on Tuesday, which can be seen here.
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Re: Washington Post’s ‘Fake News’ Guilt, by Robert Parry

Postby admin » Tue Dec 27, 2016 5:18 am

Facebook Moves to Stem Fake News
By Jay Stanley, Senior Policy Analyst, ACLU Speech, Privacy, and Technology Project
December 16, 2016

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Facebook yesterday announced that it was testing steps to stem the flow of “fake news” through its platform. This was announced in an online posting, and company executives also gave us at the ACLU a quick briefing. Under the new policy, postings that are flagged by users as false will be referred to a “third-party fact checking organization” such as Snopes, and if that third party decides the piece is false, Facebook will put a small banner on it saying, “Disputed by Snopes,” or whatever 3rd party has checked it, with a link to an explanatory piece by that 3rd party on why it is regarded as false.

As we wrote about earlier this week, we do not think Facebook should set itself up as an arbiter of truth. While we still have questions, of all the proposals that have been publicly discussed since the election first sparked widespread focus on the problem of fake news, this may be the best, most carefully crafted approach for the company to take. It is an approach based on combatting bad speech with more speech. Instead of squelching or censoring stories, Facebook includes more information with posts, telling people, in effect, that “this party here says this material shouldn’t be trusted.” That does not create the censorship concerns that more heavy-handed approaches might take. We applaud Facebook for responding to the pressure it is under on this issue with a thoughtful, largely pro-speech approach.

That said, some questions and concerns do remain about those details. Crowdsourcing has proven to be a very useful and successful model for many forms of information-sifting online, but it can also be problematic, mainly because of the risk of a “heckler’s veto,” in which people who do not like a post gang up to mark it as “false” to suppress the point of view it represents. At the ACLU we have received many complaints from people whose posts have been removed because political opponents have falsely flagged it as “offensive” or otherwise violating Facebook’s terms of service. Indeed, it’s happened to us! Here Facebook is seeking to avert that problem by referring flagged pieces for manual determinations by the 3rd party fact checkers.

Facebook indicated that posts that are flagged will be downgraded by “The Algorithm,” which the company uses to decide which of the many posts by our Friends will actually appear in our newsfeed. That means that Facebook is, in fact, effectively endorsing those fact checkers in a formal way. The executives we spoke with indicated that The Algorithm would not downgrade stories that have received a lot of fake news flags but not yet been reviewed by a fact checker. We were glad to hear that, because otherwise there would be no protection against the heckler’s veto.

One issue we are not clear on is what relationship Facebook will have with these 3rd party fact-checking organizations—whether it will pay them, or simply rely upon those organizations’ self-interest in attracting the traffic that an analysis of a trending news item, and consequent link from Facebook, will bring. Snopes, for example, is advertising-supported, and so would have an interest in drawing traffic from controversies over questionable viral news pieces.

Perhaps the biggest question is what the boundaries will be for how this system is applied. As I discussed in my prior post, the question of what is fact and what is fiction is a morass that is often impossible to neutrally or objectively determine. Armies of philosophers working for over two thousand years have been unable to come up with a satisfactory answer to the question of how to distinguish the two. And there is an enormous amount of material out there fitting every gradation between the most egregious hoax and the merely mistaken and badly argued. What if a piece is largely true, but includes a single intentional, consequential lie?

Facebook’s answer is that it is, for now at least, focusing its efforts on “the worst of the worst, on the clear hoaxes spread by spammers for their own gain.” From what we were told, it also sounds like whatever algorithm they use to refer stories to the 3rd party fact checkers will not only incorporate the number of fake news flags received from users, but also focus on pieces that are actually trending.

That may be all they are able to do, because this system is not very scalable. Facebook says it will only flag a story if one of the fact-checking organizations has determined it’s false, and has produced a written explanation as to why. That is a very labor-intensive process, one that presumably cannot be applied beyond a few of the most widely circulating pieces.

It’s inevitable that the company will quickly be thrown into controversies over particular pieces and whether or not they should be flagged. To cite just one possible example, would a piece denying the reality of climate change count? No matter where the company sets the bar for what pieces they refer to the fact checkers, they will be met by persistent criticism for not flagging all the stories that are just below that bar.

When Facebook tells users that Snopes has declared a piece as false, that is not going to go far for those who are part of a political movement that, as I argued in my prior post, has extremely robust intellectual defenses against factual material that challenges its political beliefs. Facebook will likely find it impossible to both enable fact-checking, and to be seen as neutral by those who reject those facts and any organizations that validate them. That said, this new attempt to fight fake news will no doubt give pause to at least some posters and re-posters of “clear hoaxes spread by spammers for their own gain,” and dampen the spread of such material by naïve, non-politically motivated users. That still leaves a lot of room for non-mercenary political propaganda that includes widespread falsehoods.

We will be very interested in following the details of how this new approach is implemented.
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Re: Washington Post’s ‘Fake News’ Guilt, by Robert Parry

Postby admin » Tue Dec 27, 2016 7:13 am

‘Fake news’ in America: Homegrown, and far from new: The corporate state created this monstrous propaganda machine and bequeathed it to Trump.
By Chris Hedges
December 20, 2016

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The media landscape in America is dominated by “fake news.” It has been for decades. This fake news does not emanate from the Kremlin. It is a multibillion-dollar-a-year industry that is skillfully designed and managed by public relations agencies, publicists and communications departments on behalf of individuals, government and corporations to manipulate public opinion. This propaganda industry stages pseudo-events to shape our perception of reality. The public is so awash in these lies, delivered 24 hours a day through electronic devices and print, that viewers and readers can no longer distinguish between truth and fiction.

Donald Trump and the racist-conspiracy theorists, generals and billionaires around him inherited and exploited this condition, just as they have inherited and will exploit the destruction of civil liberties and collapse of democratic institutions. Trump did not create this political, moral and intellectual vacuum. It created him. It created a world where fact is interchangeable with opinion, where celebrities have huge megaphones simply because they are celebrities, where information must be entertaining and where we can all believe what we want to believe regardless of truth. A demagogue like Trump is what you get when you turn culture and the press into burlesque.

Journalists long ago gave up trying to describe an objective world or give a voice to ordinary men and women. They became conditioned to cater to corporate demands. News personalities, who often make millions of dollars a year, became courtiers. They peddle gossip. They promote consumerism and imperialism. They chatter endlessly about polls, strategies, presentation and tactics or play guessing games about upcoming presidential appointments. They fill news holes with trivial, emotionally driven stories that make us feel good about ourselves. They are incapable of genuine reporting. They rely on professional propagandists to frame all discussion and debate.

There are established journalists who have spent their entire careers repackaging press releases or attending official briefings or press conferences – I knew several when I was with The New York Times. They work as stenographers to the powerful. Many such reporters are highly esteemed in the profession.

The corporations that own media outlets, unlike the old newspaper empires, view news as simply another revenue stream. Revenue streams compete inside a corporation. When the news division does not make what is seen as enough profit, the ax comes down. Content is irrelevant. The courtiers in the press, beholden to their corporate overlords, cling ferociously to their privileged and well-compensated perches. Because they slavishly serve the interests of corporate power, they are hated by America’s workers, whom they have rendered invisible. They deserve the hate they get.

Most of the sections of a newspaper – “lifestyle,” travel, real estate and fashion, among others – are designed to appeal to the “1 percent.” They are bait for advertising. Only about 15 percent of any newspaper is devoted to news. If you were to remove from that 15 percent the content provided by the public relations industry inside and outside government, news falls to single digits. For broadcast and cable news, the figure for real, independently reported news would hover close to zero.

The object of fake news is to shape public opinion by creating fictional personalities and emotional responses that overwhelm reality. Hillary Clinton, contrary to how she often was portrayed during the recent presidential campaign, never fought on behalf of women and children – she was an advocate for the destruction of a welfare system in which 70 percent of the recipients were children. She is a tool of the big banks, Wall Street and the war industry. Pseudo-events were created to maintain the fiction of her concern for women and children, her compassion and her connections to ordinary people. Trump has never been a great businessman. He has a long history of bankruptcies and shady business practices. But he played the fictional role of a titan of finance on his reality television show, “The Apprentice.”

“The pseudo-events which flood our consciousness are neither true nor false in the old familiar senses,” Daniel Boorstin writes in his book “The Image: A Guide to Pseudo-Events in America.” “The very same advances which have made them possible have also made the images – however planned, contrived, or distorted – more vivid, more attractive, more impressive, and more persuasive than reality itself.”

Reality is consciously deformed to easily digestible sound bites and narratives. Those involved in public relations, political campaigns and government stay relentlessly on message. They do not deviate from the simple sound bite or cliché they are instructed to repeat. It is a species of continuous baby talk. And it dominates the news and talk shows on the airwaves.

“The refinements of reason and shading of emotion cannot reach a considerable public,” Edward Bernays, the father of modern public relations, noted cynically.

The rapid-fire, abbreviated format of television precludes complexities and nuance. Television is about good and evil, black and white, hero and villain. It makes us confuse induced emotions with knowledge. It reinforces the mythic narrative of American virtue and goodness. It pays homage through carefully selected “experts” and “specialists” to the power elites and the reigning ideology. It shuts out, discredits or ridicules all who dissent.

Is the Democratic establishment so clueless it believes its party lost the presidential election because of the leaked John Podesta emails and FBI Director James Comey’s decision, shortly before the vote, to send a letter to Congress related to Clinton’s private email server? Can’t the Democratic leadership see that the root cause of the defeat was that it abandoned workers in order to promote corporate interests? Doesn’t it understand that although its lies and propaganda worked for three decades, Democrats eventually lost credibility among those they had betrayed?

The Democratic establishment’s outrage over the email leak to the website WikiLeaks ignores the fact that such disclosure of damaging information is a tactic routinely used by the U.S. government and other governments, including Russia’s, to discredit individuals and entities. It is a staple of press coverage. No one, even within the Democratic Party, has made a convincing case that the Podesta emails were fabricated. These emails are real. They cannot be labeled fake news.

As a foreign correspondent, I was routinely given leaked, sometimes classified, information by various groups or governments seeking to damage certain targets. The national intelligence agency of Israel, the Mossad, told me about a small airport owned by the Iranian government outside of Hamburg, Germany. I went to the airport and wrote an investigative piece that found that, as the Israelis had correctly informed me, Iran was using it to break down nuclear equipment, ship it to Poland, reassemble it and send it on transport planes to Iran. The airport was shut down after my exposé.

In another instance, the U.S. government gave me documents showing that an important member of the Cypriot parliament and his law firm were laundering money for the Russian mafia. My story crippled the law firm’s legitimate business and prompted the politician to sue The New York Times and me. Times lawyers chose not to challenge the suit in a Cypriot court, saying they could not get a fair trial there. They told me that, to avoid arrest, I should not visit Cyprus again.

I could fill several columns with examples like these.

Governments do not leak because they care about democracy or a free press; they leak because it is in their interest to bring down someone or something. In most cases, because the reporter verifies the leaked information, the news is not fake. It is when the reporter does not verify the information – as was the case when The New York Times uncritically reported the Bush administration’s false charge that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction in Iraq – that he or she becomes part of the vast fake news industry.

Fake news is now being used in an attempt to paint independent news sites, including Truthdig, and independent journalists as witting or unwitting agents of Russia. Elites of the Republican and Democratic parties are using fake news in an attempt to paint Trump as a stooge of the Kremlin and invalidate the election. No persuasive evidence for such accusations has been made public. But the fake news has become the battering ram in the latest round of Red-baiting.

In a Dec. 7 letter to Truthdig, a lawyer for The Washington Post, which printed an article Nov. 24 about allegations that Truthdig and some 200 other websites had been tools of Russian propaganda, said that the article’s author, Craig Timberg, knows the identity of the anonymous accusers at PropOrNot, a group that made the charges. [Editor’s note: The lawyer wrote, in part, concerning the Nov. 24 story and PropOrNot, “The description in the Article was based on substantial reporting by Mr. Timberg, including numerous interviews, background checks of specific individuals involved in the group (whose identities were known to Timberg, contrary to your speculation). …”] The Post says it has to protect PropOrNot’s anonymity. It passed along a false accusation without evidence. The victims in this case cannot respond adequately because the accusers are anonymous. Those who are smeared are told that they should appeal to PropOrNot to get their names removed from the group’s “blacklist.” The circular reasoning gives credibility to anonymous groups that draw up blacklists and fake news as well as to the lies they disseminate.

The 20th century’s cultural and social transformation, E.P. Thompson wrote in his essay “Time, Work-Discipline, and Industrial Capitalism,” has turned out to be much more than the embrace of an economic system or the celebration of patriotism. It is, he pointed out, part of a revolutionary reinterpretation of reality. It marks the ascendancy of mass culture and the destruction of genuine culture and genuine intellectual life.

Richard Sennett, in his book “The Fall of the Public Man,” identified the rise of mass culture as one of the prime forces behind what he termed a new “collective personality … generated by a common fantasy.” And the century’s great propagandists would not only agree but would add that those who can manipulate and shape those fantasies determine the directions taken by the “collective personality.”

This huge internal pressure, hidden from public view, makes the production of good journalism and good scholarship very, very difficult. Those reporters and academics who care about the truth and don’t back down are subjected to subtle and at times overt coercion and often are purged from institutions.

Images, which are how most people now ingest information, are especially prone to being made into fake news. Language, as the cultural critic Neil Postman wrote, “makes sense only when it is presented as a sequence of propositions. Meaning is distorted when a word or sentence is, as we say, taken out of context; when a reader or a listener is deprived of what was said before and after.” Images do not have a context. They are “visible in a different way.” Images, especially when they are delivered in long, rapid-fire segments, dismember and distort reality. The condition “recreates the world in a series of idiosyncratic events.”

Michael Herr, who covered the Vietnam War for Esquire magazine, observed that the images of the war presented in photographs and on television, unlike the printed word, obscured the brutality of the conflict. “Television and news were always said to have ended the war,” Herr said. “I thought the opposite. These images were always seen in another context – sandwiched in between commercials, so that they became a blancmange in the public mind. I think if anything, the blancmange coverage prolonged the war.”

