Dec 22 2016

Fake News: Part 4

While admittedly some Internet posts deserve the term “Fake News” and many fantasies of the Legacy Media likewise, the phenomena I am addressing in these pieces is the tendency to label anything that does not conform to Neo Liberal Establishment norms- “Fake News”.

Ed Schultz, liberal talk radio icon, got fired by MSNBC for being a mite too liberal (or populist take your pick). Now you may not like him, and I think he’s an ignorant loud-mouthed blowhard, but he definitely falls into the category of the Professional Pundit Class, legitimate and validated by the Legacy Media.

Lawrence Harvey Zeiger is his own Institution with 2 Peabodys and 10 Cable ACE Awards. For 25 years he had his own 1 hour, Prime Time show on CNN. He got dumped because his ratings sucked. I never watched because I thought he was a terrible interviewer and I have zero interest in Celebrity Gossip.

They are both currently employed by RT America, a Russian Government funded international media organization (RT stands for Russia Today).

Oh My Goodness! Propaganda!

Well, in the same sense as the BBC and PBS and VOA (Voice of America). I don’t immediately assume that Masterpiece Theater is a tool of the Anglo-American conspiracy to achieve World Domination. I’ve used RT sources in the past because they’ve made points I considered supportive of my views just as I’ve used The New York Times and Washington Post, when they don’t I ignore them, when they’re dead wrong I criticize them.

Today what we are seeing is that, regardless of who won (and don’t mistake that for Trump support), the Neo Liberal Establishment lost. They are universally despised as the incompetent failures they are. Rather that accept the verdict of History and seek to improve themselves they are using their Power and Privilege to delegitimize their critics.

It won’t work. We have nothing to lose.

Here are two pieces from Truthdig, one of the targeted outlets of left opinion on the Internet regarding this attack. They’re far too long to abridge decently, I strongly urge you to click the damn links and read them in full.

Investigation Into ‘PropOrNot Blacklist Case’ Finds Shoddy Methods and an Ominous Potential
By Bill Boyarsky
Dec 15, 2016

If you believe the shadowy organization PropOrNot—a subject of a recent article in The Washington Post—I’m a Russian intelligence agent or a “useful idiot.” Maybe a violator of the Espionage Act and the Foreign Agent Registration Act. PropOrNot also thinks I should be investigated by the FBI and the Justice Department.

It’s not because I have a Russian surname, Boyarsky. It’s because I write for Truthdig, one of more than 200 websites named in a study by PropOrNot, short for Propaganda Or Not. The sites, the study said, were pro-Russian, either intentionally or by being stupid enough to be tools of the Kremlin.

PropOrNot’s study was released in November. It might have vanished without much notice, but The Washington Post reported on it. With that boost from a big name, the study exploded across the internet.

The Post story, by Craig Timberg, appeared Nov. 24 under the headline “Russian propaganda effort helped spread ‘fake news’ during the election, experts say.” Timberg wrote that the goal of the propaganda effort, according to “independent researchers who have tracked the operation,” was “punishing Democrat Hillary Clinton, helping Republican Donald Trump and undermining faith in American democracy.” [On Dec. 7 the Post placed an editor’s note at the top of the Timberg article saying, in part, “The Post, which did not name any of the sites, does not itself vouch for the validity of PropOrNot’s findings regarding any individual media outlet, nor did the article purport to do so.” Click the hyperlink above to see the full statement.]

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

Timberg cited as one of his sources PropOrNot, which he described as “a nonpartisan collection of researchers with foreign policy, military and technological backgrounds.” The PropOrNot report, Timberg said, “identifies more than 200 websites as routine peddlers of Russian propaganda. …”

First off, as its readers well know, Truthdig has never posted Russian propaganda, either knowingly or unwittingly. So the question is: Why is Truthdig on the list?

In seeking to answer it, I started with the Post story. Timberg is the newspaper’s national technology reporter, specializing in privacy, security and surveillance.

I asked Timberg, “Did you know precisely how PropOrNot compiled its list? I think you owe an answer and an explanation to Truthdig, to me and to the other journalists and organizations that were included [either directly or indirectly]—and red baited—on the PropOrNot list.” [Editor’s insert added here for clarity.]

