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    Journalism Fail: Washington Post Story on ‘Fake News’ Was Fake

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    Following public backlash, legal threats, and sustained mocking, the Washington Post has added an editor’s note distancing the newspaper from a shadowy website called PropOrNot which they had preciously endorsed as “experts” on “fake news” and “Russian propaganda.”

    In an ironically fake news article about “fake news” by Craig Timberg the Washington Post claimed that Russian propaganda helped Donald Trump win the US presidential election. A large part of the basis for the piece was centered on evidence the paper presented that was gleaned from an aggressively anonymous website called PropOrNot, which lists over 200 websites that they accuse of peddling what they call Russian propaganda, and other false narratives. Popular news websites on all sides of the political spectrum are listed, including The Drudge Report, Zero Hedge, TruthOut, Sputnik News, and WikiLeaks.

    The Washington Post has now added the following editor’s note to the article:

    “The Washington Post on Nov. 24 published a story on the work of four sets of researchers who have examined what they say are Russian propaganda efforts to undermine American democracy and interests. One of them was PropOrNot, a group that insists on public anonymity, which issued a report identifying more than 200 websites that, in its view, wittingly or unwittingly published or echoed Russian propaganda. A number of those sites have objected to being included on PropOrNot’s list, and some of the sites, as well as others not on the list, have publicly challenged the group’s methodology and conclusions. The Post, which did not name any of the sites, does not itself vouch for the validity of PropOrNot’s findings regarding any individual media outlet, nor did the article purport to do so. Since publication of The Post’s story, PropOrNot has removed some sites from its list.”

    After the publication of its article, the Post was slapped with a letter from Naked Capitalism, one of the websites listed, demanding a full retraction and threatening a defamation lawsuit.

    “You did not provide even a single example of ‘fake news’ allegedly distributed or promoted by Naked Capitalism or indeed any of the 200 sites on the PropOrNot blacklist,” the attorney representing the website, Jim Moody wrote. “You provided no discussion or assessment of the credentials or backgrounds of these so-called ‘researchers’ (Clint Watts, Andrew Weisburd, and J.M. Berger and the ‘team’ at PropOrNot), and no discussion or analysis of the methodology, protocol or algorithms such ‘researchers’ may or may not have followed.”

    While declaring that the entities behind the PropOrNot operation were “experts,” the Post refused to name them. Though their motives remain unknown, the organization previously promoted a Ukrainian hacker group on their Twitter feed.

    Interestingly, a bill was introduced November 22, just two days before the Post published the November 24 article in question, which would allow lawmakers to crack down on websites deemed to be “Russian propaganda” or “fake news.” Tucked neatly inside the Intelligence Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2017, the bill appears to be aimed at cracking down on free speech.

    “It is easy to see how this law, if passed by the Senate and signed by the President, could be used to target, threaten, or eliminate so-called ‘fake news’ websites, a list which has been used to arbitrarily define any website, or blog, that does not share the mainstream media’s proclivity to serve as the Public Relations arm of a given administration,” Global Research reported.

    The bill must now pass through the Senate, but a top aide to Rand Paul has informed Sputnik News that the Senator is currently holding the bill for a variety of reasons.

    For the New Yorker, Adrian Chen noted that while “bogus news stories” did “overwhelmingly favor Trump” and flood social media, he wrote, “as harmful as these phenomena might be, the prospect of legitimate dissenting voices being labelled fake news or Russian propaganda by mysterious groups of ex-government employees, with the help of a national newspaper, is even scarier.”

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    Tags:
    Propaganda, Fake News, PropOrNot, Washington Post, Craig Timberg
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