Fake News

by Berry Friesen (December 1, 2016)

(Dec. 2 update:  For highly relevant commentary on how mainstream media are spinning the "fake news" controversy, see "The Orwellian War on Skepticism" by Robert Parry.)

In early November, as I was skimming reader comments at www.MoonOfAlabama, I saw a brief reference and hotlink to a “Denver Guardian” article about an apparent “murder-suicide” involving an FBI agent who had been investigating the source of the Democratic National Committee leak of Hillary Clinton’s emails. Within a few minutes at the same site, I saw another comment—and then another—warning readers that the “Denver Guardian” article was “fake news.”

That was the end of it for me.

On November 23, National Public Radio (NPR) broadcast a feature report about the “Denver Guardian” article. The man responsible (Jestin Coler) is a small business owner from southern California who supports himself, his wife and children by ad revenue attracted to the websites he creates.  Web advertisers are interested in traffic volume and clicks.  Coler’s “Denver Guardian” article attracted an audience and so Coler made a decent profit.  Apparently, there is nothing illegal about any of this.

It illustrates one branch of the fake news phenomenon.

The story President George W. Bush and Vice-President Dick Cheney told about Saddam Hussein’s “weaponsRobert Parry.) of mass destruction” is an example of a second branch. The story was relentlessly promoted by the New York Times, Washington Post and other mainstream media outlets during 2002 and early 2003 and formed the rationale for the U.S. invasion of Iraq.  But the weapons—first described as nuclear, then chemical—did not exist.  The entire story was manufactured by US intelligence agencies.

Or consider a third branch of this problem—the conduct of war.  Western mainstream news outlets have reported since mid-summer about the destruction of Syrian hospitals by Syrian and Russian fighter planes; it’s described as “a humanitarian crisis.” An alleged 90 hospitals have been destroyed in this way.

Problem is, the Syrian Ministry of Health is on record to the effect that Syria never had more than 88 hospitals scattered all across the country.  Syrian and Russian jets have been bombing a relatively small portion of Aleppo and a small province nearby (Idlib), where forces seeking to overthrow the government are in control.   It’s obvious that at least some of those reports have been fabricated.  And it’s almost farcical how often NBC has reported the destruction of “the last pediatric hospital in Eastern Aleppo."

In recent years of the war against Syria, Western media outlets have stoked anti-government sympathies by broadcasting videos of civilian deaths and injuries caused by Syrian forces or their Russian allies.  Many of these videos have been distributed by the White Helmets, a group of emergency first responders who operate only in areas held by the anti-government forces.  Recently, a media group working with the White Helmets was caught red-handed making a fake rescue video.

Here’s how CNN reported this embarrassment:  “It's a familiar scene: Syria Civil Defence, also known as the ‘White Helmets,’ rushing to rescue a man covered in rubble, but unlike thousands of other videos from Aleppo, this one is staged.” CNN doesn’t explain how it knows it’s only “this one.” Reporter Tony Cartalucci alleges "fake news" is a White Helmets specialty.

So we do have a big problem with fake news in this country, much of it published by mainstream sources and much of it supporting the goals of the empire.

With this as background, consider the attempt launched November 24 by the Washington Post to link alternative news websites critical of the US-led empire with Russia. Wrote Post reporter Craig Timberg, “The flood of ’fake news’ this election season got support from a sophisticated Russian propaganda campaign that created and spread misleading articles online with the goal of punishing Democrat Hillary Clinton, helping Republican Donald Trump and undermining faith in American democracy, say independent researchers who tracked the operation.”

You got it: according to the Post, Russia is the source of the "fake news" problem.

The Post's “independent” source naming problem websites is www.propornot.com. According to the Post article, it “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.”

Proceeding to www.propornot.com, we find this explanation of how the anonymous “researchers” compiled their hit-list.  “We have used a combination of manual and automated analysis, including analysis of content, timing, technical indicators, and other reporting, in order to initially identify (‘red-flag’) the following as Russian propaganda outlets. We then confirmed our initial assessment by applying whatever criteria we did not originally employ during the red-flag process, and we reevaluate our findings as needed.”   Huh?

Rolling Stone reporter Matt Taibbi calls the Post story “shameful and disgusting;” his story quotes Chris Hedges as describing it as “an updated form of red-baiting.” Glenn Greenwald calls the Post story a “disgraceful” attempt to “conflate criticism of Western governments and their actions and policies with Russian propaganda.”

Stay tuned.  This new campaign by the empire’s media agents isn’t likely to fade quickly from view. The empire, wounded by the defeat of its preferred presidential candidate, is striking back. See here and  here and here for more about that.

And yes, most of the news outlets often referenced in this website are being targeted.

You, dear reader, get to decide: will you follow the Post and obediently run for cover?  Or stick around and prepare yourself for the tough years ahead?