A populace divorced from print and bombarded by discordant and random images is robbed of the vocabulary as well as the historical and cultural context to articulate reality. Illusion is truth. A whirlwind of emotionally driven can’t feeds our historical amnesia.

The internet has accelerated this process. It, along with cable news shows, has divided the country into antagonistic clans. Members of a clan watch the same images and listen to the same narratives, creating a collective “reality.” Fake news abounds in these virtual slums. Dialogue is shut down. Hatred of opposing clans fosters a herd mentality. Those who express empathy for “the enemy” are denounced by their fellow travelers for their supposed impurity. This is as true on the left as it is on the right. These clans and herds, fed a steady diet of emotionally driven fake news, gave rise to Trump.

Trump is adept at communicating through image, sound bites and spectacle. Fake news, which already dominates print and television reporting, will define the media under his administration. Those who call out the mendacity of fake news will be vilified and banished. The corporate state created this monstrous propaganda machine and bequeathed it to Trump. He will use it.
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Re: Washington Post’s ‘Fake News’ Guilt, by Robert Parry

Postby admin » Tue Dec 27, 2016 7:30 am

Corporate media’s “fake news” war is backfiring by showing the world the power of alt media: This battle has literally nil to do with fake news – or even Russia – and everything to do with the power of dissent.
By Claire Bernish
December 19, 2016

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As you’ve likely heard by now, Facebook has taken its war against “fake news” to a whole other level – employing third-party media and fact-checking organizations to judge whether news items are legitimate – to the consternation of countless users who see the platform overstepping red lines.

Servile corporate media immediately parroted the wealth of benefits that Facebook’s plan will ostensibly provide, from an alert and gateway system forced onto articles deemed “disputed,” to the organizations making the “kiss of death” judgment call: Snopes, FactCheck.org, Politifact, and ABC News.

Anyone with passing knowledge of bias in media is probably spitting out their coffee – all four organizations are notoriously left-leaning and liberal, and the list includes no outlets with any other of myriad ideological tilts.

Indeed, right-leaning outlets from Breitbart to the Drudge Report, as well as the sizable alternative media community – who, collectively, held themselves to higher journalistic standards throughout the election cycle than “old media” titans like the New York Times and Washington Post – quickly condemned the unabashed bias imbued in Facebook’s plan.

Mark Zuckerberg, a large consensus concluded, just declared war on dissent – if not information, itself.

But in an article intended to criticize purveyors of “fake news” and applaud the social media platform’s oh-so-noble efforts to strike such outlets from the American interwebs, The Atlantic’s Kaveh Waddell posited, “Will Facebook’s Fake News Warning Become a Badge of Honor?”

Waddell asks this question, the reader doesn’t discover until more than halfway through the article, through a lens of myopic bias – if not outright scorn – against anyone who dare question the motives of Facebook or its choice of fact-checkers.

“There’s a danger that people who are disinclined to trust traditional sources of information will treat Facebook’s warnings as a badge of honor,” Waddell clarifies. “If fact-checking organizations deem a story questionable, they might be more likely to read and share it, rather than less. There’s reason to believe this group might think of itself as a counterculture, and take the position that anything that ‘the man’ rejects must have a grain of subversive truth to it.”

For a journalist in a nationally regarded publication to display such seething condescension toward a category of people perhaps most critical to preventing a narrowing of news media to a single viewpoint is criminally self-interested, indeed – evincing the paranoia among old media to validate its reporting in the wake of horrendous election coverage.

Regardless of his patronizing tone, Waddell’s question presents what might be the thinnest silver lining to having a Facebook-approved information gatekeeper – news deemed “disputed” will be viewed by non-establishment thinkers as bearing the Scarlet Letter C – censored for being problematic for the political elite.

In other words, this soft censorship could facilely create a Streisand Effect – whereby efforts to suppress content backfire and instead draw greater attention to something than it ever would have received otherwise.

Waddell and the Atlantic, among others, like the Daily Beast – known mouthpieces for the Democratic establishment scrambling to blame Hillary Clinton’s loss on everything but the kitchen sink of a horribly flawed campaign – realize to some degree the threat posed by legitimate criticism of the accepted narrative.

This battle has literally nil to do with fake news – or even Russia – and everything to do with the power of dissent.

Of course, a brazen irony in Facebook’s purge of random items is CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s comments on the subject prior to mass Democratic and corporate media hysteria over iterations Donald Trump won because Russia:

Of all the content on Facebook, more than 99 percent of what people see is authentic. Only a very small amount is fake news and hoaxes. The hoaxes that do exist are not limited to one partisan view, or even to politics. Overall, this makes it extremely unlikely hoaxes changed the outcome of this election in one direction or the other.

Zuckerberg’s protestations and resistance to acknowledge “fake news” as influencing the outcome of the election quickly melted under pressure from the pro-Hillary camp – and evaporated as Clintonites and a smattering of miffed Republicans switched gears and ratcheted up New Red Scare propagandizing.

When utterly unfounded, un-researched, and unverified reporting by the Washington Post termed the collective body of independent, right-slanted, or pro-Jill Stein media organizations as either active agents of Russia or the Putin’s “useful idiots,” those outlets formed an implicit bond for having been scurrilously blacklisted.

Once the Post’s thinly-veneered paper tiger went down in flames for it being impossible to substantiate, the outlet threw journalistic integrity out the window and proffered another unprovable paragon of irresponsibility: “Secret CIA assessment says Russia was trying to help Trump win White House.”

This gem swears CIA officials have performed an extensive assessment of the election and can prove individuals with ties to the Russian government as responsible for submitting documents on the Democratic Party to WikiLeaks for publication – an allegation Julian Assange emerged from the shadows to dispel in an interview with Sean Hannity on Thursday.

WikiLeaks – whose published documents have never been proven inauthentic – found itself on the Post’s “Russian agent blacklist.”

In other words, by relying on user-reporting and biased outlets to flag articles means any “disputed” contents feasibly earned that label on a subjective – not hard and fast – basis.

But should there be any labeling – read: moderate censorship – of articles and items by a social media behemoth who claims impartiality while rubbing elbows with Democratic heavy-hitters? All grumblings on Facebook’s status as a private entity aside, when your platform acts as the primary news aggregator for millions, there is a staunch obligation to preserve the rights of everyone to speak their version of truth.

To be honest, that includes outlets spewing horrendously false news items as the real thing.

In this new age of information aptly deemed the post-truth era by the Oxford Dictionaries this year, the onus of consequence for sharing any erroneous or fabricated information falls squarely on the shoulders of the fecklessly lazy who don’t bother checking sources and hyperlinks – or, in most cases, read more than the title – before disseminating information online.

Because that basic duty was apparently too much for so many to bear, we’re now all faced with the Huxleyan prospect of being spoon fed vanilla government propaganda disguised as news – while legitimate news earns the dystopic “disputed” label.

Maybe, just maybe, Waddell and the others have it all wrong. Maybe the imminent Streisand Effect will thwart Facebook gatekeeping in its tracks. Maybe people have wearied of the perilous penchant for categorization. Maybe this Scarlet Lettering of dissenting viewpoints will disgust the wary and students of history.

Maybe Facebook will see its fast-approaching, inevitable demise and decide the suppression of information does not a profitable business move make – or maybe the “disputed” info plot represents the ultimate poison pill.

Claire Bernish writes for TheFreeThoughtProject.com, where this article first appeared.
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Re: Washington Post’s ‘Fake News’ Guilt, by Robert Parry

Postby admin » Tue Dec 27, 2016 7:13 pm

Return of the Blacklist: What’s Next — Book Burning?
by John Laurits
December 15, 2016

NOTICE: THIS WORK MAY BE PROTECTED BY COPYRIGHT

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Image

My friends — when you search the sky, can’t you tell whether it will rain or not? And when you look out at the colors of the leaves & the fields, you know which season comes next, don’t you? Just as you read the signs of the earth, read the signs of the times — listen to what is being said in the media, read what is written in the headline, & look at what the vipers of Capitol Hill are doing. A grave time is upon us. As I wrote earlier this week, the senate has passed a law which appropriated funds for an official United States propaganda agency and the hypocrites in the media continue to aggressively press the narrative (with no evidence, of course) that shadowy foreign powers are using “fake news” to poison our minds & undermine our so-called ‘American democracy.’ And now we are witnessing the return of the blacklist.

Return of the Blacklist

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Anti-Russian blacklist propaganda, United States in the ’50s

According to the dictionary that I hold in my hand, “blacklist” is a noun referring to “a list of persons under suspicion, disfavor, censure, etc.” or to lists of names forbidden to work in an industry “for holding opinions considered undesirable.” The most notorious instance of blacklisting in the United States, of course, was the entertainment industry blacklist or the so-called “Hollywood blacklist.”

This lasted several decades (more or less) which peaked in the 40s & ’50s and was meant to silence or ruin the careers of countless writers, artists, journalists, activists, & musicians who were members of the communist party, socialists, or merely accused of having communist, socialist, or Marxist sympathies. During the Red Scare, right-wing publications & even congressional committees created formal blacklists accusing newspapers, TV programs, radio broadcasts, & individuals of disseminating pro-Russian propaganda. At the same time, the bosses of large media companies & public officials held informal lists by private agreements about who held the wrong opinions…

Red Channels & Counterattack

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Red Channels – a blacklist published by conservative newsletter Counterattack

An important blacklist, called the Red Channels, was published in 1950 by the conservative newsletter Counterattack. The initial list of 151 entertainers, writers, & artists were claimed to be knowingly or unknowingly part of a communist effort to disseminate pro-Russian propaganda in the US through the media & entertainment industry. The authors of the blacklist also claimed the Russian propaganda used issues like “academic freedom, civil rights, [and] peace” (Red Channels, pg. 2-3) to convey its message — and, according to professor of history & McCarthy-era expert Ellen Schrecker:

“By 1951, the television networks and their sponsors no longer hired anyone whose name was in [Red Channel]”
— from Schrecker’s Blacklists & Economic Sanctions

Blacklist v2.0 — Coming Soon!

All in all, it is acknowledged that at least 10,000 entertainers, activists, & journalists lost the ability to work in their professions during the Hollywood blacklist, though Schrecker believes the real number is probably much higher. In light of these historical facts, you might think that our society would be eager to leave the repression of blacklisting behind — but, if you thought that, it is now my depressing duty to tell you that you’re wrong…

“Your Friendly Neighborhood Propaganda Identification Service”

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The Modern Blacklist, PropOrNot
*poker face*


I’d love to tell you that “Your Friendly Neighborhood Propaganda Identification Service” is a satirical tagline that I made up to add a dash of charm & a sprig of humor to this article. Unfortunately for both of us, I can’t. This is because it’s the actual tagline of a new website called “PropOrNot,” which enjoyed a huge boost of publicity the other day when the dingbats at the Washington Post recklessly published a glowing review — (ahem!) eh, I meant “article” — about the fledgling thought-police organization. PropOrNot, of course, is merely another in a recent plague of online blacklists, which I’ve written about in the article, “Real or Fake News — Who Gets to Decide?” And now the mainstream media is giving them free publicity — here’s how the Washington Post introduces them:

“PropOrNot, a nonpartisan collection of researchers with foreign policy, military and technology backgrounds, planned to release its own findings Friday showing the startling reach and effectiveness of Russian propaganda….”


Image
“Russian propaganda effort helped spread ‘fake news’ during election, experts say”

A “nonpartisan collection of researchers with foreign policy, military, and technology backgrounds” — sounds nice, doesn’t it? Ah! But I forgot to mention the fact that — as the real journalists, Ben Norton & Glen Greenwald, noted — PropOrNot keeps themselves anonymous. I even ran a ‘Whois’ search on InterNIC & found that their DNS registration info is hidden by a company called ‘Domains by Proxy LLC’ — which means they could literally be any person or group of people. Why, then, does the Post call them “experts?”

In other words, the Washington Post has just elevated irony to a whole new level of “are-you-listening-to-yourself-right-now?” by publishing an article alleging Russians are spreading harmful & unverifiable information by citing information that is itself harmful & unverifiable. To compound the irony, the article also serves as an impressive example of why the public has a hard time distinguishing between satire & reality.

“The List“

Here’s where things get concerning — the Jr. Witch-Hunting Scouts over at PropOrNot have put together a section that they’re calling “The List.” Now — instead of making fun of that hillariously ominous title — I am compelled, as both an independent journalist & socialist, to tell you that seeing this list disgusted me (as in I literally lost my appetite) and I hope that conveys the gravity with which I now write.

