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 » Mon Dec 12, 2016 6:44 am

Text: S.2692 — 114th Congress (2015-2016)

Introduced in Senate (03/16/2016)

2d Session
S. 2692

To counter foreign disinformation and propaganda, and for other purposes.

March 16, 2016
Mr. Portman (for himself and Mr. Murphy) introduced the following bill; which was read twice and referred to the Committee on Foreign Relations

To counter foreign disinformation and propaganda, and for other purposes.

Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled,

This Act may be cited as the “Countering Information Warfare Act of 2016”.


It is the sense of Congress that—

(1) foreign governments, including the Governments of the Russian Federation and the People’s Republic of China, use disinformation and other propaganda tools to undermine the national security objectives of the United States and key allies and partners;

(2) the Russian Federation, in particular, has conducted sophisticated and large-scale dis­in­for­ma­tion campaigns that have sought to have a destabilizing effect on United States allies and interests;

(3) in the last decade disinformation has increasingly become a key feature of the Government of the Russian Federation’s pursuit of political, economic, and military objectives in Ukraine, Moldova, Georgia, the Balkans, and throughout Central and Eastern Europe;

(4) the challenge of countering disinformation extends beyond effective strategic communications and public diplomacy, requiring a whole-of-government approach leveraging all elements of national power;

(5) the United States Government should develop a comprehensive strategy to counter foreign disinformation and propaganda and assert leadership in developing a fact-based strategic narrative; and

(6) an important element of this strategy should be to protect and promote a free, healthy, and independent press in countries vulnerable to foreign disinformation.


(a) Establishment.—Not later than 180 days after the date of the enactment of this Act, the Secretary of State shall, in coordination with the Secretary of Defense, the Director of National Intelligence, the Broadcasting Board of Governors, and other relevant departments and agencies, establish a Center for Information Analysis and Response (in this section referred to as the “Center”). The purposes of the Center are—

(1) to lead and coordinate the collection and analysis of information on foreign government information warfare efforts, including information provided by recipients of information access fund grants awarded under subsection (e) and other sources;

(2) to establish a framework for the integration of critical data and analysis on foreign propaganda and disinformation efforts into the development of national strategy; and

(3) to develop, plan, and synchronize, in coordination with the Secretary of Defense, the Director of National Intelligence, the Broadcasting Board of Governors, and other relevant departments and agencies, whole-of-government initiatives to expose and counter foreign information operations directed against United States national security interests and proactively advance fact-based narratives that support United States allies and interests.

(b) Functions.—The Center shall carry out the following functions:

(1) Integrating interagency efforts to track and evaluate counterfactual narratives abroad that threaten the national security interests of the United States and United States allies.

(2) Collecting, integrating, and analyzing relevant information, including intelligence reporting, data, analysis, and analytics from United States Government agencies, allied nations, think tanks, academic institutions, civil society groups, and other nongovernmental organizations.

(3) Developing and disseminating fact-based narratives and analysis to counter propaganda and disinformation directed at United States allies and partners.

(4) Identifying current and emerging trends in foreign propaganda and disinformation, including the use of print, broadcast, online and social media, support for third-party outlets such as think tanks, political parties, and nongovernmental organizations, and the use of covert or clandestine special operators and agents to influence targeted populations and governments in order to coordinate and shape the development of tactics, techniques, and procedures to expose and refute foreign misinformation and disinformation and proactively promote fact-based narratives and policies to audiences outside the United States.

(5) Facilitating the use of a wide range of technologies and techniques by sharing expertise among agencies, seeking expertise from external sources, and implementing best practices.

(6) Identifying gaps in United States capabilities in areas relevant to the Center’s mission and recommending necessary enhancements or changes.

(7) Identifying the countries and populations most susceptible to foreign government propaganda and disinformation.

(8) Administering the information access fund established pursuant to subsection (e).

(9) Coordinating with allied and partner nations, particularly those frequently targeted by foreign disinformation operations, and international organizations and entities such as the NATO Center of Excellence on Strategic Communications, the European Endowment for Democracy, and the European External Action Service Task Force on Strategic Communications, in order to amplify the Center’s efforts and avoid duplication.

(c) Composition.—

(1) COORDINATOR.—The Secretary of State shall appoint a full-time Coordinator to lead the Center.


(A) COMPOSITION.—The Secretary of State shall establish a Steering Committee composed of senior representatives of agencies relevant to the Center’s mission to provide advice to the Secretary on the operations and strategic orientation of the Center and to ensure adequate support for the Center. The Steering Committee shall include the officials set forth in subparagraph (C), one senior representative designated by the Secretary of Defense, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the Director of National Intelligence, the Administrator of the United States Agency for International Development, and the Chairman of the Broadcasting Board of Governors.

(B) MEETINGS.—The Steering Committee shall meet not less than every 3 months.

(C) CHAIRMAN AND VICE CHAIRMEN.—The Steering Committee shall be chaired by the Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs. A senior, Secretary of State-designated official responsible for digital media programming for foreign audiences and a senior, Secretary of Defense-designated official responsible for information operations shall serve as co-Vice Chairmen.

(D) EXECUTIVE SECRETARY.—The Coordinator of the Center shall serve as Executive Secretary of the Steering Committee.

(E) PARTICIPATION AND INDEPENDENCE.—The Chairman of the Broadcasting Board of Governors shall not compromise the journalistic freedom or integrity of relevant media organizations. Other Federal agencies may be invited to participate in the Steering Committee at the discretion of the Chairman of the Steering Committee and with the consent of the Secretary of State.

(d) Staff.—

(1) IN GENERAL.—The Chairman may, with the consent of the Secretary and without regard to the civil service laws and regulations, appoint and terminate a Director and such other additional personnel as may be necessary to enable the Center to carry out its functions. The employment of the Director shall be subject to confirmation by the Steering Committee.

(2) COMPENSATION.—The Chairman may fix the compensation of the Director and other personnel without regard to chapter 51 and subchapter III of chapter 53 of title 5, United States Code, relating to classification of positions and General Schedule pay rates, except that the rate of pay for the executive director and other personnel may not exceed the rate payable for level V of the Executive Schedule under section 5316 of that title.

(3) DETAIL OF GOVERNMENT EMPLOYEES.—Any Federal Government employee may be detailed to the Center without reimbursement, and such detail shall be without interruption or loss of civil service status or privilege.

(4) PROCUREMENT OF TEMPORARY AND INTERMITTENT SERVICES.—The Chairman may procure temporary and intermittent services under section 3109(b) of title 5, United States Code, at rates for individuals which do not exceed the daily equivalent of the annual rate of basic pay prescribed for level V of the Executive Schedule under section 5316 of that title.

(e) Information Access Fund.—

(1) AUTHORIZATION OF APPROPRIATIONS.—There is authorized to be appropriated to the Secretary of State for fiscal years 2017 and 2018 $20,000,000 to support the Center and provide grants or contracts of financial support to civil society groups, journalists, nongovernmental organizations, federally funded research and development centers, private companies, or academic institutions for the following purposes:

(A) To support local independent media who are best placed to refute foreign dis­in­for­ma­tion and manipulation in their own communities.

