Americans need to learn what is really going on both at home and abroad
When the Washington Post reports about violent crime online or in its print Metro Section it generally does not include descriptions of the alleged perpetrator even when that individual is still on the loose and continuing to pose a threat to the general public. This omission is conspicuous, particularly when the story itself makes it very clear that the presumed victim got a very good look at his or her assailant and would be able to provide a detailed physical description together with an account of what the attacker was wearing. One might even suggest that the Post is doing the general public no favor when it censors its account, making anyone who might cross the path of the miscreant more vulnerable to also becoming a victim.
The Post edits its coverage because it clearly does not want to associate violent crime with any particular race even though, as every Washingtonian knows full well, nearly all violent crime in the city is carried out by young black males. Rather than providing a public service by identifying the perpetrator the Post chooses to say nothing to avoid having to identify the assailant as black. But the reader, aware of that reticence, consequently automatically assumes that the perpetrator is black anyway, making the paper’s attempt to avoid any identification of criminals by race instead create the presumption in the reader’s mind that every single one of the violent acts that occur in the District of Columbia is done by people of color. What is intended to shield blacks hardly does them any favors, quite the contrary.
Partially reporting straightforward stories for politically correct reasons is in my mind equivalent to the fake news that everyone has been lamenting. The general perception that the news is slanted or manipulated has fed the lack of trust in the veracity of what is being reported and is a major contributor to the decline in newspaper readership. The Post, which also recently featured largely phony major stories about alternative news sites being tools of Russia as well as a wildly inflated tale about Russian hacking a utility in Vermont, is particularly much given to making up its coverage as it goes along. Every page in the news section is in reality an editorial as the paper assiduously mixes fact with fiction together with a heavy dose of opinion. It is Orwellian newspeak at its finest.
Inured to the Post’s p.c. coverage of racial issues, I was nevertheless shocked by some of the recent reporting on an incident in Chicago in which four teenagers videoed themselves and broadcast what they were doing live on Facebook as they beat a mentally impaired man. An early media account of the incident appeared on Reuters but is no longer available. It was written by Timothy McLaughlin and had, as its second paragraph, “At least one of the attackers on the video mentioned president elect Donald Trump as he taunted the man but police stopped short of calling the beating politically motivated and said they are still investigating.”
From that, I assumed that the journalist was implying that the attackers were Trump supporters since there has been so much reporting lately of incidents at schools where white bullies allegedly cite Trump as they torment their black or brown classmates. Many of those stories would themselves appear to be extremely improbable fake news since the schools in question frequently appear to have highly vulnerable white minorities in the student bodies, but white-on-black violence is not intrinsically unthinkable so the story appeared to be at least credible.
But reading on, the article seemingly reluctantly produced some additional information. The victim, who was tied, gagged and beaten, “appeared to be white” while one of the assailants “appeared to be African-American” and was heard making comments about “white people.” The story did not link to the Facebook video, but BBC, among other sites, showed the video and was unambiguous in its labelling the four assailants as black and the victim as white, which anyone viewing the recording would have clearly appreciated. Subsequent news stories made clear that the expressions that were being shouted by the attackers included “F**k Trump” and “F**k white people.” The victim was reportedly beaten for six hours, cursed at, cut and otherwise abused. The live broadcast of the beating went viral before Facebook deleted it.
The media and Chicago police both struggled with whether or not the abduction and beating constituted a hate crime. In fact, they seemed eager to mitigate and even explain the impact of what everyone who watched the video could clearly see. One cop explained “Kids make stupid mistakes, I shouldn’t call them kids, they are legally adults, but they are young adults and the make stupid decisions… That certainly will be part of whether or not we seek a hate crime, determine whether or not this is sincere or stupid ranting and raving.” Another cop said “I think part of it is just stupidity. People ranting about something they think might make a headline.”
The New York Times dodged the bullet on what kind of crime it might be by describing it as an attack on disabled people without any racial or political overtones at all. So it was maybe just kids having fun and since it was black on white Wolf Blitzer won’t be flying in tomorrow morning to pontificate on what is wrong with Donald Trump’s America.
From my point of view, quite frankly who cares if the incident is or was motivated by hate as kidnapping and torture should be enough and the designation hate crime is essentially phony anyway. If an assailant hates his victim does that make the brutality worse? If you kill me because you are bored and are looking for something to do should you spend less time in prison than if you do so because you hate me?
Once the story was essentially agreed upon by the media and police, comments posted on the beating universally expressed outrage over what had occurred. Many of those posting their observations were themselves black, some expressing their desire that the perpetrators be imprisoned “forever” for having carried out such a horrific crime.
Reading my way through the comments, it occurred to me that the media and police department’s apparent reticence to report black on white crime with the same horror that it reports white on black serves no one, as it creates the impression that black criminals are somehow being protected or coddled even when it is clear that that is not the case. Decent, law abiding African-Americans, the vast majority, know that the end result of the politically correct news coverage of black crime is to make many white Americans even more suspicious of black behavior. So is it both fake news and highly damaging when the Washington Post and Reuters refuse to report a crime story honestly? It almost certainly is.
I grin daily upon rising when I hear the CBS Morning News proclaiming that it is providing “real news.” Charlie Rose and company are prime examples of America’s enslaved corporate media and wouldn’t know real news if it hit them in the ass. The news team has been leading off each day, for example, with a series of uncritical recaps of the various half-truths being promoted by the White House to indict Donald Trump’s relationship with Moscow, the biggest fake news story currently making the rounds. Professor Michael Brenner of the University of Pittsburgh has called the Russian hack the “most surreal and passionate work of fiction of the 21st century.” In the stories featured in the mainstream media there is a consistent presumption that the United States is somehow the victim and Russia the perpetrator of a horrific crime, meaning that the media has considerable difficulty in dealing with real situations that challenge the Establishment consensus. It finds considering the viewpoints of other countries objectively as problematical as it does in dealing with the issue of black crime.
What Russia’s crime consisted of, by the most damaging interpretation, was hacking into a private server belonging to a political party and possibly allowing the admittedly factual but embarrassing material obtained to make its way into the media. Excuse me, but that is what intelligence agencies do routinely to justify their multiple billion dollar budgets. The United States is the world leader in such activity as revealed by Jim Bamford’s books on the subject and also through the revelations obtained in the Snowden papers. Now Russia is being condemned for possibly doing some of the same, though no evidence is being provided, and the story is being framed as if we are by definition the good guys and Vladimir Putin is the devil incarnate.
What I am saying is that the United States mainstream media is the primary source of fake news due to its inbuilt biases on what is acceptable and what is not. It actually hurts black people by its attempts to be protective and its unwillingness to consider a news story through the eyes of the other party for chauvinistic reasons means that Americans are particularly uninformed about what is going on in the world. To suggest that all of this is particularly dangerous, both in terms of domestic tranquility and possible foreign threats, would be an understatement.
After the WaPost’s Latest Shot, It’s Time to Call ‘Fake News’ By Its Real Name ‘Weaponized Journalism’
Defying any sense of journalistic integrity and loyalty to the truth, the Washington Post did it again — publishing Fake News for clicks — which had the desired effect of worldwide outrage to suit a tightly-defined political agenda.
This latest astounding deviation from the facts, however, makes indisputably clear the weaponization of news. Journalists and media outlets make mistakes from time to time, but a pattern and practice of publishing unfounded, unverified, and fraudulent articles cannot be characterized simply as irresponsible.
We are in the midst of an information war of epic proportions — led haplessly astray of the truth with the Post leading the way — and it’s a dangerous and frightening portent of things to come, not the least of which will be propagandized truth and heavy-handed censorship.
On Friday, WaPo published an article claiming President-elect Donald Trump fired Washington, D.C., National Guard Major General Errol R. Schwartz — just in time for the inauguration — and that he would be forced to leave his post as soon as the president takes the oath of office.
But that isn’t true.
“My troops will be on the street,” Schwartz told the Post. “I’ll see them off, but I won’t be able to welcome them back to the armory.” He added he would “never plan to leave a mission in the middle of a battle.”
WaPo’s erroneous reporting included a statement from D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson, who lamented, “It doesn’t make sense to can the general in the middle of an active deployment.”