I’ve reproduced their list in the box below and I’ve highlighted a handful of the websites that I was shocked to see blacklisted, though none of them should be on there, of course…

4thmedia.org newswithviews.com
4threvolutionarywar.wordpress.com nowtheendbegins.com
abeldanger.net nsnbc.me
activistpost.com off-guardian.org
ahtribune.com oftwominds.com
allnewspipeline.com oilgeopolitics.net
americanlookout.com opednews.com
americasfreedomfighters.com orientalreview.org
amren.com patriotrising.com
amtvmedia.com paulcraigroberts.org
ancient-code.com platosguns.com
anonews.co pravda.ru
anonhq.com pravdareport.com
antiwar.com prepperwebsite.com
asia-pacificresearch.com presstv.com
assassinationscience.com prisonplanet.com
baltimoregazette.com rbth.com
barenakedislam.com readynutrition.com
beforeitsnews.com redflagnews.com
bignuggetnews.com regated.com
bioprepper.com rense.com
blackagendareport.com righton.com
blacklistednews.com rinf.com
christianfightback.com ronpaulinstitute.org
collective-evolution.com rt.com
conservativedailypost.com rumormillnews.com
consortiumnews.com ruptly.tv
corbettreport.com russia-insider.com
cosmicscientist.com sana.sy
countercurrents.org sentinelblog.com
counterinformation.wordpress.com sgtreport.com
dailyoccupation.com shiftfrequency.com
dailystormer.com shtfplan.com
darkmoon.me silentmajoritypatriots.com
darkpolitricks.com silverdoctors.com
davidstockmanscontracorner.com sott.net
dcclothesline.com southfront.org
dcleaks.com sputniknews.com
defenddemocracy.press stormcloudsgathering.com
dennismichaellynch.com strategic-culture.org
disclose.tv superstation95.com
disclosuremedia.net survivopedia.com
drudgereport.com the-newspapers.com
educate-yourself.org theantimedia.org
educateinspirechange.org thecommonsenseshow.com
endingthefed.com thedailybell.com
endoftheamericandream.com thedailysheeple.com
endtime.com theduran.com
eutimes.net theearthchild.co.za
eutopia.buzz theeconomiccollapseblog.com
ewao.com theeventchronicle.com
eyeopening.info thefederalistpapers.org
fellowshipoftheminds.com thefreethoughtproject.com
filmsforaction.org themindunleashed.org
floridasunpost.com thenewsdoctors.com
foreignpolicyjournal.com therebel.media
fourwinds10.net therussophile.org
freedomoutpost.com thesaker.is
gaia.com thesleuthjournal.com
galacticconnection.com thetruenews.info
gangstergovernment.com thetruthseeker.co.uk
gatesofvienna.net theunhivedmind.com
geopolmonitor.com thirdworldtraveler.com
globalresearch.ca toprightnews.com
godlikeproductions.com trueactivist.com
govtslaves.info trunews.com
greanvillepost.com truth-out.org
guccifer2.wordpress.com truthandaction.org
hangthebankers.com truthdig.com
healthnutnews.com truthfeed.com
henrymakow.com truthkings.com
heresyblog.net ufoholic.com
humansarefree.com undergroundworldnews.com
ihavethetruth.com unz.com
in5d.com usanewshome.com
informationclearinghouse.info usapoliticsnow.com
infowars.com usasupreme.com
intellihub.com usdcrisis.com
intersectionproject.eu usslibertyveterans.org
intrepidreport.com vdare.com
investmentresearchdynamics.com veteransnewsnow.com
investmentwatchblog.com veteranstoday.com
jackpineradicals.com vigilantcitizen.com
jamesrgrangerjr.com viralliberty.com
jewsnews.co.il voltairenet.org
journal-neo.org wakeupthesheep.com
katehon.com wakingtimes.com
kingworldnews.com washingtonsblog.com
lewrockwell.com wearechange.org
libertyblitzkrieg.com weshapelife.org
libertywritersnews.com whatdoesitmean.com
makeamericagreattoday.com whatreallyhappened.com
memoryholeblog.com wikileaks.com
mintpressnews.com wikileaks.org
moonofalabama.org wikispooks.com
nakedcapitalism.com worldnewspolitics.com
naturalblaze.com worldpolitics.us
naturalnews.com http://www.fort-russ.com
newcoldwar.org yournewswire.com
newstarget.com zerohedge.com
in5d.com usanewshome.com
informationclearinghouse.info usapoliticsnow.com
infowars.com usasupreme.com
intellihub.com usdcrisis.com
intersectionproject.eu usslibertyveterans.org
intrepidreport.com vdare.com
investmentresearchdynamics.com veteransnewsnow.com
investmentwatchblog.com veteranstoday.com
jackpineradicals.com vigilantcitizen.com
jamesrgrangerjr.com viralliberty.com
jewsnews.co.il voltairenet.org
journal-neo.org wakeupthesheep.com
katehon.com wakingtimes.com
kingworldnews.com washingtonsblog.com
lewrockwell.com wearechange.org
libertyblitzkrieg.com weshapelife.org
libertywritersnews.com whatdoesitmean.com
makeamericagreattoday.com whatreallyhappened.com
memoryholeblog.com wikileaks.com
mintpressnews.com wikileaks.org
moonofalabama.org wikispooks.com
nakedcapitalism.com worldnewspolitics.com
naturalblaze.com worldpolitics.us
naturalnews.com http://www.fort-russ.com
newcoldwar.org yournewswire.com
newstarget.com zerohedge.com


As you can see, WikiLeaks is officially “Russian propaganda” and so is TruthDig, a publication which Democracy Now!’s Amy Goodman & the Pulizter Prize-winning journalist Chris Hedges both write for, as well as Truthout, an independent non-profit which publishes exquisite investigative journalism & insightful editorials. Also on the list is the quality news-aggregator & activist forum, Jack Pine Radicals, who kindly link to many of the articles on this site, and Naked Capitalism, a well-curated site focused on issues of finance, economics, politics, & power, which also often includes my writing.

Why are these sites listed as Russian propaganda?

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The beginning of PropOrNot’s criteria to make it onto the list of their Book-Burning Club, from The Black Friday Report =

On November 26th, the guardians of truth & ideological purity at PropOrNot released what they called “The Black Friday Report,” which claims to explain their methods for determining which sites are insidious Russian propaganda sites, including “echo” sites who amplify their evil messages. They wrote that they created the blacklist as:

“an effort to prevent propaganda from distorting U.S. political and policy discussions. We hope to strengthen our cultural immune systems against hostile influence and improve public discourse generally.” (emphasis mine, -JL)
— p4-5 of The Black Friday Report

PropOrNot’s Propaganda Detection Methods Is Merely Bullying Pretending to be Science

Our “cultural immune system?” What, are Russians some kind of virus? I’ve examined their methods and found them to be deceptive but this topic deserves an article of it’s own. That’s why I’ve decided to publish a thorough follow-up by midnight on Friday which will devastatingly & incontrovertibly expose the dishonest, bigoted, & logically incoherent nonsense behind PropOrNot.com’s deceptive but scientific-sounding witch-hunting manual.

Expect it.

For now, I’ll briefly point out that one of the common ways that PropOrNot selectively labels indie-media they don’t like as Russian propaganda (or echo-sites) is by using their links to media associated with Russia to build a pseudoscientific “case” against them. This includes popular online news-sites like RT, which was the most popular source for news videos from 2011-12. Presumably, this is because they recieve funding from the Russian government. I guess this means that our friend Lee Camp was a no-good, communist conspirator the whole time! (don’t worry, we still love ya, Lee).

Independent Media Must Stand Up to Ideological Bullies

In closing, I’d like to exhort all of my brothers, sisters, & others in the independent media not to remain silent in the face of this ideological control — whether you’re a podcast host or a photographer, a commentator or a citizen-journalist or a reader or a watcher, this affects all of us. If we stand together & work together — if we continue to call upon our allies reason, curiosity, & critical thinking, we will prevail over all thought police, all ideological bullies, & all who are short-sighted enough to side against the collective human struggle for the liberty to express our thoughts, our ideas, & the treasuries of information.

And to you — you anonymous creatures who love the dark because you’d be ashamed for the world to see what you do — to you, PropOrNot, I have but one request. I’d like to be on your list of propaganda, if you’re willing to place me there. I meet most of your criteria and I’d be happy to furnish you with the evidence which incriminates me — just ask for it & I’ll save you the trouble.

You see — To me — this seems like a good list — a list of people like Amy Goodman, like Julian Assange, like my friends in the activist forums you’ve denounced as mindless repeaters of falsehoods — people who dare to speak truth to power. There is nothing I can think of that I want more than to stand with my friends & with fearless journalists & truth-sayers, whoever & wherever they may be.

In solidarity,
John Laurits

P.S. Here’s a tweet that folks can RT to call these dingbats out:

John Laurits @JohnLaurits
How's the witch-hunt coming along, @propornot? http://www.johnlaurits.com/2016/12/15/r ... blacklist/
12:15 PM - 15 Dec 2016
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Return of the Blacklist: What's Next — Book Burning? »
Is a revival of blacklisting happening in the United States? John looks at current reporting on "fake news" and anti-Russian politics...
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Re: Washington Post’s ‘Fake News’ Guilt, by Robert Parry

Postby admin » Tue Dec 27, 2016 8:12 pm

Part 1 of 2

PropOrNot: Is It Propaganda or Not?: Your Friendly Neighborhood Propaganda Identification Service, Since 2016!
Black Friday Report: On Russian Propaganda Network Mapping
By The PropOrNot Team
November 26th, 2016

NOTICE: THIS WORK MAY BE PROTECTED BY COPYRIGHT

YOU ARE REQUIRED TO READ THE COPYRIGHT NOTICE AT THIS LINK BEFORE YOU READ THE FOLLOWING WORK, THAT IS AVAILABLE SOLELY FOR PRIVATE STUDY, SCHOLARSHIP OR RESEARCH PURSUANT TO 17 U.S.C. SECTION 107 AND 108. IN THE EVENT THAT THE LIBRARY DETERMINES THAT UNLAWFUL COPYING OF THIS WORK HAS OCCURRED, THE LIBRARY HAS THE RIGHT TO BLOCK THE I.P. ADDRESS AT WHICH THE UNLAWFUL COPYING APPEARED TO HAVE OCCURRED. THANK YOU FOR RESPECTING THE RIGHTS OF COPYRIGHT OWNERS.


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Web: http://www.propornot.com
Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/propornot
Reddit: http://www.reddit.com/r/propornot/
Email: propornot@gmail.com

Thanks to the Generous Sponsorship of: Nobody (Funding? Hah!)

Executive Summary:

Russia’s attempts to influence the U.S. election via hacking and selectively leaking sensitive U.S. government and political data were not conducted in isolation. They were accompanied by large-scale, long-term efforts to build online “fake news” propaganda outlets with significant audiences in the U.S. PropOrNot has so far identified over 200 distinct websites, YouTube channels, and Facebook groups which qualify as Russian propaganda outlets according to our criteria and target audiences in the United States. Drawing on existing research and using a combination of automated and manual review techniques, we estimate the regular U.S. audiences of these outlets to number in the tens of millions. We are currently gathering data to measure that more precisely, but are confidant that it includes at least 15 million Americans.

Table of Contents:

• Background on PropOrNot
• Characteristics of Identified Sites
• Methodology
• A Prior-Research Case Study: ZeroHedge.com
• Spidering, Correlating, Reviewing, Spidering
• Following a Specific Story: The Tale of the Painted Jets
• Following a Specific Story: The Tale Hillary Clinton’s “Parkinson’s”
• Following a Specific Story: Ourselves!
• Using Google Trends to Measure Larger-Scale Effects
• Preliminary Conclusions
• Next Steps

Introduction and Context

Throughout the election season of 2016, an increasing number of reporters and journalists have done remarkable work investigating the origins and operations of “fake news” outlets on the internet. Some notable examples include:

How Facebook powers money machines for obscure political 'news' sites
By Dan Tynan, Aug 24 2016, The Guardian

Online Scam Artists Are Using Hoaxes About Terrorist Attacks To Make Money
By Craig Silverman, Aug 19 2016, Buzzfeed News

Facebook Made This Sketchy Website’s Fake Story A Top Trending Topic
Craig Silverman, Aug 29 2016, Buzzfeed News

We Tracked Down A Fake-News Creator In The Suburbs. Here's What We Learned
Larua Sydell, Nov 23 2016, NPR

Seattle’s own ‘click-bait’ news site serves up red meat for liberals
Danny Westneat, Nov 25, 2016, Seattle Times

How Fake News Goes Viral: A Case Study
Sapna Maheshwari, November 20 2016, New York Times

Buzzfeed News in particular has done pioneering analytical work on this, and their stories on the “fake news” issue are an excellent resource. Public discussion has now correctly recognized that “fake news” is a serious problem with real-world consequences, and a number of innovative actors have started to discuss, research, and develop potential solutions. However, the public discussion of all this has, until very recently, generally assumed that the “fake news” problem has been mostly driven by “clickbait”-style commercial motivations:

Renegade Facebook Employees Form Task Force To Battle Fake News
Sheera Frenkel, Nov 14 2016, BuzzFeed News

Facebook's Fight Against Fake News Was Undercut by Fear of Conservative Backlash
Michael Nunez, Nov 14 2016, Gizmodo

Here’s a Chrome Extension That Will Flag Fake-News Sites for You
By Brian Feldman, Nov 15, 2016, New York Magazine

We Have a Bad News Problem, Not a Fake News Problem
By David Mikkelson, Nov 17 2016, Snopes

How to Spot Fake News
By Lori Robertson and Eugene Kiely, Nov 18 2016, FactCheck.org

This evolving thread of stories analyzing “fake news” has been simultaneously accompanied by a very different but parallel thread of stories and public discussion about Russian cyberespionage, propaganda, and “active measures” targeted at the West. Reporting on this initially focused on Russian-backed comment-troll farms, but quickly expanded beyond that:

Documents Show How Russia’s Troll Army Hit America
By Max Seddon, Jun 2 2014, Buzzfeed News

The Agency: From a nondescript office building in St. Petersburg, Russia, an army of well-paid “trolls” has tried to wreak havoc all around the Internet — and in real-life American communities
By Adrian Chen, Jun 2 2015, New York Times

Salutin' Putin: Inside a Russian troll house
Shaun Walker in St Petersburg, The Guardian, 2 April 2015

While the public discourse correctly recognized that “fake news” was becoming a serious problem, especially in light of the election, very few journalists and researchers sought to systematically connect the dots between fake news and Russian cyberespionage, propaganda, and “active measures” generally. However, as the election season ramped up an increasing number of intrepid reporters and researchers started investigating this connection, which had been discussed extensively in the specialist press for years. Much of this research inspired our efforts at PropOrNot. For example:

Unmasking the Men Behind Zero Hedge, Wall Street's Renegade Blog
By Tracy Alloway and Luke Kawa, Apr 29, 2016, Bloomberg

Social Network Analysis Reveals Full Scale of Kremlin's Twitter Bot Campaign
Lawrence Alexander, Apr 2 2015, Global Voices

When Online Kremlin Propaganda Leaves the Web, It Looks Like This
Lawrence Alexander, Sep 29 2015, StopFake

Social Media as a Tool of Hybrid Warfare ,
Sanda Svetoka, Jul 7 2016, NATO StratCom


The Fringes of Disinfo: A Network Based on Referrers
By Andrew Aaron Weisburd, Feb 7 2016, in активные мероприятия

Putin's Army Of Internet Trolls Is Influencing The Hillary Clinton Email Scandal
By Paul Roderick Gregory, 5 June 2016, Forbes

Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin: Russia's information war meets the US election
By Chris Zappone, 15 June 2016, Sydney Morning Herald

The Kremlin’s Candidate: In the 2016 election, Putin’s propaganda network is picking sides
Michael Crowley, May/June 2016, Politico

Prof. Chodakiewicz discusses Russian military and influence operations at US Army Europe Senior Leaders Forum
Marek Jan Chodakiewicz, Jan 27 2015, Institute of World Politics,

Until very recently no public research connected the dots as extensively as this article:

Trolling for Trump: How Russia Is Trying to Destroy Our Democracy
By Andrew Weisburd, Clint Watts and JM Berger, Nov 6 2016, War on the Rocks

These previously separate threads of public discussion about “fake news” and about Russian propaganda are now, finally, being connected. In our view, this is long overdue. We at PropOrNot are proud to be contributing to that discussion.

