While “Democracy Dies in Darkness” serves as a catchy tagline for the Washington Post, these days the masthead reads more like a threatening mission statement as the paper slogs down a path of propaganda, censorship, and renewed McCarthyism.
The Post is perfectly positioned to capture the nation’s “paper of record” heavyweight title from the New York Times. Post owner Jeff Bezos has Amazon-sized pockets, and a $500 million computing contract with the CIA that brings unique access to government sources and information. Mix in a Meryl Streep/Tom Hanks Hollywood blockbuster that harkens back to its glory days of journalism, and the Post is sitting pretty.
Unfortunately, the paper appears more intent on being a tool of government elites than an independent journalistic enterprise. The Post has been burned repeatedly by parroting claims of anonymous “intelligence” officials, particularly in regard to Russia. In an interesting plot twist, the Post is now leading the way in debunking much of the same Russia nonsense it’s been front and center selling us for more than a year.
Just after the 2016 election, the Post broke an “exclusive” about a Vermont power company “hacked” by the Russians and the infamous Grizzly Steppe computer virus. And this was right after the Russians were deemed to have used those same evil Bears to hack the DNC, and it all just looked so bad, so everybody reported it, and repeated it, because hey, the Washington Post said so.
Incredibly, the Post had never even bothered to call the power company in question, and the story turned out to be bogus. By the time Burlington Power could issue a statement of factual denial, the report had already made the media rounds and done its damage. Russia. Russia. Russia. Never mind that there had never been any infiltration of the electrical grid.
People outside the news industry should understand this type of error can only happen one of two ways at a paper the size of the Post. The first involves incredible carelessness, and a lack of responsibility and professionalism; the second involves willful deceit, and a total disdain for truth and the profession of journalism.
A Forbes critique of the Washington Post story noted the paper has refused on multiple occasions to divulge its fact-checking methods. “Given the present atmosphere in which trust in media is in freefall and mainstream outlets like the Post are positioning themselves as the answer to ‘fake news’, it certainly does not advance trust in the media when a newspaper will not provide even the most basic insight into how it checks its facts,” wrote Kalev Leetaru.
Another Post “exclusive” was nothing short of a thinly-veiled smear and censorship campaign against dissenting voices on the internet. The now-infamous Prop or Not group promoted a list of 200 websites deemed to have spread “Russian propaganda”, from Wikileaks to TruthDig to the DrudgeReport. After an industry uproar over the McCarthyism-style tactics of the story and the secrecy of Prop or Not, a Post disclaimer was added to distance the paper from the list.
The New Yorker ripped into the Washington Post this time around. Andrew Chen admitted fearing fake news and Russian hacking but added, “The prospect of legitimate dissenting views being labeled fake news or Russian propaganda by mysterious groups of ex-government employees, with the help of a national newspaper, is even scarier.”
Interestingly, the Post is now perched in a unique position to be the journalistic hero. After a year of priming the pump with Russian fear-mongering, and helping the press corps move the goalposts on the media playing field, the Post appears to be changing the rules in the middle of the game. And the paper has the power to play referee.
Two recent pieces I consider “bombshells” have been largely buried in the national conservation thus far, but my guess is mainstream pundits will soon follow the simple facts and logic the Post now offers: Russia did not have a major influence on the U.S. election in 2016.
The first piece pokes fun at U.S. legislators for making “noise” by blaming the U.S. election results on the work of Russian social media warriors. Writer Patrick Ruffini cites his expertise in election advertising buying, and claims any Russian effort was poorly-funded, ill-conceived and amounted to a “laughably botched and failed attempt”.
The second recent Post story begins with a puzzling question the media has seemingly answered in the affirmative for months. After a brief statement of the obvious that “Russian interference in the 2016 election has gotten an enormous amount of media attention”, Lukan Ahmad Way and Adam Casey get to the point. “But Russia has been intervening in foreign elections for decades. Has it helped?”
The short answer, according to the article, is no. The story declares its “investigation” reveals the efforts “have made little difference”. Indeed, the article reasons, isn’t that the way America needs it to be? If Putin successfully hacked our election, the thinking goes, then he’s won the game, and clearly the U.S. can’t be seen as losing anything to Russia.
Now sit tight for this amazing epiphany of perspective from the Post, as the writers reveal another possible reason for the 2016 election results. “For instance,” Way and Casey wrote, “the perception that established party systems weren’t responding to ordinary voters concerns.” Wait, what? Yes, rather than Russia, any U.S. election failures can now safely be blamed on the failed parties involved.
I can’t pretend to know exactly why the Post has decided to do an about-face and begin to get a Russia reality check. I have two hunches, and they both play in the same direction. The first is that sufficient pressure has been on put on Trump, and he’s now doing an effective job of doing the establishment’s bidding. As the Post noted, U.S. uproar of alleged Russian meddling has had the desired effect of keeping economic sanctions in place on Russia.
Between Russia sanctions, tough talk on Iran, and selling arms to the Ukraine, Trump has done his best to dissuade talk of him being a puppet of Putin. There also looks to be little if any evidence to impeach Trump, so now the spy powers will likely need to play ball with him at least for the time being. In either scenario, Trump appears to be a survivor.
The Washington Post will be a survivor in this game, too. But Americans would be wise to look in a different direction for guidance in our democratic ideals, because whatever game the Post is playing, I’m convinced the winner will not be the last person holding the light on for ‘democracy’. Maya Angelou once noted, “when people tell you who they are, believe them”. The Washington Post’s tagline is actually a mission statement, they are telling us who they are—believe them. #WashPoConfession
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