Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Progressive Perspectives on "Fake News" and the Alleged Interference by Russia in the U.S. Presidential Election

Is the mainstream corporate media's peddling of the story of Russian interference in the recent U.S. presidential election in favor of Donald Trump a prime example of "fake news"?

And what exactly is meant by "fake news"?

Following is a compilation of progressive perspectives on both of these important questions.


The phrase “fake news” has exploded in usage since the election, but the term is similar to other malleable political labels such as “terrorism” and “hate speech”; because the phrase lacks any clear definition, it is essentially useless except as an instrument of propaganda and censorship. The most important fact to realize about this new term: Those who most loudly denounce Fake News are typically those most aggressively disseminating it.

One of the most egregious examples was the recent Washington Post article hyping a new anonymous group and its disgusting blacklist of supposedly pro-Russia news outlets — a shameful article mindlessly spread by countless journalists who love to decry Fake News, despite the Post article itself being centrally based on Fake News. (The Post this week finally added a lame editor’s note acknowledging these critiques; the Post editors absurdly claimed that they did not mean to “vouch for the validity” of the blacklist even though the article’s key claims were based on doing exactly that).

Now we have an even more compelling example. Back in October, when WikiLeaks was releasing emails from the John Podesta archive, Clinton campaign officials and their media spokespeople adopted a strategy of outright lying to the public, claiming — with no basis whatsoever — that the emails were doctored or fabricated and thus should be ignored. That lie — and that is what it was: a claim made with knowledge of its falsity or reckless disregard for its truth — was most aggressively amplified by MSNBC personalities such as Joy Ann Reid and Malcolm Nance, The Atlantic’s David Frum, and Newsweek’s Kurt Eichenwald.

That the emails in the Wikileaks archive were doctored or faked — and thus should be disregarded — was classic Fake News, spread not by Macedonian teenagers or Kremlin operatives but by established news outlets such as MSNBC, The Atlantic, and Newsweek. And, by design, this Fake News spread like wildfire all over the internet, hungrily clicked and shared by tens of thousands of people eager to believe it was true. As a result of this deliberate disinformation campaign, anyone reporting on the contents of the emails was instantly met with claims that the documents in the archive had been proven fake.

Glenn Greenwald
Excerpted from "A Clinton Fan Manufactured Fake News
That MSNBC Personalities Spread to Discredit WikiLeaks Docs
The Intercept
December 9, 2016

When the mainstream media stops colluding to support neoliberal propaganda then [liberals and progressives] won't have to go to [right-wing media sources] to hear the truth about ourselves. How often do you hear [the corporate mainstream media] talking about the scandals in the Podesta e-mails? How much coverage did they give to the Dakota Access Oil Pipeline, Bernie Sanders, legitimate Clinton criticisms, criticisms of Wall Street and Big Business, and climate change?

Anytime we post an article from mainstream outlets we're supporting their propaganda. We could call that unethical as well. [Right-wing outlets like] Observer and others may have inflammatory and obvious propaganda, but the mainstream media has established and well-accepted propaganda.

The mainstream media consensus is that we have to embrace neoliberal politics. Both [major] parties want to help out Wall Street causes and ignore things that are important to the average person. Obama, Clinton and the conservatives were all in favor of Keystone, the TPP, bailing out Wall Street, etc. and the mainstrm media are the ones that propagate their message to us. (Even outlets like] PBS and NPR have fallen into that mindset.

When I talk about the mainstream media I'm talking about the giant cable companies and newspapers. They seem to accept the neoliberal message without much criticism . . . and it's all given to us "to be assumed." When the [U.S. presidential] debates happened they came from a framework of this is how the world works and to think otherwise would obviously be stupid. They did that with Trump: Everyone knows this nut job has no chance, so let's up our ratings with his antics. And by the way, let's show a blank podium while we wait for him instead of showing Bernie Sanders giving a speech to a massive crowd.

Mainstream media doesn't want to talk to us about income inequality. They are sponsored by big corporations that squeeze American workers to death. They won't bite the hand hat feeds them.