Background on PropOrNot

We are an independent team of concerned American citizens with a wide range of backgrounds and expertise, including professional experience in computer science, statistics, public policy, and national security affairs. We are currently volunteering our time and skills to identify propaganda - particularly Russian propaganda - targeting a U.S. audience. We collect public-record information connecting propaganda outlets to each other and their coordinators abroad, analyze what we find, act as a central repository and point of reference for related information, and organize efforts to oppose it.

Some of our members have been aware of Russian influence operations in a professional context for quite some time, but others have become increasingly aware of existing research on the subject in light of recent events in Ukraine, Western Europe Europe, and the Middle East. We formed PropOrNot as an effort to prevent propaganda from distorting U.S. political and policy discussions. We hope to strengthen our cultural immune systems against hostile influence and improve public discourse generally.

We are completely independent, because we not funded by anyone, and we have no formal institutional affiliations. We are nonpartisan, in that our team includes all major political persuasions except the pro-Russian kind. We are anonymous for now, because we are civilian Davids taking on a state-based adversary Goliath, and we take things like the international Russian intimidation of journalists , “Pizzagate”-style mob harassment , and the assassination of Jo Cox very seriously, but we can in some cases provide background information about ourselves on a confidential basis to professional journalists. We do not publicly describe all of our sources and methods, although again, we can in some cases provide much more detail to journalists and other researchers in order to contextualize their reporting.

The growth of computers, the Internet, and niche marketing means that you don't have to be a Goliath to get along. Like David's sling, these new technologies empower the little guy to compete more effectively. They have, in fact, spawned a veritable army of Davids, now busily competing with the Goliaths in all sorts of fields. And, as with the beer, even where that competition is no real threat to the big guys, it tends to push them to do a better job.

-- An Army of Davids: How Markets and Technology Empower Ordinary People to Beat Big Media, Big Government, and Other Goliaths, by Glenn Reynolds


By enabling virtually anybody with a computer to disclose information to world, the Internet is dissolving the boundaries between professional journalists and amateurs. Glenn Reynolds, a law professor and author of the very popular blog Instapundit, extols the virtues of the amateur journalist in his book, An Army of Davids. With the growth of blogs, he observes, "power once concentrated in the hands of a professional few has been redistributed into the hands of the amateur many." Known as The Blogfather because he created one of the first blogs, Reynolds argues that "technology has made it possible for individuals to become not merely pamphleteers, but vital sources of news and opinion that rival large metropolitan publishers in audience and influence." For Reynolds, these developments are marvelous: "I don't think that weblogs and flash media will replace Big Media any time soon. But I keep seeing evidence that they're doing a better and better job of supplementing, and challenging, Big Media coverage. I think that's a wonderful thing, and it's one reason why I'm such an evangelist for the spread of enabling technologies like Web video and cheap digital cameras."

-- The Future of Reputation: Gossip, Rumor, and Privacy on the Internet, by Daniel J. Solove


It’s the volume of work being produced that tips you off that you may be dealing with a professional hatchet-man. As I review the products of research into Popehat, I’m struck by the amount of time spent on the activity, and the very large number of his Rapeutation victims. I gradually have drifted from thinking that it was absurd to imagine he’d be getting paid to conduct Rapeutations to entertaining the possibility in theory, to definitely not ruling it out.

He could be working for somebody steady, like Lenny Sands works for Howard Hughes in James Ellroy’s “American Tabloid,” stalking and exposing Hollywood personalities Hughes wants to pressure for business purposes, or wants to crush because they obstruct his right wing social agendas. Or he could run a sleaze-for-hire shop of that sort that have existed in LA since the first swindlers showed up to sell whatever suckers would pay for. Ellroy’s character Ward Littell, a lawyer/FBI agent who turns from a Kennedy worshipper to a conspirator in his assassination, is the very epitome of a person who traffics in black information, gathered from law enforcement, private investigators and freelance mercenaries at a very high level. Ken Popehat White might be a sort of micro-version of Ward Littell, gathering his information from his “army of Davids,” and spreading his poison through the same network.

-- Sparking Up A Cyber-Frankenstein: Pushing Yellow Journalism To The Megacrowd, by Charles Carreon


Safe inside his cover story, Popehat is machinating like L. Ron Hubbard targeting suppressives. His head thrust against his periscope, he ceaselessly scans the sea for the latest foolish captain to pilot the S.S. Douchebag into his sights. “Fire 1! Fire 2!” A pause to gauge the effects, then, “We hit her amidships!” Popehat’s crew roars with triumph, and Popehat himself, oblivious to all but the delicious sensation of having his hindquarters laved by eager tongues, hoarsely exhorts his “army of Davids” to further reputational mayhem.

-- Embarrassing Followers, by Charles Carreon


http://www.popehat.com/2012/12/26/vote-in-the-secondannual-popehat-censorious-asshat-of-the-year-poll/ White conceived a special dislike for the Lawyer, recruiting readers to play a “Twitter hashtag game: #charlescarreonnewcareers,” and recruited them as an “Army of Davids” to “take a screenshot or print … to pdf [any] web page” showing that the Lawyer had made “an inconsistent statement [or] shows hypocrisy.” (Carreon Dec. ¶ 5; Exhibit 1.) When served with a subpoena for documents in this case, White responded with the disclosure that he had exchanged over 200 emails with the Gripesite Operator, and refused to produce anything, claiming that the Lawyer possesses “animus” towards White. (Carreon Dec. ¶ 5; Exhibit 2.)


Much of the footnote is true. I am a criminal defense attorney. I have a libertarian following. I deride attorneys, including Mr. Carreon, as censorious asshats. I conceived a special dislike for Mr. Carreon. I made up a hashtag game about him, and recruited people to point out where Mr. Carreon and his wife had engaged in rhetoric that was inconsistent with his contrived pearl-clutching horror over the contents of Mr. Inman's blog.

-- In Which Charles Carreon Says Mostly True Things About Me In A Footnote, by Ken White


You guys who keep coming up with the examples of falsehood and hypocrisy just rock. You're the Army of Davids. Do me a favor — whenever you find a good web page showing an inconsistent statement, or an item that shows hypocrisy, take a screenshot or print it to pdf in case he memory-holes it.

-- Kenneth Paul White, Popehat.com


Think of it as Mitt Romney’s revenge. When Romney suggested, back during the 2012 election, that Russia was the biggest geopolitical threat facing America, Barack Obama mocked him with a line lifted from Seinfeld, saying “The 1980s are now calling to ask for their foreign policy back because the Cold War’s been over for 20 years.”

Well, you wouldn’t know that to listen to Democrats talking today. Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., has been issuing dark warnings of Russian election-tampering. In a letter sent to FBI Director James Comey, Reid warned that the threat of Russian election-tampering is more serious than generally appreciated (it’s like he’s been reading my columns on the subject or something!) and “may include the intent to falsify official election results.”

-- The Russians are coming, the Russians are coming!, by Glenn Harlan Reynolds


The leaks that are out are allegedly from a hacker calling himself Guccifer 2.0, but given that many suspect this is just a blind for Russian intelligence.

-- Putin for president 2016, by Glenn Harlan Reynolds




We are American, although our team includes Ukrainian-American, Iraqi-American, and quite a few other varieties of American members. We are united in our overall objectives: to identify, help counter, and eventually deter Russian propaganda. Any time an outlet consistently echoes, repeats, or refers its audience to Russian propaganda, we’re going to analyze it and call it out.

Characteristics of Identified Sites

We at PropOrNot do not reach our conclusions lightly. We have arrived at them after systematically employing a combination of manual and automated analysis, building on the work of other researchers and journalists, in order to map out a related collection of websites, social media, video, and other outlets, which:

1. Include official state-owned and semi-official Russian propaganda outlets, such as Russia Today , Sputnik News , Russia Insider , etc.;

2. Consistently cite official state-owned and semi-official Russian propaganda outlets, including the Russian defense ministry and other official spokespeople;

3. Consistently reuse text directly from official state-owned and semi-official Russian propaganda outlets and government spokespeople, often without attribution;

4. Have a history of generally echoing the Russian propaganda "line", by using themes, arguments, talking points, images, and other content similar to those used by official state-owned and semi-official Russian propaganda outlets;

5. Have a history of echoing the Russian propaganda "line" in ways unrelated to the purported focus of their branding, and in sequence with (at the same time as, or shortly after) official state-owned and semi-official Russian propaganda outlets;

6. Qualify as propaganda under a rigorous definition: “A systematic form of purposeful persuasion that attempts to influence the emotions, attitudes, opinions, and actions of specific target audiences for political, ideological, and religious purposes, through the controlled transmission of deceptive, selectively-omitting, and one-sided messages (which may or may not be factual) via mass and direct media channels”;

7. Have in many cases already been called out by other fact-checkers, researchers, journalists, or debunkers;

8. Share technical “tells” suitable for automated analysis, such as Google Analytics IDs, Amazon affiliate codes, WHOIS data, hosting data, ad-network utilization, SEO techniques, referral patterns, in some cases strongly suggesting direct Russian involvement;

9. Refer their audiences to each other, via hyperlinks and other means, at disproportionately high rates;

10. Are consistently visited by the same audiences, both directly and via search, demonstrating that those intra-network referrals build “brand loyalty” in their audiences over time;

11. Are consistently visited by their audiences after searches for terms which congrue with the Russian propaganda “line”, and are unrelated to the purported focus of their branding;

12. Are categorized as "similar sites" by automated services in spite of their purportedly distinct focuses;

13. Have content characterized by automated services in ways that are consistently very different from their purported subjects, but align with the Russian propaganda “line”;

14. Have content aligning with the “Eurasianist” philosophy of Alexander Dugin ;

15. Include specialized sites targeted at a wide range of seemingly unrelated audiences, including U.S. military veterans, Wall St. finance industry professionals, environmentalists, peace activists, racists, conspiracy theorists, and political junkies;

16. Appear to be effectively influencing public opinion in significant and very problematic ways, by promoting:

a. Conspiracy theories about and protests against U.S. military exercises (“Jade Helm”),

b. Isolationism and “anti-interventionism” for the US, but not for Russia,

c. Support for policies like Brexit, and the breakup of the EU and Eurozone,

d. Opposition to Ukrainian resistance to Russia and Syrian resistance to Assad,

e. Support for the anti-vax, anti-Zika spraying, anti-GMO, 9/11-”truther”, gold-standard, and other related movements;


17. Have extremely large audiences in the U.S., such that tens of millions of people appear to use them as primary “news” sources, supplanting actual journalism;

18. Appear to be part of a larger “active measures”-style Russian influence operation, which also includes hacking and selectively leaking sensitive U.S. government and political data, along with more-traditional espionage and military activity, intended to:

a. Confuse public opinion, encourage paranoia and passivity, and distract American audiences away from relying on actually-accurate journalism,

b. Blunt opposition to and strengthen popular support for Russian strategic priorities.

Please bear in mind that these characteristics of propaganda outlets are motivation-agnostic. They are independent of questions about whether the sites we’ve identified are being knowingly directed and paid by Russian intelligence officers, or whether they even knew they were echoing Russian propaganda at any particular point--if they display these characteristics, they are at the very least acting as " useful idiots " of the Russian intelligence services, and are worthy of further scrutiny.

We have been following recent reporting about for-profit political, commercial, and other kinds of clickbait, hoax, and fake-news sites, and while our automated tools and our manual techniques have occasionally identified sites as Russian propaganda which others have recently identified as commercially or otherwise motivated, if they meet our criteria, we see no reason not to flag them. Our tools are evolving, but because we focus on behavior, not motivation, we are less interested in why any particular outlet echoes or spreads Russian propaganda, than on whether they do. Whether for money or out of ideological affinity, the end results are the same.

Methodology

We use a combination of manual and automated analysis, including analysis of content, timing, technical indicators, and other reporting, in order to initially identify (“red-flag”) and then confirm an outlet as echoing, repeating, and referring its audience to Russian propaganda.

Our volunteers have developed multiple suites of software tools, leveraging publicly available data and commercial analytics services (like Quantcast , Alexa , SimilarWeb , uStat , SiteLinks , My Web of Trust , AnalyzeID , SocialBlade , and Buzzsumo , among others), in order to discover and perform automated analysis of Russian propaganda outlets, but everything we do is in principle replicable using manual searching and data entry.

We started our automated analysis from the domains and social-media accounts of Russian official and semi-official media outlets, including:

rt.com
sputniknews.com
therussophile.com
russia-insider.com
strategic-culture.org
katehon.org
theduran.com
http://www.fort-russ.com
thesaker.is
pravda.ru
tass.ru

We also drew on other public investigative journalistic reporting which highlights outlets and social media accounts as particularly and unusually pro-Russian, and, after doing our own research sometimes use them as starting points as well. This analysis is used as an example later in this report:

Unmasking the Men Behind Zero Hedge, Wall Street's Renegade Blog
By Tracy Alloway and Luke Kawa, Apr 29, 2016, Bloomberg

We then use our custom tools to “spider” out from those identified sites and accounts, discovering new, connected propaganda sites and social media accounts by examining their technical characteristics, including Google Analytics IDs, Amazon affiliate codes, WHOIS data, hosting data, ad-network utilization, SEO techniques, social media activity, and word-frequency metrics. We can then graph the results in various ways that highlight degrees of similarity, like this ego network diagram :

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Ego network diagram illustrating link distance distance metric and density overlap between sites sharing technical identifiers (in this case, a Google Analytics ID)

We use previous reporting and automated analysis along with a systematic manual analysis process in order to flag, check, and double-check anything we review, in order to rigorously identify and expose Russian propaganda, avoid false positives and McCarthyism, and effectively encourage others to get their news from more reliable sources. As such, we have developed and use the following steps, or Checks, when performing manual analysis of potential propaganda outlets and highlighting them in various ways:

1) Check to see whether the social-media account/commenter/outlet consistently cites obvious Russian propaganda outlets such as Russia Today/rt.com, the Russian defense ministry, and other official Russian spokespeople.

2) Check to see whether the social-media account/commenter/outlet has a history of reusing text directly from obvious Russian propaganda outlets, especially without attribution.

3) Check to see whether the social-media account/commenter/outlet has a history of generally echoing the Russian propaganda "line" by using themes, arguments, talking points, images, and other content similar to those used by obvious Russian propaganda outlets. These themes include:

● How wonderful, powerful, innocent, and righteous Russia and Russia's friends are: Putin, Donald Trump, Bashar al-Assad, Syria, Iran, China, radical political parties in the US and Europe, etc. Investigate this by searching for mentions of, for example, "russia", on their site by Googling for "site:whateversite.com russia", and seeing what comes up.

● How terrible, weak, aggressive, and corrupt the the opponents of Russia and their friends are: The US, Obama, Hillary Clinton, the EU, Angela Merkel, NATO, Ukraine, Jewish people, US allies, the "mainstream media", and democrats, the center-right or center-left, and moderates of all stripes. Investigate this by searching for mentions of, for example, "NATO", on their site by Googling for "site:whateversite.com NATO" and seeing what comes up.

● An obvious bias towards Russia and Russian-backed policy in foreign affairs, including:

○ How fantastic Brexit and Ukrainian/Georgian separatism is, but how terrible Chechen separatists are,

○ How advanced Russian technology is, and how dangerous Western technology is,

○ How great it is when Western secrets get exposed, but how terrible it is when Russian ones do,

○ How militarily powerful Russia and their friends are, and how weak and craven Russia's enemies and their friends are, etc.

● How dangerous standing up to Russia would be: It would inevitably result in "World War 3", nuclear devastation, etc, and regardless of who shot first or is bombing civilians where now, would be the West's fault. Russian propaganda never suggests it would just result in a Cold War 2 and Russia's eventual peaceful defeat, like the last time.

● Pre-emptive discouragement of critical analysis: Assertions about them "having the truth", or the need to "wake up the sheeple", or how the "mainstream media" can't be trusted.

● Hyperbolic alarmism, anti-Western conspiracist insinuations, "Eurasianism", racism, gold-standard nuttery and attacks on the US dollar, 9/11-trutherism, anti-Semitism, anti-"globalism", anti-vax/anti-GMO paranoia, and generally ridiculous over-the-top assertions, which cites Russian propaganda outlets as "evidence".


Please review our Frequently Asked Questions and our Reference Articles pages on our site for more background.

4) Check to see whether the social-media account/commenter/outlet has a history of echoing the Russian propaganda "line" in weird ways:

● Do they have propaganda-like content that mentions Russia in a positive light for no clear reason?

● Do they have propaganda-like content that randomly extols Russia and belittles the US?

● Do they have propaganda-like content unrelated to the purported focus of their branding?

● Does the timing of their propaganda-like content coincide with or closely follow similar content on known Russian propaganda outlets?

5) Check to see whether the social-media account/commenter/outlet lacks the hallmarks of good actual journalism: Are the stories factual? Are the facts placed in appropriate context? Do the headlines match the content? Are the agendas of the sources clearly disclosed? Are there good explanations? Does it bring clarity to complicated issues? Is there an absence of hype?

6) Check to see whether the social-media account/commenter/outlet has been called out by other fact-checkers, journalists, debunkers, etc, already.

7) Check to see whether the social-media account/commenter/outlet steadfastly avoids coherently proposing constructive solutions to anything. The point of propaganda isn't just to get people worked up--it's also to create a sense of decision paralysis, and fear of a complex and seemingly frightening world.

8) Given all that, check to see whether the social-media account/commenter/outlet qualifies under our definition of propaganda:

A systematic form of persuasion that attempts to influence the emotions, attitudes, opinions, and actions of specified target audiences for political, ideological, and religious purposes, through the controlled transmission of deceptive, selectively-omitting, and one-sided messages (which may or may not be factual) via mass and direct media channels.

As an example of how this all can work, refer to our example post about this on our site, where we review the domain HangTheBankers.com .

After building on previous reporting, using our automated tools, and then checking our work manually, we again use our software tools to fill in the blanks, collecting a wide range of data about any new target sites discovered through the previous steps, and seeing how they might fit into the existing network of previously red-flagged and identified outlets. We have built out a significant network of websites, YouTube channels, Facebook pages, Twitter accounts, etc, which appear to be part of the same larger Russian influence operation. Every time we feel confidant that we have discovered most of them, we uncover more.

A Prior-Research Case Study: ZeroHedge.com

In some cases, traditional-journalist reporting has uncovered interesting connections between outlets which we have identified, through our multiple overlapping checks and analyses, as Russian propaganda. Take, for example, ZeroHedge.com , which we review on our site, but examine in more technical detail here.

Targeted at Wall St. professionals and people interested in the finance sector, it is now the 407th most-popular site in the United States (according to Alexa.com ), with 18.7m monthly page views in the U.S., averaging roughly 8 minutes a visit (according to SimilarWeb.com ). It is one of the top finance-industry news sources for American audiences, and was rated as one of the top ten most popular financial blogs in the U.S. by Time Magazine .

Image
The ZeroHedge.com homepage, sans ads, as of October 23rd 2016

New York Magazine ran an extensive profile of the site, titled The Dow Zero Insurgency , in September 2009, doing some research into the site’s apparent founder, Daniel Ivandjiiski, and including this comment about Zerohedge’s tone:

“It’s nihilist, and that kind of vision lends itself to all manner of overreaching and conspiracy,” says Felix Salmon of Reuters. “You need some kind of critical judgment to separate out the [stories] that make sense and the ones that don’t. Zero Hedge just seems to not care about that. It doesn’t matter if it’s not true.”


LEO STRAUSS'S NIHILIST REVOLUTION: AN APOLOGY FOR TERROR

At the heart of Leo Strauss's political thought is an open apology for terrorism. This idea is illuminated in Strauss's exchange of comments with Alexandre Kojeve, a neo-Hegelian official of the French finance ministry, in the 1950s. At the heart of this debate is the question of the universal and homogenous state, and how philosophers should react to its existence. The universal homogenous state means something like a world where war and underdevelopment have been eliminated, and in which leisure time and well-being are rising. For most people, the universal homogenous state would look like a world of peace, progress, and prosperity.

But for Strauss and Kojeve, peace, progress, and prosperity mean the end of history because they wipe out the higher human values, which depend upon politics, and thus upon war. (Implicit also is the idea that peace, progress, and prosperity are bad for oligarchical domination, a cause dear to Strauss and Kojeve.) Strauss sums it up thus: "This end of History would be most exhilarating, but for the fact that, according to Kojeve, it is the participation in bloody political struggles as well as in real work or, generally expressed, the negating action, which raises man above the brutes." (Strauss 208)

For Strauss and Kojeve, "unlimited technological progress and its accompaniment, which are indispensable conditions of the universal and homogeneous state, are destructive of humanity. It is perhaps possible to say that the universal and homogeneous state is fated to come. But it is certainly impossible to say that man can reasonably be satisfied with it." (Strauss 208) This view of technology is that of the Greek historian called the Old Oligarch (who did not like the long walls and the Athenian navy), and is certainly not that of Plato. For Strauss, Greek philosophy is a screen upon which he projects his own ignorant opinions.

Not caring about what Plato really thought, Strauss advances towards his terrible conclusion: "If the universal and homogeneous state is the goal of History, History is absolutely 'tragic. ' Its completion will reveal that the human problem, and hence in particular the problem of the relation of philosophy and politics, is insoluble." (Strauss 208)

In Strauss's view, the imminent coming of the universal homogeneous state means that all progress accomplished by mankind to date has been worthless: "For centuries and centuries men have unconsciously done nothing but work their way through infinite labors and struggles and agonies, yet ever again catching hope, toward the universal and homogeneous state, and as soon as they have arrived at the end of their journey, they realize that through arriving at it they have destroyed their humanity, and thus returned, as in a cycle, to the prehuman beginnings of History." (Strauss 209)

This raises the question of the violent revolt against the universal homogeneous state, which is what Strauss regards as inevitable and desirable: "Yet there is no reason for despair as long as human nature has not been conquered completely, i.e., as long as sun and man still generate man. There will always be men (andres) who will revolt against a state which is destructive of humanity or in which there is no longer a possibility of noble action or of great deeds." (Strauss 209)

When the real men revolt against too much peace, progress, and prosperity, what will be their program? Strauss: "They may be forced into a mere negation of the universal and homogeneous state, into a negation not enlightened by any positive goal, into a nihilistic negation. While perhaps doomed to failure, that nihilist revolution may be the only great and noble deed that is possible once the universal and homogeneous state has become inevitable. But no one can know whether it will fail or succeed. (Strauss 209, emphasis added)

What can be understood by nihilistic negation and nihilist revolution? In the nineteenth century, nihilism was an ideology of terrorism; the crazed bomb-throwers who assassinated statesmen and rulers across Europe and America (including President McKinley) were atheists, anarchists and nihilists. In the twentieth century, the nihilist revolution was synonymous with some of the most extreme factions of fascism and Nazis. "Long live death!" was a slogan of some of them. With these lines, Strauss has opened the door to fascism, murder, mayhem, war, genocide, and most emphatically to terrorism. And he is not shy about spelling this out.

LEO STRAUSS: BACK TO THE STONE AGE

What will the nihilist revolution look like? Strauss writes: "Someone may object that the successful revolt against the universal and homogeneous state could have no other effect than that the identical historical process which led from the primitive horde to the final state will be repeated." (Strauss 209, emphasis added) The primitive horde or primal horde refers to the human communities of the Paleolithic hunting and gathering societies, to the foragers and cave people of the Old Stone Age. Strauss is endorsing a nihilistic revolt that will have the effect of destroying as much as 10,000 years of progress in civilization, and in hurling humanity back to its wretched predicament in the Paleolithic. Here Strauss finds a momentary common ground with Rousseau, who also had a liking for the Paleolithic; here we are close to the ideas which animated the reign of terror in the French Revolution.

Strauss comes as a Job's comforter to those who have been thrown back into the Old Stone Age: "But would such a repetition of the process -- a new lease on life for man and humanity -- not be preferable to the indefinite continuation of the inhuman end? Do we not enjoy every spring although we know the cycle of the seasons, although we know that winter will come again?" (Strauss 209) Springtime for Leo Strauss has thus acquired the idiosyncratic meaning of a return to the horrors of the Old Stone Age.

Short of turning back the clock to the Paleolithic, Strauss sees one promising possibility latent in Kojeve's universal homogeneous state. This concerns the opportunity for political violence, yet another form of terrorism: "Kojeve does seem to leave an outlet for action in the universal and homogeneous state. In that state the risk of violent death is still involved in the struggle for political leadership .... But the opportunity for action can exist only for a tiny minority. And besides, is this not a hideous prospect: a state in which the last refuge of man's humanity is political assassination in the particularly sordid form of the palace revolution?" (Strauss 209) Such sporadic and limited violence is not enough for Strauss.

Marx and Engels had written about the realm of freedom which would result from higher stages of economic development in the form of a communist utopia. Strauss transforms their communist slogan into an invective against middle class progress and middle class values in general when he concludes this passage with the call: "Warriors and workers of all countries, unite, while there is still time, to prevent the coming of the 'realm of freedom.' Defend with might and main, if it needs to be defended, the 'realm of necessity."' (Strauss 209) Putting aside the superficial polemic against communist utopia, Strauss's goal here is to argue that peace, progress, and prosperity are destructive to oligarchy, and anything must be preferred to such an outcome.

Here we have a blanket endorsement of forms of violence and mayhem, including terrorism and war, in doses large enough to send world civilization back to the Stone Age. This implies genocide on a scale far beyond Hitler, Stalin, and Mao. Today's world population is about 6.25 billion, and barely subsists on the basis of realized technological and industrial progress. But under hunting and gathering conditions, the demographic carrying capacity of the earth would be reduced to 25-50 million. If implemented today, Strauss's program for dismantling the universal homogeneous state would mean a genocide of something approaching 6 billion victims, two whole orders of magnitude beyond Hitler.

And even this must be put into perspective. Strauss notoriously feared to write what he really believed; the public could never face the full truth of his doctrines. Therefore, what we find written in On Tyranny is very likely a somewhat diluted view of his real views. So if Strauss lite, the exoteric version that he felt comfortable publishing at the height of his career, spells up to 6 billion victims, God save us from the full fury of Strauss's esoteric version as it may be transmitted among the neocons infesting and controlling the United States government under the Bush regime.

The most urgent anti-terrorist measure of them all would thus appear to be a purge of neocons from all branches of government (including the Carl Schmitt disciples Scalia, Rehnquist, and Thomas on the Supreme Court), and a general quarantine of neocons as what they really are, neo-fascists and neo-Nazis.

-- 9/11 Synthetic Terror Made in USA, by Webster Griffin Tarpley
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Re: Washington Post’s ‘Fake News’ Guilt, by Robert Parry

Postby admin » Tue Dec 27, 2016 10:28 pm

Part 2 of 2

In November 2011, the Streetwise Professor blog did some excellent digging , and is to our knowledge the first writer to systematically compare ZeroHedge to Russia Today/RT:

‘ZH’s editorial line on the US and European economies parallels almost exactly that of RT. Moreover, although ZH is unsparing in its criticism of virtually every Western government leader, it never whispers the slightest word of reproach about Vladimir Putin or Russia. Indeed, a tweet mentioning that fact almost immediately drew a response from ZH: a link to a ZH piece spouting a common line of Russian propaganda argument about the superior fiscal foundation of Russia as compared to the US.’


