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Consortium News Fights Back Against ‘Russian Smear Campaign’ Claims by Canadian Outlet

© REUTERS / Chris Wattie/File PhotoChrystia Freeland (File)
Chrystia Freeland (File) - Sputnik International
Investigative outlet Consortium News has sent libel notices to Canada’s Global News and Ottawa’s Communications Security Establishment (CSE) intelligence agency seeking an apology for claims that its reporting is part of a Russian disinformation campaign. One of its editors told Sputnik alternative points of view must be respected in a democracy.

Consortium News Editor-in-Chief Joe Lauria told Radio Sputnik’s Loud and Clear Thursday he was fighting for everyone slandered in the last few years by the Russiagate conspiracy.

Russiagate ‘Takes Away Agency From People’

The story at the center of the accusation is a February 27, 2017, story run by Consortium News called “A Nazi Skeleton in the Family Closet,” which exposed Canada’s then-Minister of Foreign Affairs Chrystia Freeland as having lied about her grandfather’s past as an editor of a Nazi newspaper in occupied Poland during World War II.

The CSE report, published just this past October, claims that by publishing the story, Consortium News “very likely intended to cause personal reputational damage in order to discredit the Government of Canada’s ongoing diplomatic and military support for Ukraine, to delegitimize Canada’s decision to enact the Justice for Victims of Corrupt Foreign Offices Act, and the 2018 expulsion of several Russian diplomats.”

However, a week after Consortium’s report, the Toronto-based Globe and Mail, Canada’s most widely-read newspaper, published a story titled “Freeland knew her grandfather was editor of Nazi newspaper,” which was even more damning than Consortium’s report, especially since Freeland had demurred when asked about it during a press conference by then.

On December 10, 2019, the Toronto-based Global News attempted to portray Consortium’s February 2017 report as having been just one of a slew of coordinated media attacks on Freeland, who is now Canada’s deputy prime minister. Captions under screenshots of the Consortium article embedded in Global News’ story claim: “A CSE report says Consortium News was part of an attack from Russia on Chrystia Freeland’s reputation.”

A subsequent broadcast on Global News’ TV network the following evening again showed screenshots of the Consortium story, with the caption claiming that “Russia is one of numerous hostile foreign states that have recently targeted Canada with online smear campaigns.”

Nothing similar was said about Globe and Mail’s report on the recondite past of Freeland’s grandfather.

“It means a lot for Consortium News, but I think it means a lot for anyone who’s been smeared in the last few years, particularly since the 2016 election and Russiagate, who’s been smeared as being controlled or directed - and that’s the exact word used in this report - by a foreign power, namely, Russia,” Lauria told hosts Brian Becker and John Kiriakou.

“It takes away agency from people. It says that there is no possibility of any indigenous, legitimate dissent in a country; that we cannot, on our own, think of criticizing a government … that we necessarily have to be following orders from Russia,” Lauria noted.

“We finally decided we’re not going to take it anymore,” he said, noting it was far from the first time Consortium News has been labeled a “stooge of Russia or that kind of thing” and pointing out that Consortium News founder Robert Parry was “continuously smeared that way. And it took a toll on him, too.”

A Dissident Staff From ‘Inside the Establishment’

An American investigative journalist, Parry in 1995 founded Consortium News as the outlet for the Consortium for Independent Journalism (CIJ), a nonprofit US news service. Parry’s career included making investigative documentaries for PBS, and he most famously covered the Iran-Contra scandal for the Associated Press and Newsweek, during which he exposed then-US National Security Council staff member Oliver North’s role in the scandal as well as that the CIA and Nicaraguan contras were trafficking cocaine in the US.

“Look: sometimes the positions we take might align with the Russian government, and sometimes they don’t,” Lauria noted. “My positions and criticisms of US foreign policy, for example, predate the existence of the Russian Federation, let alone RT or Sputnik. I was approached and asked to give comments because of my articles on Consortium News. So I’ve been on the BBC, I’ve been on CNN, now I’m on Russian media - doesn’t matter, because the point of view comes from within our own organization.”

Lauria noted the CIJ is made up of “people who are very high up in their profession inside the establishment,” ranging from former CIA agents like Kiriakou and Ray McGovern to former Wall Street Journal writers like himself and others from outlets like the Boston Globe and the International Herald Tribune, now called the New York Times International Edition.

“We have people who are serious and who were inside of the establishment and saw things that they didn’t like and now are trying to provide that very different perspective to the public. I think it’s very useful to have this kind of expertise and experience, to come together and give that to the public to get a different viewpoint. And for that, we’re being smeared as being directed by a foreign power,” Lauria told Sputnik.

Seeking a Retraction

Lauria noted the libel notice, which in the US would be called a “demand letter,” was sent by a law firm Consortium News hired in Toronto that told “both Global News and, more importantly, the Communications Security Establishment … because they are the ones who created this report.”

“That is the ‘National Security Agency’ of Canada,” Lauria said, noting the similarity of the CSE’s duties in Ottawa to that of the NSA in Fort Meade, Maryland. “They are one of the ‘Five Eyes’; they are the signals intelligence, the cryptological intelligence agency of Canada.” 

“We explained where they were wrong, we show that they libel us, that this is not true, and we’ve asked for a retraction and an apology from both. We’re not holding our breath, but you never know,” he said, noting it was “journalism 101” to contact an outlet like Consortium for comment before publishing a story like Global News had.

“If alternative media is actually doing its job,” Lauria said, “it is reporting stories that corporate media does not report, or at least take an angle that the corporate media doesn’t take on stories. So that’s basically what Consortium News does and other good alternative sites. And that has to be tolerated by a government if we’re living in a so-called ‘democracy.’ But if we aren’t, then it won’t be tolerated, and the way to try to suppress that is by dismissing it as being directed by the Russian government. That is just pure propaganda.”
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