Department of Homeland Security Verifies That NBC’s Report Of Russian Hacking Was False And Irresponsible

Last week NBC and MSNBC continued to spread hysteria about Russia by both misrepresenting Congressional testimony regarding Russia and falsely labeling misinformation from several months ago as breaking news. The Department of Homeland Security has issued a statement verifying that the criticism written by many in the media, which I also discussed in this post. DHS called the report from NBC News incorrect and irresponsible reporting. The statement also stressed that, “we have no evidence – old or new – that any votes in the 2016 elections were manipulated by Russian hackers.” It was stated during the Congressional testimony that the action was primarily scanning of computer systems, which is done by both the United States and Russia.

The statement from DHS follows:

“Recent NBC reporting has misrepresented facts and confused the public with regard to Department of Homeland Security and state and local government efforts to combat election hacking. First off, let me be clear: we have no evidence – old or new – that any votes in the 2016 elections were manipulated by Russian hackers. NBC News continues to falsely report my recent comments on attempted election hacking – which clearly mirror my testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee last summer – as some kind of “breaking news,” incorrectly claiming a shift in the administration’s position on cyber threats. As I said eight months ago, a number of states were the target of Russian government cyber actors seeking vulnerabilities and access to U.S. election infrastructure. In the majority of cases, only preparatory activity like scanning was observed, while in a small number of cases, actors were able to access the system but we have no evidence votes were changed or otherwise impacted.

“NBC’s irresponsible reporting, which is being roundly criticized elsewhere in the media and by security experts alike, undermines the ability of the Department of Homeland Security, our partners at the Election Assistance Commission, and state and local officials across the nation to do our incredibly important jobs. While we’ll continue our part to educate NBC and others on the threat, more importantly, the Department of Homeland Security and our state and local partners will continue our mission to secure the nation’s election systems.

“To our state and local partners in the election community: there’s no question we’re making real and meaningful progress together. States will do their part in how they responsibly manage and implement secure voting processes. For our part, we’re going to continue to support with risk and vulnerability assessments, offer cyber hygiene scans, provide real-time threat intel feeds, issue security clearances to state officials, partner on incident response planning, and deliver cybersecurity training. The list goes on of how we’re leaning forward and helping our partners in the election community. We will not stop, and will stand by our partners to protect our nation’s election infrastructure and ensure that all Americans can have confidence in our democratic elections.”

While this does show the need for increased cybersecurity,  it does not justify the hysteria spread by NBC and repeated by many Democrats.

The misrepresentation of the facts made by NBC and MSNBC has often been cited by Democrats who have greatly exaggerated the threat, falsely seeing this as an unprecedented one-sided attack on our country, as opposed to the type of activity which has been commonplace by both the United States and Russia for many years. This has led to the totally unfounded belief by many Democrats that the 2016 election was stolen from Hillary Clinton. This gives the Democratic establishment excuses to avoid making necessary changes as their policies have lost step with voters, and much of the party base, leading to repeated electoral losses. Democrats need to accept that circumventing party rules to give the nomination to a candidate as terrible as Hillary Clinton was one of the worst blunders in political history, along with being an unethical act showing a total disregard for democratic principles.

This unfounded hysteria also feeds into the anti-Russian views of neoconservative interventionists who desire regime change in Russia, and has led to considerable McCarthyism from many Democrats who see legitimate criticism of the party from the left as originating from Russia. Rather than protecting democracy, anti-Russia hysteria is being used as an excuse to oppose dissent, leading to increased risk of censorship, including on social media.

This was only one of multiple examples of claims regarding Russia being made by the news media and later retracted. I listed this and other examples here, and The Nation has also debunked the irresponsible media coverage of claims about Russia. As I noted earlier in the year, FAIR (Fairness and Accuracy In Reporting) has  criticized the coverage of Russia by Rachel Maddow and Chris Hayes on MSNBC.

Update:

Editor Of Politico Magazine Expresses Skepticism Over Russiagate Conspiracy

NBC News Revives Debunked Claim Of Russia Hacking Voter Databases

I always find it ridiculous when CNN repeatedly calls news stories throughout the day “breaking news,” but NBC has taken this much further. NBC is taking a debunked claim of Russia hacking voter databases from several months ago, and labeled this “breaking news.” That would be like starting a news cast with a claim such as “Breaking News. There are Weapons of Mass Destruction in Iraq requiring military action.”

This claim was first made months ago, with the Department of Homeland Security subsequently reporting during Congressional testimony that all that occurred was routine scanning of computer systems, with it commonplace for Russia and the United States to routinely scan each other’s computer systems. The same is true of much of “Russiagate” with it being common for both Russia and the United States to meddle in the elections of each other and other countries, with no evidence of any actions in 2016 which altered the election results. After months of investigations, there has been evidence of money laundering and obstruction of justice by Donald Trump, but no evidence of any collusion between Trump and Putin which affected the election, despite repeated claims from Democrats.

For whatever it might mean, some states have also accused the Department of Homeland Security of trying to hack into their system.

Glenn Greenwald discussed this story here.  This was only one of multiple examples of claims regarding Russia being made by the news media and later retracted. I listed this and other examples here, and The Nation has also debunked the irresponsible media coverage of claims about Russia.

Despite the claims in this story being both old news and false information, NBC and MSNBC continued to spread this false claim, which was subsequently picked up by other media outlets. As I noted earlier in the year, FAIR (Fairness and Accuracy In Reporting) has  criticized the coverage of Russia by Rachel Maddow and Chris Hayes on MSNBC.