“I’m a soldier,” the Post quoted Schwartz. “I’m a presidential appointee, therefore the president has the power to remove me.”
But WaPo left out a number of critical points — and horrendously slanted the rest — about this “firing” of the head of the D.C. National Guard.
That D.C. position — unlike the equivalent for states — is appointed by the president, not by the Pentagon, as the Post suggested, nor by any branch of the military. Also, the article glaringly omitted any statement from the Trump transition team, an inexcusable offense, considering it later emerged Schwartz had been offered to keep his position through the end of Inauguration Day — it was Schwartz who turned down the offer, preferring instead to vacate the role at 12 noon, when Trump will be sworn in.
Of course, the blatant misinformation presented by the Post seemed so juicy, countless corporate outlets parroted the claim. Thus this Fake News rippled around the planet earning the scorn of millions who believed Trump must have lost all sensibility for firing a man who had diligently performed his duties since his appointment to the post by former President George W. Bush — during a potentially dangerous event.
This also spawned a number of rumors — with raucous protests planned for Inauguration Day, and the week before, why would the incoming president fire the man in charge of security? Isn’t this a preposterous decision on Trump’s part? What is Trump thinking?
Like previous viral stories — at this point, one would be hard-pressed to deem them ‘news articles’ — the Washington Post published faulty information and subsequently began backtracking.
Notably, in each case, after erroneous information went viral worldwide, edits after publication go largely unnoticed by most of the populace. While retractions and post-publication editor’s notes sometimes appear on WaPo’s articles they are orders of magnitude less popular than the original story and, in this instance, the firing of Schwartz story has only been appended in content — no editor’s note yet graces the top or bottom of the article. (The original version can be found here.)
Any news organization actually practicing journalism would tell you this is egregiously irresponsible.
Except, it’s beginning to appear the Washington Post publishes misinformation and Fake News intentionally — knowing any subsequent disputation of its claims won’t gather as much steam as the original publication.
A distinct reason exists why this would be the case — Brandolini’s law.
“The amount of energy necessary to refute bullshit is an order of magnitude bigger than to produce it,” Alberto Brandolini, an Italian independent software development consultant, keenly observed in 2013 — the Post knows this, and has been manipulating public perception exactly this way.
It was, after all, the Washington Post who initiated the altogether ironic war on Fake News — first turning from journalistic duty in the publication of several items blaming disinformation for the downfall of, well, nearly everything.
WaPo published an ‘article’ about supposed blacklist of over 200 outlets a nascent and seemingly prepubescent website, PropOrNot, had decided were Russian propagandists — linked either directly to the Russian government or had haplessly joined the effort by reporting Fake News during the election.
Literally nothing in that Post article was true. None of the claims were backed by evidence, no research or investigation had been performed, nothing. WaPo just printed the claims of PropOrNot and inserted plausible deniability by failing to link to the list or site. A subsequent retraction at the top of the page was akin to plugging a crack in a dam that’s already burst — damage to many reputable and award-winning outlets listed had already been done.
Additional stories from the Post — none including any proof — blamed The Russians for everything from meddling in the U.S. election to install Trump, to hacking into the power grid in Vermont. ‘We’re all in peril because Russia,’ WaPo repeatedly claimed — without so much as a shred of evidence.
In the middle of a major domestic crisis over the U.S. charge that Russia had interfered with the U.S. election, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) triggered a brief national media hysteria by creating and spreading a bogus story of Russian hacking into U.S. power infrastructure.
DHS had initiated the now-discredited tale of a hacked computer at the Burlington, Vermont Electricity Department by sending the utility’s managers misleading and alarming information, then leaked a story they certainly knew to be false and continued to put out a misleading line to the media.
Even more shocking, however, DHS had previously circulated a similar bogus story of Russian hacking of a Springfield, Illinois water pump in November 2011.
The story of how DHS twice circulated false stories of Russian efforts to sabotage U.S. “critical infrastructure” is a cautionary tale of how senior leaders in a bureaucracy-on-the-make take advantage of every major political development to advance its own interests, with scant regard for the truth.
The DHS had carried out a major public campaign to focus on an alleged Russian threat to U.S. power infrastructure in early 2016. The campaign took advantage of a U.S. accusation of a Russian cyber-attack against the Ukrainian power infrastructure in December 2015 to promote one of the agency’s major functions — guarding against cyber-attacks on America’s infrastructure.
Beginning in late March 2016, DHS and FBI conducted a series of 12 unclassified briefings for electric power infrastructure companies in eight cities titled, “Ukraine Cyber Attack: implications for U.S. stakeholders.” The DHS declared publicly, “These events represent one of the first known physical impacts to critical infrastructure which resulted from cyber-attack.”
That statement conveniently avoided mentioning that the first cases of such destruction of national infrastructure from cyber-attacks were not against the United States, but were inflicted on Iran by the Obama administration and Israel in 2009 and 2012.
Beginning in October 2016, the DHS emerged as one of the two most important players – along with the CIA—in the political drama over the alleged Russian effort to tilt the 2016 election toward Donald Trump. Then on Dec. 29, DHS and FBI distributed a “Joint Analysis Report” to U.S. power utilities across the country with what it claimed were “indicators” of a Russian intelligence effort to penetrate and compromise U.S. computer networks, including networks related to the presidential election, that it called “GRIZZLY STEPPE.”
The report clearly conveyed to the utilities that the “tools and infrastructure” it said had been used by Russian intelligence agencies to affect the election were a direct threat to them as well. However, according to Robert M. Lee, the founder and CEO of the cyber-security company Dragos, who had developed one of the earliest U.S. government programs for defense against cyber-attacks on U.S. infrastructure systems, the report was certain to mislead the recipients.
“Anyone who uses it would think they were being impacted by Russian operations,” said Lee. “We ran through the indicators in the report and found that a high percentage were false positives.”
Lee and his staff found only two of a long list of malware files that could be linked to Russian hackers without more specific data about timing. Similarly a large proportion of IP addresses listed could be linked to “GRIZZLY STEPPE” only for certain specific dates, which were not provided.
The Intercept discovered, in fact, that 42 percent of the 876 IP addresses listed in the report as having been used by Russian hackers were exit nodes for the Tor Project, a system that allows bloggers, journalists and others – including some military entities – to keep their Internet communications private.
Lee said the DHS staff that worked on the technical information in the report is highly competent, but the document was rendered useless when officials classified and deleted some key parts of the report and added other material that shouldn’t have been in it. He believes the DHS issued the report “for a political purpose,” which was to “show that the DHS is protecting you.”
Planting the Story, Keeping it Alive
Upon receiving the DHS-FBI report the Burlington Electric Company network security team immediately ran searches of its computer logs using the lists of IP addresses it had been provided. When one of IP addresses cited in the report as an indicator of Russian hacking was found on the logs, the utility immediately called DHS to inform it as it had been instructed to do by DHS.
In fact, the IP address on the Burlington Electric Company’s computer was simply the Yahoo e-mail server, according to Lee, so it could not have been a legitimate indicator of an attempted cyber-intrusion. That should have been the end of the story. But the utility did not track down the IP address before reporting it to DHS. It did, however, expect DHS to treat the matter confidentially until it had thoroughly investigated and resolved the issue.
“DHS wasn’t supposed to release the details,” said Lee. “Everybody was supposed to keep their mouth shut.”
Instead, a DHS official called The Washington Post and passed on word that one of the indicators of Russian hacking of the DNC had been found on the Burlington utility’s computer network. The Post failed to follow the most basic rule of journalism, relying on its DHS source instead of checking with the Burlington Electric Department first. The result was the Post’s sensational Dec. 30 story under the headline “Russian hackers penetrated U.S. electricity grid through a utility in Vermont, U.S. officials say.”
The DHS official evidently had allowed the Post to infer that the Russian’s hack had penetrated the grid without actually saying so. The Post story said the Russians “had not actively used the code to disrupt operations of the utility, according to officials who spoke on condition of anonymity in order to discuss a security matter,” but then added, and that “the penetration of the nation’s electrical grid is significant because it represents a potentially serious vulnerability.”
