“Very often the enemy is held to possess some especially effective source of power: he controls the press; he has unlimited funds; he has a new secret for influencing the mind (brainwashing)…” —Richard Hofstadter, Harper’s Magazine, November 1964
On November 24, The Washington Post published what at first glance looked to be a deeply troubling report on the far-reaching, insidious influence of the Kremlin on the American media. The Post’s national technology reporter Craig Timberg writes that “a sophisticated Russian propaganda campaign that created and spread misleading articles online with the goal of…helping Republican Donald Trump and undermining faith in American democracy.”
According to Timberg, a group which goes by the moniker PropOrNot, a “nonpartisan collection of researchers with foreign policy, military and technology backgrounds” has identified “more than 200 websites as routine peddlers of Russian propaganda during the election season, with combined audiences of at least 15 million Americans.”
PropOrNot, which has yet to identify its members or its source of funding (its executive director spoke to Timberg on the condition of anonymity) accuses the right-wing Drudge Report, left-wing Counterpunch, Consortium News (whose founder and editor was recently awarded the I.F. Stone Medal from Harvard University), the libertarian Antiwar.com, Naked Capitalism, David Stockman’s Contra Corner, Truth-Out, TruthDig, as all being “useful idiots” of the Kremlin.
Still worse, “PropOrNot estimates that stories planted or promoted by the disinformation campaign were viewed more than 213 million times.” Yet, like much else about this anonymous outfit, how it came up with this figure is something of a mystery.
It should be noted that the PropOrNot Web site shares the same hallmarks of the very disinformation campaigns it warns against: a complete lack of transparency, a shoddy methodology, and zero information about its funders, claiming that its members “are anonymous for now, because we are civilian Davids taking on a state-backed adversary Goliath, and we take things like the international Russian intimidation of journalists, “Pizzagate”-style mob harassment, and the assassination of Jo Cox very seriously.”