There very likely are vulnerabilities in our election systems which can be exploited. The proper response is to improve cyber-security. There is no place for the hysteria being spread by NBC and MSNBC, or for the McCarthyism and war mongering by some Democrats in response. It is dangerous to exaggerate Russian actions to place the blame for Clinton’s loss on a nuclear power such as Russia. This also leads to many Democrats failing to accept the real reasons why Hillary Clinton lost to a candidate as terrible as Donald Trump, reducing the chances that the Democrats will fix the problems which have resulted in multiple losses over the past decade.

Russia is hardly led by a band of boy scouts, but there are far more serious threats to our democracy. This includes Trump’s authoritarian tendencies, Republican voter suppression, Democratic McCarthyism and rigging of the nomination system to exclude more liberal and progressive viewpoints, and even, as I discussed yesterday, Facebook censorship of alternative opinions. In the scheme of things, Russia is minor threat which has been greatly exaggerated, distracting from our more serious problems.

Facebook “Techno-Fascism” Is Killing Everything From Independent News To Comedy On The Internet

Facebook is bringing communities together–and deciding what we might say and read. This includes both outright Facebook censorship in which posts are taken down and people are placed in “Facebook Jail,” to new algorithms which limit what we see on our timeline. The new algorithms have greatly reduced traffic to many outside sources harming blogs, the independent media, and even internet comedy.

Antimedia writes that Facebook Begins Killing the Independent News Industry. While Facebook has had considerable impact on internet traffic for years, the problem became more severe with the spread of anti-Russia hysteria based on highly exaggerated claims regarding the role of social media on the results of the 2016 election. The response from Facebook has to fight “fake news,” which, as Glenn Greenwald has warned, is often used as an excuse for censorship. Presumably the writings of those of us who warned about the dubious arguments for the Iraq war, along with the revelations of the Pentagon Papers on the Vietnam war, would have been classified as “fake news” by the mainstream in the past. Today alternative views on both the left and right are being restricted. Anti-Media saw the turning point as when Barack Obama spoke with Mark Zuckerberg about battling “fake news.”

…Zuckerberg has slowly been chipping away at “fake news” sites even when he previously believed that they were not even a particular issue. Following the infamous PropOrNot report barely a week later, which effectively labelled every single site that criticizes U.S. foreign policy as a Russian agent, alternative media has faced a slow and inevitable decline.

In September last year, acclaimed writer Chris Hedges of Truthdig wrote:

“In the name of combating Russia-inspired ‘fake news,’ Google, Facebook, Twitter, The New York Times, The Washington Post, BuzzFeed News, Agence France-Presse and CNN in April imposed algorithms or filters, overseen by ‘evaluators,’ that hunt for key words such as ‘U.S. military,’ ‘inequality’ and ‘socialism,’ along with personal names such as Julian Assange and Laura Poitras, the filmmaker. Ben Gomes, Google’s vice president for search engineering, says Google has amassed some 10,000 ‘evaluators’ to determine the ‘quality’ and veracity of websites. Internet users doing searches on Google, since the algorithms were put in place, are diverted from sites such as Truthdig and directed to mainstream publications such as The New York Times. The news organizations and corporations that are imposing this censorship have strong links to the Democratic Party. They are cheerleaders for American imperial projects and global capitalism. Because they are struggling in the new media environment for profitability, they have an economic incentive to be part of the witch hunt.”

At first, it was corporate gate-keepers like the Guardian who were begging for donations in the age of Trump, as they had lost all credibility in keeping up with the needs and interests of the people. Now, we are all asking for donations, as Facebook’s algorithms are cutting off close to 100 percent of our Facebook audiences…

This has nothing to do with combating “fake news.” I have written over 400 articles online, and close to 100 percent of my sources are from mainstream outlets like Reuters, the New York Times, the Guardian, the BBC, the Washington Post, and others. Why should we be censored for referencing the very news outlets that people like Obama want us to trust in the first place?

We are being censored because we look for the paragraphs in those reports which need highlighting, or the hidden reports that go overlooked, and we broadcast it to millions of people on a daily basis.

Many other sites on both the left and right are reporting similar difficulties. As Hedges pointed out, this has often been pushed by the establishment wing of the Democratic Party. Supporters of Hillary Clinton have been especially aggressive in filing bogus complaints with Facebook regarding those who disagree with them, and Clinton has outright attacked sources such as Wikileaks, while using what she claims is “fake news” critical of her (even when it is often true) as justification for censorship. Donald Trump has taken a position similar to Clinton’s in backing censorship.

While not true of all, many of us in the blogosphere and alternative press also frequently use mainstream news outlets as a major source of information, even if we do highlight key facts which are often ignored by the talking heads who try to tell us what to think on cable and broadcast news. Articles coming from a small site such as this typically are backed up with multiple references from major media sources, but Facebook algorithms now hide what we write.

The alternative press is probably suffering the most, but Funny or Die also complains about How Facebook Is Killing Comedy:

The whole story is basically that Facebook gets so much traffic that they started convincing publishers to post things on Facebook. For a long time, that was fine. People posted things on Facebook, then you would click those links and go to their websites. But then, gradually, Facebook started exerting more and more control of what was being seen, to the point that they, not our website, essentially became the main publishers of everyone’s content. Today, there’s no reason to go to a comedy website that has a video if that video is just right on Facebook. And that would be fine if Facebook compensated those companies for the ad revenue that was generated from those videos, but because Facebook does not pay publishers, there quickly became no money in making high-quality content for the internet…

Facebook is essentially running a payola scam where you have to pay them if you want your own fans to see your content. If you run a large publishing company and you make a big piece of content that you feel proud of, you put it up on Facebook. From there, their algorithm takes over, with no transparency. So, not only is the website not getting ad revenue they used to get, they have to pay Facebook to push it out to their own subscribers. So, Facebook gets the ad revenue from the eyeballs on the thing they are seeing, and they get revenue from the publisher. It’s like if TheNew York Times had their own subscriber base, but you had to pay the paperboy for every article you wanted to see.