The electric company quickly issued a firm denial that the computer in question was connected to the power grid. The Post was forced to retract, in effect, its claim that the electricity grid had been hacked by the Russians. But it stuck by its story that the utility had been the victim of a Russian hack for another three days before admitting that no such evidence of a hack existed.
The day after the story was published, the DHS leadership continued to imply, without saying so explicitly, that the Burlington utility had been hacked by Russians. Assistant Secretary for Pubic Affairs J. Todd Breasseale gave CNN a statement that the “indicators” from the malicious software found on the computer at Burlington Electric were a “match” for those on the DNC computers.
As soon as DHS checked the IP address, however, it knew that it was a Yahoo cloud server and therefore not an indicator that the same team that allegedly hacked the DNC had gotten into the Burlington utility’s laptop. DHS also learned from the utility that the laptop in question had been infected by malware called “neutrino,” which had never been used in “GRIZZLY STEPPE.”
Only days later did the DHS reveal those crucial facts to the Post. And the DHS was still defending its joint report to the Post, according to Lee, who got part of the story from Post sources. The DHS official was arguing that it had “led to a discovery,” he said. “The second is, ‘See, this is encouraging people to run indicators.’”
Original DHS False Hacking Story
The false Burlington Electric hack scare is reminiscent of an earlier story of Russian hacking of a utility for which the DHS was responsible as well. In November 2011, it reported an “intrusion” into a Springfield, Illinois water district computer that similarly turned out to be a fabrication.
Like the Burlington fiasco, the false report was preceded by a DHS claim that U.S. infrastructure systems were already under attack. In October 2011, acting DHS deputy undersecretary Greg Schaffer was quoted by The Washington Post as warning that “our adversaries” are “knocking on the doors of these systems.” And Schaffer added, “In some cases, there have been intrusions.” He did not specify when, where or by whom, and no such prior intrusions have ever been documented.
On Nov. 8, 2011, a water pump belonging to the Curran-Gardner township water district near Springfield, Illinois, burned out after sputtering several times in previous months. The repair team brought in to fix it found a Russian IP address on its log from five months earlier. That IP address was actually from a cell phone call from the contractor who had set up the control system for the pump and who was vacationing in Russia with his family, so his name was in the log by the address.
Without investigating the IP address itself, the utility reported the IP address and the breakdown of the water pump to the Environmental Protection Agency, which in turn passed it on to the Illinois Statewide Terrorism and Intelligence Center, also called a fusion center composed of Illinois State Police and representatives from the FBI, DHS and other government agencies.
On Nov. 10 – just two days after the initial report to EPA – the fusion center produced a report titled “Public Water District Cyber Intrusion” suggesting a Russian hacker had stolen the identity of someone authorized to use the computer and had hacked into the control system causing the water pump to fail.
The contractor whose name was on the log next to the IP address later told Wired magazine that one phone call to him would have laid the matter to rest. But the DHS, which was the lead in putting the report out, had not bothered to make even that one obvious phone call before opining that it must have been a Russian hack.
The fusion center “intelligence report,” circulated by DHS Office of Intelligence and Research, was picked up by a cyber-security blogger, who called The Washington Post and read the item to a reporter. Thus the Post published the first sensational story of a Russian hack into a U.S. infrastructure on Nov. 18, 2011.
After the real story came out, DHS disclaimed responsibility for the report, saying that it was the fusion center’s responsibility. But a Senate subcommittee investigation revealed in a report a year later that even after the initial report had been discredited, DHS had not issued any retraction or correction to the report, nor had it notified the recipients about the truth.
DHS officials responsible for the false report told Senate investigators such reports weren’t intended to be “finished intelligence,” implying that the bar for accuracy of the information didn’t have to be very high. They even claimed that the report was a “success” because it had done “what it’s supposed to do – generate interest.”
Both the Burlington and Curran-Gardner episodes underline a central reality of the political game of national security in the New Cold War era: major bureaucratic players like DHS have a huge political stake in public perceptions of a Russian threat, and whenever the opportunity arises to do so, they will exploit it.
Gareth Porter is an independent investigative journalist and winner of the 2012 Gellhorn Prize for journalism. He is the author of the newly published Manufactured Crisis: The Untold Story of the Iran Nuclear Scare.
Faced with the reality that the elected socialist government of Nicolas Maduro has not been toppled by the highly unpopular opposition despite a severe economic crisis, corporate journalists have grown increasingly desperate for even the scantiest of evidence supporting their narrative of the country’s descent into apocalyptic ruin.
The Washington Post’s Ruth Eglash brings this pernicious race to the bottom to new, awe-inspiring depths.
In an article titled “Venezuelan Jews are moving to Israel to escape deepening poverty”, the Jerusalem-based reporter decries the shocking flight of Venezuelan Jews to Israel.
Just how many Venezuelan Jews constitute this mass exodus?
111, says Eglash, “more than double the number who arrived in 2012.”
Yes, you read right: 111 Venezuelan Jews emigrated to Israel in 2015, just about fifty more than in 2012 when there was no economic crisis and oil prices topped $100 per barrel.
Apparently, Israel is such a popular destination that Venezuelan Jews are packing their bags to move by the dozens.
However, 2016 appears on track to set records. Eglash quotes the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, which has reported aiding a whopping 90 Venezuelan Jews emigrate this past year.
Eglash goes on to relay the jarring testimony of Venezuelan Jews who decided to move to Israel. Daniel Ortiz complains, “There was no meat, no sugar, no pasta.”
Indeed Venezuela has been hard hit by a deep economic crisis triggered by the collapse of global oil prices that has seen soaring inflation and chronic shortages, leading thousands to seek work in other countries.
However, the Washington Post correspondent never bothered to interview any of the approximately 9,000 Jews who have decided to remain in their country in spite of the economic difficulties. Not all Venezuelan Jews, she may be shocked to learn, view Israel as a promised land “filled with social innovation and opportunities”.
“I don’t think Israel is a very good option for emigration,” says Jaime Palacios, a Jewish student at Venezuela’s state-run Bolivarian University.
Palacios is a native of the Caracas neighborhood of Petare, which is one of the largest barrios in Latin America.
“There [in Israel] there is no freedom of religion and we see how the Israeli government attacks their Palestinian brothers and maintains constant conflict,” he told Venezuelanalysis, referring to Israel’s military occupation and its repression of the rights of Palestinian Muslims and Christians.
Nonetheless, Eglash insists on the apparently horrifying proportions of Venezuelan Jewish emigration. She notes that “about 50 percent of the 22,000 Jews who lived in the country when Chávez came to power have left,” as if to imply that this outflow was brought on by anti-Semitism that she says was “widespread under Chávez”.
Eglash’s only source for this charge of alleged anti-Semitism against the Chavista government is the Anti-Defamation League, which last year denounced a Venezuelan magazine for printing a cover suggesting that Orthodox Jews were behind illicit currency speculation in the country.
It’s no secret that the Anti-Defamation League has a long track record of dismissing any and all legitimate criticism of Israeli colonialism as “anti-Semitism”.
For example, in a 2014 report titled, “Venezuelan Government Fuels Incendiary Anti-Israel and Anti-Semitic Environment”, the ADL castigated President Nicolas Maduro– himself of Sephardi origin– for calling the Israeli-occupied Gaza Strip “a huge Auschwitz” during the Israeli government’s 50-day assault that left over 2,200 Palestinians dead, including 490 children.
These dubious charges of anti-Semitism were also leveled against late Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez over his condemnation of US-sponsored Israeli war crimes in Lebanon and Gaza, as well as his government’s geopolitical alliance with Iran.
While anti-Semitism is real in Venezuela, the ADL bases their claims exclusively on the government’s political stance vis-a-vis Israel, rather than seeking testimony from any Jews who may have experienced discrimination in the country.
“In Venezuela, you don’t see a large amount of anti-Semitism, though this isn’t to say that it doesn’t exist. The Jewish community in Venezuela has won the affection of many people,” explains Palacios.
Sadly, voices like Palacios’ are notably missing from the accounts of establishment journalists such as Eglash, whose confirmation bias leads them to systematically privilege the perspectives of upper class Venezuelans, such as 29 year-old Reisy Abramof, who studied for five years at a US university before emigrating to Israel.
