I never in my wildest nightmare thought I’d ever feel the need to apologize to the CIA – but here we are.
This sorry tale begins last Monday when The Washington Post – once a great and trusted newspaper, now owned by Amazon billionaire Jeff Besoz – published the first of three stories in a single week all three of which would turn out to be bogus.
Fake News story No 1
The first story attacked Michael Flynn, the man Donald Trump has nominated as his national security advisor. The Post alleged that Flynn had publicly supported a story, published in the alternative news site True Pundit which the Post said detailed allegations that Hillary Clinton and her campaign director John Podesta were part of a paedophile ring in Washington dubbed “Pizzagate.”
As True Pundit says, “Sounds quite intriguing except True Pundit never wrote any such story. Flynn on Twitter, had backed a True Pundit story detailing an active FBI investigation into Clinton and her foundation. The Washington Post ignored basic facts and instead anchored its story, again, on fake assertions in an attempt to paint Flynn and True Pundit as “conspiracy” agents disseminating fake news. Simply not true.”
Instead of apologizing for smearing General Flynn or True Pundit, or admitting its mistake, Washington Post journalists edited the online story eight separate times throughout the day until its contents no longer resembled the original, fabricated edition. Even worse, the Post never mentioned that the original story was altered, edited, or incorrect – a basic requirement of bona fide internet journalism.
Fake News story No 2
On Wednesday last week, the Post did apologize – not for its Flynn smear but for a story it had run the previous week
That story, titled “Russian propaganda effort helped spread ‘fake news’ during election, experts say,” contained a black list of supposed phony news providers was based on a list of news sites claimed by the Post to be peddling “Fake News”. The dodgy list was drawn up by Melissa Zimdars, assistant professor of Media and Communications at Merrimack College. (More here).
Alarm bells started ringing almost at once as readers realized that among the flat-earthers and conspiracy theories were sources that are highly controversial, outspoken, anarchic and sometimes extreme, but who nevertheless represent legitimate alternative sources of news and satire – sites like Breitbart and Private Eye.
In the face of strong criticism, the Washington Post admitted it might have unfairly besmirched and ultimately slandered the named sites by labeling them as Kremlin-backed agents of fake news. The newspaper said its reporter had no way to vet the source, an anonymous website called ProporNot.
Fake News story No 3
And so we come to the end of a dismal week for the Washington Post and its third blunder. On Friday the paper ran a front-page story alleging that the CIA had confirmed the wild rumors of Russian hacking that were spread by Democratic supporters before the election and since Trump’s win.
Once again alarm bells started ringing at once since the Post’s story contained no CIA sources and no other U.S. intelligence agency sources. Instead, the story was based on what unnamed officials had supposedly been told by unidentified, allegedly CIA-linked sources in “secret” briefings: That the CIA had found proof the Russian state waged a campaign to destabilize the U.S. election to benefit Trump.
One of the first of many to jump on the flimsy story was veteran Washington journalist and journalism professor, Gregg Morris. Morris worked for Time Magazine, the New York Post, Gannett’s Democrat & Chronicle newspaper in Rochester, NY and Washington Star, D.C. A graduate of Cornell University with a bachelor and Master’s degree, Morris is currently an award winning journalism professor at Hunter College in New York City.
Morris has chronicled the decline of the mainstream media, especially the Washington Post, for 30 years as a professor and journalist. He says the Washington Post’s latest foray into make-believe journalism with the CIA Russian story had several glaring inconsistencies that are often hallmarks of fabricated, fake news, including:
- Story debates itself. Certain parts of the story directly contradict other so-called facts of the same story. The reader is rendered bewildered; the narrative’s “facts” prove untrustworthy.
- Haphazard construction. The story’s sloppy foundations and reporting were likely the result of it being constructed on a rush basis or under pressure from editors or the publisher.
- Weak sourcing. The story fails to nail down a true link between what the Post claims and direct confirmation from CIA sources.
“There are no sources with direct knowledge, it’s just all hearsay,” Morris said. “Who cares what some partisan Senators or lawmakers say they were told. The Post needs real sources on this. Without CIA sources, this story wouldn’t even make it out of my classroom alive.
So what exactly is going on here? Why would the Post feel safe about publishing a story about a CIA leak? You don’t have to look very far for an explanation.
Retired Army intelligence officer Tony Shaffer said yesterday (Monday) that CIA Director John Brennan is playing political games by claiming a secret CIA assessment showing Russia interfered with the election to support Trump.
Speaking to WMAL radio, Shaffer said that the secret CIA assessment, obtained by The Washington Post, is a product of Brennan’s loyalty to President Barack Obama.
“This is purely political, and I believe that John Brennan is a political animal,” Shaffer said. He added he has been talking with former CIA officials about the report. “Everything they are telling me is Brennan is doing this out of loyalty to President Obama.”
“It’s about undermining Trump, that’s what it is,” Shaffer said. “It’s called information operations, information warfare, and that’s what I believe is going on.”
Brennan, a political appointment of President Obama, has resigned and will leave the CIA before Trump takes office, when he would have been replaced anyway. This murky allegation is a crude attempt to undermine Trump and is not shared by others inside the Agency.
Other CIA officials have attempted to redress the harm done by Brennan. CIA people who spoke to True Pundit said “any official information released by Brennan or the White House on this issue prior to President Barack Obama’s departure from office should be discounted and tuned out as partisan “white noise”.”
Former U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. John Bolton said in a Fox TV interview on Sunday that “It is not at all clear to me, just viewing this from the outside, that this hacking into the DNC and the RNC computers was not a false flag operation.”
Bolton says that Russia is far too sophisticated to leave traceable evidence of its activities, saying a “really sophisticated foreign intelligence service would not leave any cyber fingerprints, and yet people say they did leave fingerprints in the hacks regarding our election.”
“So the question has to be asked: Why did the Russians run their smart intelligence service against Hillary’s server, but their dumb intelligence service against the election?”
Finally, Trump himself, in an interview with Fox News on Sunday, dismissed the Russia story saying, “I think it’s ridiculous. I think it’s just another excuse. I don’t believe it.”
I have to admit that I was among those who repeated the Washington Post’s fake news story on social media, something for which I feel very sorry. I will not make the same mistake again of trusting reports from the Washington Post without corroboration from at least one other news source. I do not blame the CIA for this story, since their professional officials have attempted to make amends, but I do blame outgoing director John Brennan for abusing his position to commit a spiteful act.