Dumont Darsey
via Facebook
December 8, 2016

Brexit and Trump’s victory hit the liberal media like a thunderbolt of stupidity. How could voters defy the warnings of so many pundits, wonks, and fact-checkers? Almost unanimously, they answered: We live in an age characterized by post-factual politics.

Liberal writers deploy their own different varieties of post-truth – the social media echo chamber, the prevalence of fake news, the public’s indifference to blatant political lies, or the problem with millennials – to explain what happened in the United Kingdom and the United States this year. They all agree, however, that voters and politicians increasingly deny facts, manipulate the truth, and prefer emotion to expertise.

They also don’t seem to know how we entered this post-fact world or when the factual age, which must have preceded it, ended. Was it in the 2000s, when the whole world debated imaginary weapons of mass destruction before being conned into war? Or was it in the 1990s, when the Lewinsky scandal dominated newspapers, and the United States panicked over superpredators and crack babies? Perhaps it was really Reagan’s 1980s, with its secret, Central American wars, the Iran-Contra scandal, and the denial of the AIDS epidemic. Or maybe we need to go back even further: to Nixon’s not-a-crook 1970s, to George Wallace’s law-and-order 1960s, or to McCarthy’s redbaiting 1950s.

As it happens, the facts simply don’t support the diagnosis that we have suddenly entered a post-factual landscape. Reactionary panics, collective hysteria, and political manipulation have been with us for a long time, and we should be skeptical of claims about the epidemic of Russian-backed fake news or the idea that social media lost Hillary the election.

In fact, liberals’ nostalgia for factual politics seems designed to mask their own fraught relationship with the truth. The supposedly honest technocrats and managers – who enacted neoliberal measures with the same ferocity as their right-wing counterparts – relied on a certain set of facts to displace the material truths they refused to acknowledge.

Rune Møller Stahl and Bue Rübner Hansen
Excerpted from "The Fallacy of Post-Truth"
December 14, 2016

The handwriting is on the wall. The specter of Russia has likely now become a permanent beast lurking behind the scenes in the Trump era.

The Russians may well have had a hand in helping hack the Republican and Democratic National Committees. But these WikiLeaks also revealed how a corrupted Democratic National Committee contributed heavily to skewing the Democratic Party nomination process against Bernie Sanders. If the Russians were involved – and we have not yet had an official pronouncement on that, only leaks – such interference is unacceptable and must be fully and publicly investigated. But such investigation should neither distract from nor delegitimize the content of the specific WikiLeaks information on the DNC, which should also be the object of outrage.

And now, in perhaps the most volatile delegitimization gambit ever, Trump is now whispered to be “Putin’s candidate,” a Russian pawn who has infiltrated the White House itself. The witch hunt on Russia conveniently displaces the entire substance of critically needed electoral and policy reform.

This is all very ugly stuff. Worse, it looks like questioning the electoral process and the legitimacy of the election itself may become a permanent feature of our domestic politics, inciting further divisiveness and bitterness on both sides of the political divide, rendering the country (even more) ungovernable. The bread and circuses of the interminable campaign extravaganza now seamlessly transition into the background noise of the entire Trump presidency itself.

Apart from the damage to the moral fiber of the nation and its divisive recriminations, the business of governance continues to be indefinitely sidetracked by such circuses. It blocks sober debate about the sad plight of so many aspects of the nation – erratic foreign policy, runaway military spending, non-stop wars, the failing education system, the degradation of the national infrastructure, the decline of health care and rise of mortality rates, the ignoring of the environment, the need to treat broad ethnic injustices, myths about immigration, the movement of American jobs overseas (as the very essence of how capitalism is supposed to work) – these hard questions all lie unaddressed. And they are much less fun or telegenic than hurling charges about foreign conspiracies and presidential legitimacy.