Our followup research and content analysis has confirmed that that seems to be the case. The Streetwise Professor story goes on to make the connection that the the father of Zerohedge’s founder appears to have been a Bulgarian intelligence officer during the Cold War:

‘Its creator is Daniel Ivandjiiski, a native of Bulgaria. Daniel has a very dodgy past, including losing a job and his securities license for insider trading. None of this is hard to find out: it was covered in a New York Magazine piece that ran soon after ZH first gained notoriety. Mr. Ivandjiiski’s checkered past perhaps explains his clearcut antipathy for Wall Street. But there may be more to it than that.

In light of my flash analogy of ZH to a Soviet disinformation operation, what is really interesting is the background of Daniel Ivandjiiski’s father. Ivandjiiski pere (Kassimir) was a Bulgarian “journalist” and “envoy” during the Cold War. A member of the Bulgarian Ministry of Foreign Trade, in the COMECON and EU departments. A journalist. A “special envoy” (hence presumably with very useful diplomatic cover) in every proxy war in Central Asia and Africa in the 1970s and 1980s.

That is an intel operative’s CV with probability 1. Probability 1. Every one of those jobs was a classic cover. There is no doubt in my mind whatsoever—none—that Mr. Divandjiiski senior was a member of the Bulgarian Committee for State Security (Държавна сигурност or DS for short)—the Bulgarian equivalent of the KGB. And remember that Bulgarian DS was the USSR KGB’s most reliable allied service during the Cold War. It carried out wet work in western countries, notably the “umbrella murder” of Georgi Markov in London...

Perhaps it is just coincidence that the son of an obvious Warsaw Pact intelligence service agent with the “journalistic” and “diplomatic” background commonly used in influence and disinformation operations starts a website that employs classic influence and disinformation methods, and spouts an editorial line dripping with vitriol and hostility for American (and Western European) financial institutions and governments: a line that follows that of RT quite closely. Perhaps.’


Three years later, in November 2014, the Streetwise Professor Blog ran a followup story about Zerohedge, called How Do You Know That Zero Hedge is a Russian Information Operation? Here’s How , which analyzed a particularly egregious case in which ZeroHedge echoed a deeply misleading story on an obscure Russian-language website, Iskra News , blaming the U.S. for Ukrainian gold going missing from the central-bank vault:

‘Shortly after Yatsenuk disclosed the theft of the gold, stories started appearing on the web, first on a Russian website, claiming that the gold had been spirited out the country: including on ZH, which quoted the Russian web story. This obviously serves a Russian purpose: it presents a counter-narrative that blames the theft of the gold not on Yanukovych, or the Russians, but on the new Ukrainian government and the United States.

This is the classic Soviet/Russian agitprop MO that I noted 3 years ago. A story appears in an obscure publication, typically outside the US or Europe, where it has been planted by Soviet/Russian intelligence. It is then picked up by another, more widely read publication, in Europe or the West. Maybe it works its way through several additional media sources. It then gets disseminated more widely in the west, sometimes making it to prestige publications like the NYT.

In the era of the web, the information weapon needn’t make it that far. Getting into a widely-read web publication like Zero Hedge which is then linked by numerous other sources and tweeted widely ensures that the lie goes viral.

ZH is an important transmission belt moving the story from Russian propagandists/information warriors to western news consumers. It happens a lot. This is a particularly egregious example, but the transmission belt runs almost daily. ZH is as much a part of Putin’s information warfare as RT. If you follow closely enough, it’s as plain as the nose on your face.’


Then, in April 2016, Bloomberg ran a story called Unmasking the Men Behind Zero Hedge, Wall Street's Renegade Blog , which extensively quoted a disgruntled former employee of Zerohedge named Colin Lokey, who described “writing as many as 15 posts a day of as many as 1,500 words each”, and getting some very relevant quotes:

‘Lokey, who said he wrote much of the site’s political content, claimed there was pressure to frame issues in a way he felt was disingenuous. “I tried to inject as much truth as I could into my posts, but there’s no room for it. “Russia=good. Obama=idiot. Bashar al-Assad=benevolent leader. John Kerry=dunce. Vladimir Putin=greatest leader in the history of statecraft,” Lokey wrote, describing his take on the website's politics...

“I can’t be a 24-hour cheerleader for Hezbollah, Moscow, Tehran, Beijing, and Trump anymore. It’ s wrong. Period. I know it gets you views now, but it will kill your brand over the long run,” Lokey texted Ivandjiiski. “This isn’t a revolution. It’s a joke.”’


Meanwhile, in February 2016, Andrew Aaron Weisburd’s blog Aktivnyye Meropriyatiya|Active Measures published an analysis of SimilarWeb referrer data, highlighting ZeroHedge, and building out a network graph of sites which refer their audience to each other, titled The Fringes of Disinfo: A Network Based on Referrers . We at PropOrNot replicated and evaluated that initial work, and found it to contain a significant number of false positives. While meeting narrow technical criteria of interlinkage, many sites in his network did not have key characteristics of Russian propaganda, in terms of content or other “tells”, which we outlined earlier in this report.

However, Weisburd’s follow up research was much more focused, and we started building off it. Later in February 2016, he posted Disinformation Flows - A Second Look , in which he focused down the core referrer network surrounding ZeroHedge:

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ZeroHedge.com referrer network (illustration by Andrew Aaron Weisburd)

Weisburd then went on to drill down into the subset of the referrer network subset of the network which included sites that had been flagged on Twitter by the @EUvsDisinfo team as propagating Kremlin disinformation. The @EUvsDisinfo account is a project of the European Union’s East Strategic Communications Task Force, and does excellent work, which we at PropOrNot are also using to inform our efforts.

Weisburd’s network next graph just included the sites identified by EUvsDisinfo, with the ones in ZeroHedge’s core referral network highlighted in blue:

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ZeroHedge.com referrer network focused on sites identified as disinformation by @EUvsDisinfo (illustration by Andrew Aaron Weisburd)

We have systematically confirmed the EUvsDisinfo/Weisburd findings in this case. Weisburd’s comment from that post bears repeating here:

‘To the extent any of these sites are involved in supporting Russian objectives that run counter to Western interests, they - and more to the point, the people who operate them - should be of interest to the security services of the Western countries in which they live, work, and acquire services related to their websites. At the same time, one frequently finds direct links from these websites to Russia and individuals in Russia clearly associated with the Kremlin and Russian intelligence services. It is always worthwhile to look for criminal activity occurring on the periphery of such websites, particularly on the backend of the operations, involving people who host the sites, register the domain names, and otherwise provide logistical support. And finally, many sites involved in Kremlin disinformation work now solicit donations online, raising the distinct possibility that the online fundraising accounts are being used to move or launder funds.’


Our analysis is clear that some of these sites Weisburd identifies are Iranian, like PressTV, which is an official state-run Iranian propaganda outlet, and Al-Masdar News, which is the official TV network of Hizballah. Nonetheless, they reuse each other's content extensively, echo messages similar to each other, and consistently refer their audiences to each other. This makes sense considering that Russia, Iran, and Hizballah are allies. It would be surprising if they dd not.

That analysis of Zerohedge’s referral data leads to a remarkable collection of similar sites and provides us with a useful jumping-off point for our own research.

Spidering, Correlating, Reviewing, Spidering

We at PropOrNot conducted our own research into ZeroHedge, and found that it definitely qualifies as Russian propaganda according to both our “initial red-flag” and “detailed” criteria. We also replicated and extended Andrew Aaron Weisburd’s research above, and collected all relevant public-record information about the site, the people involved, etc, along with what we could about its finances, audience, and reach.

However, we have extended existing research to use tools like AnalyzeID.com , as well as analysis of the site code itself, to examine whether ZeroHedge shares interesting technical “tells” with other sites. These tells include things like Google Analytics IDs, Amazon affiliate codes, WHOIS data, hosting data, ad-network utilization, SEO techniques, etc. For example, we discovered that Zerohedge shares Amazon Affiliate Codes with two other sites, which share Adsense and Google Analytics IDs with each other:

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This suggests that the same folks may run ZeroHedge.com, ReadyNutrition.com (“The Prepper’s Blueprint”) and SHTFPlan.com (“When it hits the fan, don’t say we didn’t warn you”). At the very least, some of the revenue derived from sales that they refer to Amazon may go to the same accounts, and this provides a useful jumping off point for further research.

ReadyNutrition.com and SHTFPlan.com are undoubtably run by the same team, considering that they share the same Google Analytics ID and Adsense ID. Follow-up manual and automated analysis has found that, according to our criteria, both ReadyNutrition.com and SHTFPlan.com consistently echo, repeat, and refer their audience to official and semi-official Russian propaganda outlets. They thus qualify as Russian propaganda outlets themselves, regardless of how they host advertising and “prepper”-related affiliate marketing as well.

Many of the other websites, social-media accounts, commenters, YouTube Channels, etc, that we have identified share similar technical “tells”, and we are using them to build out our map of outlets and the connections between them.

One less-technical way to explore this is by using custom search operators to identify sites which quote arbitrary snippets of text from official state-owned and semi-official Russian propaganda verbatim. For example, by using the "site:rt.com putin" syntax in the Google search bar, one can search the state-owned RT website for mentions of Putin. By using Google's Tools -> Any Time -> Custom Range feature, one can search for mentions of "putin" from a given date range, and find a presumably obscure story about Putin. Searching for text from that story in quotes reveals that a surprising set of other websites will have effectively echoed RT's story about Putin. It looks like this:

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First search the state-owned RT.com website for mentions of Putin from a random time

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Find some random text from a random story on RT.com and search for exact matches, using quotemarks

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These domains are echoing RT.com directly, sometimes without attribution, and are potential targets for different kinds of automated and manual analysis

We are also applying plagiarism-analysis algorithms to investigate what websites, social media accounts, and other outlets share the same talking points, with a particular focus on seeing who reuses text directly from Russian official and semi-official propaganda outlets - especially without attribution. Searches across social networks, YouTube, and other platforms can often yield interesting results as well, and we are starting to explore them.

Our team of volunteers are automating this process, integrating commercially-available analytics services, and building out an infrastructure capable of mapping and analyzing the spread of Russian propaganda across the major online-media platforms, and measuring its reach into U.S. audiences. We would ideally like to help lay the groundwork for rigorous academically-publishable research in this regard, and we encourage others to develop their own approaches to replicating our findings.

Following a Specific Story: The Tale of the Painted Jets

Besides using automated analysis, manual analysis, and prior reporting to identify new outlets and accounts as echoing, repeating, and referring their audience to Russian propaganda, we also use similar approaches to track particular stories and analyze their audiences over time.

One example is a remarkable fake-news story about US military aircraft being repainted (in order to attack Syria while pretending to be Russia, naturally) that went completely viral, even though it was essentially debunked before it it even got started. This is one example of how fake-news propaganda outlets can amplify a story that advances Russian strategic narratives, and integrate with official Russian state-owned media like Russia Today to push a story to US audiences through multiple channels. Thanks to its specificity, this is a story we can get something of a handle on.

On October 6th, a Canadian journalist, Christian Borys, took pictures of US military aircraft in pseudo-Russian colors, noting that it is "standard training, but interesting nonetheless", and posted the photos on Twitter :

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A veritable army of Pro-Russian Twitter accounts picked it up immediately, asserting that this was preparation for some larger "false flag" operation, in which the US would presumably attack some civilian target and then blame it on Russia. Over the next few days, Mr. Borys repeatedly complained that the "U.S uses "aggressor units" to train pilots. The paint schemes make fighters similar to Russian counterparts. Stop with the conspiracies", but that didn't help:

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COVERT USES OF MILITARY EXERCISES

In addition to being a day of terrorism, 9/11 was also a day of military and civilian maneuvers. These may turn out to have been more closely connected than many people might think. Let us recall a recent coup d'etat of US history, that of March 30, 1981. On that day John Hinckley Jr. attempted to assassinate President Reagan. Scott Hinckley, the elder brother of the would-be assassin, was a personal friend of Neil Bush, the son of the Vice President who would have assumed the presidency if Reagan had died that day. George H. W. Bush presided over a cabinet meeting that same day which declared it to be the official policy of the US government that Hinckley was a lone assassin who had acted by himself, without any accomplices. But the question of the close relations between the Bush and Hinckley families has never been cleared up. (Tarpley 1992)

The aspect of the attempted assassination of Reagan which concerns us here is the fact that the shooting had occurred on the eve of two important maneuvers, one military and one civilian. As I described these events in my 1992 Unauthorized Biography of Bush the elder;

Back at the White House, the principal cabinet officers had assembled in the situation room and had been running a crisis management committee during the afternoon. Haig says he was at first adamant that a conspiracy, if discovered, should be ruthlessly exposed: "It was essential that we get the facts and publish them quickly. Rumor must not be allowed to breed on this tragedy. Remembering the aftermath of the Kennedy assassination, I said to Woody Goldberg, 'No matter what the truth is about this shooting, the American people must know it.'" But the truth has never been established. Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger's memoir of that afternoon reminds us of two highly relevant facts. The first is that a "NORAD [North American Air Defense Command] exercise with a simulated incoming missile attack had been planned for the next day." Weinberger agreed with General David Jones, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, that this exercise should be cancelled. Weinberger also recalls that the group in the Situation Room was informed by James Baker that "there had been a FEMA [Federal Emergency Management Administration] exercise scheduled for the next day on presidential succession, with the general title 'Nine Lives.' By an immediate consensus, it was agreed that exercise should also be cancelled." (Tarpley 1992, Chapter -XVII -- The Attempted Coup D'Etat of March 30, 1981)


The FEMA exercise was much more than an uncanny coincidence -- that a presidential succession exercise was planned for the day after a real presidential succession was supposed to take place. It is very unlikely that Hinckley acted alone, and it is likely that whoever prodded him to act when he did could well have been aware of the upcoming presidential succession exercise. This suggests that we need to think about the ways in which military maneuvers which seem to be coincidental and routine events can prepare and promote other types of actions, including important terrorist attacks.

