In 2016, fake news exploded onto the scene, with satire news and scraper sites popping up in just about every corner of the internet. Facebook, Twitter, and other social media users, spread false stories that proven fake after some research. Depending on who you ask, Pizzagate is either the worst example of fake newshad wonor the best-kept secret in Washington D.C.
Although rumors and fake news were a big problem last year, mainstream media was often at the center with its own version of fake news stories, often based on actual grains of truth spread so thin they were virtually invisible. I cannot list every incident of mainstream media perpetuating fake news, but below are the ones that stand out in my memory.
The Democratic Primaries
The fake news emerging from mainstream media became glaringly evident during the Democratic presidential primaries when Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders was gaining wide popularity against former First Lady and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
In April 2016, when Sanders was gaining ground, the Clinton campaign began to hit him on gun control. The campaign previously insinuated that Bernie Sanders was too pro-gun to be a true progressive when the truth is he has a low rating from the National Rifle Association. But that didn’t prevent mainstream media outlet the New York Daily News from taking a grain of truth and spinning into something completely different. The newspaper wrote a hit piece on Sanders, spinning him as a callous, unfeeling pro-gun advocate.
What makes this attack especially heinous is that the newspaper published it after doing an interview with Sanders. “Bernie’s Sandy Hook Shame” was a story meant to make Sanders appear cold-hearted about the brutal killing of young children and teachers. The paper took Bernie’s words and maligned them, essentially creating a fake news story meant to do nothing more than smear him.
Last March, a Phoenix news station, KPNX News12 spread the fake news story that Bernie had angrily stormed out of an interview with local reporter Brahm Resnik, who claimed he didn’t know why Sanders left. Resnik later claimed the Senator walked out when asked about Jane Sanders’ confrontation with former Sheriff Joe Arpaio.
When the truth emerged, it was discovered that Sanders had given several four-minute interviews to various reporters in a hotel Resnik had gone over his allotted four minutes and would not stop asking questions.
The story spread across the internet and mainstream media outlets like CNN, Salon, The Hill, and various others reported Resnik’s version of events. While it was true Sanders abruptly ended the interview, he did not walk out. He sat back down in his chair to wait for the next reporter. The mainstream media perpetuated a fake story to cast a political candidate in a negative light. Again, mainstream media took a grain of truth and stretched it so thin it meant something different entirely.
Russia, Fake News & Propaganda
After Clinton won the Democratic primary, the mainstream media focused heavily on Donald Trump’s ties to Russia and whether WikiLeaks was a Russian operative. WikiLeaks was releasing emails on a daily basis by this time, with thousands of emails in the “Podesta Emails” cache emerging that revealed that Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta had fallen for a phishing scam, an incident that USA Today contributor and law professor Glenn Harlan Reynolds writes should not be cause for a renewed Cold War.
Because of these revelations, mainstream media pundits and political leaders looked for ways to keep people from reading the emails. In October, CNN’s Chris Cuomo told viewers that possessing the emails was illegal. He urged people not to read them and assured the public that mainstream news media would read them for us.
Merely reading the emails that are now in the public domain is most decidedly not a crime, and CNN misinformed its viewers with a fake news story.
But the Washington Post was one of the worst offenders of 2016. Last March, the news outlet published a total of 16 negative news stories about Sanders in a 24-hour period. One story painted Sanders as a misogynist for refusing to allow Clinton to interrupt him during a debate.
And later in the general election, the Washington Post published a list of supposed fake news sites that technology reporter Craig Timberg alleged were somehow tied to Russian propaganda based on the “research” of an anonymous organization called PropOrNot. The list of supposed Russian fake news sites included legitimate organizations like Naked Capitalism, Counterpunch, and a variety of independent blogs. FAIR.org reported that the list even included a nutrition site that had nothing to do with news, fake or otherwise.
It was an act of yellow journalism The Intercept founder Glenn Greenwald called “disgraceful” in a report about the fake news blacklist.
Seemingly not having learned its lessons from the PropOrNot debacle, mainstream media darling Washington Post again published an outlandish story accusing Russians of hacking into Vermont’s utility grid. This time, the paper was forced to insert an editor’s note at the top of the report after the Vermont’s own utility released a statement debunking the allegation.
According to The Intercept, Burlington Electric found a malware code in one laptop that was not connected to the electrical grid after being alerted by Homeland Security. Even worse, no evidence exists that Russian hackers were responsible for the malware.
Last month the New York Times published a story alleging to show the links from Russian hackers interfering with the U.S. election. The links the Times gives are tenuous at best, and still do not prove decisively that state-sponsored Russian hackers broke into the DNC.
Former British ambassador and Julian Assange associate Craig Murray has repeatedly stated that WikiLeaks did not receive DNC emails from a Russian hacker, but instead, received them from a DNC insider. In a blog post entitled “The Russian Bear Uses a Keyboard,” Murray describes the New York Times evidence of Russian hacking as laughable.
The evidence of traceable IP addresses to Russia, Murray notes, is misleading, as any good hacker uses a proxy to hide their true location. Vladimir Putin, he points out, is a former KGB intelligence chief.
“There were over 1,050 attacks on my own server two days ago, and many of them often appear to originate in Russia … Of course in many cases the computers attacking have been activated as proxies by computers in another country entirely. Crowdstrike apparently expect us to believe that Putin’s security services have not heard of this or of the idea of disguising which time zone you operate from.”
Thus, the New York Times’ story that supposedly proves Russia’s link to the DNC email leaks is still yet unproven, although the CIA — the organization that brought us the myth of Weapons of Mass Destruction in Iraq — would have us all believe it is true. It appears that mainstream media’s attempts to criticized ‘fake news’ by publishing even more fake news is now the new norm, and it is up to the readers determine what really is the truth.
[Featured Image by Mare Kuliasz/ThinkStock Photos]