Quotulatiousness

March 11, 2017

“Writing a good populism story in Canada is thus all about reaching the Canada Is Just Better conclusion”

Filed under: Cancon, Humour, Media — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

J.J. McCullough provides a valuable public service by compiling a checklist for Canadian media types when writing about populism:

Greetings Canadian journalists!

As you know, there’s currently a thing called “populism” happening all around the world. This is a fad in which poor people elect little Hitlers to power. I mean, it’s so far only actually happened in the context of Donald Trump (boo!) getting elected in the U.S., but there’s also that Brexit vote thing in the U.K., and that counts too for some reason. I know the iron rule of journalism is that you need three examples before you can claim a trend, so in a pinch just refer vaguely to “recent events in Europe” and that should cover it.

So anyway, having established that the world is in the midst of a populist tidal wave, the important question to ask is why it hasn’t hit Canada. The obvious answer, of course, is that Canada is just better than everywhere else, but you’re not allowed to say that openly if you’re a serious journalist. That’s for columnists like Doug Saunders or John Ibbitson or John Ivision (those are two different guys, right?).

Writing a good populism story in Canada is thus all about reaching the Canada Is Just Better conclusion without making it overtly obvious that’s where you’re heading. Or at least not obvious in the first paragraph. The way you do this is by noting that while Canada has some populist-like things happening, they are all really stupid and dumb and unpopular and meaningless and should be ignored. Because Canada Is Just Better.

H/T to Kate at Small Dead Animals for the link.

March 1, 2017

The different “flavours” of propaganda

Filed under: China, Media, Politics, Russia, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Cory Doctorow on the various types of propaganda in use around the world:

Jonathan Stray summarizes three different strains of propaganda, analyzing why they work, and suggesting counter-tactics: in Russia, it’s about flooding the channel with a mix of lies and truth, crowding out other stories; in China, it’s about suffocating arguments with happy-talk distractions, and for trolls like Milo Yiannopoulos, it’s weaponizing hate, outraging people so they spread your message to the small, diffused minority of broken people who welcome your message and would otherwise be uneconomical to reach.

Stray cites some of the same sources I’ve written about here: Tucker Max’s analysis of Yiannopoulos’s weaponized hate and The Harvard Institute for Quantitative Science team’s first-of-its kind analysis of leaked messages directing the activities of the “50-cent army, which overwhelms online Chinese conversation with upbeat cheerleading (think of Animal Farm‘s sheep-bleating, or Nineteen Eighty-Four‘s quackspeak).

But I’d never encountered the work he references on Russian propaganda, by RAND scholar Christopher Paul, who calls Russian disinformation a “firehose of falsehood.” This tactic involves having huge numbers of channels at your disposal: fake and real social media accounts, tactical leaks to journalists, state media channels like RT, which are able to convey narrative at higher volume than the counternarrative, which becomes compelling just by dint of being everywhere (“quantity does indeed have a quality all its own”).

Mixing outright lies with a large dollop of truth is key to this tactic, as it surrounds the lies with a penumbra of truthfulness. This is a time-honored tactic, of course: think of the Christian Science Monitor‘s history of outstanding international coverage, accompanied by editorials about God’s ability to heal through prayer; or Voice of America‘s mixture of excellent reporting on (again) international politics and glaring silence on US crises (see also: Al Jazeera as a reliable source on everything except corruption in the UAE; the BBC World Service‘s top-notch journalism on everything except UK complicity in disasters like the Gulf War, etc).

In addition to this excellent taxonomy of propaganda, Stray proposes countermeasures for each strain: for Russia-style “firehoses of falsehood,” you have to reach the audience first with an alternative narrative; once the firehose is on, it’s too late. For Chinese quackspeak floods, you need “organized, visible resistance” in the streets. For pathetic attention-whores like Yiannopoulos, Stray says Tucker Max is right: you have to ignore him.

February 13, 2017

“[M]ost of what journalists know about radioactivity came from watching Godzilla

Filed under: Japan, Media, Science, Technology — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Charlie Martin explains why the “news” out of Fukushima lately has been mostly unscientific hyperventilation and bloviation:

On February 8, Adam Housley of Fox News reported a story with a terrifying headline: “Radiation at Japan’s Fukushima Reactor Is Now at ‘Unimaginable’ Levels.” Let’s just pick up the most exciting paragraphs:

    The radiation levels at Japan’s crippled Fukushima nuclear power plant are now at “unimaginable” levels.