Timberg replied, “Hello Mr. Boyarsky. I’m directing your questions to the person at the Post who is authorized to respond, Kris Coratti. She is copied on my reply. Thank you. Best, Craig.”

Coratti has not replied.

Timberg, in his story, said he had communicated with the executive director of PropOrNot, “who spoke on the condition of anonymity to avoid being targeted by Russia’s legions of skilled hackers.”

It was cowardly of the PropOrNot executive to point fingers at organizations and hurt their reputations without having the courage to identify herself or himself and take responsibility for the accusations.

In the Post article, Timberg said PropOrNot researchers used “Internet analytics tools to trace the origins of particular tweets and mapped the connections among social-media accounts that consistently delivered synchronized messages.” This bit of tech jargon did not give me the information I needed.

In an email to PropOrNot, I asked whether this was the case.

PropOrNot replied, saying: “Jonathan Albright’s approach is similar to what we call our ‘automated analysis’ in our writing and website, although we use a few tricks he doesn’t and vice versa. It’s sort of like having an automated spam filter. However, unlike his approach, ours also includes a process of manual review to winnow what the automated collection processes catch. His list of 306 sites does not appear to have been systematically winnowed by anything like that.” The site called its manual review part of an “all-volunteer, ad-hoc, quick-turnaround strategy.”

I asked PropOrNot how Truthdig got on the list. In reply the group named a handful of stories it said had been “highlighted by our reviewers.”

The several articles it presented amounted to sparse evidence indeed.

By including Scott Ritter’s article as a reason for blacklisting Truthdig, PropOrNot showed that it effectively was targeting dissent and imposing a form of censorship on dissenters.

PropOrNot’s apparent intent is also shown by questions the site posed to me in response to my questions.

  1. Do you assess that Putin’s Russia is a brutal authoritarian kleptocracy, which represses independent media at home, while using “fake news” as online propaganda abroad?
  2. Do you assess that that poses a significant threat to our constitutional democracy?
  3. Are you interested in genuinely constructive solutions for doing something about it? If you don’t like our all-volunteer, ad-hoc, quick-turnaround strategy, fine, but we’re interested in your thoughts and suggestions generally.

If we’re on the same page on the above, we’re on the same team.

No matter what my opinions are about Russia and Putin, I don’t want to be on that page, or play on the PropOrNot team.

I don’t find it funny. The PropOrNot blacklist case points to a grave danger that bogus systems of searches and classifications could pose—censorship. The threat of censorship has been increased by the furor over fake news. (One consumer of phony reports fired an assault weapon in a Washington, D.C., pizza parlor last week as he tried to find nonexistent abused children hidden there.)

Government censorship is one possibility. On Nov. 30 The Washington Post’s Timberg reported that members of Congress had “approved an initiative to track and combat foreign propaganda amid growing concerns that Russian efforts to spread ‘fake news’ and disinformation threaten U.S. national security.”

Another danger is censorship by the internet giants Facebook and Google. Using methods more sophisticated than those of PropOrNot, they could “scrape” entries on their websites and limit or remove those they think could get them in trouble with the government or bring them unwanted publicity.

Were it not for The Washington Post, PropOrNot’s blacklist might have disappeared in the mass of fake news, odd notions, serious journalism, advertising and other material that both clutter the internet and make it a valuable source of information. What pulled PropOrNot from the obscurity it deserves was that pillar of mainstream journalism, now experiencing a resurgence thanks to its purchase by Amazon’s Jeff Bezos.

The most frightening aspect of all this is the likelihood that PropOrNot’s shady approach, after being abetted by the Post, will be adopted by others trying to suppress the dissent that makes Truthdig and similar sites so distinctive and valuable.

The search for fake news is becoming a witch hunt, accompanied by the rumors, smears and faulty investigations of the McCarthy era. Such is the state of the media in today’s world.

‘Fake News’ in America: Homegrown, and Far From New
By Chris Hedges, Truthdig
Dec 18, 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.

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.

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