Graham E. Fuller
Excerpted from "How America Disgraces Itself"
Consortium News via Common Dreams
December 15, 2016

The CIA’s assessment that Russia is behind the hack of the Democratic National Committee (DNC), and that Russia’s intent was to tilt the election in favor of Donald Trump, is flawed on several levels. First and foremost, there is no direct evidence linking Russia to the hacks; assumptions were made on the basis of an earlier German security service assessment of a prior hack of its parliament that linked Russian intelligence services to tradecraft later used against the DNC. But the Germans admit that they have no hard proof of Russian involvement, and that their conclusions were simple conjecture. This is not the strongest analytical basis upon which to build an assessment possessing the gravitas of the CIA’s report on the 2016 presidential election. Moreover, the notion that a professional state-run intelligence service like Russia’s would use compromised hacking tools for high-profile hacks such as the DNC is laughable. In the intelligence world, deniability is everything, something any seasoned intelligence analyst would have factored into their assessment.

The case against Russia is far from being a “slam dunk.” As Stella Rimington, the former head of Britain’s MI-5 Security Service, told NPR about the hacks, “But then there are many people who could have hacked into those files, not only the Russian intelligence service. So you have to remember that, you know, there are many people with that capacity and many reasons for leaking. I very much doubt that it’s all as straightforward as it might appear.”

Scott Ritter
Excerpted from "The ‘Slam Dunk’ That Isn’t
– The CIA, Russia and the Hacking of the 2016 Presidential Election
The Huffington Post
December 14, 2016

The reality is that the CIA has presented no hard evidence that Russia is behind the hacking of the DNC’s or or Clinton’s private home server. The excuse is given that the Agency doesn’t want to disclose any of its sources, so the reader is left with the pathetic plea, from both the Agency and the White House: “Trust us.”

But why would anyone trust the CIA or the White House on anything? We’re talking about an agency and a Executive Branch that between them are known to have lied (during the GW Bush years) about anthrax labs in Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, lied about what were aluminum tubes imported to make irrigation equipment being evidence of missile-building, lied about Ira’s links to Al Qaeda, and (during the Obama years) lied about Syria’s government using Sarin gas on its own people in Damascus, lied about the details of the killing of Osama Bin Laden, lied about the role of a murderous CIA agent captured by Pakistani police while posing as a US consular employee, lied about the extent of National Security Agency Spying both at home and abroad, and lied about Russia invading Ukraine and shooting down a civilian Malaysian jumbo jet.

If one were to take a moment and think about what is being alleged here by Democrats – that a national presidential election was successfully subverted by the releasing of hacked emails showing major corruption and malfeasance by the Democratic Party leadership in undermining the fairness of the party’s presidential primary to benefit one candidate – Hillary Clinton – and to destroy the candidacy of her opponent Bernie Sanders – it should lead to one of two alternative conclusions.

Either the Russians did Americans a favor, by exposing the epic corruption of one of their two major parties and one of the candidates seeking to become president – something that a more independent and aggressive domestic media would have and should have done on their own, if not by hacking then by paying attention to, instead of ignoring and blacking out, what frustrated insiders like DNC Vice Chair Tulsi Gabbard, the Democratic congresswoman from Hawaii who quit in disgust saying the DNC was undermining the primaries on behalf of Clinton’s campaign. Or alternatively, we’re being told that our 240-year-old democracy is so shriveled and weak that an outside government can easily undermine it and manipulate the outcome as if we were some corrupt and fragile banana republic.

Either conclusion is rather pathetic and depressing to contemplate.

Dave Lindorff
Excerpted from "The Fake Campaign to Blame ‘the Russians’"
December 10, 2016

While the hackers may have been caught in the act digitally, the details by themselves don't offer definitive proof of the identity of those behind the anti-Clinton hacking campaign. Public details currently don't offer clear insight into the specific intent behind these hacks, either. What is indisputable, however, is the existence of genuine hacking evidence. And this information certainly does provide enough to give the reported intelligence community findings some context.