The worst part is that as an artist, it feels like your own fault. We’re used to a world where if you put something out there that’s good, people see it and share it. But that’s just not true in this world. Someone can make something really good, and just because of some weird algorithmic reasons, or if it’s not designed specifically for Facebook, it doesn’t do well. And then it becomes impossible to know what a good thing to make is anymore…

Facebook says that they are building communities, but really they’re fracturing us. We are all on our own little news bubbles and on our own little islands. It’s also fracturing our own creative projects. The internet has turned into a place where you can’t have many different people speaking as one entity and expect those people to make a living. And to me, those are the most exciting, rewarding projects, and I can’t make those now. I am looking at the past with rose-colored glasses, but you can say categorically that the internet was a better place 3-4 years ago. It used to be fruitful, but it’s like a desert now.

It looks like we have been warned about this. Back in 2015, Mark Carrigan warned about Mark Zuckerberg’s philosophy of techno-fascism.

Donald Trump Attacks Free Press With Fake News Awards

Donald Trump has issued his fake news awards. Besides being seen as an attack on the First Amendment, it is rather absurd for Trump to be criticizing anyone for fake news (even in the cases where the media did get it wrong) considering the vast amount of misinformation put out in his speeches and tweets. This is, after all, the administration, which from the start was plagued by alternative facts.

Trump’s first choice was a rather strange one: “The New York Times’ Paul Krugman claimed on the day of President Trump’s historic, landslide victory that the economy would never recover.” Yes, Trump is right in saying that the Dow has hit a record high, but the credit for much of the economic growth in the past year is due to inheriting a healthy economy. Regardless, even if Paul Krugman was wrong in a prediction in an opinion piece, this is not the same as the media getting the facts wrong in news reporting. Krugman even retracted his own prediction three days later, saying that the problems he predicted would not be immediate.

To be fair to Trump, he is correct about some of the other items he listed. As I (and others) have pointed out, the media has made huge mistakes in its coverage of Russia, and has retracted multiple false reports. Fairness And Accuracy in Reporting has criticized the Russia hysteria at MSNBC more than once (although CNN received the brunt of Trump’s attacks).  I suspect that many journalists who predicted that Clinton would win easily fell for the Russian conspiracy theories spread by Clinton and the DNC, blaming Russia for the loss to rationalize their own erroneous predictions.

There were also errors by the media on other matters, including some which were quickly retracted. How many of Trump’s errors have been retracted? Vox went through the awards and pointed out where the media made mistakes in the Russia coverage and elsewhere.

The more serious problem is the attack on the press and First Amendment rights. As I noted in December, the number of journalists in prison around the world is at a historical high. The Committee To Protect Journalists has attributed the increase to Donald Trump’s attacks on the free press.

Two Republican Senators criticized Trump for his attacks on the press. Jeff Flake gave a Senate floor speech comparing Trump to Stalin with his attacks on the press as being enemies of the people:

It was a year in which a daily assault on the constitutionally protected free speech was launched by the same White House, an assault that is as unprecedented as it is unwarranted. The enemy of the people was how the president of the United States called the free press in 2017. Mr. President, it is a testament to the condition of our democracy that our own president uses words infamously spoken by Joseph Stalin to describe his enemies. It bears noting that so fraught with malice was the phrase “enemy of the people,” that even [Soviet leader] Nikita Khrushchev forbade its use, telling the Soviet Communist Party the phrase had been introduced by Stalin for the purpose of “annihilating such individuals” who disagreed with the supreme leader. This alone should be the source of great shame for us in this body.

Especially for those of us in the president’s party. For they are shameful, repulsive statements and of course the president has it precisely backward. Despotism is the enemy of the people. The free press is the despot’s enemy, which makes the free press the guardian of democracy.

When a figure in power reflexively calls any press that doesn’t suit him fake news, it is that person who should be the figure of suspicion, not the press. I dare say that anyone who has had the privilege and awesome responsibility to serve in this chamber knows that these reflexive slurs of “fake news” are dubious at best. Those of us who travel overseas, especially to war zones and other troubled areas all around the globe encounter members of US-based media who risk their lives and sometimes lose their lives reporting on the truth. To dismiss their work as fake news is an affront to their commitment and their sacrifice.

John McCain had an op-ed in The Washington Post entitled Mr. President, stop attacking the press:

…While administration officials often condemn violence against reporters abroad, Trump continues his unrelenting attacks on the integrity of American journalists and news outlets. This has provided cover for repressive regimes to follow suit. The phrase “fake news” — granted legitimacy by an American president — is being used by autocrats to silence reporters, undermine political opponents, stave off media scrutiny and mislead citizens. CPJ documented 21 cases in 2017 in which journalists were jailed on “fake news” charges.

Trump’s attempts to undermine the free press also make it more difficult to hold repressive governments accountable. For decades, dissidents and human rights advocates have relied on independent investigations into government corruption to further their fight for freedom. But constant cries of “fake news” undercut this type of reporting and strip activists of one of their most powerful tools of dissent.

We cannot afford to abdicate America’s long-standing role as the defender of human rights and democratic principles throughout the world. Without strong leadership in the White House, Congress must commit to protecting independent journalism, preserving an open and free media environment, and defending the fundamental right to freedom of opinion and expression…

Ultimately, freedom of information is critical for a democracy to succeed. We become better, stronger and more effective societies by having an informed and engaged public that pushes policymakers to best represent not only our interests but also our values. Journalists play a major role in the promotion and protection of democracy and our unalienable rights, and they must be able to do their jobs freely. Only truth and transparency can guarantee freedom.