Once again we note that basic journalistic standards seem simply not to apply when it comes to Venezuela.
Any story about the South American nation– whether it’s the emigration of several dozen Venezuelan Jews or the government’s confiscation of 4 million toys– is seamlessly woven into a preexisting narrative of the country’s catastrophic, socialism-inflicted collapse.
The era of post-truth has arrived, and international corporate media– as Glen Greenwald has observed– are its greatest purveyors.
From ancient Hebrew folklore, the dybbuk is a demonic spirit that inhabits a person’s body and soul in order to get what it wants. American foreign policy is endlessly driven to search and destroy imaginary demons: Noriega, Milosevic, Saddam, Ho, Tojo, Nasser, Gaddafi, Lumumba, Castro, Osama, Yanukovych, and a host of others in its hit parade. Obama wouldn’t be fulfilling his duty as warmonger-in-chief if he didn’t submit at least one new person to the pantheon of evil nogoodniks. He found his dybbuk in Vladimir Putin.
Apparently, the Democrats and their partners within the Republican cabal, particularly McCain and Graham, believe that Mr. Putin qualifies as an evil spirit, a super dybbuk, who controls the destiny of American politics – and even the Vermont electrical grid. Anyone who questions this is simply possessed, which obviously includes the soon-to-be White House zombie, Mr. Trump. Playing on the old Western trope of the untamed Russian Bear, Obama has titled the Putin conspiracy Grizzly Steppe. In his last remaining days in office, the American president is hoping to create dramatic memorabilia, such as his expulsion of 35 Russian diplomats just before Christmas, to fill what would otherwise be a rather vacant Obama Library.
Unfortunately for the Cold Warriors, the Kremlin dybbuk responded by simply laughing it off as not worth responding in kind. Focused on his legacy obsession, Obama’s sour grapes is not only about his limited achievements and his party shamelessly losing the election to a crude, narcissistic, and inexperienced child-like politician but also about his loss of face in the Middle East conflict, where the Russians are scoring military and diplomatic points left and right. It’s also about Obama’s last ditch efforts to dispossess Trump of any legitimate power, employing well-tested Cold War propaganda tactics to try to break up any Republican policy consensus.
What is the basis on which liberals insist on depicting the Russians in such dark conspiratorial terms? First, the Cold Warriors assert that Russia is an aggressor, citing its alleged “invasion” of South Ossetia in 2008. On December 26, 2016, Dan Lamothe, a Washington Post national security reporter, and formerly an embedded journalist in Afghanistan, told viewers on C-Span that Russia is an imperialist state. His evidence? He claims that Russia “invaded” Georgia in 2008. Even the New York Times, a reliable echo chamber of the State Department, had to admit on November 6, 2008 that its earlier report (August 8, 2008) that Russia initiated the conflict in that autonomous region was false. There has since been a broad understanding among informed reporters, though not Mr. Lamothe, that it was the president of Georgia, Mikheil Saakashvili, who attacked South Ossetia and the Russian peacekeepers who were stationed there to prevent Georgian attacks on nearby Russian towns. Russia chased out the invaders and left South Ossetia with its autonomous status intact.
The leading German weekly, Der Spiegel, reported at the time that, according to the EU investigative mission head, Heidi Tagliavini, “It was Georgia which triggered off the war when it attacked [the South Ossetian capital] Tskhinvali.” Following the Georgian invasion, the pro-US Saakashvili increasingly came under internal criticism for corruption and authoritarianism and fled Georgia in 2013 while under criminal investigation. With the backing of Ukraine’s president, Petro (“Porky”) Poroshenko, Saakashvili briefly served as a failed governor of Odessa. Meanwhile, Georgia has stripped him of his citizenship.
The second broadly cited “evidence” of Putin’s imperialist behavior is the allegation that Russia “invaded” Crimea in 2014. This is another distortion, stripped of historical context, that typically ignores the referendum that Crimea held to separate from Ukraine and rejoin Russia, of which it had been a part for hundreds of years before Khrushchev gifted it to a Ukraine that was then part of the USSR. The circumstances of that secession vote was that it occurred in the aftermath of the US-supported coup earlier in the year that illegally and unconstitutionally deposed Viktor Yanukovych from the presidency and forced him to flee for his life. This began a series of reprisals by the coup regime against the ethnic Russian population, pushed by its neo-Nazi faction – reminiscent of the Bandera fascist movement in World War II that assisted the German military in the murder of millions of Ukraine’s Russians, Jews, Gypsies, and Poles. The March 2014 irredentist vote in favor of reunification with Russia won with overwhelming 97% support, with an 83% turnout. The Obama administration and its legions in the mainstream media, which condemned the “annexation” of Crimea, failed to explain how it was significantly different from the Kosovo secession that the US supported following the massive US and NATO bombardment of Serbia that ended its control over the province. Selective perception indeed.
The Cold Warriors didn’t stop there in outing the dybbuk. The clever demon, they insist, acted as chief opposition researcher for the Trump campaign. Everyone from Hillary Clinton’s campaign manager, Robby Mook, to Obama and Clinton herself, along with their pet media pundits and their yes men (and women) in the CIA, backed the claim that “Russian state actors,” working under orders from no less than the dybbuk himself, hacked Democratic National Committee and Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta emails in order to elect Donald Trump. Putin’s response was that if America’s elections could be so easily manipulated, it must be a banana republic. The Russian hacking story originated with “research” done by a group of private consulting firms attached to the Democratic Party. To date, neither the CIA nor the Obama administration has revealed any real evidence of Russian state involvement in the alleged hacking, nor have the mainstream media. The media’s lapse in not insisting on evidential confirmation raises the question of who are the real hacks?
The MSM won’t let go of the hacking story. Here is a sample of their headlines:
+ New York Times– Spy Agency Consensus Grows that Russia Hacked D.N.C.
+ New York Times – S. Says Russia Directed Hacks to Influence Elections
+ NBC News – Why Experts Are Sure Russia Hacked the DNC Emails
+ Washington Post – Russian Government Hackers Penetrated DNC, Stole Opposition Research on Trump
+ Washington Post – Russian Operation Hacked a Vermont Utility
On the last story, the Post later printed a brief retraction that first appeared within the reprinted original story itself, as if it were maybe a retraction and maybe not. MSM fake news is the new normal. Evgeny Morozov has written: “Democracy may or may not be drowning in fake news, but it’s definitely drowning in elite hypocrisy.”
What happened to the contents of the leaked emails? One of the significant revelations is that Clinton knew while secretary of state (she said so in one of her emails) that the Saudis and Qataris were funding ISIS, and yet she subsequently took millions from them for her personal foundation, which is an extraordinary act of corruption that would be tolerated in few countries that purport to be democratic. She also diverted millions of dollars she raised, supposedly for the benefit of Democratic state parties, to her own campaign. The leaks also showed that the DNC had sabotaged the Bernie Sanders campaign and were planning to further undermine his candidacy by labeling him an “atheist.” The Democrats and the MSM managed to bury these issues with a kill the messenger tactic and blocked the possibility of a serious party house cleaning. Blame the dybbuk.
One of the few politicians unwilling to join the anti-Putin chorus is Donald Trump, making him a prime target of the corporate mainstream media, which have abandoned all pretense of respect for the “canons of journalism.” The exaggerated efforts at depicting Trump as a puppet of Putin (the former “diplomat” Madeleine Albright used the term “useful idiot”) are laughable. But despite lacking any credible evidence, the thesis that Russia conspired to get Trump elected finds almost no resistance in the MSM or in academia. More recently, the press and later the official US intelligence report has launched a jeremiad against the Russian media, particularly RT (Russia Today) for its dissemination of “fake news” (confession: I’ve appeared on its English language TV news reports as a commentator multiple times), aimed at undermining the legitimacy of the democratic system in America. Hillary Clinton made much of the fact that Trump gave an interview on RT, but she neglected to point out that the program was hosted by long-time liberal and talk show pillar of CNN, Larry King. She also made the extremely graceless and undiplomatic comparison of Putin to Hitler, an insult not only to the Russian president but to the memory of the 27 million Russians who died in the ultimate defeat of Naziism.