(B) To collect and store examples in print, online, and social media, disinformation, misinformation, and propaganda directed at the United States and its allies and partners.

(C) To analyze tactics, techniques, and procedures of foreign government information warfare with respect to disinformation, misinformation, and propaganda.

(D) To support efforts by the Center to counter efforts by foreign governments to use disinformation, misinformation, and pro­pa­gan­da to influence the policies and social and political stability of the United States and United States allies and partners.

(2) FUNDING AVAILABILITY AND LIMITATIONS.—All organizations that apply to receive funds under this subsection must undergo a vetting process in accordance with the relevant existing regulations to ensure their bona fides, capability, and experience, and their compatibility with United States interests and objectives.


When selecting participants for United States educational and cultural exchange programs, the Secretary of State shall give special consideration to students and community leaders from populations and countries the Secretary deems vulnerable to foreign propaganda and dis­in­for­ma­tion campaigns.


Not more than one year after the establishment of the Center, the Secretary of State shall submit to Congress a report evaluating the success of the Center in fulfilling the purposes for which it was authorized and outlining steps to improve any areas of deficiency.


The Center for Information Analysis and Response and the Steering Committee shall terminate ten years after the date of the enactment of this Act.
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Re: Washington Post’s ‘Fake News’ Guilt, by Robert Parry

Postby admin » Mon Dec 12, 2016 7:00 am

H.R.4909 - National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2017
114th Congress (2015-2016)


(a) Establishment.—Not later than 180 days after the date of the enactment of this Act, the Secretary of State, in coordination with the Secretary of Defense and the heads of other relevant Federal departments and agencies, shall establish a Global Engagement Center (in this section referred to as the “Center”). The purposes of the Center are—

(1) to lead and coordinate the compilation and examination of information on foreign government information warfare efforts monitored and integrated by the appropriate interagency entities with responsibility for such information, including information provided by recipients of information access fund grants awarded under subsection (f) and other sources;

(2) to establish a framework for the integration of critical data and analysis provided by the appropriate interagency entities with responsibility for such information on foreign propaganda and disinformation efforts into the development of national strategy;

(3) to develop, plan, and synchronize, in coordination with the Secretary of Defense, and the heads of other relevant Federal departments and agencies, whole-of-government initiatives to expose and counter foreign propaganda and disinformation directed against United States national security interests and proactively advance fact-based narratives that support United States allies and interests;

(4) to demonstrate new technologies, methodologies and concepts relevant to the missions of the Center that can be transitioned to other departments or agencies of the United States Government, foreign partners or allies, or other nongovernmental entities;

(5) to establish cooperative or liaison relationships with foreign partners and allies in consultation with interagency entities with responsibility for such activities, and other entities, such as academia, nongovernmental organizations, and the private sector; and

(6) to identify shortfalls in United States capabilities in any areas relevant to the United States Government’s mission, and recommend necessary enhancements or changes.

(b) Functions.—The Center shall carry out the following functions:

(1) Integrating interagency and international efforts to track and evaluate counterfactual narratives abroad that threaten the national security interests of the United States and United States allies.

(2) Integrating, and analyzing relevant information, data, analysis, and analytics from United States Government agencies, allied nations, think tanks, academic institutions, civil society groups, and other nongovernmental organizations.

(3) Developing and disseminating fact-based narratives and analysis to counter propaganda and disinformation directed at United States allies and partners.

(4) Identifying current and emerging trends in foreign propaganda and disinformation based on the information provided by the appropriate interagency entities with responsibility for such information, including information obtained from print, broadcast, online and social media, support for third-party outlets such as think tanks, political parties, and nongovernmental organizations, and the use of covert or clandestine special operators and agents to influence targeted populations and governments in order to coordinate and shape the development of tactics, techniques, and procedures to expose and refute foreign misinformation and disinformation and proactively promote fact-based narratives and policies to audiences outside the United States.

(5) Facilitating the use of a wide range of technologies and techniques by sharing expertise among agencies, seeking expertise from external sources, and implementing best practices.

(6) Identifying gaps in United States capabilities in areas relevant to the Center’s mission and recommending necessary enhancements or changes.

(7) Identifying the countries and populations most susceptible to foreign government propaganda and disinformation based on information provided by appropriate interagency entities.

(8) Administering the information access fund established pursuant to subsection (f).

(9) Coordinating with allied and partner nations, particularly those frequently targeted by foreign disinformation operations, and international organizations and entities such as the NATO Center of Excellence on Strategic Communications, the European Endowment for Democracy, and the European External Action Service Task Force on Strategic Communications, in order to amplify the Center’s efforts and avoid duplication.

(c) Coordinator.—The Secretary of State shall appoint a full-time Coordinator to lead the Center.

(d) Employees Of The Center.—

(1) DETAILEES.—Any Federal Government employee may be detailed to the Center without reimbursement, and such detail shall be without interruption or loss of civil service status or privilege for a period of not more than three years.

(2) PERSONAL SERVICE CONTRACTORS.—The Secretary of State may exercise the authority provided under section 3161 of title 5, United States Code, to establish a program (referred to in this subsection as the “Program”) for hiring United States citizens or aliens as personal services contractors for purposes of personnel resources of the Center, if—

(A) the Secretary determines that existing personnel resources are insufficient;

(B) the period in which services are provided by a personal services contractor under the Program, including options, does not exceed three years, unless the Secretary determines that exceptional circumstances justify an extension of up to one additional year;

(C) not more than 20 United States citizens or aliens are employed as personal services contractors under the Program at any time; and

(D) the Program is only used to obtain specialized skills or experience or to respond to urgent needs.

(e) Authorization Of Appropriations.—Under “Diplomatic and Consular Programs”, for each of fiscal years 2017 and 2018, $10,000,000 is authorized to be appropriated to the Department of State and may remain available until expended to carry out the functions, duties, and responsibilities of the Center.

(f) Information Access Fund.—

(1) AUTHORITY FOR GRANTS.—The Center is authorized to provide grants or contracts of financial support to civil society groups, journalists, nongovernmental organizations, federally-funded research and development centers, private companies, or academic institutions for the following purposes:

(A) To support local independent media who are best placed to refute foreign disinformation and manipulation in their own communities.

(B) To collect and store examples in print, online, and social media, disinformation, misinformation, and propaganda directed at the United States and its allies and partners.

(C) To analyze and report on tactics, techniques, and procedures of foreign government information warfare with respect to disinformation, misinformation, and propaganda.

(D) To support efforts by the Center to counter efforts by foreign governments to use disinformation, misinformation, and propaganda to influence the policies and social and political stability of the United States and United States allies and partners.

(2) FUNDING AVAILABILITY AND LIMITATIONS.—The Secretary of State shall provide that each organization that applies to receive funds under this subsection undergoes a vetting process in accordance with the relevant existing regulations to ensure its bona fides, capability, and experience, and its compatibility with United States interests and objectives.

(g) Limitation.—None of the funds authorized to be appropriated by the Act to carry out this section shall be used for purposes other than countering foreign propaganda and misinformation that threatens United States national security.