Washington Post Columnist Debunks Claims Of Russia Affecting Election Result Despite Many Other Misleading Articles At The Post On Russia

The Washington Post has been spreading a lot of false stories which increase hysteria about Russia, similar to stories about fictitious WMD in Iraq prior to the Iraq war. However, despite the general fallacious editorial view of the newspaper, one columnist actually got matters right recently, debunking claims that Russian ads on social media affected the election results.

Glenn Greenwald once again criticized the coverage in The Washington Post yesterday in an article entitled  WashPost Is Richly Rewarded for False News About Russia Threat While Public Is Deceived:

In the past six weeks, the Washington Post published two blockbuster stories about the Russian threat that went viral: one on how Russia is behind a massive explosion of “fake news,” the other on how it invaded the U.S. electric grid. Both articles were fundamentally false. Each now bears a humiliating editor’s note grudgingly acknowledging that the core claims of the story were fiction: The first note was posted a full two weeks later to the top of the original article; the other was buried the following day at the bottom.

The second story on the electric grid turned out to be far worse than I realized when I wrote about it on Saturday, when it became clear that there was no “penetration of the U.S. electricity grid” as the Post had claimed. In addition to the editor’s note, the Russia-hacked-our-electric-grid story now has a full-scale retraction in the form of a separate article admitting that “the incident is not linked to any Russian government effort to target or hack the utility” and there may not even have been malware at all on this laptop.

But while these debacles are embarrassing for the paper, they are also richly rewarding. That’s because journalists — including those at the Post — aggressively hype and promote the original, sensationalistic false stories, ensuring that they go viral, generating massive traffic for the Post (the paper’s executive editor, Marty Baron, recently boasted about how profitable the paper has become).

After spreading the falsehoods far and wide, raising fear levels and manipulating U.S. political discourse in the process (both Russia stories were widely hyped on cable news), journalists who spread the false claims subsequently note the retraction or corrections only in the most muted way possible, and often not at all. As a result, only a tiny fraction of people who were exposed to the original false story end up learning of the retractions.

Baron himself, editorial leader of the Post, is a perfect case study in this irresponsible tactic. It was Baron who went to Twitter on the evening of November 24 to announce the Post’s exposé of the enormous reach of Russia’s fake news operation, based on what he heralded as the findings of “independent researchers.” Baron’s tweet went all over the place; to date, it has been re-tweeted more than 3,000 times, including by many journalists with their own large followings:

But after that story faced a barrage of intense criticism — from Adrian Chen in the New Yorker (“propaganda about Russia propaganda”), Matt Taibbi in Rolling Stone (“shameful, disgusting”), my own article, and many others — including legal threats from the sites smeared as Russian propaganda outlets by the Post’s “independent researchers” — the Post finally added its lengthy editor’s note distancing itself from the anonymous group that provided the key claims of its story (“The Post … does not itself vouch for the validity of PropOrNot’s findings” and “since publication of the Post’s story, PropOrNot has removed some sites from its list”)…

Greenwald proceeded to provide many more examples of poor media coverage. Of course misleading coverage is not limited to The Washington Post as I described here. There have been multiple examples of various news sources posting material on Russia which was later retracted as false. Then there is the hysterical coverage at MSNBC.

Despite the overall misleading coverage, there is a recent exception at The Washington Post. Philip Bump wrote, There’s still little evidence that Russia’s 2016 social media efforts did much of anything. This overlaps with the material  I previously posted here, but includes some additional facts worth reading. As I previously noted, the information released after the Congressional investigations showed that material from Russian pages accounted for “less than 0.004 percent of all content — or about 1 in 23,000 news feed items” on Facebook.

Bump discussed the false narrative that Russia was responsible for Clinton’s loss, and wrote:

All of that, though, requires setting aside what we actually know about the Russian activity on Facebook and Twitter: It was often modest, heavily dissociated from the campaign itself and minute in the context of election social media efforts.

Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee released a series of examples of the sorts of ads purchased by the Russians in November. Many, as The Washington Post reported, focused on highlighting divisive cultural issues, like the Black Lives Matter movement and immigration.

Of the 30 ads shared by the Democrats, six, viewed 1.2 million times in total, ran in 2015. Only seven ran in the last month of the campaign, totaling about 340,000 views. The ads targeted none of the four closest states in the election — New Hampshire, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin — specifically; most were national ad buys. States that were targeted specifically included Texas and New York, neither of which was considered a swing state.

A little-noticed statement from Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.), chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, detailed how unsophisticated the Russian ad targeting actually was in the context of the election. Among the points he made:

  • Maryland was targeted by nearly five times as many ads as was Wisconsin (262 to 55).
  • Thirty-five of the 55 ads targeting Wisconsin ran during the primary.
  • More ads targeted DC than Pennsylvania.
  • A total of $1,979 was spent in Wisconsin — $1,925 of it in the primary.
  • The spending in Michigan and Pennsylvania were $823 and $300, respectively.
  • More of the geographically targeted ads ran in 2015 than in 2016.

Facebook’s own public numbers hint at how the ads were weighted relative to the campaign. Ten million people saw ads run by the Russian agents — but 5.6 million of those views were after the election.

Bump also debunked the claims regarding Twitter:

Just before Election Day in 2016, Twitter announced 1 billion tweets had been sent from August 2015 through that point. Even assuming all 202,000 of those tweets from the Russian accounts were in that period, it means they constituted 0.02 percent of the election-related tweets. On Election Day itself, there were another 75 million election-related tweets. If all of the Russian-linked tweets had been dropped on Election Day — closer to the point at which they would have directly helped suppress or boost turnout — they would still only have constituted 0.27 percent of the tweets that day. But they weren’t.

