u n c o v e r I r a q . c o m

[Written in response to a shadowy group's attempt to exploit the 'Russian fake news' story; published in the Minnepaolis StarTribune on December 10, 2016]

That story about fake news and Russia? Pretty thin gruel
by Drew Hamre

Two weeks ago, the StarTribune trumpeted a Washington Post story on page one (“Russia helped spread fake news”, Nov. 26). The story was alarming and circulated widely, yet was remarkably substance- free. As Glenn Greenwald of The Intercept paraphrased, “Some people who we won't identify, using methodologies we won't describe, created This Important Blacklist!” Derision among journalists was widespread.

Yesterday (Wednesday, Dec- 7), the Post finally appended a lengthy editor’s note to the story and opened distance between itself and the story’s chief source.

The story was centered on the work of an anonymous group who somehow flagged 200 sites across the political spectrum as purveyors of Russian propaganda. Basically, if a site met the group’s hazy criteria of publishing stories useful to Russia, then the site could be listed as warranting investigation by the FBI under the Espionage Act. Yikes.

The shadowy group had pitched their story to a variety of mainstream outlets without success (The New Yorker was among those who declined, and staffer Adrian Chen has since published a scathing post about the experience). However, The Post somehow swallowed the sinker and the hook.

The Post editorial statement half-heartedly defended coverage of the group, noting a) the paper did not actually publish names from the ‘list’, b) it did not vouch for the group’s methodology, and c) several sites have since been removed from the group’s list. In other words, the Post’s explanation looks remarkably like Greenwald’s original paraphrase.

Journalist Matt Taibbi lived in Russia for years (he gained renown in Yeltsin’s disintegrating Russia, leaving as Putin’s government consolidated power). Taibbi calls The Post’s story shameful and “astonishingly lazy”, observing we now have a President-elect that treats conspiracy-monger Alex Jones as a news source, while the opposition eagerly devours “Russians did it” conspiracy theories no matter how crude.

Shine, perishing republic.


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