A few weeks prior to the November 8 Presidential vote, I began the draft of an essay expecting a future attack by the government on the First Amendment citing President Obama’s most recent mellifluous verbal assault on free speech as HRC’s campaign speeches indicated that protecting a diversity of opinion would not be a top priority in her Administration.
Now in retrospect, it appears that Obama and HRC were both, most likely in the loop and knew what was coming as they prepared the way with subtle (and not so subtle) references to taming that messy, wild. wild west otherwise known as the world wide web.
As a reminder, during the 2008 Presidential campaign, Barack Obama was touted as a Constitutional scholar explaining that “I taught the Constitution for ten years. I believe in the Constitution and I will obey the Constitution of the United States.” During that campaign, he pledged to end warrantless surveillance (Fourth Amendment), detention without habeas corpus or trial (Fifth Amendment), torture (Eighth Amendment), and excessive executive branch secrecy and not engage in an offensive war without Congressional approval (both Article 1, Section 8).
That the President failed in those pledges is not surprising just as he promised the most open and transparent Administration ever in American history luring the Dem-Libs into eight years of somnolent rapture. Instead, the President used the Espionage Act for his Administration’s aggressive prosecution of more whistleblowers than all other Presidents combined and its pursuit of longer jail sentences than any other President. There is also the President’s disregard for the Rule of Law with his publicly declared, predetermined guilt of Chelsea Manning in 2011.
During a visit to the White House Frontiers Conference in Pittsburgh on October 13th, the President, known for his smooth, glib reassurances so successful at placating the public, suggested that “we are going to have to rebuild within this wild-wild-west-of-information flow some sort of curating function that people agree to” and that “democracy requires citizens to be able to sift through lies and distortions” and further that “those that we have to discard, because they just don’t have any basis in anything that’s actually happening in the world.” The President continued that “there has to be some sort of way in which we can sort through information that passes some basic truthiness tests.”
The President’s statement does not adequately capture what democracy requires of its citizens and reads more like what George Orwell epitomized as ‘political speech’ deliberately meant to confuse and demean citizen awareness. What Obama failed to acknowledge is that every American has a right, an obligation as an engaged citizen to determine for themselves what is a lie, distortion or truth; that ‘fake news’ is in the eye of the beholder and what a citizen believes and what they do not believe is their business and requires no justification to the government or anyone else. Most importantly, it was the President’s obligation to say that with a tremendous divergence of opinion on the www, some of it wacky, some of it conspiratorial, some of it incredibly incisive and intelligent and important – all of it is protected by the First Amendment.
To briefly parse the President’s words, most of which are painfully obvious,
suggestions of a “curating function” as in some official government entity assigned for the purpose of “protecting” (“ added) the public interest and “some sort of way…sort through information that passes some truthiness test” are presented in the President’s usual folksy, innocuous dialectic used to serve the public pablum while a further shredding of their Constitutional rights slips by under their nose.
Fast forward to Thanksgiving Day, when most Americans were still slicing the turkey, the Washington Post found it the right time to publish a partisan-related article entitled “Russian propaganda effort helped spread ‘fake news’ during election, experts say” written by Craig Timberg.
What is especially curious about the timing is that Timberg’s article and the Propornot report were released within weeks of the imminent inauguration of a new President and that new President-elect’s name is included as one of the ‘bad guys’ according to Propornot’s YYYcampaignYYY. (see below)
One of the many problems with this article, besides the problematic First Amendment issues and journalistic standards of objectivity that Timberg’s reportage entails, is the weirdly anonymous nature of unnamed, non partisan ‘independent researchers’ (aka ‘concerned American citizens”). Timberg cited two tiers of ‘researchers’ who claimed that a “sophisticated Russian propaganda campaign” disseminating ‘fake news’ had found solace within the ranks of two hundred on line websites including “botnets” and “paid trolls” are “undermining faith in US democracy” and “embarrassed” Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton (HRC).
With a faux solemnity of protecting the nation at a time of great peril, the Post article assumes the validity of the ‘flood of fake news this election season’ as a given, with no critical analysis identifying what flood of fake news? How did that tsunami of ‘fake news’ get by me? Immediately, Mr. Timberg embraced the ‘fake news’ concept with no question as to its ‘truthiness” and accepted the fallacious notion that the Russians were required to provide necessary background information with which to create ‘fake news.’ Apparently the Post, Timberg and his secret grifters believe that none of the contributing writers of those two hundred websites, labeled by Timberg as “routine peddlers of Russian propaganda,” have the brains or initiative to create and research their own commentaries without being directed by some surreptitious foreign power.
Obviously, the issue is that any online article that dares question Obama or HRC’s proclivity for disastrous foreign policy entanglements or any disagreement with the established order’s agenda has been designated as a purveyor of ‘fake news’ generated by Russia.
The ‘researchers,’ according to Timberg, claimed to use “internet analytics tools to trace the origins of particular tweets and mapped the connections among social media accounts that consistently delivered synchronized messages” and that “exact phrases or sentences were echoed by sites and social-media accounts in rapid succession, signaling membership in connected networkscontrolled by a single entity.”
Citing RTNews and Sputnik as sources, what Timberg is suggesting is that a US online website specifically used verbatim language from RT or Sputnik in the text of an article – yet no examples, not one illustration of such journalistic defilement was provided.
Timberg and the Post had a journalistic duty to specifically identify the “origin of particular tweets” and follow that tweet to show exactly how that tweet ‘consistently delivered synchronized messages.” Further, the Post had an obligation to specifically demonstrate how ‘exact phrases or sentences were echoed ..in rapid succession” and ended up “signaling members in connected networks controlled by a single entity.”
Instead Timberg failed to conduct his own examination of what the “researchers” had claimed and did exactly what he was claiming the websites did which was to mindless publish someone else’s allegations without verification.
The fact that Timberg recited what he was told by the ‘researchers’ indicates he is willing to accept ‘fake news’ without checking his informant’s information – which proves the point that ‘fake news’ begins with those pointing the finger at others.
A closer reading of Timberg’s article however informs that, according to unnamed ‘researchers’, RT, Sputnik and other Russian sites used social media to ‘amplify’ stories already circulating on line and were able to identify ‘trending’ topics that “sometimes prompted coverage from mainstream American news organizations.” Sounds like the Russian media committed the grievous error of getting the jump on the asleep-at-the-wheel MSM.
Also the ‘researchers’ complained that “The speed and coordination of these efforts allowed Russian-backed phony news to outcompete traditional news organizations for audience.” Got that? “Outcompete traditional news organizations”. Again, MSM with egg on their face.
Of special interest was Timberg’s mention of “Propornot,” a group which, according to the Post, is a ‘nonpartisan collection of researchers with foreign policy, military and technology backgrounds” whose report would show the ‘startling reach and effectiveness of Russian propaganda campaigns.”
So while Propornot website has a list of two hundred websites and a list of nineteen chosen for special attention, no identifying evidence or proof is presented other than wild accusations and unsubstantiated fact-free assertions that any of these websites are ‘peddlers’ for Russian propaganda.
All this agitation might stir some real concern and downright intimidation if it were anything but sheer hogwash. None of Timberg’s assertions pan out as the nineteen websites selected by Propornot were not vetted as described above in this essay; that is connecting website text with text submitted by Russian spooks.
Upon visiting the Propornot website, the public is greeted with an eerily sparse home page reminiscent of something from post-WWII Russian KGB and a very bizarre introduction to “Your Friendly Neighborhood Propaganda Identification Service, Since 2016!” and no identified participants except comedian and satirist Samantha Bee, hostess for TBS’s late night news comedy program Full Front. Bee, who apparently agreed to be the face of Propornot is accompanied by two fully masked men who claim to be Russian hackers. Now right away, Bee’s presence confirms this is all a spoof, Timberg was tricked and this is all a Samantha Bee publicity stunt.
Except it is not. The Propornot Team calls on a disreputable Congress and a lame duck Obama Administration to investigate Russian manipulation of the US political process and whether the American public was deprived of information to vote in an “informed manner’. In other words, another attempt to scapegoat HRC’s rejection at the polls.
Perhaps the most malevolent element of Propornot is the YYYcampaignYYY where the general public is encouraged to cross the Rubicon to a fully totalitarian state by not only identifying Russian propaganda outlets but also those known ‘sympathizers.”
In addition, YYYcampaignYYY makes the point that no matter whether a citizen is knowingly directed or not but continues to ‘echo Russian propaganda,” their “willingness to uncritically echo Russian propaganda makes them a tool of the Russian state.” The threat here is that with Russia declared an ‘enemy” of the US, a citizen may be committing treason.
If there is any doubt whether the Timberg article and Propornot itself is a partisan effort, the YYY implication is that anyone “echoing a Russian propaganda line” such as those who speak “how wonderful, powerful, innocent and righteous Russia and Russia’s friends are: Putin, Donald Trump, al-Bashar Assad, Syria, Iran, China, radical political parties” will be considered tools of Russia as compared with those who speak “how terrible, weak, aggressive, and corrupt the opponents of Russia are: the US, Obama, HRC, the EU, Angela Merkel, NATO, Ukraine, Jewish people, US allies, MSM and Democrats” will be considered enemies of the State. Anyone with such information is encouraged to ‘come tell us at Propornot about it.”
Consider that Propornot’s YYYcampaignYYY identified President Elect Trump as one of the ‘bad guys’ who is, in certain circles, considered to be entirely too amenable to Putin while HRC and the Democrats who created the unprovoked attacks on Putin are the “good guys.’
Exactly what is the Deep State telling us?