(h) Termination Of Center.—The Center shall terminate on the date that is 5 years after the date of the enactment of this Act.
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Re: Washington Post’s ‘Fake News’ Guilt, by Robert Parry

Postby admin » Tue Dec 13, 2016 2:59 am

Demonstration Elections: U.S.-Staged Elections in the Dominican Republic, Vietnam, and El Salvador
by Edward S. Herman and Frank Brodhead
Boston: South End Press, 1984



CHAPTER 1: The Rise of the Demonstration Election

Elections have been used by the United States as an instrument of management in Third World client states since the turn of the century. The functions which they have served, however, have changed in accordance with the shifting demands placed upon the managers. The aim in holding such elections has always been to ensure “stability.” * In the first half of this century the threat to stability came almost exclusively from within the client states, which were subject to internal turmoil and thus threatened with a loss of “independence.”* In recent decades, serious challenges have arisen from within the United States itself. It is this shift in functional need that has led to the emergence of elections oriented to influencing the home ( U.S.) population, which we designate “demonstration elections.”*

The occupation of Cuba in 1898 marked the beginning of a wave of U.S. interventions in the Caribbean and Central America, including, in addition to Cuba, invasions and occupations of Panama, the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and Mexico.(1) These interventions were often terminated only after constitutions were written, party organizations encouraged, and electoral machinery established by the imperial authorities to provide for the orderly resolution of conflict in these client states. Elections allowed the local populations to work out their differences through electoral rules and processes rather than by resort to force. With appropriate restrictions on suffrage, and with splintered parties and poor communications, shared local elite rule and the maintenance of order were the hoped-for political outcome of the institutionalization of elections.

This internal political settlement was not an end in itself, however, but a prerequisite to the efficient control and management of a system of dependencies. While the acquisition of Puerto Rico, the Philippines, and Hawaii indicates that the United States shared the concerns that drove Europeans to scramble for colonies in the late nineteenth century, it was readily apparent that the administrative and political costs of a colonial system were high. Far preferable was an “informal empire,”(2) like that enjoyed by Britain in the midnineteenth century before it was challenged by Germany and other imperial rivals. While its colonial competitors forced Britain to formalize much of its world trading empire — to define its territories within the rules of international law and force other nations to recognize its claims — no similar rival emerged in the Western Hemisphere to press the United States toward a similar formalization of its domain. As long as the Monroe Doctrine, asserting a United States monopoly on hemispheric pickings, was recognized by the European powers, Washington policy makers found indirect rule far preferable to the burdens of formal empire.

“Free elections”* played an important part in providing the basis for indirect rule by the United States. They helped defuse the substantial anti-imperialist sentiment within the United States, thus playing an early “demonstration election” role. The United States could use the electoral machinery during an occupation to build up, legitimate, and ratify its own preferred electoral choice. Following the official U.S. departure, it was usually easy to influence election outcomes by a judicious use of money, sugar quotas, advice, credit, military missions, and other direct or sub rosa interventions. The continuing goal was a loosely knit system of dependents, open to U.S. investment, with support given by the colonial elites to the special needs of U.S. business — cheap labor, improved roads and communications, and laws protecting foreign capital and favoring the production of crops for export rather than for subsistence. “Open” means economically open. The regimes of Somoza, Batista, Pinochet, Stroessner, Ubico, and Rios Montt are or were “open.” Cuba is “closed.” The United States believes in open systems. With such a system in place the economic strength of the United States allows a strong U.S. economic presence and creates a structure of economic dependency, from which political dependency necessarily follows. The entire set of imperial inputs — economic, political, and military -- strongly constrains the scope of policy by democratic processes within client states. As Jules Benjamin noted in reference to U.S. arrangements for Cuba from 1898 onward: “In effect, the Cubans were not to have politics; only elections.”(3)

The Rise of the Demonstration Election

In recent decades U.S. concern over and sponsorship of elections in Third World countries has shifted markedly toward their use as propagandistic and public relations (PR) instruments. Most notably, “free elections” have been used to reassure the U.S. home population, defuse domestic opposition, and, in effect, ratify ongoing U.S. interventionary strategies.

The interventionary plans supported by a “free election” strategy have been consistently designed to oppose and defeat popular movements and to preserve and fortify elite structures often inherited from a colonial past.
While the goals of U.S. intervention have remained constant, however, the world context in which the intervention strategy must work has greatly changed. The decolonisation of Asia and Africa in the post-World War II years created a powerful body of world opinion which would be aggravated by the cruder methods of gunboat diplomacy. The crumbling of the bloc system -- the division of the world into U.S. and Soviet spheres — and the tentative emergence of a neutralist camp, increased the need to present U.S. intervention as something desirable, as a means of promoting “democracy” and “freedom.”* Similarly, the growing domestic importance of black and Third World constituencies in the United States made it politically inexpedient for politicians and governments to openly advocate domination by force of Third World, nonwhite countries. Finally, the costly failure of the U.S. intervention in Vietnam created a still-powerful sentiment against foreign adventures, or at least those that would commit substantial numbers of U.S. troops.

Thus the ability to continue their intervention strategies in the post-World War II period has increasingly required Washington policy makers to persuade foreign and domestic opinion that such intervention is not merely to be tolerated, but is a good thing in itself. Where earlier interventions were carried out under the guise of spreading Christianity and Civilization, and shouldering the White Man’s Burden, intervention is now justified by the obligation to protect freedom by stopping Communism. Communism is used loosely,(4) and is said to raise its ugly head whenever we are threatened with possible loss of control (e.g., if Juan Bosch returned to the Dominican Republic in 1965, contrary to our preference).(5) In a context of rationalizing imperial intervention, Orwellian usages quickly take over. The village is saved by destroying it; freedom is preserved by keeping nonelected regimes in power; “free elections” become the PR instrument serving to consolidate the rule of an army that has institutionalized SS-type violence.

The “free election” PR strategy operates at three levels.

First, popular and insurgent movements against existing governments are opposed by the United States on the ground of our devotion to “peaceful democratic change” (Secretary of State Shultz). The official rhetoric is that U.S. opposition to popular movements is not based on hostility to the goals of the revolutionaries, but rests entirely on our burning commitment to peaceful, democratic means of social change. It is true that the United States supported violent means in backing the overthrow of democratic regimes in Brazil, Chile, and Guatemala, but this was because “Communism” threatened, at which point anything goes. (We reserve the right to decide when Communism threatens.) We may also give unconditional support to regimes that will not allow peaceful democratic change, so that the approved means of change that we demand of revolutionaries is entirely foreclosed. At this point, we fall back on faith in the “quiet diplomacy”* of George Shultz and Jeane Kirkpatrick and their devotion to the long run welfare of Third World peasants. Or shall we introduce a modicum of honesty? Peasants, know thy place! God rewards toilers, perhaps in the hereafter.