The implication of these attacks is that Donald Trump is a fifth columnist president. On the other hand, Benjamin Netanyahu (another dybbuk), who openly campaigned for Mitt Romney in 2012 and met with both party candidates on the eve of the final 2016 presidential debate, is off the MSM hook on foreign political interference. And the patriotism of Republicans who brought the apartheider to speak in Congress without the benefit of a White House invitation is also not questioned. Moreover, as the Guardian’s Owen Jones notes, Americans should know something about election meddling “because they’ve been doing it for years.” Among America’s many clients, the Russian autocrat Boris Yeltsin was a beneficiary of US election intervention in the 1990s (with Bill Clinton’s strong support), funding him and supplying a team of American election consultants to get him elected, by hook and by crook, in 1996. Russia’s current prime minister, Dmitry Medvedev, at the time a close associate of Yeltsin, admitted that the election outcome was rigged against the real winner, Communist Party leader, Gennady Zyuganov.
All of this renewed Cold War anti-Russia hysteria can be seen to have core purposes. Most conspicuous is the devastating defeat of the Democratic Party in the 2016 elections, losing the White House and failing to take either the House or Senate, but also leaving Republicans fully in charge of 33 state legislatures and, over the past 4 election cycles, net gains of some 1,000 legislative seats, which makes Obama’s legacy look pretty shabby. The Democrats, from Obama on down, have refused to radically rethink their party’s institutional character and instead put failed leader Nancy Pelosi back in charge of the House minority and the Wall Street favorite, Charles Schumer, as head of the Senate Democrats. Strategically, American neocons, including the Clintons, see Russia as obstructing US global ambitions and demand nothing less than Russian obedience to Pax Americana. Third, the mainstream corporate media, especially the Washington Post, owned by the viscerally anti-Trump tycoon, Jeff Bezos, have hitched their wagons to an aggressive US foreign policy and the patronage of global Fortune 500 companies, including the petroleum and defense industries.
Before demanding a Trump exorcism of the dybbuk’s influence, one needs to ask, with a view to recent history, whether Russia is the aggressor that the establishment is making it out to be. Are Russian forces lined up along the US border, north and south, the way NATO is poised for direct intervention with bases across Russia’s “near abroad”? Which country has a history of arming the most repressive, jihadi-supporting states in the Middle East (Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Qatar), military dictatorships across Latin America and Asia, apartheid in South Africa and Israel, and regime change across eastern Europe? Which country has starved Cuba of basic necessities for 56 years out of revenge for instituting a socialist government that has won the support of nearly all of Latin America? According to William Blum, since 1945 “the US has attempted to overthrow more than fifty governments, most of which were democratically elected, and grossly interfered in democratic elections in at least thirty countries.”
Are the CIA claims about the Russian takeover of the American election to be believed, the same CIA that lied about WMDs in Iraq (Obama’s intelligence chief, James Clapper, being one of the fabricators of this, among his many official lies) and that country’s import of aluminum tubes for making nuclear centrifuges, Saddam’s involvement in 9/11 and his support for terrorism, Iraq’s alleged purchase of yellowcake uranium powder from Niger, the black site detention and torture chambers set up around the world for kidnapped Arabs and other alleged “terrorists,” Abu Ghraib, and a much longer list of lies and cover-ups serving US imperialism over its 70-year history? Why would political elites and the MSM assume, without seeing a shred of evidence, that the “Company” is telling the truth about the Russia “threat”?
The answer lies in the real objectives of US foreign policy, which are really quite obvious. The new Cold War serves US hegemonic interests in the Middle East, including the elimination of Assad, and in NATO-fortified eastern Europe, and its efforts to neuter Russia as an independent state. Its motives, however, are cloaked, as they always have been, in fake news about Russia, about Syria, and every other state that has pursued either non-alignment or active resistance to US domination. What the naïve believed to be an “information society” has actually matured into a propaganda society, adapting to the informational mode of production to create new platforms and techniques of public perception management. The latest effort in this direction is the Obama administration’s creation of the Orwellian-sounding Global Engagement Center, housed in the State Department, yet another propaganda apparatus (remember Rumsfeld’s bizarre-sounding “Office of Strategic Influence”?) designed to offset the real news in the world media that are critical of US militarist and regime change policies, including RT and Press TV.
Cyber security specialist John McAfee has publicly disputed the Russian hacking claims, arguing that anyone who leaves fingerprints on a hack that tracks him/her as “Russian” isn’t Russian: “if it looks like the Russians did it, then I can guarantee you it was not the Russians.” It should be plain enough that the real hack job is the one that the Democrats, including Obama, used against the Russians to refocus the story away from the party’s and Hillary Clinton’s foreign policy, election manipulations, and self-aggrandizing personal politics.
What the US government should be concerned about is the global perception, based on 2014 Gallup polling, that the United States is regarded as the greatest threat to world peace. The only way this perception will be altered is when the US disembarks from its unipolarism, imperialism, warmongering ambitions and dybbuk-hunting excuses for its foreign and domestic failures as a supposed democratic state. We can only hope that the highly unpredictable Trump tweetocracy keeps the warmongers in their harbors and steers the US in a less aggressive pattern of international behavior that avoids demonizing world leaders who challenge US global hegemony.
Gerald Sussman is a Professor in the Toulan School of Urban Studies and Planning at Portland State University. He is the author of Branding Democracy: US Regime Change in Post-Soviet Eastern Europe.
UPDATE Michael Cohen has now stated he has never been to Prague in his life. If that is true the extremely weak credibility of the entire forgery collapses in total. What is more, contrary to the claims of the Guardian and Washington Post that the material is “unverifiable”, the veracity of it could be tested extremely easily by the most basic journalism, ie asking Mr Cohen who has produced his passport. The editors of the Washington Post and the Guardian are guilty of pushing as blazing front page news the most blatant forgery to serve their own political ends, without carrying out the absolutely basic journalistic checks which would easily prove the forgery. Those editors must resign.
The mainstream media’s extreme enthusiasm for the Hitler Diaries shows their rush to embrace any forgery if it is big and astonishing enough. For the Guardian to lead with such an obvious forgery as the Trump “commercial intelligence reports” is the final evidence of the demise of that newspaper’s journalistic values.
I suspect that we are supposed to “conclude” falsely that the reports were written by Mark Allen at BP. Here are a short list of six impossible things we are asked to believe before breakfast:
1) Vladimir Putin had a five year (later stated as eight year) plan to run Donald Trump as a “Manchurian candidate” for President and Trump was an active and knowing partner in Putin’s scheme.
2) Hillary Clinton is so stupid and unaware that she held compromising conversations over telephone lines whilst in Russia itself.
3) Trump’s lawyer/adviser Mr Cohen was so stupid he held meetings in Prague with the hacker/groups themselves in person to arrange payment, along with senior officials of the Russian security services. The NSA, CIA and FBI are so incompetent they did not monitor this meeting, and somehow the NSA failed to pick up on the electronic and telephone communications involved in organising it. Therefore Mr Cohen was never questioned over this alleged and improbable serious criminal activity.
4) A private company had minute by minute intelligence on the Manchurian Candidate scheme and all the indictable illegal activity that was going on, which the CIA/NSA/GCHQ/MI6 did not have, despite their specific tasking and enormous technical, staff and financial resources amounting between them to over 150,000 staff and the availability of hundreds of billons of dollars to do nothing but this.
5) A private western company is able to run a state level intelligence operation in Russia for years, continually interviewing senior security sources and people personally close to Putin, without being caught by the Russian security services – despite the fact the latter are brilliant enough to install a Manchurian candidate as President of the USA. This private western company can for example secretly interview staff in top Moscow hotels – which they themselves say are Russian security service controlled – without the staff being too scared to speak to them or ending up dead. They can continually pump Putin’s friends for information and get it.
6) Donald Trump’s real interest is his vast financial commitment in China, and he has little investment in Russia, according to the reports. Yet he spent the entire election campaign advocating closer ties with Russia and demonising and antagonising China.
As forgeries go, this is really not in the least convincing. I might add I do not include the golden showers among the impossible aspects. I have no idea if it is true and neither do I care. Given Trump’s wealth and history, I think we can say with confidence that he has indulged whatever his sexual preferences might be all over the world and not just in Russia. It seems most improbable he would succumb to blackmail over it and not brazen it out. I suppose it could be taken as the sole example of trickledown theory actually working.