Perhaps, one might argue, there is classified information about Russia’s meddling that suggests a more dramatic problem. Perhaps. On Thursday morning, though, Rep. Jim Himes (D-Conn.) of the House intelligence committee told CNN he hadn’t seen much evidence of any criminal collusion the American people weren’t already aware of. (There’s also the argument that, in an election as close as that of 2016, even small efforts by Russian actors might have had an outsized effect. This is true, but it is also true of hundreds of other small things that happened (and didn’t) in the closing days of the presidential race.)

As it stands, the public evidence doesn’t support the idea that the Russians executed a savvy electoral strategy on social media to ensure Trump’s victory. In fact, it seems less the case that they did so now than seemed might be possible back in July.

In other words, while there is evidence of Donald Trump acting to cover-up crimes such as money laundering, the evidence disputes Clinton’s claims of a conspiracy between Donald Trump and Russia which altered the election results.

Study Casts Doubt On Fake News Affecting Election Results

Fake news was probably the most over-used word of 2016-7. This was used to refer to both false information (as if this was a brand new problem) and subsequently used to refer to any material people did not like, regardless of its veracity. Hillary Clinton has used claims that fake news affected the election to support censorship. Facebook has been censoring legitimate news in their overreaction to fake news. While I don’t think that anyone doubts that the internet is full of false information, the more important question is whether people are actually fooled by it. While providing no definitive answer, The New York Times reported on a study which presents reasons to question whether fake news had a significant effect on the 2016 election results.

Not surprisingly fake news is widespread, and more widespread in conservative circles.  The study found that, “the most conservative 10 percent of the sample accounted for about 65 percent of visits to fake news sites.” That comes as little surprise after the 2016 election. There were both factual and totally fictitious reasons spread in 2016 as to vote against Hillary Clinton. In contrast, while some attacks on Donald Trump might have had some minor errors, the case against him was generally based upon reality. Plus there is a long history of false information coming from conservative sites, such as the Birther claims when Obama was president, and much of what is on Fox every night. (Unfortunately MSNBC is now acting increasingly like Fox).

From the description of the study:

In the new study, a trio of political scientists — Brendan Nyhan of Dartmouth College (a regular contributor to The Times’s Upshot), Andrew Guess of Princeton University and Jason Reifler of the University of Exeter — analyzed web traffic data gathered from a representative sample of 2,525 Americans who consented to have their online activity monitored anonymously by the survey and analytic firm YouGov.

The data included website visits made in the weeks before and after the 2016 election, and a measure of political partisanship based on overall browsing habits. (The vast majority of participants favored Mr. Trump or Hillary Clinton.)

The team defined a visited website as fake news if it posted at least two demonstrably false stories, as defined by economists Hunt Allcott and Matthew Gentzkow in research published last year. On 289 such sites, about 80 percent of bogus articles supported Mr. Trump.

A key finding was that, “false stories were a small fraction of the participants’ overall news diet, regardless of political preference: just 1 percent among Clinton supporters, and 6 percent among those pulling for Mr. Trump. Even conservative partisans viewed just five fake news articles, on average, over more than five weeks.”

Most of the people reading fake news were both intensely partisan, probably making them unlikely to change their minds based upon fake claims, and obtained information from a variety of sources (hopefully making them more likely to see through fake news):

“For all the hype about fake news, it’s important to recognize that it reached only a subset of Americans, and most of the ones it was reaching already were intense partisans,” Dr. Nyhan said.

“They were also voracious consumers of hard news,” he added. “These are people intensely engaged in politics who follow it closely.”

Given the ratio of truth to fiction, Dr. Watts said, fake news paled in influence beside mainstream news coverage, particularly stories about Mrs. Clinton and her use of a private email server as secretary of state. Coverage of that topic appeared repeatedly and prominently in venues like The New York Times and the Washington Post.

Of course many Democratic partisans are likely to see the email scandal as fake news. As I noted at the start of this post, fake news has increasingly been used to refer to material people do not like, regardless of whether it is factual.

It was not terribly surprising to see that, “Facebook was by far the platform through which people most often navigated to a fake news site.” However the article does not compare this to the amount of factual information which is also navigated to through Facebook. Regardless, Facebook is hardly the best way for people to get their news, as this post at Mashable pointed out.

This data does not say definitely whether fake news affected the election result. Is possible that some people did vote against Clinton based upon false information in the battleground states which cost her the election. However, considering what the study shows about the readers of fake news, it is more likely that economic conditions in the rust belt, along with Clinton’s many mistakes while campaigning, as opposed to reading some of the more outlandish fake stories about Hillary Clinton, cost her the election. It is doubtful that fake news had any more impact than the rather insignificant Russian ads on social media.

FAIR (Fairness And Accuracy In Reporting) On MSNBC Substituting Russia Coverage For The Real News

FAIR.org (Fairness And Accuracy in Reporting) has long has a reputation for liberal views and being more likely to criticize right wing media for bias, but is now taking on the Russia-hysteria at MSNBC. An article from FAIR from earlier in December was recently reposted by Salon. The article pointed out how much Rachel Maddow and Chris Hayes concentrate on Russia:

At the beginning of December, liberal TV hosts Chris Hayes and Rachel Maddow — the anchors of MSNBC’s primetime schedule — were confronted with ever-escalating breaking news. In the span of a week, from December 1 through December 7, President Donald Trump shrank two national monuments, recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, saw his travel ban upheld by the Supreme Court and possibly began to create his own spy network. Meanwhile, the Senate passed a tax “reform” bill that would radically restructure the U.S. economy at the expense of poor and middle-class Americans, and climate change-fueled wildfires devastated Southern California.