The second level of the PR election strategy is to attack revolutionary regimes for their electoral failings. Castro’s refusal to hold free elections in 1959 and 1960 was considered a very serious matter in Washington, even though this was the very time of escalating U.S. sponsorship of counterinsurgency and the proliferation of client military regimes that held no elections as a matter of course, generally without the slightest negative reaction by the Godfather.(6) In the same pattern, the failure of the Sandinistas to hold elections in Nicaragua in the early 1980s was put forward as a justification for open U.S. arming of external dissidents and mercenaries, and the attempted subversion of that country. According to Ambassador Kirkpatrick, the U.S. goal in organizing and arming the remnants of Somoza’s National Guard was to pressure Nicaragua into holding elections. The hypocrisy of this gambit is apparent not only in the active and warm support given numerous rightwing “authoritarian”* regimes, but also in the nostalgia the Reagan team has expressed for the Somoza government,(7) which held no meaningful elections over a 40-year span and was undemocratic in the most basic senses of the word. But the Somoza regime, though not open to popular participation, was open to U.S. investment. The absence of “free elections” is pressed only upon insurgent regimes which fail the really substantive test of “openness.” If they were open in the Somoza-Pinochet-Batista sense described earlier, the pressure for free elections would immediately cease. “Free elections” are the Washington moral and PR cover for its real agenda and interventionary strategies.

The third level on which “free elections” serves as an instrument of propaganda is in countries currently or recently occupied or under siege by U.S. forces or proxies.
The present book is about this kind of election. Among the most prominent instances were the June 1, 1966 election held in the Dominican Republic, the September 3, 1967 election in Vietnam, and the March 28, 1982 election in El Salvador. Each was characterized by the presence of numerous foreign “observers,” extraordinary press interest, and thus exceptional publicity. These elections were also distinguished by the fact that they were sponsored by the U.S. government to “prove something” to the world, and especially to its home population.

The central theme of this book is that these were “demonstration elections,” which may be defined as elections organized and staged by a foreign power primarily to pacify a restive home population, reassuring it that ongoing interventionary processes are legitimate and appreciated by their foreign objects.
The demonstration election emerged in full flower in the second half of the 1960s, paralleling the growing opposition to the Vietnam war and to U.S. interventions elsewhere during the post-“Castro-shock” years. It was (and is) designed to neutralize this opposition by means of a symbolic act.

Demonstration Elections as Patriotic Dramaturgy

In his Symbolic Uses of Politics, Murray Edelman notes that the public responds “to currently conspicuous political symbols . . . gestures and speeches that make up the drama of the state.”(8) Elections are a positive and heartening symbol; communism and terrorism* are threatening. A skilled manipulation of such symbols allows the public to be reassured and rendered quiescent, especially where its understanding is vague and information sparse. The success of a demonstration election therefore depends on how the mass media treat the government’s attempt to “manage” the public. The second major theme of this book is that the national media of the United States have been highly cooperative, accepting the government’s manipulation of symbols, its agenda of relevant information and questions, and its formulation of the election as a drama between the forces of good and evil.

In the positive demonstration election dramaturgy, the staged election is meritorious, the good guys are those favoring the election and trying to make it work. This makes the “security forces”* of El Salvador good guys. The bad guys are those who criticize and refuse to participate in these elections staged by the United States. This makes those who refuse to participate because they would surely be murdered by the “security forces,” and those who see its objective as clearing the ground for further warfare, bad guys.
The drama is structured as follows: will the good guys be able to hold this marvelous illustration of democracy in action and get a good turnout,* or will the baddies successfully boycott or disrupt it? Following the government’s lead, the media accept the election at face value, focusing on the personalities of candidates, the surface mechanics of election day procedure, and other secondary matters and propaganda gambits, the most important being the alleged efforts to disrupt the election by the bad guys. They carefully avoid or downgrade issues such as the prior decimation of a political opposition, death squads as an institutionalized phenomenon, and the exclusion of major political opposition groups from participation.

When the enemy stages a demonstration election, as in the election managed by the Soviet Union in Poland in January 1947, the dramaturgical cast is reversed and the set of relevant facts is turned upside down. The good guys are the dissidents and the opposition party, who are harassed and encumbered by the power staging the election. (It should be noted that in the Polish election of January 1947, the mass opposition party was at least allowed to run; whereas in Vietnam and El Salvador they were completely excluded from the ballot by law and/or very real threats of murder.) The prior and ongoing terror against the dissident parties and the unequal access to the media move front and center. Given the unsatisfactory electoral conditions, the baddies are both those who stage an election in the first place and the candidates supported by the staging authority. In this case the election can be condemned beforehand as a staged fraud, the electoral idea corrupted. The drama is structured as follows: given the coercion and harassment of the opposition, a Greek tragedy is unfolding as the forces of decency must inevitably lose in the face of superior power. A large turnout in this case is a demonstration of the cynical tactic of using state power to get out the vote. The dichotomy is complete, and it is not based on different levels of fraud and terror.(9) It is a compelling testimonial to the propagandistic service rendered by the mass media in making our demonstration elections credible.

Demonstration Election Staging Props: The “Observers

As demonstration elections are pseudoevents designed to manipulate a distant (home) population, they need proper staging. “Observers” are now an institutionalized part of demonstration election props, just as prompters and scene designers are part of a theatrical production. The functions of the observers are to attract media attention and to assure the home population that the election was both “fair” and a valid reflection of the will of the population under siege. The attention follows from the fact that the observers are more or less famous people from abroad, and the U.S. government and its military junta try hard to publicize the efforts of the observers.

The observers invariably find demonstration elections good, whether held in Rhodesia under conditions of intense civil warfare, in Vietnam under the rule of generals openly admitting to no popular base whatsoever, or in El Salvador under a state of siege with the murder of unarmed civilians proceeding at the rate of over 100 per week during the immediate pre-election period. The observers’ conclusions result, first, from their composition and bias. They are usually carefully chosen from members of the establishment, and they recognize that their own government is sponsoring the election and supports the military junta directly staging the event. Third country observers are almost always supplied by client states or are invited because they are supporters of the ongoing pacification effort, to which the election is the PR complement. As the point of the election is to show popular support for the junta, and to display its newly discovered dedication to democratic processes, for observers to find the election unfair would be a slap in the face of their host, and unpatriotic to boot.

(2) FUNDING AVAILABILITY AND LIMITATIONS.—The Secretary of State shall provide that each organization that applies to receive funds under this subsection undergoes a vetting process in accordance with the relevant existing regulations to ensure its bona fides, capability, and experience, and its compatibility with United States interests and objectives.

-- H.R.4909 - National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2017, 114th Congress (2015-2016). SEC. 1259C. GLOBAL ENGAGEMENT CENTER.

