If anything good came out of the US presidential elections it is that a discussion is now being opened about whose news counts the most, e.g., which is less fake and which can be trusted more. Both sides of the debate are pointing the finger at the other. However, what is escaping critical attention is that this debate should have been held a long time ago – and it is not the trustworthiness of news that is in question but the professional of journalism as a whole, and where its lack of professionalism leads.
As Andrew Higgins, who I knew when he worked for the Washington Post, wrote to me not long ago, “I’m back in Moscow, this time for NYT. I was in Tbilisi, Georgia, recently to meet some fake news entrepreneurs — young kids who churn out click bait garbage to make money.”.
It always interesting to see just how effective these clickbait articles are, as there is always someone willing to click on an interesting headline, even when they know it is nonsense, for entertainment purposes. But the activity itself does not have an entertainment purpose. It is in the same league as the immigrant-bashing articles so often seen in the mainstream Western press, which are continually allowed to go unchallenged, and thus create a “problem” governments have to be seen addressing, and a lens through which to see their policies, even if there is no connection.
The idea is to try and create a whole fake news debate before Trump gets in, in order to derail his attempted rapprochement with Russia. The press was caught napping by Trump’s victory, as most sources said that according to the polls Hillary Clinton had a 90% chance of winning the election, and is not well disposed towards him. By creating fake issues it is hoping to busy him with addressing those rather than real ones, such as the press cover-up over 9/11 and selective reporting of Syria, Libya, Ukraine and many other places.
The ultimate aim may be to eliminate the competing and truer alternative media outlets which publish the stories the corporate media is too afraid to touch. People are complaining, rightly, about Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s crackdown on dissident opinion in Turkey. The attempt to spread false news is the same action by another name — with any media outlet which does not follow the agenda the unelected elites deem to be fit and proper being cracked down on.
It is this sort of behaviour which cost Clinton the presidency. But we have long seen that elections simply bring in new people to be manipulated by the unelected media barons, who represent no one but themselves. As the late Gerry Brown pointed out, notorious Anglo-Czech politician-turned-newspaper proprietor Robert Maxwell was only interested in using his newspapers as a political intelligence gathering network for himself, even though he had ostensibly renounced politics. Creating fake news to set the political agenda is a way of showing us who is really in charge – and it is not the populace as it is supposed to be in a democratic society.
Fake News False Flag Story
I last saw Andrew Higgins in 2008, nearly 20 years after I had first encountered him in some of Tbilisi’s few hangouts of the time. He was not actually here to cover the August 2008 Georgian-Russian war but was investigating the murder of a CIA agent, which had taken place back in 1992, after the Western governments had fomented regime change in Georgia and then used the media to tell the world this was the popular will.
His task was to look into how the person convicted for that murder was in all likelihood innocent, tortured into a confession as part of a cover-up and made a scapegoat and imprisoned for a crime he did not commit. He used some of my firsthand information concerning a woman who had worked with intelligence at the time, who had been in the car with the CIA agent when he took a fatal bullet to the head.
However the question arose then: if it had been another country’s intelligence agent involved, would Higgins have been sent to cover the story? This was at the time the mainstream media were spinning the question of who started the war and closing ranks to protect the Saakashvili regime. As this flew in the face of reality, a nice diversion like an investigation into a dead US citizen, gunned down whilst selflessly serving his country, served the same purpose at the end of the day.
In his New York Times article Higgins claims that a computer science student, attending the so-called “premier university” in the nation of Georgia, decided that “easy money” could be made from “America’s voracious appetite for passionately partisan political news, and having set up a website, posted gushing stories about Hillary Clinton and waited for ad sales to soar.”
I have worked with and advised graduate students of diplomacy and international relations in Georgia. Many of these are now working in the Georgian government. They are happy to confirm to me that they do not swallow this fake news story and its alleged nexus to Georgia. It is another attempt to create news where none exists, so to cover what is really going on here.
As the students pointed out, they have never heard of the people mentioned in the article. Some of them graduated from the same university that this alleged “computer science student” did, and are in other positions where they would know these people if they existed. But what tipped the balance of their judgment was when they read about the soul searching by Facebook and Google …
“Internet giants like Facebook and Google have engaged in soul searching over their roles in disseminating false news, and Google announced that it would ban websites that host fake news from using its online advertising service, while Facebook’s chief executive, Mark Zuckerberg, outlined some of the options his company was considering, including simpler ways for users to flag suspicious content”.
All this led many of the students to suspect that Higgins was really working for MI6/CIA and using journalism as his cover. As one wrote, “he is a very fine writer with a fixation on bending the numbers to fit the equation, or at least for now … a first shot in an attempted crackdown on alternative media sources.”