Sean Gallagher
Excerpted from "Did the Russians “Hack” the Election?
A Look at the Established Facts
December 12, 2016

There is a big difference between proving Russia (or anyone) hacked DNC/Podesta and proving Russia (or whoever) successfully "interfered in the election". The leap is HUGE. Yet the issue is constantly being framed as though the latter somehow inevitably follows from the former (and it would appear that even the former has not been established with certainty). In 2008 both campaigns were hacked by China, yet there was no charge that China had INTERFERED in the election. So far we have been given no evidence that Russia (or whoever were the hackers) are the ones who actually gave the contents gleaned to Wikileaks. (Indeed, Wikileaks says their source was an inside leak, not a hack at all.) And, frankly, even if such evidence existed, it is not all that clear that releasing the truth (DNC/Podesta in their own words, unedited and unredacted) to the voting public should be construed as "interference". (Actually, in light of the leaks' veracity, it is not even clear this should reasonably be construed even as (foreign) propaganda (a routine part of a citizen's life, not just at election time), let alone "interference".) Or is somebody going to argue that the American voters do not have the right to know the truth about matters related to their own election? And further, even if we did have evidence the Wikileaks content indeed did come from the (Russian) hackers and we believed this indeed should be qualified as "interference", this still does not prove this "interference" was successful, i.e. that this is the reason the voters (notably in the election-deciding Rust Belt states) voted the way they did. Perhaps there is evidence that Russia, for example, hacked the voting machines in the swing states and changed the vote tallies – now that would be successful interference – but anything of the sort has yet to be disclosed.

Nenad Lovric
via Facebook
December 14, 2016

The overseers of the U.S. intelligence community have not embraced a CIA assessment that Russian cyber attacks were aimed at helping Republican President-elect Donald Trump win the 2016 election, three American officials said on Monday.

While the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) does not dispute the CIA's analysis of Russian hacking operations, it has not endorsed their assessment because of a lack of conclusive evidence that Moscow intended to boost Trump over Democratic opponent Hillary Clinton, said the officials, who declined to be named.

Mark Hosenball and Jonathan Landay
Excerpted from "Top U.S. Spy Agency Has Not Embraced
CIA Assessment on Russia Hacking
December 13, 2016

The silly thing about all these hacking accusations is that they demonstrate how little the media and general public understand about hacking.

Some things to know:

The Russians are hacking the Americans continually.

The Americans are hacking the Russians continually.

The Chinese are hacking both of them, and vice versa. And so are the British, Germans, French, Israelis, Iranians, and almost every county on earth.

Meanwhile governments, businesses, groups and individuals are are all hacking each other constantly.

Why constantly? Because most hacking is done via computer programs than once the are written are left running.

People underestimate the sheer volume of this activity. The firewall of an average medium sized business gets literally thousands of hacking attempts a day. And often tens of thousands. A government will be attacked hundreds of thousands or more times a day.

The other thing to bear in mind is it's almost impossible to know who is behind the hacking. On the internet it's incredibly easy to hide your tracks and to use false identities. This is 100% normal for any hacker - anyone smart enough to know how to hack is smart enough to know how to steal and use another persons identity.

The idea that you can reliably say who hacked someone is absurd. At best you can make an educated guess and you just might be right. Or just as likely the person hacking you might be deliberately using someone else's identity.

Bear this in mind as you read the news.

Olly Wright
via Facebook
December 11, 2016

There are some good reasons to believe Russians had something to do with the breaches into email accounts belonging to members of the Democratic party, which proved varyingly embarrassing or disruptive for Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign. But “good” doesn’t necessarily mean good enough to indict Russia’s head of state for sabotaging our democracy.

There’s a lot of evidence from the attack on the table, mostly detailing how the hack was perpetrated, and possibly the language of the perpetrators. It certainly remains plausible that Russians hacked the DNC, and remains possible that Russia itself ordered it. But the refrain of Russian attribution has been repeated so regularly and so emphatically that it’s become easy to forget that no one has ever truly proven the claim.