    [Housley] said the radiation levels — as high as 530 sieverts per hour — are now the highest they’ve been since 2011 when a tsunami hit the coastal reactor.

    “To put this in very simple terms. Four sieverts can kill a handful of people,” he explained.

The degree to which this story is misleading is amazing, but to explain it, we need a little bit of a tutorial.

The Touhoku earthquake and tsunami on March 11, 2011, along with all the other damage they caused, knocked out the TEPCO Fukushima Daiichi (“plant #1”) and Daini (“plant #2”) reactors. Basically, the two reactors were hit with a 1000-year earthquake and a 1000-year tsunami, and the plants as built weren’t able to handle it.

Both reactors failed, and after a sequence of unfortunate events, melted down. I wrote quite a lot about it at the time; bearing in mind this was early in the story, my article from then has a lot of useful information.

[…]

So what have we learned today?

We learned that inside the reactor containment at Fukushima Daini, site of the post-tsunami reactor accident, it’s very very radioactive. How radioactive? We don’t know, because the dose rate has been reported in inappropriate units — Sieverts are only meaningful if someone is inside the reactor to get dosed.

Then we learned that the Fukushima accident is leaking 300 tons of radioactive water — but until we dig into primary sources, we didn’t learn the radioactive water is very nearly clean enough to be drinking water. So what effect does this have on the ocean, as Housley asks? None.

The third thing we learned — and I think probably the most important thing — is to never trust a journalist writing about anything involving radiation, the metric system, or any arithmetic more challenging than long division.

February 3, 2017

“In a secular age … it is inevitable that people will attach themselves like limpets to miniature religions”

Filed under: Cancon, History, Media, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Colby Cosh draws some parallels between the early Federalists in post-revolutionary America and the mainstream media today: both groups attempted to retain their privileged position in society as that society changed dramatically all around them:

But now the seeds of fleeting confusion have fallen into the fertile soil of Internet crap-mongering. On social media there were immediate, unabashed, conflicting total lies circulating about the identities of the “two” perpetrators. Now, before much is known at all of the actual killer, we are seeing deliberately engineered hints at some kind of inexplicable cover-up by the (Muslim-controlled?!) police of Quebec, or by higher authorities — Liberals, reptoids, George Soros clones? Pick your poison!

Those trivial little wobbles in the initial news coverage are being exploited by journalists and commentators who have abandoned respect for facts like “there are always reports of a second shooter” in favour of efficient, direct manipulation of “the narrative.” The actual full-fledged conspiracy theories are being designed as we speak, and soon will be ready for harvest.

We live in a post-revolutionary media environment, and traditional newspapers and broadcasters are like the American Federalists: we are hoping to stay on top as trusted, sensible informers and teachers. I make no claim that this hope is well-founded or appropriate, but either way, the strategy did not end very well for the Federalists. One notices that they are already in irreversible, humiliating retreat at the moment when Wood’s book begins.

There is money in offering an alternative account, any alternative account of anything important or dramatic, to the gullible. Build a suspicious audience of millenarians and ignoramuses, and some of them will keep following you until you can start selling them protein supplements, bulk food for the apocalypse, religious knick-knacks, or penis pills. (Which business line will Rebel Media break into first? It’s only a matter of time!)

In a secular age, like ours or like the late 18th century, it is inevitable that people will attach themselves like limpets to miniature religions. Today they range from gold-bugs to survivalist “preppers” to disturbingly overenthusiastic Harry Potter fans to Gwyneth Paltrow’s Goop. (My apologies to those readers, and I’m sure there are a few, who are devotees of all four faiths.) Such subcultures are the reliable basis of a bulletproof “news” media model. The horrible part is this: they might be the only such model.

February 2, 2017

The genesis of Fake News

Filed under: Media, Politics, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Victor Davis Hanson on the modern-day phenomenon of “fake news”:

… all politicians fib and distort the truth — and they’ve been doing so since the freewheeling days of the Athenian ekklesia. Trump’s various bombastic allegations and claims fall into the same realm of truthfulness as Obama’s statement “if you like your health plan, you can keep it” — and were thus similarly cross-examined by the media.

Yet fake news is something quite different. It is not merely a public figure’s spinning of half-truths. It is largely a media-driven, and deliberate attempt to spread a false narrative to advance a political agenda that otherwise would be rejected by a common-sense public. The methodology is to manufacture a narrative attractive to a herd-like progressive media that will then devour and brand it as fact — and even lobby for government redress.