Drawing the reader’s conclusions
Some of Higgins’ articles have indeed turned out to be highly geopolitical – especially the ones about the Caucasus, including Azerbaijan. When you work for a single outlet, you get used to producing what that outlet wants to hear.
The New York Times has decided that Higgins will take a certain line, and publishes his work in the expectation that it will have a certain effect. Have you ever known Westerners to be interested in Georgia otherwise?
But working out of Georgia gives me a front row seat to discern what is real and what is highly suspect. The media has long been manipulated here, not only as part of the domestic political game but to further US foreign policy in the region as a whole. As one Italian friend shared with me last year, “please find an article mentioning an Iranian businessman in Georgia, you should know him well!”
The students I worked with have studied False Flags in history and how the media are necessary to pull them off successfully. There are plenty of examples from the Spanish American War, the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution and the First Gulf War, to name but a few. The media did not suddenly discover that Iraq had no WMDs long after the West had invaded the country, as it sought to maintain. It had an abundance of expert reports which said the same thing, but chose not to report them because they contradicted the official line the outlets’ owners wished to take.
Higgins is careful not to link his story to others which sound similar. But he has written it to create exactly that connection. We are supposed to believe that individuals in Eastern Europe, with unidentified agendas and shady sponsors, are using the internet to manipulate people. Haven’t we heard this somewhere before?
Since before Trump was elected we have been hearing stories about the Russians manipulating the election in various ways: by hacking voting machines and other insidious means, its own massive echo chamber with its news outlets. It is still beyond the wit of most Americans to realise that the US is not going to be invaded by anybody, and therefore has nothing to fear by having better relations with a post-Soviet Russia, as both Trump and Putin have said they will try and achieve.
So Russia can always be presented as a threat to the US by the same people who have demonstrated they can destroy it whenever they want, having done the same to the Soviet Union. More East Europeans creating falsehoods on the internet simply adds unquestioned support for this view.
Breitbart and Alex Jones
What the mainstream media and special interests are accusing the Trump folks of, at least in terms of their media stance, is now backfiring. It is clear what is fuelling these pundits, and where the lines are drawn. It is exactly this which Americans voted against, which only makes the effort more intense.
The Washington Times has launched a ‘fake news’ smear against Alex Jones by mischaracterising a quote of his in order to suggest that Jones accused Hillary Clinton of chopping up children as part of the ‘PizzaGate’ controversy. However the poster boys on the edge of the news, such as Alex Jones, are mostly correct—and with less of the ranting and raving would be taken more to heart by a wider audience.
The Brass Check, A Study of American Journalism, written in 1919 by Upton Sinclair, still applies today. It asks three important questions:
- When you read your daily paper, are you reading facts, or propaganda … and whose propaganda?
- Who furnishes the raw material for your thoughts about life?
- Is it honest material?
To answer these you need to go back to who owns what and who controls what. As mentioned on the Russia Today talk programme, CrossTalk …“it is called fake news and we are told it is dangerous. Maybe we can agree on this. But let there be no mistake, it is governments and mainstream media that have peddled fake news for decades. And this is being challenged.”
In the wake of a number of scandals, much is being challenged. Reports into the Marc Dutroux child abuse scandal in Belgium were derailed by senior politicians, and the media are still complicit in this action, no one wanting to risk their precious career to save the many more victims currently threatened by this cover-up. The British press occasionally expose the sins of some celebrity, and ruin their life, by claiming it is “in the public interest” to know what they have done, whilst at the same time protecting the likes of Jimmy Savile, darling of the BBC but one of the most notorious paedophiles in history, and Frankie Howard, the comedian with a long history of committing homosexual assaults on young writers in his dressing room.
Nevertheless, most people want their news served up to them by someone they choose to believe is trustworthy. Only when they themselves are involved in a story do they start to question it. Exile communities often take issue with how their country and its events are portrayed in the mainstream media, but are not given a platform to state their case. It is then that the independent media step in, but like the Catacomb Church, they are an option you often can’t find, precisely because so much news is available you can’t be expected to sift through everything.
In the 1970s UK Liberal MP John Pardoe stood for the leadership of his party. His opponent pointed out, correctly but in jest, that Pardoe’s bald patch had suddenly disappeared prior to the leadership election. When questioned about this Pardoe responded by talking about “the drip, drip, drip of the total lie.”
Pardoe’s reaction demonstrated to those who didn’t know before that it wasn’t a lie at all. But his central assertion, that the mainstream media will repeat any story until people believe it, is becoming more valid with each passing year.
Henry Kamens, columnist, expert on Central Asia and Caucasus, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.