There has even emerged a body of professional observers, associated mainly with establishment and rightwing propaganda agencies like Freedom House* and the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), who travel from one demonstration election to the next to give their approval. Bayard Rustin and Leonard Sussman of Freedom House and Howard Penniman of the AEI even traveled to Rhodesia to give their imprimatur to the 1979 demonstration election held there under extreme conditions of civil war violence. The Patriotic Front of rebel groups refused to participate in that election, which strove for “turnout” to prove black acceptance of a new constitution which had been voted upon by the white minority but had not even been submitted to the black majority. The voters were never told that the regime was publicizing the election abroad as proof of black support of the constitution. The substance of the constitution was never addressed by any candidate in the election. Voting was urged on grounds of citizen responsibility and as an important step toward “peace.” Coercion, both subtle and direct, was enormous.(10) The black candidate put forward by the Smith regime, Bishop Muzorewa, got 67% of the sizable vote. In an election held one year later, with an international supervisory presence, and the Patriotic Front now included, Robert Mugabe got 63% of the vote, the Patriotic Front altogether got 87%, and Bishop Muzorewa got 8%. The Freedom House observers found the 1979 election fair, the 1980 election questionable. We feel that the Freedom House reports on the Rhodesian elections of 1979 and 1980 are such model illustrations of observer bias and corruption, by individuals regularly serving as observers in U. S.-sponsored demonstration elections, that we examine them in detail in Appendix 1.

A second reason why observers find elections fair is that they are in no position to evaluate them at all. Some observers come to realize this and end up with qualified negative propositions — that they saw no solid evidence of unfairness but couldn’t really see very much.(11) Even this conclusion serves an apologetic function, because the media always fail to note that the negative proves not fairness but incapacity to observe. The most important limit is that the observers cannot observe at all the larger parameters of fairness: pre-election day freedom of institutional organization and activities, the overall climate of coercion and fear, freedom of speech, media freedom and access, and the right to form parties, put up candidates, and campaign. But even on election day, observers are guided by government forces, with armed guards to “protect” them. They suffer from language barriers, can almost never speak confidentially with even a token number of voters, and observe only a tiny fraction of polling places. What they can reasonably testify to is that nobody was beaten and ballot boxes were not stuffed in their presence. This is entirely compatible with massive coercion and ballot box stuffing. Some professional observers like Richard Scammon claim that while they can’t observe a large part of the relevant universe, they can see that the “mechanics” of the election are sound. This is fraudulent. Honest mechanics includes honest watching at each polling place, which Scammon can’t assess, and total privacy in casting the vote. It is notable that Scammon and company failed to observe even those elements of the voting mechanics in El Salvador that had a potential for aiding coercion — among others, the use of transparent plastic ballot boxes which allowed the observation of voting by interested officials. Furthermore, Scammon and the other observers also have no way of evaluating the integrity of the final disposition and counting of votes, done by machine but with human assistance. As we describe in Chapter 4, the El Salvador vote was inflated by the election officials after the observers had completed their work.

The efforts of election observers, in fact, have a negative relationship to election validity. Their approval, based on a combination of bias and inability to observe, serves to validate a PR spectacle. The role of the observers is addressed in each of the chapters that follow, but we explore their bias more systematically in Appendices 1 and 2.

Demonstration Elections as Ratification of Minority Rule and State Terrorism

Although elections can be useful means of allowing public participation in the political arena, they often provide form without substance. Especially when countries are under military control, voting numbers and choices may reflect fear, coercion, and manipulated information and symbols. Elections in such cases are put on and managed to ratify power. The U.S. government has resorted to such elections in Third World countries only when it wishes to provide a PR gloss to obscure an ugly reality. A third major theme of this book is that the demonstration election has been antidemocratic in intent and effect, both in the United States and within the client state itself.

As regards the home population, in a demonstration election the government uses the symbolic value of an “election” to mobilize home support for its preferred policies. In the case studies which follow, we will see that each election was intended to mislead the home populace about both the situation in the occupied country and the intentions of the U.S. government. The demonstration election was thus designed to win approval of external policy by deception.

Abroad, the United States has used the election to ratify its support of a rapacious and violent minority that would never have survived elections in an “unpacified” state. In the cases of El Salvador and South Vietnam, the real election victors were the security forces, who had opposed or subverted all prior elections.
In the Dominican Republic, the United States supported a former puppet of Trujillo, after rebuilding the same police-military establishment which had overturned the first freely elected government in Dominican history only three years previously. In Vietnam the generals supported by the United States never tired of explaining that “we are very weak politically and without the strong political support of the population which the NLF have. Thus, now even if we defeat them militarily, they can come into power because of their greater political strength.”(12) The United States had to convince the Saigon generals that even though they were “very weak politically” it was easy to win an election which we stage and manage! The generals were finally convinced, the election was held, and the United States was able to demonstrate that the South Vietnamese wanted what the generals and the United States had in store for them.

The El Salvador election of March 1982 was intended to consolidate the power of the ruling unelected military junta, which had been murdering unarmed civilians at the rate of over 150 per week for the three prior years. The administration likes to focus on the rebels as an “armed minority”* unwilling to submit to the test of the ballot box. This is an Orwellian inversion. The military junta is an armed minority that has so abused an unarmed majority that important elements of the majority have been driven to armed struggle in self-defense. The rebel armed resistance was an effect, not a cause of violence. The cause was the long, consistent, and total refusal of the oligarchy and its military arm to allow democratic elections or reform.(13) The administration thus distorts the causal sequence, while glossing over the fact that its preferred faction is not only a minority, but (in the words of former U.S. Ambassador to El Salvador Robert White) “one of the most out-of-control bloodthirsty groups of men in the world.” The administration pretends that this same group that precipitated the insurgency, and which has never shown a proclivity to do anything but kill and steal, is deserving of support as a vehicle of progressive change. This is as plausible as the view that meaningful elections can be held under the auspices of the El Salvador security forces, or that these elections are intended to bring about democracy or reform.

We stress throughout this book that it has been standard procedure for U.S. authorities to occupy a country militarily (Dominican Republic, Vietnam) and/or arm a military junta to the teeth (El Salvador), pursue or encourage an extended pacification program, and then, after army and police control has been established and an adequate climate of “understanding realities” has been created, to call for “free elections.” This process, which transforms elections into dramatic farce, was carried to an extreme in El Salvador in March 1982.

Six Criteria of Election Integrity and their Application to El Salvador 1982

Another way of looking at the validity of elections is to examine the conditions making for a free election and see how the actual electoral case conforms to these criteria. The U.S. mass media never do this in reference to U.S.-sponsored elections, consistent with their dramatic and propaganda role. It is our view that the distance between the realities of U.S.-sponsored demonstration elections and the requirements for meaningful elections has widened, even since 1966, and that in El Salvador in March 1982 the gap attained truly Orwellian levels. To show this discrepancy more graphically, we list here six widely acknowledged core requirements for a real election, and consider in summary form their application to El Salvador in 1982.(14)

1. Freedom of speech.

An obvious requirement for a free election is that individuals be able to speak their minds. They should be able to criticize their leaders, their police and army, national economic and foreign policies, and even raise questions about the role of the Godfather. This condition was clearly not met in El Salvador in the years 1980-83, either in law or in the realities of daily life. Basic issues were not debatable, and there were no real choices capable of being verbalized or offered for vote. Neither the case for nonmilitary options, nor serious or radical reform, nor information or views objectionable to the security forces, could be safely expressed in public. Only the representatives of the extreme rightwing parties could move around with relative freedom in the countryside.