Trump’s lawyer Michael Cohen has never been to Prague to negotiate quid pro quo deals with the Russians. Trump did not watch Russian strippers perform pornographic acts in the bedroom that Barack Obama once stayed in during a visit to Moscow. Yet political operatives, journalists, and even intelligence officers, in their respective shared antipathy to Trump, managed to lodge these narratives into the public consciousness and thereby establish the “truth” that a degenerate Trump was also a Russian patsy.

No one has described the methodology of fake news better than Ben Rhodes, a deputy national security advisor for Barack Obama and brother of the president of CBS News, David Rhodes. Ben Rhodes cynically bragged about how the Obama administration had sold the dubious Iran deal through misinformation picked up by an adolescent but sympathetic media (for which Rhodes had only contempt). As Rhodes put it, “The average reporter we talk to is 27 years old, and their only reporting experience consists of being around political campaigns. That’s a sea change. They literally know nothing.”

Translated, that meant that Rhodes and his team fed false narratives about the Iran Deal to a sympathetic but ignorant media, which used its received authority to report those narratives as “truth” — at least long enough for the agreement to be passed before its multitudinous falsehoods and side-agreements collapsed under their own weight. “We created an echo chamber,” Rhodes bragged to the New York Times: “They [reporters] were saying things that validated what we had given them to say.”

January 31, 2017

MSM bias is baked-in, and has been for generations

Filed under: Media, Politics, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

In last week’s Goldberg File, Jonah Goldberg talked about the default left-leaning mainstream media (that’s most of the media):

I agree with pretty much all of the right-wing criticism of the mainstream media these days, or at least the intelligent stuff, of which there has been plenty. What the MSM still fails to appreciate is the degree to which they’ve spent the last 40 years — at least — presenting news as unbiased and objective when it was in fact coated with, saturated in, and bent by all manner of confirmation biases, self-serving narratives, assumptions, and ideological priorities that leaned left. No, it wasn’t all “fake news” (man, am I exhausted by the ridiculous misuse of that term), at least not most of the time [insert outrage over Duranty’s Pulitzer, Janet Cooke’s and Steve Glass’s fabulations, and of course that time Dan Rather climbed the jackass tree only to hurl himself down, hitting every branch].

I would even go so far as to argue that most of the time liberal bias isn’t even deliberate. Maybe because I’ve been reading so much public-choice theory and psychology stuff of late, I tend to credit conspiracy theories less and groupthink more for the wayward state of the mainstream media (though Mark Hemingway makes a good point about Plowshares’ sub rosa complicity in pushing the Iran deal). Still, the more you get to know elite “objective” journalists, the more you can appreciate that they are trying to do it right. But it also becomes all the more obvious that they live in a social milieu where the borders between the Democratic party, liberal activism, and liberal experts are very, very fuzzy.

For instance, last week I wrote about that ridiculous article in the Washington Post accusing David Gelernter of being “anti-intellectual.” Much of the Post’s “reporting” hinged on a lengthy, catty quote from a member of the Union of Concern Scientists. As I noted, the Union of Concerned Scientists has always been a political operation. It’s a classic example of an outfit that liberal journalists invest with non-partisan authority so they can pass off partisan views as “science” or some other objective expertise.

In 1985, the editors of National Review wrote:

    The Union of Concerned Scientists, except for the publicity it commands, can be dismissed. It has been a scandal for years — a letterhead with a few distinguished names acting as shills for a membership of left-wing laymen (anyone can be a Concerned Scientist, just by paying the membership fee).

Countless activists-in-experts-clothing organizations run on some variant of this model, from the Women’s Sports Foundation to the National Resources Defense Council.

Reporters routinely call experts they already agree with knowing that their “takes” will line up with what the reporter believes. Sometimes this is lazy or deadline-driven hackery. But more often, it’s not. And that shouldn’t surprise us. Smart liberal reporters are probably inclined to think that smart liberal experts are right when they say things the smart liberal reporters already agree with.

For these and similar reasons, liberal ideas and interpretations of the facts sail through while inconvenient facts and conservative interpretations send up ideological red flags. Think of editors like security guards at a military base. They tend to wave through the people they know and the folks with right ID badges. But when a stranger shows up, or if someone lacks the right credential, then the guards feel like they have to do their job. This is the basic modus operandi for places like Vox, which seek to explain not the facts or the news, but why liberals are right about the facts and the news.