Military exercises come in two varieties -- there are the field exercises or live-fly exercises, war games in which real tanks or real planes move around in the fields or the sky. There are also staff exercises, which mainly involve officers assigned to the headquarters, who move markers in a sandbox, map grid, or computer screen.

The classic use of war games has been to prepare a sneak attack. The aggressor army announces that it is holding its summer maneuvers near the border of the target state. The deployment takes place under the cover of press releases announcing that these are merely maneuvers. When the troops are in position, they receive an order for a real attack. If field exercises can be used for fooling the adversary, then staff exercises are more useful for deceiving ones own side. In December 1975, in the wake of the US defeat in Vietnam, when the Pentagon was smarting from the reverse and looking for ways to redress the balance, there were certain circles in NATO who considered using the staff exercise HILEX 75 to set up a confrontation with the Warsaw Pact in Europe. Staff officers of countries who were not party to that plan were told not to be alarmed by the war preparations they saw; after all, those were only part of a staff exercise. Fortunately, due to the efforts of a network of alert citizens in a number of NATO countries, word got out about the really explosive potential of HILEX 75, and the confrontation option was abandoned. But these are at least two models of how maneuvers can be used for deception that we should keep in mind; there are more.

Staff exercises or command exercises are perfect for a rogue network which is forced to conduct its operations using the same communications and computer systems used by other officers who are not necessarily party to the illegal operation, coup or provocation as it may be. A putschist officer may be working at a console next to another officer who is not in on the coup, and who might indeed oppose it if he knew about it. The putschist's behavior is suspicious: what the hell is he doing? The loyal officer looks over and asks the putschist about it. The putschist cites a staff maneuver for which he is preparing. The loyal officer concludes that the putschist's activities are part of an officially sanctioned drill, and his suspicions are allayed. The putschist may even explain that participation in the staff exercise requires a special security clearance which the loyal officer does not have. The conversation ends, and the putschist can go on with his treasonous work.

Most civilians would assume that a military exercise or drill, be it a field or live fly exercise, or a staff drill, would tend to enhance the readiness of the military units taking part. This was the view expressed by 9/11 widow Mindy Kleinberg to 9/11 commission in March 2003, when she remarked that: "... on September 11, NEADS (of the North East Air Defense System of NORAD) was several days into a semiannual exercise known as 'Vigilant Guardian.' This meant that our North East Air Defense System was fully staffed. In short, key officers were manning the operation battle center, "fighter jets were cocked, loaded, and carrying extra gas on board."' (Testimony to 9/11 commission, March 31, 2003) But in reality the maneuvers may have introduced confusion and scattered available resources. The drills included false radar blips, military aircraft pretending to be hijacked, and the transfer of many NORAD fighters to northern Canada and Alaska.

-- 9/11 Synthetic Terror Made in USA, by Webster Griffin Tarpley


His attempts at rebuttals did not stop the rumor-mongering. Pro-Russian and Russian-speaking Twitter accounts exploded with this nonsense, like this gray-market currency systems developer , pro-Russian "Ukrainian" , and pro-Russian Dutch fascist , among others. This rattled around the Twittersphere, and the Russian state-controlled social network VK, for a few days.

On October 7th, a notable US-facing Russian propaganda outlet, moonofalabama.org, posted an article with the same pro-Russian conspiratorial spin as the above-mentioned pro-Russian Twitter accounts , ignoring all Mr. Borys’ attempts to debunk it:

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Moon of Alabama echoing “false-flag” rumors and tying in larger nefarious motives

A wide range of other outlets that consistently echo, repeat, and redirect their audiences to Russian propaganda immediately ran with and reposted Moon of Alabama’s post:

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Global Research echoing Moon of Alabama, on October 8th (<2k shares, but 77 linking domains)

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Conspiracy Cafe echoing Moon of Alabama on October 8th

Over the next several days, other consistently pro-Russian sites repeated their own variations of the same theme, racking up an increasing amount of views and social media engagements, reaching an ever-larger number of people, and boosting the story’s search engine visibility.

Also on October 8th, a consistently pro-Russian account pushed it to Reddit:

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Reddit post of the same story on October 8th

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SuperStation95 echoing the story further, on October 9th (garnering more than >38,000 Facebook engagements, and getting links from 49 separate domains!)

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The “Public Intelligence Blog” echoing the story further, on October 10th

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NoTerror.eu echoing the same story on October 12th

Various obscure and frequently pro-Russian YouTube accounts started pushing out badly-made video content about it. This one alone got over 11,000 views, and it is exceptionally terrible and content-free:

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On October 10th, Snopes, the famous fact-checkers, picked it up and comprehensively rebutted the whole thing. That didn't stop it:

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Snopes rebuts the “painted jets” rumor-mongering, October 10th (<1k shares, 16 linking domains)

Then, on October 11th, the day after the Snopes rebuttal, Russia Today picked up the rumors, with a story focused on reporting the rumors, and their piece got an immense amount of coverage. Russia Today did not include and still does not include a link to the Snopes analysis debunking the rumor:

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Russia Today stokes the rumor-mongering, after it was debunked by Snopes, October 11th (garnering 34,600 engagements on Facebook, many more views, and 117 linking domains!)

We invite the other researchers to explore this story and others like it, using Buzzsumo, Google, Trendalizer, etc. The engagement and linking domain data comes from Buzzsumo, starting here :

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To review, the story was preemptively debunked by the originator, but echoed and repeated and referred to by a wide array of pro-Russian social media accounts and websites that consistently echo, repeat, and refer their audiences to each other, and to Russian state-owned media - even after it had been roundly debunked by Snopes. It was false from start to finish, yet garnered over 100,000 likes, comments, and shares on Facebook alone, and was linked to by scores of separate websites.

Following a Specific Story: The Tale Hillary Clinton’s “Parkinson’s”

On Aug 22, 2016 a particularly intense spate of Hillary Clinton health rumors, which greatly increased that narrative's exposure in the context of the campaign, were sparked by this story, from a relatively-obscure but typically pro-Russian propaganda outlet, TruePundit.com :

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A wide range of outlets, but especially Russian propaganda outlets, had been discussing Hillary's health previously, but this assertion cited Wikileaks, and then got cited by by a more-significant pro-Russian outlet (ThePoliticalInsider.com) . It really took off, garnering over 74,000 Facebook engagements and being linked to by over 154 separate domains. The rest of the fake-news echo chamber network, notably including angrypatriotmovement.com , americasfreedomfighters.com , beforeitsnews.com , and wearechange.org , immediately picked it up and started rebroadcasting it: Over the next few days it got over 90,000 Facebook engagements and over 8m views, through the at least 152 separate domains that linked to it.

The next day the Daily Beast nicely rebutted it , in an article that got around 1,700 Facebook engagements and over 30k views through the over 62 separate domains that referred to it.

The rebuttal helped, but wasn't enough. It appears to have had well over an order of magnitude less engagement than what it was trying to rebut.

This case is particularly interesting because, while a wide range of other media (including noted Russian propaganda outlets, as rebutted by pieces like this ) had been discussing Hillary's health for some time, this particular narrative was sparked by a groundless assertion based on Wikileaks, picked up by a typically Kremlin-echoing site, and then amplified by the rest of the noise machine, which domestic American sites picked up a bit as well... but not nearly as significantly.

https://www.wikileaks.org/clinton-emails/emailid/25404?embed=1

PROVIGIL

From: Jake Sullivan
To: Hillary Clinton
Date: 2011-10-24 14:29
Subject: PROVIGIL

UNCLASSIFIED U.S. Department of State Case No. F-2014-20439 Doc No. C05784708 Date: 10/30/2015

RELEASE IN FULL

From: Sullivan, Jacob J <SullivanJJ@state.gov>
Sent: Tuesday, October 25, 2011 9:29 PM
To: Subject: Provigil

So I was wrong that it was invented by the military, but right about military use of/interest in it. Background on the drug below.

Provigil (Modafinil)

• Provigil is used to treat excessive sleepiness caused by narcolepsy or shift work sleep disorder (sleepiness during scheduled waking hours among people who work at night or on rotating shifts). It is also often prescribed to treat excessive sleepiness in patients with Parkinson's, Alzheimer's, and multiple sclerosis. Additionally, it has also gained a following among students, truckers, and others who want to stay awake for extended periods of time.

o Modafinil was developed by the French firm Lafon and was approved by the FDA to treat narcolepsy in 1998. It is now sold under the brand name Provigil by the Pennsylvania drugmaker Cephalon.

o Modafinil gained attention in the medical community because it is the first effective stimulant with no significant potential for abuse. Modafinil is in a class of medications called wakefulness promoting agents; it works by changing the amounts of certain natural substances in the area of the brain that controls sleep and wakefulness.

o The precise way that modafinil works is unknown: it seems to slow the release a GABA, a sleep promoter in the brain. It may also affect the histamine system, which is connected to sleep regulation.

o It can be used for two or three day stretches at a time, with few known side effects and little risk of addiction. Provigil's impact on the body is different from other pick-me-ups, which tend to be indiscriminate in their function: it confines its activity to the particular neurological processes connected with wakefulness and does not act as a broad stimulant. This is probably why it has not gained popularity as a street drug.

o Amphetamines, on the other hand, promote wakefulness by causing dopamine to flood to the brain. Dopamine is a "broad hitter;" it sets the heart racing and makes the user feel high, impacting the entire central nervous system. Caffeine affects a different pathway that deals with the neurotransmitter adenosine, and is also a broad stimulant. The military, for obvious reasons, is interested in the consequences of prolonged sleep deprivation and has tested modafinil heavily, particularly on pilots.

o A study carried out by the Air Force Research Laboratory found that fatigued pilots on modafinil maintained flight accuracy within approximately 15-30 percent of baseline levels, whereas performance under the no-treatment condition declined by as much as 60-100 percent. Here, benefits were most noticeable after 24-32 hours of continuous wakefulness. A French study yielded similar results and found that for missions of about 24 hours, modafinil for soldiers is preferable to naps.

o In the U.S. military, modafinil has been approved for use on certain Air Force missions. The French, British, and Indian militaries have all expressed interest in modafinil.


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It’s Time for the DNC to Pick an Alternative Candidate to Hillary Clinton!

She Has Parkinson Disease with Levodopa induced Dyskinesia [PLID]. Her coughs/pneumonia are due to neurological dystonia called “Aspirational Pneumonia.” Now, there is no doubt that Hillary’s Dr. Lisa B. Bardack and other medical accomplices in the DNC [Dr Howard Dean, etc.] have lied to the public about Hillary’s “pneumonia incident on 9/11”.

Hillary had a Parkinson brain freeze with syncope and a subsequent aspirational pneumonia/ fatigue from her daily treatment of LDOPA over a five to ten year period of time. LDOPA is the only known treatment for Parkinson Disease [PD] because it reconstitutes the depleted element in the Substantia Nigra area of the brain.

Yet, LDOPA creates all types of dystonic movements including head nods, seizures, and brain freeze that does not allow her to respond to any ongoing stress or crises [as in the press interview where she jerked back her head and talked irrationally about ‘drinking a latte’].

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I am not wishing Hillary or any part of her family/friends ill-will. I am simply stating a diagnosis that many of my board certified colleagues have also made from just watching her over the past year. We do not have to be her personal physician in order to make that definitive diagnosis because of all the video available which simulates an excellent picture of a particular type of patient that has the classical symptoms of long term Parkinson Disease [PD] with the side effects of her medicine,LDOPA. The result is called Parkinson Disease Levodopa Induced Dyskinesia [PDLID–head bobbing, brain freeze, bizarre hand postures, seizure-like activities, bulging eyes, syncope etc.]. Eventually, dementia sets in and the patient becomes disoriented to place, time, and space.

I will not argue the diagnosis. It’s there!

It’s a diagnosis corroborated by the brave men/women of the Secret Service to whom I owe a apology. I have been very critical of them for not having revealed, up to now, her long-standing debilitating neurological disease. Recently, it was stated that they spent over $250K [taxpayer money] per SUV so that Hillary could enter any car without having to fall down or hurt herself in the process.

The Secret Service went out of their way to give us this information because, like myself, and my other of my colleagues in the intelligence/military community, we are very much concerned about having anyone with severe Parkinson Disease becoming POTUS. We all know such a calamity will compromise our national security.

Many have tried to appeal to the better half of the Clintons to cease and desist Hillary’s misguided attempt to become POTUS. However, as most of you know by now, it was a waste of time. Now I appeal to Don Fowler, Chairman of the DNC during Bill Clinton’s presidency from 1995-1997.

In an article published in Politico, 9/12/16, Kyle Cheney writes in bold letters, the following: “Former DNC chairman calls for Clinton Contingency plan”. That is a very wise move. Fowler adds that the “plan should be developed by 6pm this afternoon.” That was over twenty-four hours ago.

He adds: “It’s something you would be a fool not to prepare for… She better get well before she gets back because if she gets back too soon, it [Parkinson Disease and Pneumonia] might happen again.”

Hillary can never become POTUS because of her deteriorating neurological condition. Time is ticking away. There will be no delay in the elections process!

I am sorry that the DNC did not listen to many of us a year ago, when we warned them that she had a serious neurological problem. Unfortunately, the Clintons’ lies, as well as Dr. Bardack’s clear malpractice, have cost the DNC an important opportunity to win the election when they had such a vibrant candidate like Bernie Sanders.

Now, there will be a widespread consensus that Columbia Physicians and Surgeons Hospital must open their medical records to explain how she had been tested/treated for her past falls, concussions and ongoing Parkinson Disease. As expected, the toadies of the mainstream press acted accordingly, the CNN Neurosurgeon, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, exhibited his complete ignorance of general/neurological medicine. Hillary made a special telephone call to CNN darling, Anderson Cooper, in order to assure him that “she was in fine condition and was simply fatigued from overwork.”

NONSENSE!