Yet on the weekdays their shows aired during those seven days — December 1 and 4-7 — both Hayes and Maddow bypassed all these stories to lead with minutiae from the ongoing Russia investigation that has consumed MSNBC’s coverage like no other news event since the beginning of the Trump presidency. Topical news of the day, whether on legislation or natural disasters, took a backseat. The Comcast-owned network’s two most popular personalities used their position to focus endlessly on speculative coverage of Russia’s role in the 2016 election — devoting the bulk of each show’s 15-minute opening segment to the story, at a minimum.

The streak was broken on December 8, when Hayes’ “All In” show led with the sexual harassment scandals roiling the nation, though he still devoted substantial time to Russia later in the broadcast: “The plot to stop Mueller is growing,” Hayes ominously intoned during the introduction, letting viewers know the story was coming.

While Hayes devoted his December 8 show to the allegations of sexual assault and harassment surrounding the president and Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore, Maddow devoted her full Friday hour to her much-hyped special on “The Dossier” — a full hour devoted to a year-old document, as if it contained fresh news, complete with a graphic misusing Russian typography.

“We’re going to step back and look at the 35-page Trump Russia dossier,” Maddow said in the opening of the special. “And depending on which way the news is blowing, the allegations contained in this document can sound outlandish, or they can sound freakishly spot on.”

If this focus on Le Carré-style foreign machinations at the expense of all other news seems like a wild departure from the network’s nominal liberalism, then you’ve not been paying attention to FAIR’s reporting on MSNBC from the last two decades. There’s always been an air of discomfort around MSNBC at the way the cable news channel has in the last decade become — almost by default — a go-to spot for liberals seeking news and analysis. It took on this role only after repeated failures to share the conservative media market with Fox News.

The article went on a diversion to describe the history of how Comcast unsuccessfully trying to have a right wing news network, settling for MSNBC’s current format only when that failed. It now looks like spreading Cold War style Russia hysteria lets MSNBC avoid true issues of the left while still attracting a Democratic audience. Comcast can have its market without actually having to provide coverage from a liberal perspective anymore. As the article describes it, Russia provides “both a way for liberals to blow off steam and grumble at the sinister plots of the Trump administration, and for MSNBC executives to obfuscate policy in favor of tabloid-style reporting.”

The article resumed with its description the amount of coverage of Russia, from CNN, Chris Hayes, and especially Rachel Maddow:

Yet even in corporate media, Maddow stands alone in her devotion to the Russia story at the expense of all else. That was made clear on December 4, when Maddow told her audience that the news of the day was almost overwhelming: The Supreme Court had upheld the president’s ban on Muslims entering the country, the tax bill had been passed and a potential government shutdown, the shrinking of natural resources in the West by presidential fiat, the Olympics banning Russia, and the Alabama Senate race were all topical, important and worthy of coverage.

But for Maddow, they were a subordinate distraction to the only story worth covering.

“All those stories happened today,” Maddow told her audience:

“Any one of these stories might reasonably have been expected to start the world spinning backwards on its axis at any other time, right? In any other administration, at any other time in modern life. But in this administration, all this stuff is happening at once, and it’s all happening in the context of the most serious criminal and counterintelligence investigation that any US president has ever faced.”

After 11 months in office, the Trump administration is covered on the nation’s nominally liberal cable news channel in a way that makes clear that the priority isn’t to explain the reality of the administration and the human cost of the things that it does — but rather to blame the existence of Trump on a foreign conspiracy and offer hope that a white knight in the form of a special prosecutor will come to our rescue. Along with that concentration on Russia comes the deprioritization of the real-world effects of the Trump presidency and active political efforts to oppose them — and that tells us all we need to know about the priorities at Rockefeller Center. MSNBC is a hopped-up Cold War cover band, and its two lead singers are Maddow and Hayes.

This is hardly the first time FAIR pointed out this problem at MSNBC. Back in June they ran a story entitled, Eager for World War III on MSNBC.

(more…)

Donald Trump On Beating Clinton In The Electoral College, Collusion, Presidential Power, And The Media

Donald Trump had a number of interesting, while frequently erroneous, things to say in his interview with The New York Times. While the media reports have concentrated on him denying collusion (repeatedly), he also did argue that he beat Hillary Clinton because of competing better in the electoral college as opposed to colluding with Russia:

I didn’t deal with Russia. I won because I was a better candidate by a lot. I won because I campaigned properly and she didn’t. She campaigned for the popular vote. I campaigned for the Electoral College. And you know, it is a totally different thing, Mike. You know the Electoral College, it’s like a track star. If you’re going to run the 100-yard dash, you work out differently than if you’re going to run the 1,000 meters or the mile.

Trump also said, “It would have been a whole different thing. The genius is that the popular vote is a much different form of campaigning. Hillary never understood that.” He might be overstating the case in saying “Hillary never understood that,” but he did a better job of understanding the electoral college than Clinton did, and concentrating resources on a strategy to win the election. Trump realized how unpopular Clinton was in the “rust belt” before she did. Even when Clinton realized at the last minute that she was vulnerable, she did a terrible job of campaigning in states like Michigan, as I discussed after the election.