January 29, 2017

QotD: Perverse incentives for journalists

Filed under: Health, Media, Quotations — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

Unfortunately, the incentives of both academic journals and the media mean that dubious research often gets more widely known than more carefully done studies, precisely because the shoddy statistics and wild outliers suggest something new and interesting about the world. If I tell you that more than half of all bankruptcies are caused by medical problems, you will be alarmed and wish to know more. If I show you more carefully done research suggesting that it is a real but comparatively modest problem, you will just be wondering what time Game of Thrones is on.

Megan McArdle, “The Myth of the Medical Bankruptcy”, Bloomberg View, 2017-01-17.

January 24, 2017

“In fact, Trump’s basically gaslighting [the press]”

Filed under: Media, Politics, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Glenn “Instapundit” Reynolds on the relationship between Trump and the media:

First, the thing to understand is that, as I’ve said before, one of the changes going on with Trump generally is the renegotiation of various post-World War II institutional arrangements. One of those is the institutional arrangement involving the press and the White House. For decades, the press got special status because it was seen as both powerful, and institutionally responsible. (And, of course, allied with the Democrats who were mostly in charge of setting up those postwar institutional arrangements). Now those things have changed. If the press were powerful, it would have beaten Trump. If it were responsible, it wouldn’t be running away with fake news whenever it sees a chance to run something damaging to Trump. And, of course, there’s no alliance between Trump and the media, as there was with Obama.

So things will change. The press’s “insider” status — which it cherishes — is going to fade. (This is producing waves of status anxiety, as are many other Trump-induced institutional changes). And, having abandoned, quite openly, any pretense of objectivity and neutrality in the election, the press is going to be treated as an enemy by the Trump Administration until further notice.

In fact, Trump’s basically gaslighting them. Knowing how much they hate him, he’s constantly provoking them to go over the top. Sean Spicer’s crowd-size remarks are all about making them seem petty and negative. (And, possibly, teeing up crowd-size comparisons at next week’s March For Life, which the press normally ignores but which Trump will probably force them to cover).

January 22, 2017

The media’s Great Depression nostalgia

Filed under: History, Media, Politics, USA — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Ed Driscoll on the recurring media nostalgia for a long-ago, much-worse-than-today time:

The month after Obama won the election in 2008, Virginia Postrel noted that a lot of journalists (read: Democrat operatives with bylines) had heavily invested in the notion that it was the 1930s all over again, and had a major case of what Virginia dubbed “Depression Lust,” and were busy cranking out “Depression Porn” in service to the Office of the President-Elect. Not least of which was Time magazine’s infamous cover of Obama Photoshopped into the second coming of FDR and the headline “The New, New Deal,” thinking it was a compliment, and not an ominous prediction of an economy as similarly atrophied as Roosevelt’s. Pretending that Trump is Hitler allows you, oh brave foot-soldier in the DNC-MSM, to pose as the new Dietrich Bonhoeffer. It’s simply the funhouse mirror image version of the same sclerotic meme.

For the modern left, if the economy is relatively good*, and the incoming president has a (D) after his name, he’s the second coming of JFK (see: Clinton, Bill); if the economy is bad, and he has a (D) after his name, he’s FDR — and no matter what the shape of the economy, if the president has an (R) after his name, he’s Hitler (QED: Nixon, Reagan, Bush #43, and Trump).

* And it was, despite Clinton’s rhetoric. Would Time magazine lie to you? Well yes, of course. But look what they admitted in December of 1992.

January 20, 2017

The White House press corps anomaly – “Journalists aren’t treated as housepets anywhere else”

Filed under: Media, Politics, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

Colby Cosh on the rumours that Trump was going to physically evict the press from the White House:

What struck me was that American journalists seemed to agree unanimously that this was a dangerous and alarming signal — as if they really could not do their jobs effectively without office space in the residence of the chief magistrate. No Canadian or other foreigner needs to have it explained how anomalous, downright freaky, this is. Journalists aren’t treated as housepets anywhere else. Even our royal family, which exists explicitly as a public spectacle, regards reporters more as a pack of wild animals to be chastised and fended off.