For a war-hardened correspondent, Cooper did a magnificent job of being cajoled, flummoxed, and ill-equipped to handle an inveterate, pathological liar like Hillary. As long as she talks, we can always calibrate the truth by simply reversing 180 degrees everything she says, has said, or will say! The Clinton Spin Doctors are trying everything to stop from circling the drain.

-- Time for DNC to pick New Candidate!, by Dr. Steve R. Pieczenik, MD, PhD


Our research shows that all the non-propaganda outlets which covered the story, including foxnews.com , toprightnews.com , chicksontheright.com , and youngcons.com , when combined, had less than 8k Facebook engagements and 900k views through the fewer than 10 separate domains that referred to them. That is an order of magnitude less engagement than the pro-Russian echo-chamber propaganda network got out of the story, and several times more than the rebuttal got.

To review, the story started with a consistently pro-Russian propaganda outlet, TruePundit.com, citing a Russian cyberespionage/influence operation, Wikileaks, to add a bogus "data point" to an existing narrative, which had previously been extensively hyped by other types of media but especially Russian propaganda. Non-propaganda media also ran with it, but their effect on the story pales in comparison to that of the Russian propaganda network. The rebuttal, while scathing and comprehensive, was essentially insignificant in comparison.

We invite the other researchers to explore this story and others like it, using Buzzsumo, Google, Trendalizer, etc. The engagement and linking domain data comes from Buzzsumo, starting here :

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Buzzsumo “hillary health wikileaks” story overview, sorted by Facebook engagement

Following a Specific Story: Ourselves!

In the early stages of our project, we developed a number of hypotheses about what would happen as our efforts became increasingly well-known. We like to test things, and while rigorously-controlled experimental testing with “in the wild” social media environments is often difficult for projects like ours, we sought to make some predictions about what would happen, and use the resulting coverage to discover new outlets worthy of follow-up review and analysis. Among other things, we expected that:

1) The core Russian propaganda outlets (like Russia Today, Sputnik, The Russophile, Southfront, Russia Insider, etc) would be predictably outraged.

2) The more-deniable Russian outlets that we identified, along with the Russian comment-troll farms and social-media botnets, would quickly follow suit, in ways that mirrored the core outlets.

3) The primary focus of their messaging would be to distract public discourse away from the actual content of the story. They would find whatever else they could to talk about other than whether the websites we highlighted actually echoed, repeated, or referred their audiences to Russian propaganda.

4) We would be able to divide the resulting commentary into two general categories: Engagers and subject-changers. The former would engage with the material, attempting to analyze it on its own terms, in historical context, and in light of other research. The latter would be led by the core Russian propaganda outlets, and do everything they could to change the subject.

We are still collecting data on this, but thus far have not been disappointed. Will be releasing our analysis of this over the coming days in order to contribute to the conversation.

Using Google Trends to Measure Larger-Scale Effects

Another line of effort at PropOrNot is attempting to measure the effects of Russian propaganda on the public discourse generally. This is a subtle task, but there are interesting angles from which we can approach it, and we encourage others to experiment in ways that go beyond our findings. We are confidant that data scientists at major tech firms and universities will be able to shed significantly more light than we can.

One simple and interesting but decidedly less-than-rigorous example follows from the way that Russian propaganda has long used "globalism" and “globalists” as derogatory scare-words instead of "globalization", in an attempt to demonize what has been largely seen in the West as a relatively secular process resulting from increasingly efficient global communications and transportation. The New York Times did a great backgrounder on how it has recently been used by Trump et al , but did not mention how, almost exclusively, Russia and Russian-aligned actors in the West have been using it for over a decade.

For example, here’s Russia Today, in 2005, highlighting the credentials of one of their talking heads , who was the "Chairman of the Public Chamber Commission on Questions of Globalism and National Strategy Development, Moscow".

Here's Russia Today, in 2009, interviewing Kremlin-aligned neo-fascist British politician Nick Griffin : "The UK is being broken by internationalism and globalism and needs a nationalist response, says Nick Griffin, leader of the far-right British National Party."

Here's Russia Today, in 2012, interviewing a Kremlin-aligned neo-fascist French EU MP politician , Bruno Gollnisch, about it: “Europe should have been protected against the side effects of globalism...”

Here's Russia Today, in 2013, giving a platform to Rand Paul as he accuses Obama of plotting with ‘anti-American globalists’ to grab guns.

Here's Russia Today, in 2015, with an editorial from a pro-Russian Yemeni echoing the standard Kremlin line, including this: "We have now entered the uncharted territories of a US-run supra-national police state system, where globalism rhymes with authoritarianism."

And here's Russia Today again, in 2016, decrying "globalism" in all kinds of ways and highlighting Putin as the answer to it : "So while I understand westerners who – rightly disillusioned by their own countries – choose to see Putin as a lone hero fighting a rear-guard action against globalism, I don’t exactly share their sentiments. One can’t help but have a twinge of envy when looking at Russia’s Putin..."

We used Google Trends to evaluate the utilization of the term "globalism" , which has historically almost exclusively occurred on Russian propaganda outlets and been used by pro-Kremlin actors, over the past five years. It looks like this:


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In contrast, the utilization of the term "globalization" fluctuates seasonally , apparently in line with the academic calendar:

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For comparison purposes, note that the Kremlin and its allies everywhere strongly dislike George Soros. He's one of their major boogiemen, primarily due to his successful efforts promoting human rights and democratization in Eastern Europe and elsewhere , and their propaganda demonizes him constantly.

Bearing that in mind, compare the Google Trends for "globalism" to the Google Trends for "George Soros" :

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https://www.wikileaks.org/clinton-emails/Clinton_Email_September_Release/C05778285.pdf\\

UNCLASSIFIED U.S. Department of State Case No. F-2014-20439 Doc No. C05778285 Date: 09/30/2015

RELEASE IN PART B5,B6

From: Sullivan, Jacob J SullivanJJ@state.gov
Sent: Monday, January 24, 2011 4:40 PM
To: H
Subject: Fw: Unrest in Albania

Fyi

-- Original Message –
From: Gordon, Philip H
To: Verma, Richard R; Sullivan, Jacob J; Abedin, Huma; Burns, William J
Sent: Mon Jan 24 16:23:01 2011
Subject: RE: Unrest in Albania

[DELETE] B5

This email is UNCLASSIFIED

--Original Message –
From: Verma, Richard R
Sent: Monday, January 24, 2011 5:41 AM
To: Sullivan, Jacob J; Abedin, Human; Gordon, Philip H; Burns, William J
Subject: FW: Unrest in Albania

Below message is from George Soros for the Secretary. Understand his organization was sending through other channels as well

-- Original Message --
From: Jonas Rolett [DELETE]
Sent: Sunday, January 23, 2011 1:39 pm
To: Verma, Richard R
Subject: Re: Unrest in Albania

Rich,

Here’s the text of the message. I’m available to talk at any time.

Thanks,

Jonas

______________

Dear Hillary,

A serious situation has arisen in Albania which needs urgent attention at senior levels of the US government. You may know that an opposition demonstration in Tirana on Friday resulted in the deaths of three people and the destruction of property. There are serious concerns about further unrest connected to a counter-demonstration to be organized by the governing party on Wednesday and a follow-up event by the opposition two days later to memorialize the victims. The prospect of tens of thousands of people entering the streets in an already inflamed political environment bodes ill for the return of public order and the country’s fragile democratic process.

I believe two things need to be done urgently:

1. Bring the full weight of the international community to bear on Prime Minister Berisha and opposition leader Edi Rama to forestall further public demonstrations and to tone down public pronouncements.

2. Appoint a senior European official as a mediator.

While I am concerned about the rhetoric being used by both sides, I am particularly worried about the actions of the Prime Minister. There is videotape of National Guard members firing on demonstrators from the roof of the Prime Ministry. The Prosecutor (appointed by the Democratic Party) has issued arrest warrants for the individuals in question. The Prime Minister had previously accused the opposition of intentionally murdering these activists as a provocation. After the tape came out deputies from his party accused the Prosecutor of planning a coup d’etat in collaboration with the opposition, a charge Mr. Berisha repeated today. No arrests have been made as of this writing.

The demonstration resulted from opposition protests over the conduct of parliamentary elections in 2009. The political environment has deteriorated ever since and is now approaching levels of 1997, when similar issues caused the country to slide into anarchy and violence. There are signs that Edi Rama’s control of his own people is slipping, which may lead to further violence.

The US and the EU must work in complete harmony over this, but given Albania’s European aspirations the EU must take the lead. That is why I suggest appointing a mediator such as Carl Bildt, Martti Ahtisaari or Miroslav Lajcak, all of whom have strong connections to the Balkans.

My foundation in Tirana is monitoring the situation closely and can provide independent analysis of the crisis.

Thank you.

George Soros


Preliminary Conclusions

Thus far we at PropOrNot have identified well over 200 distinct website domains which qualify as Russian propaganda outlets according to our criteria, and target audiences in the United States. We estimate the regular U.S. audiences of these sites to number in the tens of millions. We are gathering data to measure that more precisely, but we are confidant that it includes at least 15 million Americans. We estimate that stories planted or promoted by these were viewed over 213 million times, across various social media platforms and directly. We have yet to to analyze at least a couple hundred more websites, along with many more YouTube channels, Facebook pages, and Twitter accounts.

We assess that this overall Russian effort is at least semi-centralized, with multiple Russian projects and influence operations working in parallel to manage the direct and outsourced production of propaganda across a wide range of outlets. It is data-driven, and rewards effective entrepreneurship and innovation with increased funding and other resources. There are varying degrees of involvement in it, and awareness of involvement. Some people involved seem genuinely unaware that they are being used by Russia to produce propaganda, but many others seem to know full well.

This Russian propaganda effort resembles a viral marketing effort, with roughly a dozen individual outlets ("sources”) actually producing large amounts of original propaganda content. That content is echoed, extended, and amplified through an immense number of other sites, YouTube channels, Facebook pages, social-media botnets, etc. ("repeaters"), and there are both source and repeater outlets targeting different audiences: U.S. military veterans, Wall St. insiders and finance specialists, natural-food and health enthusiasts, racists, homophobes, peace activists, and politically-active Americans on both the right and left.

Next Steps

We are building out our website, and expect to be online in the next day or so. We intend to launch in conjunction with a concerted effort to make the YYYcampaignYYY go viral, begin crowdsourcing the resulting investigation, and start an informed and perhaps even humorous national conversation about Russian propaganda. It might be too much to hope that such a conversation will be conducted in a calm, sober, or minimally reasonable fashion, but we will do our best to start it off in good spirits.

We are also constantly improving our analytic systems, and expect to have publicly-available and peer-reviewable data available in the near future. However, we are loathe to go public with all our sources and methods for the time being.

While there are a number of long-term possibilities for this nascent initiative, we are keenly aware of the urgency of the story in a larger context. We are working hard to build our systems and launch in a timely fashion, but we request the assistance of professional journalists and other researchers in a few areas:

● Increase public awareness of the fact that that Russian disinformation is bigger than hacked e-mails - Russian hacking and selective leaking is accompanied by large-scale, long-term, and remarkably effective efforts to build online propaganda outlets targeting U.S. audiences. Sites with U.S. audiences estimated in the millions echo Russian state-owned propaganda consistently and relentlessly attack actual journalism. However, media coverage of Russian disinformation regarding the election has focused on the hacking of e-mails leaving the average voter with no understanding of the concerted effort to influence their thinking regarding Russian interests and ultimately affect their vote.

● Give this story the systematic and incisive coverage it deserves - We have brought together a range of concerned citizens with relevant experience and expertise to follow breadcrumbs and connect dots in an effort to identify propaganda targeting a U.S. audience. We want to prevent foreign disinformation aimed at Americans from distorting U.S. political and policy discussions. Instead, we want to strengthen our cultural immune systems against hostile influence, while hopefully improving public discourse generally. In order to get from this point, where we’ve identified a significant network of disinformation, to our ultimate goal, we need the community of journalism professionals throughout the U.S. to follow up. We need actual journalists addressing this issue, asking the tough questions, and providing citizens with the objective analysis that makes the fourth estate such an invaluable part of the democratic process that is currently under assault. We’re eager to help inform those journalistic efforts as best we can.

● Help answer the following questions , via questions to official spokespeople and other tools of traditional reporting, in light of the larger circumstances which lend them urgency:

○ Does the U.S. government have any information about Russian propaganda efforts to build or use fake-"media" online gray and black disinformation outlets, which conceal their association with Russia, to influence U.S. public opinion?

○ What information is the government able to share with the American people now that they’ve cast their votes in the November election?

○ What does the U.S. government assess that Russian propaganda and influence operations in the U.S. include? What are their target audiences, objectives, and funding and control methods? How successful have they been?

○ Does the U.S. government asses that any particular fake-"media" propaganda outlets targeting U.S. audiences are under direct or indirect Russian influence or control? If so, which ones?

○ Has Russia been using these propaganda outlets in an attempt to influence the U.S. election? If so, in support of which candidate? Did it work? Isn’t that the sort of information the U.S. government should tell the American people about?

○ Is the U.S. government constrained by constitutional press freedoms when considering how to address fake-"media" propaganda claiming to conduct actual journalism?

○ Are such constraints preventing the U.S. government from alerting the American people to disinformation efforts intended to manipulate them, especially as they exercise their right to vote?

○ Was the U.S. government concealing related information from the public in order to avoid interfering in the domestic U.S. political process , and/or leaving propaganda channels operating in order to monitor and analyze them?

○ By seeking to avoid interfering in the domestic U.S. political process itself, did the U.S. government allow Russia to manipulate the U.S. domestic political process , through the use of online propaganda along with other methods, in favor of one political candidate over another?

○ By allowing Russian attempts to influence the U.S. election through online propaganda to proceed unhindered, and not alerting the American people to the full extent of ongoing disinformation activity, has the U.S. government withheld pertinent information from the American people directly related to the election?

Thank you very much for taking the time to review this report, and thank you in advance for whatever following and contributions you might have. We look forward to continuing the conversation.

Sincerely,

-- The PropOrNot Team
propornot@gmail.com
November 25th, 2016
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