. . . The gist of the Case Against Russia goes like this: The person or people who infiltrated the DNC’s email system and the account of John Podesta left behind clues of varying technical specificity indicating they have some connection to Russia, or at least speak Russian. Guccifer 2.0, the entity that originally distributed hacked materials from the Democratic party, is a deeply suspicious figure who has made statements and decisions that indicate some Russian connection. The website DCLeaks, which began publishing a great number of DNC emails, has some apparent ties to Guccifer and possibly Russia. And then there’s Wikileaks, which after a long, sad slide into paranoia, conspiracy theorizing, and general internet toxicity, has made no attempt to mask its affection for Vladimir Putin and its crazed contempt for Hillary Clinton. (Julian Assange has been stuck indoors for a very, very long time.) If you look at all of this and sort of squint, it looks quite strong indeed, an insurmountable heap of circumstantial evidence too great in volume to dismiss as just circumstantial or mere coincidence.

But look more closely at the above and you can’t help but notice all of the qualifying words: Possibly, appears, connects, indicates. It’s impossible (or at least dishonest) to present the evidence for Russian responsibility for hacking the Democrats without using language like this. The question, then, is this: Do we want to make major foreign policy decisions with a belligerent nuclear power based on suggestions alone, no matter how strong?

. . . Viewed as a whole, the [. . .] evidence looks strong, and maybe even damning. But view each piece on its own, and it’s hard to feel impressed.

For one, a lot of the so-called evidence is no such thing.

Sam Biddle
Excerpted from "Here's the Public Evidence
Russia Hacked the DNC – It's Not Enough
The Intercept
December 14, 2016

If indeed there really was a Russian effort to swing this recent election, it could only have succeeded in a situation where the electorate was disgusted by its choices and was voting negatively for a lesser evil. And that situation only could arise where the two major parties were so corrupted that they were trying desperately to keep genuinely popular candidates from winning the nomination.

In fact that is what happened. The Republican leadership tried mightily to keep Donald Trump, a loose cannon who has disavowed many basic and long-held Republican principles, such as backing US empire and Israel, supporting any and all trade agreements, and viewing Russia as an existential enemy, from winning their party’s nomination. They failed, but not for lack of trying. The Democratic leadership tried everything, too, to prevent insurgent self-described “socialist” candidate Sanders from winning the nomination, and thanks to underhanded manipulation of the primaries, corrupt meddling in media coverage of Sanders, an anti-democratic voting block of locked-in “super delegates,” committed to backing Clinton whatever the result of the primaries, and some crooked efforts to depress voting in key primary states including New York and California, they succeeded in throwing the nomination to Clinton. She of course was doomed, by their very ham-handed interference in the primaries, to go on to lose the general election.

That corrupt fiasco has left Democratic Party leadership hacks and their backers in the corporate media with nothing to do but find a scapegoat for their disastrous performance, hence the fake “Russia-did-it” claims.

It’s a sad commentary on the pathetic decline of democracy in the United States, but is also a clarion call for a rebirth of grassroots democratic resurgence.

If there’s a bright spot in the new situation, it’s that progressives, socialists, radicals and disaffected citizens of all kinds now should have a clear understanding of how corrupt the Democratic Party really is.

One of two things must happen. That party must be completely swept clean of the hacks, frauds, crooks, compromisers and charlatans who populate its leadership and who hold most of the elected posts remaining in Democratic hands in Congress. Alternatively, the Democratic Party must be abandoned as unsalvageable, with progressive forces, from labor organizations, advocates of the poor and elderly, environmental activists, human rights and peace groups, women’s rights and minority rights organizations, civil libertarians and others rallying both to create something new to replace it, and organizing in the street to resist the new Trump government.

Dave Lindorff
Excerpted from "The Fake Campaign to Blame ‘the Russians’"
December 10, 2016

Apart from the slipperiness between the possible and the proven, the gap between the confidence of the headlines and the caution buried deep inside, it’s weird to see media skip over the story’s center: that the alleged meddling consisted of revealing true information about the Democratic Party and Clinton campaign. As journalist Bob Parry (Consortium News, 11/18/16) notes, a sort of hysteria in official Washington is now clumsily conflating such real—if embarrassing—news with the phenomenon of “fake news,” though reporting has tracked that phenomenon not to the Kremlin but to Millennials in Macedonia, for example, who figured out how to make money with crazy click-bait stories.