We are hearing a lot right now about the American press consciously transforming into a political opposition, rediscovering its appropriate, adversarial relationship with the American presidency. How wonderful, if true! But if it is, why did no American reporter say “Please, throw us out immediately: we dare you”? Imagine the opportunity to make a memorable scene: dozens of journalists turning in their White House security credentials simultaneously — maybe burning them! — then marching across the street in ranks to the Old Executive Office Building, carrying their heartbreaking little boxes full of notebooks, laptops, and desk totems. Why, it would be the most inspiring thing you ever saw.

Or maybe it would not serve to make journalists a little more popular for a moment. But, believe me, we have tried everything else. One might even ask why the White House press would wait to be kicked out. If it arranged a sort of pre-emptive general strike, of course, it would have to admit to being a tad hagiographical in the past. Specifically, over the past eight years.

There was a suggestion to defenestrate the media jackals after the election, but it came from outside Trump’s circle of advisors. While I liked the idea at the time, I think Cosh is right in his analysis:

It ought to be obvious why Priebus disavowed talk of evicting the press from the White House. A president who intends to operate by means of whispers, grumbles, threats, and hints needs to have the ears of the press close by. That is the entire historical reason it is close by. Reporters do not have to love Trump to serve his purposes. The glamour of going to work in the White House will do the work of seduction, as it has done down through the decades. I feel certain Trump would no more throw the press out of the West Wing than he will consider leaving Twitter.

December 27, 2016

When New York Times articles “switch to passive voice, they are covering up a lie”

Filed under: Media, Russia — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Robert Graham has a handy tip for understanding newspaper stories, the New York Times in particular:

Here’s a trick when reading New York Times articles: when they switch to passive voice, they are covering up a lie. An example is this paragraph from the above story [*]:

    The Russians were also quicker to turn their attacks to political purposes. A 2007 cyberattack on Estonia, a former Soviet republic that had joined NATO, sent a message that Russia could paralyze the country without invading it. The next year cyberattacks were used during Russia’s war with Georgia.

Normally, editors would switch this to the active voice, or:

    The next year, Russia used cyberattacks in their war against Georgia.

But that would be factually wrong. Yes, cyberattacks happened during the conflicts with Estonia and Georgia, but the evidence in both cases points to targets and tools going viral on social media and web forums. It was the people who conducted the attacks, not the government. Whether it was the government who encouraged the people is the big question — to which we have no answer. Since the NYTimes has no evidence pointing to the Russian government, they switch to the passive voice, hoping you’ll assume they meant the government was to blame.

It’s a clear demonstration that the NYTimes is pushing a narrative, rather than reporting just the facts allowing you to decide for yourself.

December 23, 2016

QotD: How not to do scientific journalism

Filed under: Media, Politics, Quotations, Science — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

Something has happened at Slate. Until relatively recently, Slate‘s science page produced so much amazingly good content that we were tempted to link to them multiple times per day. In our 2013 list of the Top 10 Science News Sites, we awarded them an honorable mention.

But, that was then. Now, for some reason, Slate‘s science page has partially abandoned its strong tradition of in-depth analysis to promote an angry, opinion-driven reportage that is mostly aimed at insulting Republicans and Christians.

This is counterproductive. Science journalism that forsakes its primary mission of science communication to engage in partisan culture wars does a grotesque disservice to the scientific endeavor and is doomed to fail. Just ask ScienceBlogs, which has become a shell of its former self because, as the New York Times described, it became “Fox News for the religion-baiting, peak-oil crowd” that utilized “redundant and effortfully incendiary rhetoric.” Slate‘s science page is heading toward a similar path.

Alex B. Berezow, Slate‘s Science Page Has Gone Crazy”, Real Clear Science, 2015-05-25.

December 20, 2016

The pursuit of “fake news” may lead to unexpected destinations

Filed under: Britain, Media, Politics — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

At the Adam Smith Institute blog, Tim Worstall looks at the ginned-up outrage over “fake news” in the media:

The comment page of The Guardian is a useful place to watch the latest alarum and mass delusion to which we humans are distressingly subject take form. The one so taking form at present being the outcries over the false news which so obviously won the election for Trump (or Brexit, The Italian referendum, Beppe to be, Le Pen and, well, select from whatever will annoy those who write the Guardian‘s comment pages).

The truly astonishing thing about it all being the alarming lack of self knowledge on display. Because of course fake news is nothing new at all, indeed it’s been a standard tactic of various on the left for some time now.