Trump also showed that he understood the differences in strategy in saying, “Otherwise, I would have gone to New York, California, Texas and Florida.” Many Democrats, who take undeserved satisfaction in winning the popular vote, do not understand how things could have been entirely different if the election was based upon the popular vote and Trump did campaign differently. As Aaron Blake explained:

An electoral-college election involves making explicit appeals to and advertising in around 10 or 12 out of the 50 states. It means Trump didn’t campaign or advertise in California or Massachusetts or Washington state and that Clinton didn’t campaign in Oklahoma or even Texas (despite polling within single digits there). They knew it would be wasted effort to try to turn a 30-point loss in those states into a 22-point loss, or a 14-point loss into an eight-point loss.

For example, if Trump shaved 10 points off his 30-point loss in California, turned his 22-point loss in New York into a 15-point loss, and added just six points to his nine-point win in Texas, he’d have won the popular vote. And that’s just three really populous states out of the many in which neither side really tried.

Trump’s argument that collusion was not necessary to win does make sense in light of all the mistakes Clinton made, and there is no evidence of actual collusion occurring which altered the election results, despite the attempts of Hillary Clinton and many of her supporters to  blame her loss on Russia. Of course Trump’s denials mean less when we know that both his son and son-in-law had attended a meeting with Russians after being teased with information, even if it turned out that they did not receive any. (We do not know whether he knew about this meeting with close family members but it is hard to believe he did not, and this is one of many question which  I hope the current investigations find an answer about).

Trump’s denials also sounded weaker when he claimed, citing Alan Dershowitz, “There is no collusion, and even if there was, it’s not a crime.” While he is right that there is currently no evidence of collusion, this almost sounds like he is saying that if this part of his defense should be proven wrong, it is still not a crime. There could be major ramifications politically if evidence should arise of collusion.

Unfortunately the media coverage of this case is overly concentrated on the question of collusion. As I’ve pointed out many times, such as here, Robert Mueller’s investigation does appear to be more concentrated on evidence of financial crimes and obstruction of justice as opposed to collusion.

Trump again showed his lack of understanding of the limits of the presidency with his claim that, “I have absolute right to do what I want to do with the Justice Department.”

He talked about bipartisan solutions for infrastructure and a new health care bill, both of which might be desirable but are not likely to occur in today’s political climate. He stated, “I wouldn’t do a DACA plan without a wall.” If he holds to this, it will make a bipartisan deal on immigration more difficult to achieve.

Trump was also asked about additional topics, and then concluded with an amusing, even if flawed, argument as to why he will be reelected:

… I’m going to win another four years is because newspapers, television, all forms of media will tank if I’m not there because without me, their ratings are going down the tubes. Without me, The New York Times will indeed be not the failing New York Times, but the failed New York Times. So they basically have to let me win. And eventually, probably six months before the election, they’ll be loving me because they’re saying, “Please, please, don’t lose Donald Trump.”

Yes, Trump is good for the news media, and also late night comedians, but that is hardly enough to get their actual support for his reelection.

The Nation Debunks Russiagate Conspiracy “Fantasyland” And Irresponsible Media Coverage

As was the case in the run up to the Iraq war when a small number of us were disputing the claims used to justify war, there also continues to be articles disputing the Russiagate conspiracy theory that Donald Trump and Russia successfully colluded to alter the 2016 election result. This is most often spread by establishment Democrats who cannot face the fact that Hillary Clinton was such a terrible choice for the nomination that she could not beat someone as awful as Donald Trump. While Robert Mueller’s investigation is uncovering evidence of financial crimes, and obstruction of justice, no evidence has been presented to support the claims of Russia altering the election results which has not been quickly retracted or debunked. Yesterday I quoted from an article by Jackson Lears, Professor of History at Rutgers University. Another article on this subject by Aaron Maté in The Nation is less extensive but has the benefit of being more likely to be read by Democrats who are being duped this conspiracy theory.

There have been so many debunked claims regarding Russiagate that no single article can deal with them all. Maté concentrated on the numerous reports which have been circulated by the mainstream media, only to be quickly shown to be false–a subject I previously discussed here. He also touched on the false claims of Russian hackers hacking the voting systems of 21 states and the claim that there was a consensus from all the intelligence agencies that Russia was responsible for hacking the Democratic National Committee. This later claim continues to be repeated by many Clinton apologists despite having been retracted by The New York Times last June. It is also worth noting that, while no evidence has been presented so far showing that Russia hacked the DNC, if future evidence should happen to show this, it would be a negative regarding Russia but would still not support Clinton’s argument that Russia is responsible for her loss. The hacked email which was released by Wikileaks provided factual information regarding unethical behavior by Clinton and the DNC, and Clinton would still be responsible for any votes lost because of this.

There are at least five reasons why the Russiagate conspiracy theory is so dangerous. It allows the Democratic establishment to deny responsibility for their mistakes, making reform less likely. It promotes McCarthyism and promotion of restrictions on freedom of expression in the United States. It unnecessarily increases conflict with a nuclear power (playing into the hands of Clinton’s neocon allies who desire to attempt regime change in Russia). It strengthens Putin by showing him to be a far greater master strategist than he is, to the frustration of anti-Putin forces in Russia. Maté began his article with a fifth reason. Concentrating on such false charges distracts from forming a true resistance to the many terrible things Donald Trump has been doing.

After this introduction, Maté more directly addressed the unsupported claims regarding the 2016 election:

The basis for the “virtually uncontested truths” of the year’s “biggest story” remains the Office of the Director of National Intelligence’s January 2017 report, which accused Russia of hacking Democratic e-mails and using social media to influence the 2016 election. Yet the report openly acknowledges that its conclusions are “not intended to imply that we have proof that shows something to be a fact.” Nearly one year later, we have yet to see a shred of proof.

What we have in its stead is a stream of Russiagate stories that make bombastic entrances only to quietly slink away. The pattern persists thanks to a media and political culture that embraces credulity and shuns accountability.