But in back of it all, what makes the umbrage of elite media so hard to stomach is the hypocrisy. This is, after all, the same elite media that supports outsider-induced “regime change” anywhere and everywhere they see an official enemy, from Iraq to Honduras to Libya to Syria – and wait, what’s this? A cover from Time magazine (7/15/96): a chipper Boris Yeltsin holding an American flag, and the line “Yanks to the Rescue! The Secret Story of How American Advisers Helped Yeltsin Win.” You can make “one law for me, another for thee” your credo, but you can’t be too surprised when others are unimpressed.

Whatever story there is to be told about Russia and the 2016 election, corporate media have squandered the credibility it would take to tell it.

Janine Jackson
Excerpted from "Hypocrisy of Russia-Did-It Stories
Is Hard to Stomach
December 15, 2016

Related Off-site Links:
Anonymous Leaks to the Washington Post About the CIA’s Russia Beliefs Are No Substitute for Evidence – Glenn Greenwald (The Intercept, December 10, 2016).
Were the DNC Emails Hacked or Leaked?The Real News (December 12, 2016).
Historical and Structural Reasons for Skepticism of CIA Claims: Remaining Agnostic on Claims of Russian Hackers – Glenn Greenwald (The Intercept, December 10, 2016).
Putin Didn't Win This Election for Trump. Hillary Clinton Did – Doug Henwood (The Guardian via Common Dreams, December 15, 2016).
While Democrats Chase Russians, Republicans Keep Rigging Elections – Richard Eskow (Common Dreams, December 13, 2016).
The CIA and the Press: When the Washington Post Ran the CIA’s Propaganda Network – David Price (CounterPunch, December 12, 2016).
The Long History of the U.S. Interfering with Elections Elsewhere – Ishaan Tharoor (The Washington Post, October 13, 2016).

UPDATES: ‘Fake News’ in America: Homegrown, and Far From New – Chris Hedges (TruthDig, December 18, 2016).
Wielding Claims of ‘Fake News,’ Conservatives Take Aim at Mainstream Media – Jeremy W. Peters (The New York Times, December 25, 2016).
The Guardian’s Summary of Julian Assange’s Interview Went Viral and Was Completely False – Glenn Greenwald (The Intercept, December 29, 2016).
Critics Still See Holes in US "Evidence" of Russian Election Interference – Deirdre Fulton (Common Dreams, December 30, 2016).
Something About This Russia Story Stinks – Matt Taibbi (Rolling Stone, December 30, 2016).
"Fake News" and How The Washington Post Rewrote Its Story on Russian Hacking of the Power Grid – Kalev Leetaru (Forbes, January 1, 2016).
Glenn Greenwald: Mainstream U.S. Media is Culpable for Disseminating Fake and Deceitful News on RussiaDemocracy Now! (January 5, 2016).
The Real Purpose of the U.S. Government’s Report on Alleged Hacking by Russia – Chris Hedges (TruthDig, January 8, 2017).
Russia, Trump and Flawed Intelligence – Masha Geesen (The New York Review of Books, January 9, 2017).
Fake News, Russia and Comey: All Poor Answers to Why Donald Trump Won – Bhaskar Sunkara (The Guardian, February 10, 2017).
Key Democratic Officials Now Warning Base Not to Expect Evidence of Trump/Russia Collusion – Glenn Greenwald (The Intercept, March 16, 2017).
Why Putin’s Foes Deplore U.S. Fixation on Election Meddling – Andrew Higgins (The New York Times, November 23, 2017).
Russiagate Explained – Caitlin Johnstone (Information Clearing House, November 28, 2017).
Backlash Against Russian "Fake News" Is Shutting Down Debate for Real – Robin Andersen (FAIR, November 29, 2017).

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
Progressive Perspectives on the Election of Donald Trump as President of the United States
Progressive Perspectives on the Rise of Donald Trump
Carrying It On

Opening Illustration: Soohee Cho for The Intercept.

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