[…]

And closer to home here think of the UK Uncut saga. The story about Vodafone and the £6 billion tax bill. There never was such a bill, there was no deal to cut it and yet that isn’t what our media has been telling us, is it? Richard Brooks, the originator of the story in Private Eye, has actually explained to us how the figure was reached. If tax law was different then more money would have been owed. We’re sure that’s true but there’s a certain promulgation of not quite an entire and whole truth to move from that to an insistence that £6 billion was owed, no? Or the campaign about Boot’s tax avoidance, something they achieved while obeying every jot and tittle of the law about what people should not do to avoid tax.

At least one of the perpetrators of that little, umm, piece of truthiness, has openly agreed that it was all about creating the narrative, exact details were not the point.

Or even the continued wails that inequality is rising to unprecedented levels. Global inequality is falling and within country inequality is nothing at all like the levels of the historical past – we’ve welfare systems explicitly designed to make sure that it isn’t. The spread of food banks – is this evidence, as claimed, of massive need? Or evidence of an always extant need now finally being met?

We’re going on a length here because this is an important issue. Yes, indeed, there is fake news out there. But what is going to be uncomfortable for a lot of those complaining about it is that a close examination of “truth” is going to leave an awful lot of supposedly established facts about our modern world looking terribly exposed.

December 11, 2016

QotD: Muzzling the comment section, for its own good

Filed under: Cancon, Humour, Media, Quotations — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 01:00

For some time now the trend du jour among many media outlets has been to ban news comments — then insult reader intelligence by proclaiming this is being done out of a deep-rooted love of “conversation” and “relationships.” You see, these websites aren’t banning comments because they’re too lazy or cheap to weed out spam and trolls, but because they love you. These sites aren’t outsourcing all human interactivity to Facebook because bean counters can’t monetize quality on-site discourse in a pie chart, they’re doing it because they care so very deeply about their community.

Why, oh, why can’t you people understand that giving the middle finger and a shiny new muzzle to your entire readership is an act of love?

Karl Bode, “The Globe And Mail Tries Something Revolutionary: Actually Giving A Damn About User Comments & Conversation”, Techdirt, 2016-11-30.

December 1, 2016

Rolling Stone calls out the Washington Post for shoddy journalism

Filed under: Media, Politics, Russia, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 08:21

Pot, I’d like to introduce you to Kettle. Kettle, please meet Pot.

However, that’s not to say that Rolling Stone is wrong about this:

Last week, a technology reporter for the Washington Post named Craig Timberg ran an incredible story. It has no analog that I can think of in modern times. Headlined “Russian propaganda effort helped spread ‘fake news’ during election, experts say,” the piece promotes the work of a shadowy group that smears some 200 alternative news outlets as either knowing or unwitting agents of a foreign power, including popular sites like Truthdig and Naked Capitalism.

The thrust of Timberg’s astonishingly lazy report is that a Russian intelligence operation of some kind was behind the publication of a “hurricane” of false news reports during the election season, in particular stories harmful to Hillary Clinton. The piece referenced those 200 websites as “routine peddlers of Russian propaganda.”

The piece relied on what it claimed were “two teams of independent researchers,” but the citing of a report by the longtime anticommunist Foreign Policy Research Institute was really window dressing.

The meat of the story relied on a report by unnamed analysts from a single mysterious “organization” called PropOrNot – we don’t know if it’s one person or, as it claims, over 30 – a “group” that seems to have been in existence for just a few months.

It was PropOrNot’s report that identified what it calls “the list” of 200 offending sites. Outlets as diverse as AntiWar.com, LewRockwell.com and the Ron Paul Institute were described as either knowingly directed by Russian intelligence, or “useful idiots” who unwittingly did the bidding of foreign masters.

Forget that the Post offered no information about the “PropOrNot” group beyond that they were “a collection of researchers with foreign policy, military and technology backgrounds.”

Forget also that the group offered zero concrete evidence of coordination with Russian intelligence agencies, even offering this remarkable disclaimer about its analytic methods:

“Please note that our criteria are behavioral. … For purposes of this definition it does not matter … whether they even knew they were echoing Russian propaganda at any particular point: If they meet these criteria, they are at the very least acting as bona-fide ‘useful idiots’ of the Russian intelligence services, and are worthy of further scrutiny.”

What this apparently means is that if you published material that meets their definition of being “useful” to the Russian state, you could be put on the “list,” and “warrant further scrutiny.”

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