By law a state of siege was in effect, in which questioning authority in any way was treated as subversion and could lead to arrest, immediate assault, rape, and murder, all without legal recourse. While this law was officially suspended for the participating political parties in the months immediately preceding the March 1982 election, there was no slackening of official murder. Over 1,500 unarmed civilians were murdered by the security forces in the three months of January-March 1982, and perhaps 30,000 from the time of the coup of 1979. This is impressive testimony to the high risk of speaking out. There is no recorded case of the criminal prosecution of any member of the security forces or death squads for murder, even in the instances of the rape-murder of four U.S. women or the killing of two U.S. citizens involved in the land reform program. Although the U.S. government put pressure on the Salvadoran authorities because of the publicity given these killings and the negative image which they conveyed about the system of justice in El Salvador, that pressure was not effective. The threat of extreme violence carried out by the state against individuals expressing dissident opinions was far greater in El Salvador in 1982 than in the Soviet Union during that year or in Poland at the time of the January 1947 election.

2. Freedom of the media.

A free election requires a free press — a variety of media organs under noncentralized control, open to a wide range of opinion, and uncensored either directly or by threats. In El Salvador in 1982 the press, radio, and TV were under government control. Independent papers had been gradually closed down; those still in existence carefully toed a progovernment line either by choice, direct censorship, or fear of retribution. There were only three substantial newspapers in San Salvador in the mid-1970s that were not controlled by the oligarchy. One, the Church paper, was bombed in 1977 and has been repeatedly closed down by attacks and threats ever since. The second, La Cronica, terminated its existence in 1980 when its editor-in-chief and two employees were kidnapped, killed, and mutilated. The third, El Independiente, was closed down in 1981 after the army arrested its personnel and destroyed its physical plant. Its editor fled the country. The only independent radio station, owned by the Church, suffered five bombings after the 1979 coup and was shut down for an extended period in 1981 after its transmitter was destroyed. At least 26 journalists, domestic and foreign, have been murdered. A death list of 35 journalists was circulated by the security forces in the spring of 1982, just prior to the murder of four Dutch journalists. These efforts put the final touches on a media environment incompatible with a free election.

3. Freedom of organization of intermediate groups.

Perhaps the most important political fact about El Salvador in March 1982 was the prior decimation of popular and private organizations. Political sociologists from Durkheim onward have stressed the importance of independent intermediate organizations and groups as essential to democracy. Such intermediate bodies interest and protect individuals in political activity, allow organized pressure on the state, and restrain state power. The decimation of these groups, leaving the individual isolated, powerless, and manipulable, is one of the main characteristics of totalitarian states, which “search out all independent forms of organizations in order to transform them or destroy them.”(15) As we describe in detail in Chapters 4 and 5, the undermining of intermediate groups in El Salvador by state-sponsored terrorism occurred on a massive scale. Several thousand leaders were murdered, and numerous organizations were destroyed, driven underground, or brought under government control. For example, from the 1979 coup to the 1982 election more than 100 officials and organizers of the peasant union sponsored by an arm of the AFL-CIO were murdered. A report of July 1982 by a Salvadoran teachers union indicated that 292 teachers had been murdered, 16 disappeared, 52 were arrested, and 1,200 schools had been closed by government repression following the 1979 coup. An earlier Amnesty International report on teacher murders showed that most of those killed had been active as organizers or union officials. The toll of officials and organizers of other trade unions and professional organizations was also very high. The demonstration election of March 1982 followed several years of assault on such mediating groups. The people were then mobilized to vote under conditions of atomization, government control of the media, and a state of siege.

4. The absence of highly developed and pervasive instruments of state-sponsored terror.

In evolving totalitarian societies there is a steady enlargement of the secret police, the army, and other elements of state-organized terror. In El Salvador, the official instruments of state coercion — the army, the National Guard, the Treasury Police, and the National Police — have increased in size, resources, and training. Equally important, from 1966-67 onward there emerged a large terrorist organization, ORDEN, sponsored by the army and security establishment, and with scores of thousands of members. ORDEN was officially outlawed in 1980, but this act was nominal only. From ORDEN the security forces obtain information about dissidents and organizers of potentially threatening groups like peasant unions; and together the official forces and ORDEN man “death squads” that have murdered thousands. In turn, ORDEN members receive favorable treatment from land reform officials and protection from the death squads. Particularly in isolated rural areas, the mere existence (or rumored existence) of ORDEN members would have a chilling effect on the voicing of dissenting opinions, let alone organizing and campaigning for opponents of the government.

Under U.S. sponsorship, ORDEN is being integrated into a new and more sophisticated counterinsurgency program. In a plan for the “Well-Being for San Vicente,” being put in place with 17 U.S. advisers, thousands of U.S.-trained Salvadoran troops, and $1 million a month in AID funds, a Boston Globe news report of July 17, 1983 states that the army “plans to train and arm up to 1000 village-based civil defense forces to stop the guerillas from slipping back into their old positions.” Who are the “civil defense” personnel who will “defend” the populace against the terrorists? The report indicates that many villagers were worried that the army was simply revitalizing ORDEN, and “in one nearby town, Raul Alvarenga, 55, a civil defense leader, said that all the new unit’s members had once been in Orden.” This program closely resembles the Phoenix program in Vietnam, under which thousands of Vietnamese civilians were assassinated to root out a radical “infrastructure.”

5. Freedom of party organization and ability to field candidates.

For a real free election various interest groups must be able to organize and maintain political parties. This has not been possible in El Salvador. Even Duarte’s Christian Democratic Party (PDC), strongly supported by the United States, has suffered numerous casualties from the army and death squads. An April 1981 report recorded the death by assassination of 40 Christian Democratic mayors and scores of other PDC party functionaries.(16) In a three week period in May 1982, six more PDC mayors and a number of other party activists were killed. The Democratic Revolutionary Front (FDR) was subjected to a wholesale slaughter — combined with torture and mutilation — of its six top leaders in San Salvador on November 27, 1980. In 1982, 12 more FDR leaders were seized and disappeared; only six have been released, and the whereabouts of the others, if still alive, is unknown. In April 1981 the army published in a prominent newspaper a death list of 138 names that covered the leadership “establishment” of the left and center. In short, not only radical but even pro-U.S., only mildly reformist parties cannot escape decimation by political murder in El Salvador. This defines a system of terror of such ferocity and magnitude that if it existed within an enemy state it would immediately be seen as ruling out the possibility of a meaningful election.

6. Absence of coercion and fear on the part of the general population.

A free election requires a population free of coercion, fear, and threats of violence. In an environment of no legal rights for the individual, and 150 security force murders of civilians per week, fear and coercion were an important part of everyday life in the El Salvador of 1980-83. There is abundant and uncontested evidence that this fear has been produced overwhelmingly by government and government-sponsored forces.