The United States has recently claimed the expulsion of 35 Russian diplomats from US territory as well as additional sanctions against the Russian state are in retaliation for what the Washington Post claims is “2016 election interference.”
In the Post’s article, “Obama administration announces measures to punish Russia for 2016 election interference,” it’s stated that:
The response, unveiled just weeks before President Obama leaves office, culminates months of internal debate over how to react to Russia’s election-year provocations. In recent months, the FBI and CIA have concluded that Russia intervened repeatedly in the 2016 election, leaking damaging information in an attempt to undermine the electoral process and help Donald Trump take the White House.
The “damaging information” that was leaked, however, was disseminated by Wikileaks, and likely the result of an internal whistle-blower, not Russian operatives. Questions surrounding the veracity of America’s claims are owed to a substantial lack of evidence provided by US departments and agencies involved in both the investigation and the punitive measures applied in its wake.
However, the US’ reaction to what it claims is “2016 election interference” could significantly backfire, since the US itself is engaged in very real, overt election interference globally, and for decades. In fact, even as the US berated Russia for allegedly interfering in America’s internal politics, its own organisations, including the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), funded by the US government, openly admitted they were leaking information regarding China’s internal politics in efforts to undermine Beijing.
In fact, NED and its subsidiaries (including the National Democratic Institute (NDI), the International Republican Institute (IRI) and Freedom House) as well as myriad fronts around the world these organisations fund, support and direct, are openly dedicated to manipulating foreign elections, creating US-friendly opposition movements and even overthrowing governments that impede US interests worldwide.
The New York Times, in fact, would admit in 2011 in an article titled, “U.S. Groups Helped Nurture Arab Uprisings,” that:
A number of the groups and individuals directly involved in the revolts and reforms sweeping the region, including the April 6 Youth Movement in Egypt, the Bahrain Center for Human Rights and grass-roots activists like Entsar Qadhi, a youth leader in Yemen, received training and financing from groups like the International Republican Institute, the National Democratic Institute and Freedom House, a nonprofit human rights organization based in Washington, according to interviews in recent weeks and American diplomatic cables obtained by WikiLeaks.
US interference across the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) in 2011 would eventually lead to regional war, the complete destruction of Libya and near destruction of Syria as well as regime change in a number of nations including Tunisia, Egypt and Yemen.
NED and its subsidiaries are also busy elsewhere. In Southeast Asia, NED backs opposition parties and media fronts in Thailand, Malaysia, Vietnam and the current US-backed government in Myanmar led by Aung San Suu Kyi whose political party and associated media organisations have been NED aid recipients for decades.
For nations in Asia like China, Malaysia and Thailand that still face significant pressure from NED-backed opposition fronts, the US’ current “retaliation” against Russia could serve as an opportunity to likewise “expel” those who could easily be characterised as “interfering” with each respective nation’s internal politics, and particularly, with elections.
Recipients of US aid (particularly media fronts) could also be dismantled under the same pretexts used by American and European powers regarding “fake news,” by citing Washington’s current actions versus Moscow.
While the US has little evidence regarding Russia’s role in leaking what were genuine e-mails revealing very real impropriety among American political circles, nations like China, Malaysia and Thailand have verified evidence that opposition fronts are funded, backed and even directed by US organisations like NED. What has been perhaps preventing these nations from dismantling these foreign-backed networks, has been the illusion of America’s pro-democracy stance. However, with the US now cracking down on whistle-blowers, opposition media and shifting tides amid American politics all based on allegations of “Russian” involvement, what is preventing other states from cracking down on verified US interference in their own internal politics?
The dark, infamous days of American lynch-mob rule and burning witches at stakes are back as never before. But not in backwater enclaves of benighted bigotry. Oh no, the modern lynch mobs are running amok in Washington’s seat of government, across prime TV and on the editorial pages of its supposed finest newspapers.
It is the effete, self-regarding ruling US elite who are acting like a murderous rabble. The hate-figures are Russian leader Vladimir Putin and incoming president Donald Trump. Both are being lined up to be lynched, one as a foreign enemy, the other as a traitor.
Lynch mob blood-lust is a mere finger pointed, the baying of deranged crowds and the stringing up of some unfortunate from the nearest tree without pause for a fair trial. «Guilty!» shouted with red-faced thunder is all that’s needed. And anyone who dares to question the madding crowd is liable to meet the same grim fate.
Public opinion in the US is being stampeded to accept as unquestioned fact that Russia «attacked American democracy» as Senators like John McCain are claiming on prime time television. Furthermore, Russian President Vladimir Putin is accused of being the mastermind behind the alleged cyber attacks, which supposedly subverted the US presidential election in favor of Republican candidate Donald Trump.
Incumbent President Barack Obama, the US «intelligence community» and a consensus of lawmakers on Capitol Hill are all asserting without a flicker of doubt that Russian state-sponsored hackers interfered in the November election. The US mainstream media have abdicated any pretense of independence or journalistic standard by rowing in behind the assertions, stating what are fundamentally tendentious claims as if they are fact. The word «alleged» before the words «Russian hacking» has been shorn from headlines and commentaries. The American lynch mob has decreed Russia as guilty. No due process, no skepticism, no verifiable proof, just stampeding group-think let loose.
Never mind that Moscow has repeatedly rejected the vapid claims, and has demanded verifiable evidence to be presented. Never mind that Washington has failed to provide any verifiable evidence to support its accusations. Never mind that several respected former US intelligence experts, such as William Binney formerly of the NSA, have come forward to dismiss the claims of Russian hacking as preposterous.
The inherent lack of credibility in Washington’s narrative was given a seeming fix when Obama ordered the expulsion of 35 Russian diplomats last week. The intention of the sanctions was to brand the word «scumbag» over the Kremlin in the eyes of the world, a US cyber security expert told Reuters. This is more of the same demonization-mentality that resulted in African-Americans being dangled from branches or suspected sorcerers being torched alive by self-righteous American christians.
A second seeming fix to the attenuated «Russian hacker» story came with reports of an alleged attempt to disable the US power grid. The CIA-linked Washington Post broke the story of an electric company in Vermont finding «Russian malware» on a laptop. The report can be quickly parsed as fake, but it seemingly gave substance to claims that the US was «under attack from Russia». Right on cue.
Russian President Vladimir Putin refused to be baited by Obama’s expulsion of diplomats by declining to reciprocate similar measures against US officials in Moscow. Wisely too. For such a response would tend to only lend credibility to what are otherwise baseless American claims.
More insanity to back up Russophobia is expected this week when shadowy «US intelligence officials» give «briefings» to President-elect Trump and members of Congress. The latter will inevitably be «wowed» by more of the same anti-Russian claims that the CIA has already inculcated the American mass media with.
Trump, however, is not such an easy pushover. He appears to remain skeptical about «intelligence» impugning Russia. Trump previously lampooned CIA claims as «ridiculous». Again this week he referred to the «disaster of Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction» when false US intelligence led to a decade-long war in the Middle East country, the death of over a million people and the unleashing of jihadist terrorism across the globe.
To browbeat Trump into joining the lynch mob to hang Putin and Russia, the US media are blatantly setting him as a «traitor» if he doesn’t comply.
Referring to his forthcoming presidential inauguration, the New York Times editorial board demanded: «In less than a month, Mr Trump will have to decide whether he stands with his democratic allies on Capitol Hill or his authoritarian friend in the Kremlin».
The editors at the Washington Post continued the treason theme, making the reckless claim that Russia had perpetrated a «Cyber Pearl Harbor» on the US. The newspaper then went on to note Trump’s «odd behavior in the face of a clear threat from Russia». The Post insinuated that Trump was putting alleged personal business interests with Russia ahead of patriotic duty.
Another report in the New York Times quoted various pundits claiming that Trump is undermining national security by being friendly towards Russia and expressing his skepticism towards US intelligence.
One senior lawmaker, Democrat Representative Adam Schiff called on Trump «to stop denigrating» US secret services.
