Fake news. Propaganda. Who is responsible for spreading it, and what is their motive for doing so? Since the Federal Communications Commission eliminated the Fairness Doctrine under President Ronald Reagan, the number of purveyors of questionable content has exploded. The issue lied dormant for years, with silent rumblings by folks who have grown tired of media outlets that seem to ignore or manipulate facts to fit a preferred narrative. But the 2016 election forced the issue into the forefront, with Hillary Clinton and her campaign accusing WikiLeaks and other “fake news” sites of being Russian propaganda tools that helped Donald Trump win the election.
The rhetoric reached a fevered pitch after Trump won the November 8 and has persevered since. President Obama has even gotten on the bandwagon, telling Rolling Stone magazine that there exist thousands of sources of news online with too many perspectives, which splinter people into too many groups. On November 24, the Washington Post published a story about alleged fake news websites that were allegedly Russian propaganda tools, sourced from a brand new group called PropOrNot.
News organizations that have been in existence for years — in some cases decades — were included. Counterpunch, whose motto is “fearless muckraking since 1993,” was included in the list of sites accused of creating or spreading Russian propaganda. Former Texas Congressman Ron Paul’s Institute for Peace and Prosperity was also included, which baffled and angered his followers. Truth-Dig, a progressive site, was also included on the fake news list, along with WikiLeaks, Zero Hedge, and a number of right-wing websites like InfoWars.
Even now, on the radio, on mainstream media, on regular television, and local news channels, fake news is a hot topic. And it appears to have come to a head with the recent “pizzagate” scandal in which independent researchers have concluded that a wide-reaching pedophile ring that puts Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta and Comet Pizza & Ping Pong at the center. The source of this speculation was none other than WikiLeaks and a batch of cables called the Podesta Emails, in which some people claim to have found numerous coded messages about pedophilia and child trafficking.
In late November, NPR interviewed Jestin Coler, the creator of actual fake news, about his reasons for creating stories that had no basis in truth. He began building a fake media company in 2013, which mainly devotes stories that would appeal to or outrage conservatives and right-leaning voters. Interestingly, he told NPR that he tried writing fake news stories for liberals “but they just never take the bait.” He also noted that Trump voters were especially susceptible to fake news.
Coler does not believe that his numerous fake news sites (which fall under the umbrella company DisinfoMedia) affected the outcome. A registered Democrat, he said that, although he voted for Hillary Clinton, she was simply a bad candidate.
“She brought in a lot of baggage.”
But Coler has no ties to Russia and is most certainly not a tool of any Russian propaganda machine. In fact, he created his fake news websites as an attempt to highlight the problem, which was likely a poorly-thought strategy.
But what of the accusations by the mainstream media, Clinton, and other public figures that Russia used its mastery of propaganda to spread fake news and influence the election?
The FreeThoughtProject, another site included on PropOrNot’s list of Russian propaganda tools, discusses why so many Democratic leaders are attempting to paint Russia as an interventionist in U.S. elections.
“Trump’s anticipated deescalation of tension with Russia is a red line, which essentially violates what has been a pillar of U.S. foreign policy that has been ingrained deeply in the American subconscious for the last 65-plus years. The deep state bureaucracy is now attempting a last ditch effort to frame Russian in such a way in the American psyche, as to try and make it virtually impossible for Trump to work constructively with Vladimir Putin.”
In a November 29 interview with RT’s Ed Schultz, Ron Paul discussed his organization’s inclusion on PropOrNot’s list of Russian propaganda tools and fake news sites. He accused the U.S. government of using the media as propaganda tools itself.
“The mainstream media and the establishment lost this election. They’ve been as involved in fake news and fake stories as anyone else … I’m very concerned about fake news stories … where the fake news comes from is our own government.”
With the Washington Post‘s failure to vet PropOrNot’s sources, it revealed itself to be the very source of propaganda and fake news it has warned Americans to be wary of. As with any news story, readers should always be wary. Check for sources. Go to the primary source, if able. And look for other stories related to the topic to compare notes. Although a number of fake news sites are littering the internet, historically well-respected news outlets are also failing Americans.
[Featured Image by Alexander Zemlianichenko/AP Images]