One of the weird effects of the 2016 election is how radical-left projects like WikiLeaks somehow became to be seen as so anti-Hillary they became pro-Trump. In that vein, the radical-left site The Intercept is ripping into The Washington Post for touting a report from a shadowy, supposedly “nonpartisan” group that asserts that Wikileaks, the Drudge Report, and other alternative media operations are easy foils for Russian propaganda.
Glenn Greenwald and Ben Norton's article was headlined "Washington Post Disgracefully Promotes a McCarthyite Blacklist From a New, Hidden, and Very Shady Group." They ably pointed out just how the supposed enemies of “fake news” at the Post are promoting bizarre conspiracy theories using overwrought numbers from a source that won’t identify its own authors or funders. When challenged, the Post refused any real comment.
Post reporter Craig Timberg's story appeared on Friday's page 1, under the bland headline "Research ties 'fake news' to Russia: Propaganda effort aimed to 'erode faith' in U.S. democracy, analysts say." It began:
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.
He promoted a group called "PropOrNot," described as a "nonpartisan collection of researchers with foreign policy, military and technology backgrounds."
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.
Some players in this online echo chamber were knowingly part of the propaganda campaign, the researchers concluded, while others were “useful idiots” — a term born of the Cold War to describe people or institutions that unknowingly assisted Soviet Union propaganda efforts.
When conservatives charged liberals and leftists with being "useful idiots," it wasn't normally characterized as "nonpartisan." Their Twitter account sounds as about as "nonpartisan" as....a snarky Post reporter who loves mudslinging on Twitter.
Greenwald and Norton pointed out "PropOrNot is by no means a neutral observer. It actively calls on Congress and the White House to work “with our European allies to disconnect Russia from the SWIFT financial transaction system, effective immediately and lasting for at least one year, as an appropriate response to Russian manipulation of the election.”
When The Intercept attempted its own interview with PropOrNot, they got nothing:
The credentials of this supposed group of experts are impossible to verify, as none is provided either by the Post or by the group itself. The Intercept contacted PropOrNot and asked numerous questions about its team, but received only this reply: “We’re getting a lot of requests for comment and can get back to you today =) [smiley face emoticon].” The group added: “We’re over 30 people, organized into teams, and we cannot confirm or deny anyone’s involvement.”
Thus far, they have provided no additional information beyond that. As Fortune’s Matthew Ingram wrote in criticizing the Post article, PropOrNot’s Twitter account “has only existed since August of this year. And an article announcing the launch of the group on its website is dated last month.” WHOIS information for the domain name is not available, as the website uses private registration.
More troubling still, PropOrNot listed numerous organizations on its website as “allied” with it, yet many of these claimed “allies” told The Intercept, and complained on social media, they have nothing to do with the group and had never even heard of it before the Post published its story.
After multiple groups listed as “allies” objected, the group quietly changed the title of its “allied” list to “Related Projects.” When Greenwald and Norton asked PropOrNot about this clear inconsistency via email, the group responded concisely: “We have no institutional affiliations with any organization.”
Timberg's story fails to mention any of the 200 Russian-enabling websites, including the Drudge Report and Wikileaks, as well as leftist sites like Counterpunch and libertarian sites like the Ron Paul Institute. It needs a site the size of Drudge to claim somehow, Russians could plant 213 million views of "fake news."
Greenwald and Norton also found Timberg to be tight-lipped about this story full of wild anonymous claims:
WHO EXACTLY IS behind PropOrNot, where it gets its funding, and whether or not it is tied to any governments is a complete mystery. The Intercept also sent inquiries to the Post’s Craig Timberg asking these questions, and asking whether he thinks it is fair to label left-wing news sites like Truthout “Russian propaganda outlets.” Timberg replied: “I’m sorry, I can’t comment about stories I’ve written for the Post.”
As is so often the case, journalists — who constantly demand transparency from everyone else — refuse to provide even the most basic levels for themselves. When subjected to scrutiny, they reflexively adopt the language of the most secrecy-happy national security agencies: We do not comment on what we do. (Italics in the original.)
They even got in the dig that the Post itself — now posing as a warrior against “fake news” — published an article by sports writer Cindy Boren in September that "treated with great seriousness the claim that Hillary Clinton collapsed on 9/11 Day because she was poisoned by Putin."
But Post executive editor Martin Baron underlined his support for those "independent researchers" Timberg's anonymously-sourced conspiracy theory on Twitter: