by Gaius Publius
The outrage over “fake news” has exploded in an interesting way. First it was about “fake” sites — well-funded sites carrying entirely false stories, designed to game the Facebook algorithm to drive traffic and also, sometimes, political agendas. Did those with political agendas drive them effectively? The jury is still out.
But if you combine that element with the current Clintonist-driven hysteria about Russians hacking/interfering with the U.S. election (debunked here), you get an anti-Kremlin-cum-”protect our elections from fake news” amalgam that just begs for censorship lists.
The Washington Post has now “blessed” a censorship list put together by an entirely opaque, formerly unknown site called PropOrNot. Interesting that a site that strives for transparency is opaque — as you'll read, it won't name its director, its “researchers” on which its blacklist is based, or provide much about its quite fuzzy, easily finagled methodology. All of which makes the site itself highly suspect. Is its stated agenda its real agenda? I can't say yes to that.
In addition, by grandly promoting the blacklist-creating site, the Washington Post — which also will not reveal the sites director, identify its “researchers,” or clarify the site's methodology — is itself part of that opacity. All of which leads one to suspect that the Post itself has an agenda, which it too is not revealing.
An indication of those agendas, however, can be gleaned from the following. Here are several of the sites identified as “fake news” and “Russian propaganda” by PropOrNot and by extension, the Washington Post:
Black Agenda Report
The Ron Paul Institute
Before It's News (an aggregator)
Consortium News (Robert Parry's site)
Drudge Report (him too)
David Stockman's Contra Corner
Jack Pine Radicals (pro-Sanders site)
Liberty Blitzkrieg (sometimes thoughtful RW site)
Moon of Alabama
Nutrition Facts (really)
OpEd News (progressive aggregator)
Washington's Blog (progressive aggregator)
Paul Craig Roberts
The full list (“The List”) is here.
Who Is PropOrNot?
No one knows who's behind PropOrNot, outside of the Post perhaps, which isn't telling. From Max Blumenthal (my emphasis throughout):
A shady website that claims “Russia is Manipulating US Opinion Through Online Propaganda” has compiled a blacklist of websites its anonymous authors accuse of pushing fake news and Russian propaganda. The blacklist includes over 200 outlets, from the right-wing Drudge Report and Russian government-funded Russia Today, to Wikileaks and an array of marginal conspiracy and far-right sites. The blacklist also includes some of the flagship publications of the progressive left, including Truthdig, Counterpunch, Truthout, Naked Capitalism, and the Black Agenda Report, a leftist African-American opinion hub that is critical of the liberal black political establishment.
Called PropOrNot, the blacklisting organization was described by the Washington Post’s Craig Timberg as “a nonpartisan collection of researchers with foreign policy, military and technology backgrounds.” The Washington Post agreed to preserve the anonymity of the group’s director on the grounds that exposure could result in their being targeted by “Russia’s legions of skilled hackers.” The Post failed to explain what methods PropOrNot relied on to conclude that “stories planted or promoted by the Russian disinformation campaign were viewed more than 213 million times.”
As you can see, the group behind this site entirely hides itself. Ben Norton and Glenn Greenwald:
In casting the group behind this website as “experts,” the Post described PropOrNot simply as “a nonpartisan collection of researchers with foreign policy, military and technology backgrounds.” Not one individual at the organization is named. The executive director is quoted, but only on the condition of anonymity, which the Post said it was providing the group “to avoid being targeted by Russia’s legions of skilled hackers.”
In other words, the individuals behind this newly created group are publicly branding journalists and news outlets as tools of Russian propaganda — even calling on the FBI to investigate them for espionage — while cowardly hiding their own identities. The group promoted by the Post thus embodies the toxic essence of Joseph McCarthy, but without the courage to attach individual names to the blacklist. Echoing the Wisconsin senator, the group refers to its lengthy collection of sites spouting Russian propaganda as “The List.”
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.
Some of the sites on “The List” are indeed Russia-connected, such as Sputnik News, while others — most of the rest, in fact — are not. What's going on with PropOrNot? And what's going on with the Washington Post?
The PropOrNot Agenda
First, about PropOrNot's agenda. On the surface, it's blatantly anti-Russian. It's stated goal is “identifying and combatting Russian online propaganda.” But note this, from Blumenthal:
Among the criteria PropOrNot identifies as clear signs of Russian propaganda are, “Support for policies like Brexit, and the breakup of the EU and Eurozone” and, “Opposition to Ukrainian resistance to Russia and Syrian resistance to Assad.”
By these standards, any outlet that raises the alarm about the considerable presence of extreme right-wing elements among the post-Maidan Ukrainian government or that questions the Western- and Saudi-funded campaign for regime change in Syria can be designated a Russia dupe or a paid agent of the FSB. Indeed, while admitting that they have no idea whether any of the outlets they blacklisted are being paid by Russian intelligence or are even aware they are spreading Russian propaganda, PropOrNot’s authors concluded that any outlets that have met their highly politicized criteria “have effectively become tools of the Russian intelligence services, and are worthy of further investigation.”
So, is PropOrNot set up to oppose something, or to support something? In other words, are the site's proprietors as anti-Russia as they say, or are they anti-Russia as a way of being broadly pro-Western globalism (i.e., the globalist neoliberal project)?
If I were in the Pentagon, for example, and I wanted to propagandize for globalist Western corporate expansion through all of Europe and the Middle East — again, that's the global neoliberal project — I would publicly name the enemy as Russia (they are definitely anti-Western expansion), and then press hard to tar any publication that questions neoliberalism as a “pro-Kremlin fellow traveler.” Norton and Greenwald point out:
Who exactly is behind PropOrNot, where it gets its funding, and whether or not it is tied to any governments is a complete mystery.
I'll cite three indications that all may not be as it seems regarding PropOrNot's real agenda, then move on:
In light of the above, I'm more than suspicious. Someone — not necessarily someone in the U.S. government, but someone — is paying these people to tar anti-imperialist sites with a very broad, very black, very McCarthyite brush.
The Agenda of the U.S. Press
Now for the U.S. press that's promoting this site. The list of promoting publications isn't limited to the Post. Blumenthal again:
Though the supposed experts behind PropOrNot remain unknown, the site has been granted a veneer of credibility thanks to the Washington Post, and journalists from the New York Times, including deputy Washington editor Jonathan Weissman to former Obama senior advisor Dan Pfeiffer, are hailing Timberg’s story as Pulitzer-level journalism. “Russia appears to have successfully hacked American democracy,” declared Sahil Kapur, the senior political reporter for Bloomberg. The dead-enders of Hillary Clinton’s campaign for president have also seized on PropOrNot’s claims as proof that the election was rigged, with Clinton confidant and Center For American Progress president Neera Tanden declaring, “Wake up people,” as she blasted out the Washington Post article on Russian black ops.
It's not just the Post that loves this site. It's the New York Times and its deputy Washington editor; it's Dan Pfeiffer, late of the Obama administration; it's Bloomberg's political staff; it's the Center for American Progress and its president, Neera Tanden.
What interest could these groups and people have — other than the promotion of global neoliberalism and the Establishment “austerity for everyone else” agenda — in hyping the “Russia hacked our election” meme? Perhaps the phrase “Clinton dead-enders” captures it.
Now tie the two groups-with-agendas together, in a kind of Dick Cheney–Judith Miller way? Was PropOrNot created by the same people who promoted it to our mainstream press? Was it created just so it could be promoted by the U.S. mainstream press?
We have no answers … either way.
Will This Be a Blip?
One final thought. Will this be a a kind of blip story that comes and goes, that dies after one cycle? I don't think so.
First, the globalist push to advantage the rich at the expense of the rest of us will shift into high gear in the face of the current anti-Establishment, anti-austerity, populist pushback against it. Put simply, in the face of, frankly, the start of a global rebellion, our “betters” will not go down without a furious fight.
In other words, given the world-wide signs of rebellion against the global rich — Brexit, the Sanders campaign, the Trump campaign (or what it sold itself as), all the anti-”free trade” movements in Europe and the U.S. — the worldwide owners of wealth are certain to dig in their heels, even if it means sparking what looks like a very messy and confused civil war.
Frankly, that rebellion has already starting to look like a war, if you look at events like national, coordinated police raids against Occupy, or militarized state violence against the DAPL water-protectors in North Dakota. (Consider, by the way, how that violence will escalate under Donald Trump. Again, looks much like the start of a war.)
Second, it looks like PropOrNot, discredited as it now is, seems to be growing. It now offers a Chrome Extension that flags its blacklisted sites for you. I'm almost certain Twitter and Facebook apps will soon follow. Whoever is funding them seems to have thought through the next several steps, not just the first one that seeds glorifying stories like those in publications like the Post.
Yes, Russia is an enemy of freedom (as is China). But yes, so too is the globalized wealth regime, which wants every dime on the planet for its own. That global regime, by the way, includes the wealthy and powerful in both Russia and China. It's a three-handed bloody game played by the giants among us for wealth, power and prizes.
The rest of us, the non-giants — you, me, Assange, al-Assad, Ghaddafi; all the suffering angry in Ferguson, Yemen, Palestine, Saudi Arabia, Vietnam; the soon-to-be-drowned or driven-out Pacific Islanders and Bangladeshi; the refugee poor and middle class everywhere in the world — are simply caught in the net, either as prey, as collateral victims, or both.
What's going on with PropOrNot? Seen in this light, the battle among global giants for the wealth and labor of the rest of us, it almost doesn't matter. The people behind the site are playing a role in service to one of them — likely the Western giants — if not several.
Regardless of whose friend they are, however, PropOrNot is certainly not ours. We certainly don't need a wealth-serving, wealth-created enemies list. We can make our own.
“When fascism comes to America, it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying the cross.” — Sinclair Lewis