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Whatever Happened to the First Amendment? KPFA’s “Fake News” Pitch and the Ministry of Truth

Pacifica’s radio station in Berkeley, KPFA 94.1 fm, has been airing a pitch to listeners which contains the line: “There’s a lot of fake news, propaganda and misinformation emanating from phony media outlets.”  The reader of this pitch is the station’s General Manager, Quincy McCoy, who goes on to assure listeners that KPFA is a news source that can be trusted.  This pitch is played several times daily as part of a post-fund drive effort to remind listeners to please fulfil their pledges.

That line about “fake news” and “phony media outlets” is truly a strange thing to hear from KPFA.  The “fake news” meme comes from the corporate media which has even offered a list of hundreds of offending websites.  On Thanksgiving Day the Washington Post came out with a front page article titled: “Russian propaganda effort helped spread ‘fake news’ during election, experts say.”

The Post’s “experts” were primarily the “PropOrNot” team, who identified and named two hundred websites that, according to PropOrNot, “reliably echo Russian propaganda.” The targeted sites included not only left-wing, but also right-wing and libertarian websites.  Writers and editors of these sites are often guests on the various KPFA shows; many are persons who speak at KPFA sponsored speaking events.  These websites are, like KPFA, part of the alternative media which offers information that we don’t get from the corporate media.

So who are the “expert” investigators of the PropOrNot team, and what are their qualifications?  Nobody seems to know anything about them, other than that they’re an anonymous group with a name that’s quite a tongue twister and a website that apparently cannot be traced to anybody.  In effect, it’s a website that makes unsubstantiated claims.

Nevertheless, for a few days PropOrNot was echoed by the NYT, CNN, NPR and many other mainstream media outlets.  Fortunately, it was soon discredited by investigative journalists writing for the websites it attacked.  Among the most devastating take-downs of PropOrNot was one by Glenn Greenwald on the Intercept website.

Nor was The New Yorker much impressed with PropOrNot.  The magazine dismissed it saying, “its methodology is a mess.”

So PropOrNot was exposed as a hoax, a glaring example of a real fake news website.  However, it was a hoax that served the interests of the establishment, and many mainstream news outlets have continued the campaign against alleged “fake news.”  Congress has taken up the issue and written a provision into the 2017 National Defense Authorization Act, which will create a “Global  Engagement  Center” to “recognize, understand, expose, and counter … propaganda and disinformation”.

On December 23rd, President Obama signed it into law, a Christmas present for the next president — a MINISTRY OF TRUTH for Donald Trump to play with.

And now, as the New Year approaches, KPFA’s station manager is still making that same pitch to KPFA listeners, echoing the establishment’s campaign.  The full recording reads:

“Fear, anxiety, and confusion grips a lot of folks in today’s dark post-election world.  There’s a lot of fake news, propaganda and misinformation emanating from phony media outlets.  If you’re searching for truth, unfiltered news, in-depth public affairs programming, you can count on one independent radio station to do what it’s been doing for 67 years, staying vigilant as always, 94.1 FM, KPFA”

The manager’s message reflects the panic, the confusion, and the uncritical conformity which is rife among many liberals and progressives today.  Such feelings are quite understandable.  However, lashing out at alternative media outlets plays into the agenda of the neoliberal establishment and also undermines KPFA’s credibility.  Some of the station’s listeners have written to the manager, reminding him that the main source of disinformation is the corporate media, the ones who have promoted that PropOrNot blacklist.

Best to stay off of that bandwagon.  KPFA should be defending the First Amendment rights of all alternative media outlets.

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