No one outside of a few obsessed cranks would’ve noticed it if the Washington Post hadn’t given it front page prominence last week: a formerly obscure web site, propornot.com, which purports to identify a “Russian active measures” campaign with some very specific goals in mind As Post “reporter” Craig Timberg put it:
“The flood of ‘fake news’ this election season got support from a sophisticated Russian propaganda campaign that created and spread misleading articles online with the goal of punishing Democrat Hillary Clinton, helping Republican Donald Trump and undermining faith in American democracy, say independent researchers who tracked the operation.”
While the Post piece doesn’t link directly to the propornot site – because doing so would’ve exposed its laughably amateurish “methodology” for all to see – Timberg does mention their list of online Boris Badenovs, including not only Antiwar.com but also the Drudge Report, WikiLeaks, David Stockman’s Contra Corner, the Ron Paul Institute, LewRockwell.com, Counterpunch, Zero Hedge, Naked Capitalism, Truthdig, Truth-out, and a host of others. These sites, according to the Post, not only promoted a barrage of “fake news” with the aim of defeating Mrs. Clinton, but they did so at the behest of a “centrally-directed” (per propornot) intelligence operation undertaken by the Russians. So what did this “fake news” consist of? Timberg “reports”:
“Russia’s increasingly sophisticated propaganda machinery – including thousands of botnets, teams of paid human ‘trolls,’ and networks of websites and social-media accounts – echoed and amplified right-wing sites across the Internet as they portrayed Clinton as a criminal hiding potentially fatal health problems and preparing to hand control of the nation to a shadowy cabal of global financiers. The effort also sought to heighten the appearance of international tensions and promote fear of looming hostilities with nuclear-armed Russia.”
Never mind that it was Hillary Clinton herself who heightened international tensions by threatening military retaliation against the Russians for supposedly unleashing via WikiLeaks a flood of embarrassing emails. In a speech touted as outlining her foreign policy platform, she railed:
“You’ve seen reports. Russia’s hacked into a lot of things. China’s hacked into a lot of things. Russia even hacked into the Democratic National Committee, maybe even some state election systems. So, we’ve got to step up our game. Make sure we are well defended and able to take the fight to those who go after us.
“As President, I will make it clear, that the United States will treat cyber attacks just like any other attack. We will be ready with serious political, economic and military responses.”
According to the “experts” at propornot – granted anonymity by Timberg due to alleged fear of “Russian hackers” – to so much as note this clear threat is to brand oneself as a “Russian agent of influence.”
And what about Mrs. Clinton’s health problems – was reporting on this driven by Russian spies embedded in the alternative media? Or was it occasioned by this video, which saw her falling to the ground after leaving the 9/11 ceremony early? Are the folks at propornot and their fans at the Washington Post saying the amateur videographer who took that footage is a Russian secret agent? Were the television networks and other outlets that showed the footage “useful idiots,” to employ a favorite cold war smear revived by propornot? Given their criteria for labeling people agents of the Kremlin, the answer to these questions has to be yes – and now we are falling down the rabbit hole, in a free-fall descent into lunacy.
Propornot’s “criteria” for inclusion on their blacklist is actually an ideological litmus test: if you hold certain views, you’re in the pay of the Kremlin, or else an “unwitting agent” – as former CIA head Mike Morell said of Trump. If you say anything at all positive about Russia or Putin – or a long list of entities, like China or “radical political parties in the US or Europe” (does this include the GOP?) – it’s a dead giveaway. We’re told to “investigate this by searching for mentions of, for example, ‘russia’, on their site by Googling for ‘site:whateversite.com Russia’, and seeing what comes up.”
If only Sherlock Holmes had had Google at his disposal, those detective stories would’ve been a lot shorter!
The propornot site is filled with complex graphs, and the text is riddled with “scientific”-sounding phrases, but when you get right down to it their “methodology” boils down to this: if you don’t fit within a very narrow range of allowable opinion, either falling off the left edge or the right edge, you’re either a paid Russian troll or else you’re being “manipulated” by forces you don’t understand and don’t want to understand.
Did you cheer on Brexit? You’re Putin’s pawn!
Are you worried about “World War III, nuclear devastation, etc.” instead of being content in the knowledge that their preferred policy – unmitigated hostility toward Russia — would “just result in a Cold War 2 and Russia’s eventual peaceful defeat, like the last time”? Well, then, clearly you’re either on Putin’s payroll, or else you’d like to be.
Other proscribed opinions include: “gold standard nuttery and attacks on the US dollar,” believing “the mainstream media can’t be trusted,” and “anti-‘globalism.’” And to underscore their complete lack of self-awareness, we’re told that additional warning signs of Putinism are “hyperbolic alarmism” and “generally ridiculous over-the-top assertions.”
In their world, it isn’t hyperbolic alarmism to point to ramshackle Russia, with a GDP equal to Spain’s and a declining military budget that pales before our own, as an existential threat to the West. And if you’re a reporter for the Washington Post, which has destroyed what reputation it had by effectively becoming the house organ of the Democratic National Committee, generally ridiculous overt-the-top assertions, such as those proffered by propornot, are “news.”
The Post piece also cites an article published on the “War On The Rocks” web site (which is exactly what it sounds like). The authors, a triumvirate of neocons, avers that they’ve been “tracking” “Russian propaganda” efforts since 2014, and they’ve concluded that the Grand Goal of the Russkies is to “Erode trust between citizens and elected officials and democratic institutions” – as if this process isn’t occurring naturally due to the depredations of a corrupt and arrogant political class.
Another insidious theme of Russian “active measures” as identified by these geniuses is “Stoking fears over the national debt, attacking institutions such as the Federal Reserve, and attempts to discredit Western financial experts and business leaders.” So we mustn’t talk about the national debt – because to do so brands one as a cog in Putin’s propaganda machine. Gee, based on these criteria, we can only conclude that every vaguely conservative politician running for office in the last decade or so is part of the Vast Russian Conspiracy, not to mention numerous economists.
And that’s not all – not by a long shot. Here’s a list of more Forbidden Topics we’re not supposed to discuss, except maybe in whispers in the privacy of our own homes: “Police brutality, racial tensions, protests, anti-government standoffs, online privacy concerns, and alleged government misconduct are all emphasized [by the Vast Russian Conspiracists – ed.] to magnify their scale and leveraged to undermine the fabric of society.” After all, Russia Today is “emphasizing” these issues – so mum’s the word!
Yes, these people are serious – but why should anyone take them seriously? Why is the Washington Post “reporting” this nonsense – and putting it on the front page, no less? In short, what’s the purpose of this virulent propaganda campaign? After all, Hillary Clinton has been defeated, along with her campaign theme of “A vote for Trump is a vote for Putin.” What does a continuation of this losing mantra hope to accomplish?
The folks at propornot are explicit about their goal: they want the government to step in. They want to close down these “agents of influence.” In their own words, they want the FBI and the Department of Justice to launch “formal investigations” of the sites on their blacklist on the grounds that “the kind of folks who make propaganda for brutal oligarchies are often involved in a wide range of bad business.” They accuse the proprietors of the listed web sites – including us, by the way – of having “violated the Espionage Act, the Foreign Agents Registration Act, and other related laws.”
Oh, but they say they want to “avoid McCarthyism”! They just want to shut us down and shut us up.
These people are authoritarians, plain and simple: under the guise of fighting authoritarianism, they seek to ban dissenting views, jail the dissenters, and impose a narrow range of permissible debate on the public discourse. They are dangerous, and they need to be outed and publicly shamed.
To be included on their list of “subversives” is really a badge of honor.