As you will see from our earlier post on B.S. Detector, our attorney Jim Moody has had a busy day.
As lawyers like to say, res ipsa loquitur. Please tweet and circulate this letter widely.
The Washington Post, which legitimated PropOrNot, got more unfavorable press reactions to its continued refusal to retract its “fake news/evil Rooskies” story, more formally titled, Russian propaganda effort helped spread ‘fake news’ during election, experts say by Craig Timberg. Expert media commentators criticized the Post’s handwave in the form of an editor’s note that it placed at the top of a story that is now history, as opposed to news. The mild concession is likely to be read only by fans of the 199 sites that were defamed by the Post, and journalists who’ve taken interest in the row and not the vast public that read the story through the post and other major outlets, like USA Today, that re-reported or syndicated Timberg’s piece.
As the Columbia Journalism Review stated (emphasis original):
More importantly, the editor’s note vaults into verbal gymnastics in an attempt to simultaneously rationalize and distance itself from an obviously flawed primary source. Any data analysis is only as good as the sum of its parts, and it’s clear that PropOrNot’s methodology was lacking.
The Post, of course, was merely reporting what PropOrNot said. Yet it used declarative language throughout, sans caveat, lending credence to a largely unknown organization that lumps together independent left-wing publications and legitimately Russian-backed news services. The Post diminished its credibility at a time when media credibility is in short supply, and the non-apologetic editor’s note doesn’t help.
And from FAIR (emphasis original):
Almost two weeks after its article ran, the Post ran a sort of correction in the form of an editorial comment in italics pasted on top of the online edition of Timberg’s November 24 piece (where only those looking for the by then old original story would find it). In that note, the editors say that the paper
did not name any of the sites [on PropOrNot’s blacklist], does not itself vouch for the validity of PropOrNot’s findings regarding any individual media outlet, nor did the article purport to do so. Since publication of the Post’s story, PropOrNot has removed some of those sites from its list.
Of course, the damage was already done, as the original article achieved widespread circulation via the Post’s wire service; it would be up to all those news organizations that bought and ran the story, or reported their own versions of it, to make any correction.
Meanwhile, the facile dodge of “we didn’t name the sites” ignores the reality that the Posthad prominently showcased PropOrNot and let its name vouch for the heretofore unknown group’s credibility. The paper didn’t have to run the list; anyone with a smartphone could do a Google search, find PropOrNot’s website as the first listing, go to the homepage and find a link button headed “The List.”
And apparently plenty of readers did that. While thanks to the Post’s grant of anonymity, PropOrNot’s hidden principals remained safe from inquiring reporters and Russian hackers alike, editors of sites named on its McCarthyite hit list quickly found themselves deluged with venomous calls and emails. As Jeffrey St. Clair, a co-founder and editor of CounterPunch.org, another site listed prominently as a propaganda tool, recalls, “The morning after the Post published its article, I found 1,000 emails in my inbox, mostly hate mail and death threats.”
And from a two-time Pulitzer Prize winner by e-mail:
I am astounded by the editor’s note they appended to the story. The Post says it doesn’t vouch for PorpOrNot?? And yet, it cites them repeatedly and blind quotes their associates? I’ve never seen anything like it.
A partial list of additional coverage: a favorable story in the Daily Beast, in which we were interviewed (and the Beast has had at the top of its “Read This List: sidebar apparently since it was published till now) and TruthDig’s publication of the Post’s response to its letter. Several other sites, including two well-known ones, have said in the last two days they would like to join our suit (this is in addition to parties that previously approached us).