In El Salvador in March 1982 voting was required by law, and the effective head of state, General José Guillermo Garcia, warned Salvadorans just prior to the election that nonvoting was treasonable. Those failing to vote would be identifiable by the absence of a mark placed on their hand at the voting stations, and by the absence of the appropriate stamp on their identity card. The specific vote itself was also potentially identifiable under the procedures employed in El Salvador in March 1982.(17) The announced aim of the United States and the Salvadoran army and other security forces was to get out the vote, to produce a large turnout. If, being given a day off to meet their legal voting obligation, Salvadorans trek long distances, stand patiently in long lines to vote and to have their identity card marked, what do we infer from this? The plausible inference in this environment of daily murder and endemic fear is that the security forces can “get out the vote.”

Not one of the six basic conditions just described was addressed by the U.S. mass media in depth and with prominence during El Salvador’s election. The administration and media focused on the election-day details, not on the framework that makes elections meaningful. But even conservative theorists stress that the significance of voting “depends upon the degree to which the other parts of the process have operated before voting takes place.”(18) A secret of the success of demonstration elections is that the media disregard the fundamental processes that operate before voting takes place in U.S.-sponsored elections. We will show in Chapter 5 that such processes and the specific conditions enumerated earlier were featured by the media during the

In the chapters that follow we present case studies of the background, organization, and media treatment of three major demonstration elections — those of the Dominican Republic, Vietnam, and El Salvador. We also describe briefly the sequels to these elections. This allows us to see that in each case the results deviated radically from the claims of the sponsors — instead of peace and reconciliation, the elections provided a cover for escalated warfare and/or internal repression. We can also see that the mass media, which had swallowed the government’s forecasts of good things to come, failed to follow up and analyse the real denouement. In chapter 5 we also examine more systematically the media’s treatment of the El Salvador election of 1982 and the full gamut of mechanisms of selective focus and suppression that make the mass media a vehicle of national propaganda. In the final chapter, we present some thoughts on the future of the demonstration election, and, more specifically, on the electoral and other PR ploys that the Reagan administration is already putting into place as it attempts to gain support for its strategies of intervention.


* Words designated by an asterisk are defined in the Glossary of Orwellian Usage that follows the text.

* Polish election of 1947, where they provided the basis for the (accurate) conclusion that the election was a fraud. But the Polish election was no more fraudulent than the El Salvador election of 1982. The difference in media treatment can only be explained in terms of the patriotic service of the U.S. mass media in aiding the policies of their own government.


1. See Walter LaFeber, Inevitable Revolution: The United States in Central America, Norton, 1983, chapters 1 and 2; see also Charles Wright, American Support of Free Elections Abroad, Public Affairs Press, 1962.

2. See John Gallagher and Ronald Robinson, “The Imperialism of Free Trade”, Economic History Review, vol. 6, no. 1, 1953, pp. 1-15.

3. Jules Benjamin, The United States and the Cuban Revolution of 1933: The Role of United States Hegemony in the Cuban Political Economy 1880-1934, Ph.D. dissertation, University of Pennsylvania, 1974, vol. I, p. 50.

4. See Edward S. Herman, The Real Terror Network, South End Press, 1982, pp. 33-36. A classic discussion of the use of Communism (an international movement) as an instrument to justify attacks on threatening social change (Kommunism) is in Juan José Arévalo, AntiKommunism in Latin American, Lyle Stuart, 1963. Arévalo was a liberal-left President of Guatemala in the late 1940s. John F. Kennedy approved a military coup in Guatemala in 1963 because of the “Kommunist” threat posed by an imminent return of Arévalo to run in a free election. See Stephen Schlesinger and Stephen Kinzer, Bitter Fruit, Doubleday, 1982, pp. 243-44.

5. See the next chapter.

6. An editorial in the Dominican Republic newspaper Listin Diario, dated August 9, 1915, entitled “The Godfather”, called attention to the recent U.S. invasion and occupation of Haiti in July 1915, and expressed concern that “the fire is getting close, and any spark may set off our powder.” The Dominican Republic was subject to a U.S. occupation beginning in May 1916 and lasting until 1924. (Quoted in M. M. Knight, The Americans in Santo Domingo, Vanguard, 1928, p. 68.)

7. See Jean Kirkpatrick, “Dictatorships and Double Standards”, Commentary, November 1979, p. 35.

8. University of Illinois Press, 1964, p. 172.

9. See Table 5-1 and associated text.

10. See especially, Free and Fair? The 1979 Rhodesian Election, A Report by Observers on Behaff of the British Parliamentary Human Rights Group, May 1979.

11. See the discussion of the observers in the Dominican Republic in Chapter 2.

12. One of the leading Saigon generals, speaking to George Kahin, in George Kahin and John Lewis, The United States in Vietnam, rev. ed., Delta, 1969, p. 346.

13. See below, Chapter 4, under “The Election of 1972.”

14. These procedures are discussed in greater detail in Chapters 4 and 5.

15. William Kornhauser, The Politics of Mass Society. The Free Press, 1959, p. 82.

16. Washington Post, April 9, 1981.

17. These are discussed in Chapter 4 below.

18. Austin Ranney and Willmoore Kendall, “Democracy and the American Party System”, quoted in M. Rejai, ed., Democracy: The Contemporary Theories, Atherton Press, 1967, p. 86.


Glossary of Current Orwellian Usage *

Armed Minority. The origin of a civil upheaval which we oppose. Military juntas are invariably armed and a minority, but they are never an Armed Minority.

Authentic Democracy. A client state that is almost democratic, which we are in process of making less so by mobilization for counterrevolutionary warfare.

Authoritarian. Totalitarian but Free (q.v.).

Demonstration Election. A circus held in a client state to assure the population of the home country that their intrusion is well received. The results are guaranteed by an adequate supply of bullets provided in advance. (See Free Election.)

Fair Election. One in which, having stacked the deck conclusively in advance, we do not cheat in counting up our exact winnings. As in, “Within the limitations created by the exclusion from the ballot of certain popular candidates and the abuses that marked the earlier stages of the campaign [South Vietnam, 1967], most observers believe that on the whole the voting was fairly conducted.” ( NYT editorial, Sept. 4, 1967.) Also, one in which our carefully selected observers see no one beaten up as they are escorted in limousines past carefully selected voting booths.

Force. The principal language of the stronger. By a process of transference said to be “the only language they understand.”

Free. Non-Communist.

Free Election. A post-pacification election, in which the “hearts and minds” of the survivors are shown to have been won over by the force of pure reason.

Free World. The group of countries that maintain a door open to private foreign investment.

Freedom. See Free.

Freedom House. A small fabricator of credibilitp; a wholly-owned subsidiary of the White House.

Independence. See Independent.

Independent. Aligned with us. (See Satellite.)

Leverage. That which we seek in aiding amenable tyrants, but which we find unaccountably without effect on their actual behavior.

Loyalist. Siding with the oligarchy, police, and us.

Military Solution. That which we eschew in favor of Negotiations (q.v.) and a Search for Peace (q.v.).

Negotiations. The process of accepting the surrender of the ill-gotten gains of the enemy. Syn. Victory.

Pacification. Returning a restive population to its traditional state of apathy by killing on the requisite scale; subjugation.

