The Truth About "Fake News" and “Useful Idiots”

In the United States of late 2016, it’s come to this: A patriot like our own David Stockman gets smeared as a “useful idiot” of Russian President Vladimir Putin on the front page of The Washington Post.

To be clear, David was not singled out in the Post story. But the story described “a sophisticated Russian propaganda campaign that created and spread misleading articles online with the goal of punishing Democrat Hillary Clinton, helping Republican Donald Trump and undermining faith in American democracy.”

The Post’s leading source for the story was a group of anonymous “independent researchers” who assembled a blacklist of 200 websites supposedly disseminating “fake news” and toeing the Russian line.

If you don’t wallow in mainstream media, you might not know “fake news” is a thing now… so here’s a bit of background.

In the run-up to the election, a handful of bogus news stories caught fire on Facebook and other social media. The most widely shared one was typical of the genre — an item claiming Pope Francis had endorsed Donald Trump. They originated with little-known and hard-to-trace websites with disparate names like Ending the Fed or The Political Insider or the Denver Guardian.

In the days since the election, the establishment media have flailed about in search of excuses that would explain away their catastrophic failure to anticipate a Trump victory. Thus, they’ve latched on to “fake news.” (TRUMP WON BECAUSE THOSE RUBES IN PENNSYLTUCKY AND THE WISCONSIN NORTHWOODS BELIEVED THE POPE ENDORSED TRUMP AND HILLARY SOLD WEAPONS TO ISIS!)

Enter the “independent researchers” who are linking “fake news” to any kind of dissent from the establishment consensus… and ultimately, to Putin.

The Post story leans heavily on an anonymous website called PropOrNot — as in “propaganda.” The paper describes the organization only as “a nonpartisan collection of researchers with foreign policy, military and technology backgrounds.” PropOrNot alleges the Russian disinformation campaign planted or promoted stories on Facebook that were viewed more than 213 million times.

PropOrNot assembled the blacklist that includes David’s Contra Corner site

The blacklist is a hodgepodge of Russian state media (RT, Sputnik), conspiracy message boards (Godlike Productions), neo-Nazi organs (Daily Stormer), progressive sites that criticized Clinton (TruthDig, Counterpunch), along with the Drudge Report, WikiLeaks, the Ron Paul Institute…

As Ben Norton and Glenn Greenwald observed over the weekend at The Intercept, the only thing these sites have in common is that they lie outside the narrow continuum of establishment wisdom that lies between Hillary Clinton on the left and Jeb Bush on the right.

But who’s behind PropOrNot? The Post does not say. Its origins are as murky as Ending the Fed. (Even more: In recent days, Ending the Fed was tracked to a 24-year-old Trump supporter from Romania.) The paper allows PropOrNot to hide behind the cloak of anonymity so it could “avoid being targeted by Russia’s legions of skilled hackers.” (YOU HAVE TO TAKE OUR WORD FOR IT THAT THESE PEOPLE ARE TRUSTWORTHY! JUST LIKE OUR ANONYMOUS SOURCES WHO SAID SADDAM HUSSEIN WAS BEST BUDS WITH AL-QAIDA!)

And what methodologies did PropOrNot use to create its blacklist and come up with that 213 million figure? Likewise, the Post does not say. On its website, PropOrNot describes its metrics as “behavioral” and “motivation-agnostic.”

“That is to say,” write Norton and Greenwald, “even if a news source is not technically a Russian propaganda outlet and is not even trying to help the Kremlin, it is still guilty of being a ‘useful idiot’ if it publishes material that might in some way be convenient or helpful for the Russian government.”

David Stockman’s Contra Corner? Check. Here’s a nugget of David’s we shared in The 5 Min. Forecast during the campaign, talking about Russia: “Neither America’s security nor its elections are threatened by a faltering kleptocracy that is just 7% the size of the U.S economy, and which has an annual defense budget of only $40 billion. That’s what Washington spends on ‘national security’ every 20 days!”

So if you’re critical of U.S. foreign policy — and David Stockman certainly is — you’re a useful idiot. If you spoke up during the campaign against Hillary Clinton’s rush toward a new cold war — as David certainly did — you’re a useful idiot. If you repost articles from other sites on the list — David shared many articles from Antiwar and Consortium News — you’re a useful idiot.

Oy. Antiwar and Consortium News both trace their origins to the web’s earliest days in the mid-1990s, when Putin was still deputy first chairman in Saint Petersburg. (THAT’S HOW DIABOLICAL AND FAR-REACHING HIS SCHEME IS! HE WAS LAYING THE GROUNDWORK EVEN THEN!)

But poke around long enough on PropOrNot’s website and you discover financial and economic criteria for inclusion on the blacklist, too — “stoking fears over the national debt, attacking institutions such as the Federal Reserve and attempts to discredit Western financial experts and business leaders.”

Heh… How did Agora Financial and The Daily Reckoning miss out? Heck, our fearless leader Addison Wiggin made a documentary called I.O.U.S.A. eight years ago that was all about “stoking fears over the national debt.”

Also meriting inclusion on the blacklist: “gold standard nuttery and attacks on the U.S. dollar.” C’mon, guys: Addison wrote a book years ago called The Demise of the Dollar. And our own Jim Rickards published The New Case for Gold this past spring! Why don’t we rate?!

Oh well — many other finance-oriented sites do make the blacklist, including the left-leaning Naked Capitalism and the sui generis Zero Hedge.

So it’s not all about Russia. It’s about dissent against the power elite.

We wouldn’t give two whits about PropOrNot’s list except that the establishment is taking it seriously (thus the Post treatment)… and PropOrNot is explicitly calling on the Obama administration and Congress to act.

On its FAQ page, PropOrNot says it is not engaging in McCarthyism. But a couple of paragraphs later, it makes this McCarthyesque accusation: “We strongly suspect that some of the individuals involved have violated the Espionage Act, the Foreign Agent Registration Act and other related laws, but determining that is up to the FBI and the DOJ.”

Hell, at least “Tailgunner Joe” McCarthy had the courage to show his face when talking about his list.

Here in The 5, we fretted during the campaign about how a Clinton administration would tar its critics as Putin stooges. And while a Trump FBI and Justice Department might not go after the sites on PropOrNot’s list… we can easily imagine Russophobes like Sens. John McCain and Lindsey Graham convening McCarthyite hearings come January. The PropOrNot “independent researchers” could testify with bags over their heads to conceal their identities.

And maybe — just play along with us here — they could hold up a prop to illustrate the dire threat Russian disinformation poses to the public. And that prop would be… a copy of David’s book Trumped! A Nation on the Brink of Ruin… and How to Bring It Back.


Dave Gonigam
for The 5 Min. Forecast

The Daily Reckoning