Virtually every major outlet reported claims in September that Russian-government-backed hackers targeted the voting systems of 21 states. But last month Christopher Krebs, a senior cyber-security official at the Department of Homeland Security, quietly informed Congress that no such hacking had occurred. “The majority of the activity was simple scanning,” Krebs told a House panel. “Scanning is a regular activity across the Web. I would not characterize that as an attack.… If that context was not provided, I apologize.” He added: “When we talk about that scanning, it was not also necessarily an election system that was scanned.”

Krebs’s contrition did not ring out among the media that had fervently reported the scanning as a hacking attack, and continue to do so as part of Russiagate’s “virtually uncontested truths.” The falsity of the “21 states” claim went largely unreported, outside C-SPAN and the marginal Russian website that took notice.

Meanwhile, accountability has been resisted even when the mistakes are seismically embarrassing. The most recent case was CNN’s erroneous report that the Trump campaign was offered access to Wikileaks’ trove of stolen Democratic Party e-mails before their public release. In a story line worthy of Better Call Saul, it turned out that CNN got the date wrong—someone had in fact e-mailed the Trump campaign a link to the Wikileaks e-mails, only after they were already all over the Internet. As Glenn Greenwald noted, the mistake was egregious not just for the story’s ultimate uselessness, but also for the fact CNN and other outlets all reported they had confirmed it with multiple sources. Yet none of the networks have explained how their “multiple sources” all “confirmed” the same incorrect date.

Maté discussed CNN’s error in greater detail. He next discussed the claims that Russia affected the Brexit vote. As was the case with Russia’s actions on Facebook and Twitter in the United States, he showed that the claims regarding Brexit were highly exaggerated, and then discussed Russia Today and the investigation of Jill Stein:

Just weeks ago, The New York Times warned that reports of Russian-linked social-media activity around the Brexit vote “could raise questions about the legitimacy of the referendum” itself. “I have a very simple message for Russia,” declared British Prime Minister Theresa May on November 13. “We know what you are doing. And you will not succeed.”

We now have a full accounting of what Russia was doing: According to Twitter, the Kremlin-backed network Russia Today spent just over $1,000 to promote its Brexit coverage to UK-based viewers. Facebook reported a grand total of 97 cents spent on three ads, “all centered on immigration and aimed at American users,” reaching no more than 200 of them over four days. Whatever Russia was doing, May’s confidence that they would not succeed was doubtless well-founded.

The unquestioning faith in evidence-free or overblown claims coincides with the targeting of those who dare challenge them. The forced registration of RT America as a “foreign agent” was followed by the revoking of the outlet’s congressional press pass, with the usual silence from press-freedom groups and media outlets, even progressive ones. Without explanation, The Huffington Post removed an article by veteran reporter Joe Lauria that methodically challenged Russiagate’s precepts. On Tuesday, Green Party candidate Jill Stein confirmed that she is complying with a Senate Intelligence Committee investigation looking into, in the words of panel chair Senator Richard Burr, “collusion with the Russians.”

Despite multiple interviews explaining the nature of a 2015 trip to Moscow, Stein remains the target of a smear campaign, cheered on by liberal groups, painting her as a Kremlin stooge. “Here’s hoping this lying sack of piety-spewing shit goes to jail with the rest of the bastards Mueller is investigating,” commented liberal sex-advice columnist Dan Savage. Zac Petkanas, a Democratic Party senior adviser and Clinton campaign staffer, was so enthused by the Senate probe that he repeated the phrase “Jill Stein is a Russian agent” to his Twitter followers eight times.

Stein calls the investigation part of a “resurgence of McCarthyism, to suppress opposition voices, to suppress independent politics.” But for its proponents to recognize that would mean acknowledging that it derives from the same kind of behavior that is recognized in Trump. “Any genuine interest in objective reality left the building a while ago, replaced by a self-sustaining fantasyland,” the New York Times editors write of Trump’s right-wing defenders. The tragedy of Russiagate is that its enthusiasts have constructed a “self-sustaining fantasyland” of their own. A fantasyland is no place from which to confront Trump’s reality.

Mediaite Listing Of Most Influential In Media Shows How Pathetic Our Media Is

Mediaite has presented their list of Most Influential In Media In 2017. It suggests a very sorry state of our mass media if these are really the most influential, especially when looking at the page with their top five.

Leading the list is Fox & Friends Co-hosts Steve Doocy, Ainsley Earhardt, and Brian Kilmeade

They top the list because of Donald Trump being such a big fan. Trump, who often repeats what they say and praises them on Twitter, also congratulated them for this today.

They are followed by Jeff Zucker of CNN. While CNN is hardly the strongest source of serious journalism, unless you are interested in the latest plane crash, at least this is better than the biased media in the rest of the top five.

Sean Hannity comes in third followed by Matt Drudge.

There is finally a voice from the left at number five. Unfortunately it is Rachel Maddow, who has jumped the shark and gone full Glenn Beck, with her hysterical coverage of Russia conspiracy theories, going far beyond the evidence. As Norman Solomon wrote, “Joe McCarthy never did it better.”

Glancing through the rest of the list, while we don’t have Jon Stewart around anymore, other late night comedians did relatively well with Jimmy Kimmel at 23 and Stephen Colbert at 24. Unfortunately Bill Maher, who has abandoned his more independent thought and now follows the Democratic Party line, beats them at 20. John Oliver is at 33. Trevor Noah is at 73 and Samantha Bee is 74th.

Right after Kimmel and Colbert is Cenk Uygur of The Young Turks at 25.

I’m surprised that they only ranked Steve Bannon at 45, although the loss by Roy Moore did not help him.