Peaceful Change. Repression punctuated by Free Elections (q.v.); as in “It is true, El Salvador’s path has been a hard one. Peaceful change has not always been easy or quick.” ( Reagan, speech to the Longshoremen, NYT, July 19, 1983).

Quiet Diplomacy. Unconditional support. Syn. Constructive Engagement.

Revolution Without Frontiers. The threat of the mouse to home and tradition, as seen by the cat.

Satellite. Aligned with them. (See Independent.)

Search For Peace. Public relations ploys that will allow us to continue to pursue war.

Security. Control by force or the threat of force; as in “political identification of the people with the Government [Saigon] has not proceeded as fast as the security situation has . . .” ( William Colby, head of the Phoenix Program.) Syn. Insecurity.

Security Forces. Armed agents of the government whose function is to provide the people with security (q.v.).

Stability. A political arrangement free of open warfare and satisfactory to our interests.

Step Toward Democracy. In a friendly client state, any verbal assurance no matter how vague and remote and any formal act no matter how empty of substance.

Terrorism. Killing people retail. (See Pacification.)

Turnout. The statistical proof of the public’s devotion to the military junta and security forces in U.S.-sponsored elections; the index of successful coercion and intimidation in those sponsored by the enemy.

Vietcong. A Vietnamese peasant, especially one that we have killed.


* These definitions are taken, sometimes in truncated form and without citations, from a book to be published by South End Press in the latter part of 1984: Edward S. Herman, Beyond Hypocrisy: U.S. Political Language from the New Frontier to the Last Roundup.
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Re: Washington Post’s ‘Fake News’ Guilt, by Robert Parry

Postby admin » Tue Dec 13, 2016 7:25 am

The CIA’s Absence of Conviction
by Craig Murray
11 Dec, 2016



I have watched incredulous as the CIA’s blatant lie has grown and grown as a media story – blatant because the CIA has made no attempt whatsoever to substantiate it. There is no Russian involvement in the leaks of emails showing Clinton’s corruption. Yes this rubbish has been the lead today in the Washington Post in the US and the Guardian here, and was the lead item on the BBC main news. I suspect it is leading the American broadcasts also.

A little simple logic demolishes the CIA’s claims. The CIA claim they “know the individuals” involved. Yet under Obama the USA has been absolutely ruthless in its persecution of whistleblowers, and its pursuit of foreign hackers through extradition. We are supposed to believe that in the most vital instance imaginable, an attempt by a foreign power to destabilise a US election, even though the CIA knows who the individuals are, nobody is going to be arrested or extradited, or (if in Russia) made subject to yet more banking and other restrictions against Russian individuals? Plainly it stinks. The anonymous source claims of “We know who it was, it was the Russians” are beneath contempt.

As Julian Assange has made crystal clear, the leaks did not come from the Russians. As I have explained countless times, they are not hacks, they are insider leaks – there is a major difference between the two. And it should be said again and again, that if Hillary Clinton had not connived with the DNC to fix the primary schedule to disadvantage Bernie, if she had not received advance notice of live debate questions to use against Bernie, if she had not accepted massive donations to the Clinton foundation and family members in return for foreign policy influence, if she had not failed to distance herself from some very weird and troubling people, then none of this would have happened.

The continued ability of the mainstream media to claim the leaks lost Clinton the election because of “Russia”, while still never acknowledging the truths the leaks reveal, is Kafkaesque.

I had a call from a Guardian journalist this afternoon. The astonishing result was that for three hours, an article was accessible through the Guardian front page which actually included the truth among the CIA hype:

The Kremlin has rejected the hacking accusations, while the WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has previously said the DNC leaks were not linked to Russia. A second senior official cited by the Washington Post conceded that intelligence agencies did not have specific proof that the Kremlin was “directing” the hackers, who were said to be one step removed from the Russian government.

Craig Murray, the former UK ambassador to Uzbekistan, who is a close associate of Assange, called the CIA claims “bullshit”, adding: “They are absolutely making it up.”

“I know who leaked them,” Murray said. “I’ve met the person who leaked them, and they are certainly not Russian and it’s an insider. It’s a leak, not a hack; the two are different things.

“If what the CIA are saying is true, and the CIA’s statement refers to people who are known to be linked to the Russian state, they would have arrested someone if it was someone inside the United States.

“America has not been shy about arresting whistleblowers and it’s not been shy about extraditing hackers. They plainly have no knowledge whatsoever.”

But only three hours. While the article was not taken down, the home page links to it vanished and it was replaced by a ludicrous one repeating the mad CIA allegations against Russia and now claiming – incredibly – that the CIA believe the FBI is deliberately blocking the information on Russian collusion. Presumably this totally nutty theory, that Putin is somehow now controlling the FBI, is meant to answer my obvious objection that, if the CIA know who it is, why haven’t they arrested somebody. That bit of course would be the job of the FBI, who those desperate to annul the election now wish us to believe are the KGB.

It is terrible that the prime conduit for this paranoid nonsense is a once great newspaper, the Washington Post, which far from investigating executive power, now is a sounding board for totally evidence free anonymous source briefing of utter bullshit from the executive.

In the UK, one single article sums up the total abnegation of all journalistic standards. The truly execrable Jonathan Freedland of the Guardian writes “Few credible sources doubt that Russia was behind the hacking of internal Democratic party emails, whose release by Julian Assange was timed to cause maximum pain to Hillary Clinton and pleasure for Trump.” Does he produce any evidence at all for this assertion? No, none whatsoever. What does a journalist mean by a “credible source”? Well, any journalist worth their salt in considering the credibility of a source will first consider access. Do they credibly have access to the information they claim to have?

Now both Julian Assange and I have stated definitively the leak does not come from Russia. Do we credibly have access? Yes, very obviously. Very, very few people can be said to definitely have access to the source of the leak. The people saying it is not Russia are those who do have access. After access, you consider truthfulness. Do Julian Assange and I have a reputation for truthfulness? Well in 10 years not one of the tens of thousands of documents WikiLeaks has released has had its authenticity successfully challenged. As for me, I have a reputation for inconvenient truth telling.

Contrast this to the “credible sources” Freedland relies on. What access do they have to the whistleblower? Zero. They have not the faintest idea who the whistleblower is. Otherwise they would have arrested them. What reputation do they have for truthfulness? It’s the Clinton gang and the US government, for goodness sake.

In fact, the sources any serious journalist would view as “credible” give the opposite answer to the one Freedland wants. But in what passes for Freedland’s mind, “credible” is 100% synonymous with “establishment”. When he says “credible sources” he means “establishment sources”. That is the truth of the “fake news” meme. You are not to read anything unless it is officially approved by the elite and their disgusting, crawling whores of stenographers like Freedland.

The worst thing about all this is that it is aimed at promoting further conflict with Russia. This puts everyone in danger for the sake of more profits for the arms and security industries – including of course bigger budgets for the CIA. As thankfully the four year agony of Aleppo comes swiftly to a close today, the Saudi and US armed and trained ISIS forces counter by moving to retake Palmyra. This game kills people, on a massive scale, and goes on and on.
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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




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...

-- 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'.

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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



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



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.



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



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



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



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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