Moreover, if veteran Republican Senator John McCain is allowed to assert on CNN that Russian cyber attacks are an «act of war» – then, it follows according to this warped logic, that Trump is in bed with the enemy.
This embodies lynch mob rule rolled into burning witches at Salem along with McCarthyite Red Scaremongering.
Trump is effectively being noosed with claims that he is a Russian stooge and a traitor to his country. Claims that are in turn based on unfounded, hysterical allegations that Russia has «attacked our nation». All that’s missing here are effigies of Putin and Trump being set alight on Capitol Hill.
What this represents is a profound degeneration in American democracy. Rumor, speculation and propaganda have become the currency of US public discourse, ranging from the supposedly highest office of the White House to the legislative branch of government – and all reinforced by a supine media.
Anyone who shows the slightest dissent from the stampeding mentality to lynch Russia is also liable to be lynched. The fate of Donald Trump is in the balance.
The irony in all this is that it is not some external enemy who is eroding American democracy. It is its own political establishment that is throttling the supposed pillars of democracy.
Whenever two of its purported leading newspapers are openly accusing the next president of «treason» – based on fabricated accusations – then it is a clear sign that American democracy has indeed become condemned.
It was well established in 2016 that most things that go wrong in the world are Russia’s fault — but last week the Washington Post decided to really close the year out with a bang.
The Post, which openly aspires to become the “new paper of record,” published a story claiming that Russian hackers penetrated the US power grid through a utility in Vermont.
There was no ambiguity whatsoever in the headline. Russian hackers penetrated a US electricity grid, according to officials. Scary stuff, right? The only problem was, the central claim of the story was entirely made up.
In a deconstruction of the Post’s piece for The Intercept, Glenn Greenwald clarified the most basic facts, which the Post’s journalists and editors somehow failed to do: There was no Russian penetration of the US power grid. In fact, there was no penetration of the US power grid at all.
Burlington Electric public utility received a standard notice (sent to all utility companies) about a malware code which had also been found in the Democratic National Committee system (also reportedly hacked by the Russians).
Burlington Electric then searched its computers and found the code in one laptop which was not connected to the power grid. And that’s pretty much it.
According to Greenwald, the Post journalists didn’t even perform their most basic duty to contact the company before publishing their alarmist article, forcing the company to later issue its own statement clarifying what had happened— or, technically, what had not happened.
“Media reports stating that Burlington Electric was hacked or that the electric grid was breached are false,” the company said on its website.
But by then the fake story was already out there. Other outlets had picked the news up and enthusiastically repeated the latest claims of evil Russian meddling. Politicians made dramatic statements about how there must be a response to such grievous Russian interference.
Vermont’s governor for example, issued a restrained and careful statement telling “Vermonters and all Americans” they should be “alarmed and outraged” to have one of the world’s “leading thugs” Vladimir Putin hacking into their electricity grid.
Eventually the Post attached a correction to the top of their story, which reads: “An earlier version of this story incorrectly said that Russian hackers had penetrated the U.S. electric grid. Authorities say there is no indication of that so far. The computer at Burlington Electric that was hacked was not attached to the grid.”
That at least clears up the fact that their central piece of ‘news’ was a lie, but the headline on the Post’s piece still dramatically claims that a “Russian operation” was responsible for the hacking.
In fact, there is no evidence to suggest that a “Russian operation” was responsible for infecting the laptop. Yes, the malware was “Russian-made” but that doesn’t mean “the Russians” used it.
Malware can be bought and sold by anyone — and as Greenwald points out, assuming the users in this instance were Russian would be like finding a Kalashnikov at a murder scene and assuming the killer was Russian. That would be a pretty irresponsible claim to make — and so were the Post’s claims, but we’re apparently living in a media environment that permits the publishing of any absurdity so long as “the Russians” come out looking evil.
How does this happen? How is it taken so lightly in a media environment that is apparently obsessed with the perils of “fake news” distorting reality? Publishing outrageous claims about Russia — which later turn out to be false or evidence-less — is becoming something of a habit for Western journalists. To compound the problem, there is practically no comeuppance when they get something wrong, either by negligence or intention.
Once the story is out there it grows legs and thousands of people —hundreds of thousands even — believe it before the offending publication ever slaps a by-then useless correction onto it. This is exactly how fake news spreads regardless of who is spreading it.
It doesn’t matter if it’s a pro-Trump fake news operation run by Moldovan teenagers or if it’s the Washington Post. It happens the same way. The difference is that journalists at the Washington Post are supposed to be held to some basic journalistic standards. In this case, a simple call to Burlington Electric would have saved them considerable time and embarrassment.
Maybe even as bad as the story itself was some of the reaction. In a piece covering the controversy, instead of criticizing the Post’s fear-mongering article, one Newsweek journalist called those who questioned the false claims “Russia apologists”.
Worse still, the author suggested the skepticism surrounding the story could have been Donald Trump’s fault because he has refused to blame Russia for the hacks/leaks at the DNC. But the skepticism surrounding the story existed because it was untrue and it has nothing whatsoever to do with the author’s desire to insert a bit of superfluous Trump bashing into his piece.
The piece went on to admit the Washington Post “went too far in its reporting,” which is an odd way of saying the Post made stuff up and published it. The author also admitted that Greenwald raised “fair and important criticisms” about the Post, but questioned his motivations by pointing out that he has been skeptical of other Russia hacking stories too, as if that somehow invalidates his current skepticism.
In other words, the Newsweek piece was one step away from calling Greenwald himself a Kremlin agent.
The author ends on a pessimistic note, worrying that in the current media and political climate, “snide Russia apologists” are unlikely to “retreat” any time soon, continuing to lay the greater portion of his criticisms on those who were right (the Russia “apologists”) rather than those who were wrong (the Post’s journalists).
The Post’s story did have one good use, however. It was perhaps the best and clearest indication yet of just how little time and effort goes into much mainstream US media reporting when Russia is the subject.
Journalists who care more about facts than propelling and compounding easy narratives should take heed and treat the Post’s latest mistake as a cautionary tale.
Sound absurd? It is, part of intense Russia bashing, a political and economic assault, risking something more serious.
On New Year’s eve, the neocon/CIA-connected Washington Post published an updated version of its previous fake news story.
The earlier version claimed Russian hackers penetrated the US electric grid – a Big Lie. The new version says it hacked a Vermont utility, citing the usual unnamed US sources – another Big Lie.
WaPo : “(T)he discovery underscores the vulnerabilities of the nation’s electrical grid. And it raises fears in the US government that Russian government hackers are actively trying to penetrate the grid to carry out potential attacks.”
Fact: As usual, when it comes to bashing Russia, claims aren’t backed by verifiable evidence, just fear-mongering hyperbole – media scoundrels like WaPo repeating it without due diligence checking for veracity.
Russia poses no threat to any country – not to America, its electricity grid, Vermont or any other state, city or federal operation.
Claiming it was fake news like all other anti-Russia accusations, not a shred of evidence supporting them.
Claiming “(a) code associated with the Russian hacking operation dubbed Grizzly Steppe by the Obama administration has been detected within the system of a Vermont utility” was willful deception.
Cybersecurity specialists said the code wasn’t Russian. It was an outdated Ukrainian hacking tool. On Friday, Burlington Electric said the malware code was detected during a single laptop scan not connected to its power grid.
A company statement said “(w)e took immediate action to isolate the laptop and alerted federal officials of this finding.”
“Our team is working with federal officials to trace this malware and prevent any other attempts to infiltrate utility systems. We have briefed state officials and will support the investigation fully.”
Blaming Russia for hyped incidents is the usual knee-jerk response, part of longstanding bashing, ongoing now to pressure Trump against normalizing ties, including cooperating with Putin in combating terrorism.
A report on the Vermont incident by cybersecurity firm Wordfence said alleged originating IP addresses provided by US agencies “don’t appear to provide any association with Russia.” They’re “probably used by a wide range of other malicious actors.”
Vermonters can relax. So can Americans in the other 49 states. The Russians aren’t coming. No Russian cyber or other attacks loom.
Claims otherwise are fabricated for political reasons – not legitimate ones.
Stephen Lendman can be reached at email@example.com. His new book as editor and contributor is titled Flashpoint in Ukraine: How the US Drive for Hegemony Risks WW III.
In the world of climate science, the skeptics are coming in from the cold.
Researchers who see global warming as something less than a planet-ending calamity believe the incoming Trump administration may allow their views to be developed and heard. This didn’t happen under the Obama administration, which denied that a debate even existed. Now, some scientists say, a more inclusive approach – and the billions of federal dollars that might support it – could be in the offing.
“Here’s to hoping the Age of Trump will herald the demise of climate change dogma, and acceptance of a broader range of perspectives in climate science and our policy options,” Georgia Tech scientist Judith Curry wrote this month at her popular Climate Etc. blog.
William Happer, professor emeritus of physics at Princeton University and a member of the National Academy of Sciences, is similarly optimistic. “I think we’re making progress,” Happer said. “I see reassuring signs.”
Despite harsh criticism of their contrarian views, a few scientists like Happer and Curry have pointed to evidence that global warming is less pronounced than predicted. They have also argued that this slighter warming would bring positive developments along with problems. For the first time in years, skeptics believe they can find a path out of the wilderness into which they’ve been cast by the “scientific consensus.” As much as they desire a more open-minded reception by their colleagues, they are hoping even more that the spigot of government research funding – which dwarfs all other sources – will trickle their way.
President-elect Donald Trump, who has called global warming a “hoax,” has chosen for key cabinet posts men whom the global warming establishment considers lapdogs of the oil and gas industry: former Texas Gov. Rick Perry to run the Energy Department; Attorney General Scott Pruitt of Oklahoma to run the Environmental Protection Agency; and Exxon chief executive Rex Tillerson as secretary of state.
But while general policy may be set at the cabinet level, significant and concrete changes would likely be spelled out below those three – among the very bureaucrats the Trump transition team might have had in mind when, in a move some saw as intimidation, it sent a questionnaire to the Energy Department this month (later disavowed) trying to determine who worked on global warming.
It isn’t certain that federal employees working in various environmental or energy sector-related agencies would willingly implement rollbacks of regulations, let alone a redirection of scientific climate research, but the latter prospect heartens the skeptical scientists. They cite an adage: You only get answers to the questions you ask.
“In reality, it’s the government, not the scientists, that asks the questions,” said David Wojick, a longtime government consultant who has closely tracked climate research spending since 1992. If a federal agency wants models that focus on potential sea-level rise, for example, it can order them up. But it can also shift the focus to how warming might boost crop yields or improve drought resistance.
While it could take months for such expanded fields of research to emerge, a wider look at the possibilities excites some scientists. Happer, for one, feels emboldened in ways he rarely has throughout his career because, for many years, he knew his iconoclastic climate conclusions would hurt his professional prospects.
When asked if he would voice dissent on climate change if he were a younger, less established physicist, he said: “Oh, no, definitely not. I held my tongue for a long time because friends told me I would not be elected to the National Academy of Sciences if I didn’t toe the alarmists’ company line.”
That sharp disagreements are real in the field may come as a shock to many people, who are regularly informed that climate science is settled and those who question this orthodoxy are akin to Holocaust deniers. Nevertheless, new organizations like the CO2 Coalition, founded in 2015, suggest the debate is more evenly matched intellectually than is commonly portrayed. In addition to Happer, the CO2 Coalition’s initial members include scholars with ties to world-class institutions like MIT, Harvard and Rockefeller University. The coalition also features members of the American Geophysical Union and the American Meteorology Society, along with policy experts from the Manhattan Institute, the George C. Marshall Institute and Tufts University’s Fletcher School.
With such voices joining in, the debate over global warming might shift. Until now, it’s normally portrayed as enlightened scholars vs. anti-science simpletons. A more open debate could shift the discussion to one about global warming’s extent and root causes.
Should a scientific and research funding realignment occur, it could do more than shatter what some see as an orthodoxy stifling free inquiry. Bjorn Lomborg, who has spent years analyzing potential solutions to global warming, believes that a more expansive outlook toward research is necessary because too much government funding has become expensive and ineffective corporate welfare. Although not a natural scientist, the social scientist Lomborg considers climate change real but not cataclysmic.
“Maybe now we’ll have a smarter conversation about what actually works,” Lomborg told RealClearInvestigations. “What has been proposed costs a fortune and does very little. With more space opening up, we can invest more into research and development into green energy. We don’t need subsidies to build something. They’ve been throwing a lot of money at projects that supposedly will cut carbon emissions but actually accomplish very little. That’s not a good idea. The funding should go to universities and research institutions; you don’t need to give it to companies to do it.”
Such new opportunities might, in theory, calm a field tossed by acrimony and signal a détente in climate science. Yet most experts are skeptical that a kumbaya moment is at hand. The mutual bitterness instilled over the years, the research money at stake, and the bristling hostility toward Trump’s appointees could actually exacerbate tensions.
“I think that the vast ‘middle’ will want and seek a more collegial atmosphere,” Georgia Tech’s Curry told RealClearInvestigations. “But there will be some hardcore people (particularly on the alarmed side) whose professional reputation, funding, media exposure, influence etc. depends on cranking up the alarm.”
Michael E. Mann, another climate change veteran, is also doubtful about a rapprochement. Mann, director of the Earth System Science Center at Penn State and author of the “hockey stick” graph, which claims a sharp uptick in global temperatures over the past century, believes ardently that global warming is a dire threat. He concluded a Washington Post op-ed this month with this foreboding thought: “The fate of the planet hangs in the balance.” Mann acknowledges a brutal war of words has engulfed climate science. But in an e-mail exchange with RealClearInvestigations, he blamed opponents led by “the Koch brothers” for the polarization.
Mann did hint, however, there may be some room for discussion.
“In that poisonous environment it is difficult to have the important, more nuanced and worthy debate about what to do about the problem,” he wrote. “There are Republicans like Arnold Schwarzenegger, Bob Inglis and George Shultz trying to create space for that discussion, and that gives me hope. But given that Donald Trump is appointing so many outright climate deniers to key posts in this administration, I must confess that I – and many of my fellow scientists – are rather concerned.”
Neither side of the debate has been immune from harsh and sinister attacks. Happer said he stepped down from the active faculty at Princeton in part “to deal with all this craziness.” Happer and Mann, like several other climate scientists, have gotten death threats. They provided RealClearInvestigations with some of the e-mails and voice messages they have received.
“You are an educated Nazi and should hang from the neck,” a critic wrote Happer in October 2014.
“You and your colleagues who have promoted this scandal ought to be shot, quartered and fed to the pigs along with your whole damn families,” one e-mailed Mann in Dec. 2009.
Similar threats have bedeviled scientists and writers across the climate research spectrum, from Patrick Michaels, a self-described “lukewarmer” who dealt with death threats at the University of Virginia before moving to the Cato Institute, to Rajendra Pachauri, who protested anonymous death threats while heading the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).
Putting such ugliness aside, some experts doubt that the science will improve even if the Trump administration asks new research questions and funding spreads to myriad proposals. Richard Lindzen, the Alfred P. Sloan Professor of Meteorology at MIT and a member of the National Academy of Sciences who has long questioned climate change orthodoxy, is skeptical that a sunnier outlook is upon us.
“I actually doubt that,” he said. Even if some of the roughly $2.5 billion in taxpayer dollars currently spent on climate research across 13 different federal agencies now shifts to scientists less invested in the calamitous narrative, Lindzen believes groupthink has so corrupted the field that funding should be sharply curtailed rather than redirected.
“They should probably cut the funding by 80 to 90 percent until the field cleans up,” he said. “Climate science has been set back two generations, and they have destroyed its intellectual foundations.”
The field is cluttered with entrenched figures who must toe the established line, he said, pointing to a recent congressional report that found the Obama administration got a top Department of Energy scientist fired and generally intimidated the staff to conform with its politicized position on climate change.
“Remember this was a tiny field, a backwater, and then suddenly you increased the funding to billions and everyone got into it,” Lindzen said. “Even in 1990 no one at MIT called themselves a ‘climate scientist,’ and then all of a sudden everyone was. They only entered it because of the bucks; they realized it was a gravy train. You have to get it back to the people who only care about the science.”
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.