After our very successful fundraiser, we thought the most we’d need to do at this point in the year was send a pleasant, grateful follow-up e-mail to our mailing list. Instead, we’ve become the target of a full-bore McCarthyite attack.
Over Thanksgiving weekend, the Washington Post legitimated a thin, amateurish site whose principals have libeled not only Naked Capitalism but also Ron Paul’s institute, former Reagan Administration officials David Stockman and Paul Craig Roberts, well-respected progressive stalwarts, such as Counterpunch, Truthout, TruthDig, and Black Agenda Report, as supposed Russian propaganda outlets with foreign “coordinators.” Moreover, with no supporting evidence whatsoever, this site called for everyone on its list to be investigated by the FBI and DoJ for Espionage Act violations.
The common denominator for all these websites seems to be skepticism about the failed Clinton coronation.
This is intimidation of the most crass sort. Make no mistake: this isn’t about media, it’s about a wholesale attack by the Democratic establishment on anything they don’t like, which includes the Naked Capitalism community. This version is a lunatic conspiracy theory, that the election was stolen by Putin, and no different from the ones the ones peddled by the right, like birtherism and climate change denial.
The Twitterverse exploded in criticism of the Post’s shoddy story, and Glenn Greenwald rallied to our defense in an Intercept story, citing the attack on Naked Capitalism as “particularly egregious.” As he stated:
The group commits outright defamation by slandering obviously legitimate news sites as propaganda tools of the Kremlin…That is because a big part of the group’s definition for “Russian propaganda outlet” is criticizing U.S. foreign policy. … [T]he website conflates criticism of Western governments and their actions and policies with Russian propaganda…
Even more disturbing than the Post’s shoddy journalism in this instance is the broader trend in which any wild conspiracy theory or McCarthyite attack is now permitted in U.S. discourse as long as it involves Russia and Putin…
As is so often the case, those who mostly loudly warn of “fake news” from others are themselves the most aggressive disseminators of it.
Matt Taibbi also weighed in, pointing out that the Post had not bother to contact us, Chris Hedges of TruthDig or presumably anyone else and added:
This is the ultimate in stupidity and self-annihilating behavior. The power of the press comes from its independence from politicians. Jump into bed with them and you not only won’t ever be able to get out, but you’ll win nothing but a loss of real influence and the undying loathing of audiences.
Helping Beltway politicos mass-label a huge portion of dissenting media as “useful idiots” for foreign enemies in this sense is an extraordinarily self-destructive act. Maybe the Post doesn’t care and thinks it’s doing the right thing. In that case, at least do the damn work.
Given the rash of recent stories about “fake news,” the Post’s article looks to be part of a push to get certain sites designated as purveyors of “fake news” and to have links to them banned on Facebook and Twitter, delegitimating them and cutting their revenues.
One of the most disconcerting developments of the ugly 2016 Presidential campaign has been ongoing criticism by mainstream media sites and pundits of competing sources of news and information. This attempt at information control is reminiscent of the line of thinking argued by Walter Lippmann and Edward Bernays, both members of the Creel Committee. The Creel Committee was the first systematic large-scale government-sponsored propaganda effort, which turned the formerly pacifist US into an eager antagonist of Great War Germany. The Committee was remarkable in the range of channels it used before the days of mass media to reach citizens and pump out stories of German barbarism, including bogus accounts of German soldiers bayonetting babies. Many member of the American public were horrified in the 1920s when they learned of the operation of the Creel Committee and the ease with which it had manipulated mass opinion.
Apologists like Lippmann and Bernays argued that modern life had become too complicated for ordinary people to understand; that citizens needed to have their information screened, interpreted, and presented by experts, such as members of the media. Bernays in his 1928 book Propaganda tried to rehabilitate the term, arguing that the word originally referred to religions presenting their message to potential converts, and that governments and businesses were justified in presenting the most persuasive version possible of their case, including using emotional techniques and validators to bolster their image. To illustrate how routine propaganda was, Bernays took the front page of a New York Times edition and ascertained that half the stories were propaganda.
In other words, the notion that the public should accept elite minders and gatekeepers as their sole source of information comes straight from successful first-generation propagandists.
That makes sites like Naked Capitalism a threat. We’ve been contacted privately by seasoned journalists and political insiders after the Washington Post’s smear campaign, and most said that Naked Capitalism was on the hit list because it was influential and not on board with official Beltway narratives.
I hate coming to you again for help, but we need to defend Naked Capitalism in two ways that we could not have anticipated. First, we need to mount a counter-attack. Second, we need reinforcements so we can keep the site going at the high standards you have come to expect.
The counter-attack. We believe this type of threat is very serious. The fact that the Washington Post published such a groundless slur against many well respected independent media outlets on its front page says no one is safe. While some have issued responses on their sites, they are insufficient by virtue of speaking only to their audiences.
Falsely depicting well-established sites as “fake news” providers is deadly in light of widely-anticipated Facebook moves against them, as well as plans to use browser extensions to act as unaccountable judges and juries of what is and isn’t acceptable to read. Just as a comfortable majority mistakenly thought the New Deal consensus was settled, so too do independent voices take their right to communicate free from interference on the Web for granted.
Among other efforts not yet matured, we have proposed a joint response with the other sites that were also assaulted. We have also had a highly qualified and seasoned First Amendment litigator volunteer to represent us. But even with pro bono legal advice, we still need to finance expenses. On our CalPERS Public Records Act filing in 2014, we incurred $5,000 in costs just to get to a first hearing. And if you are an attorney and you’d be willing to support our litigator if we need to beef up our team, as lawyer Romancing the Loan has already generously offered to do, please contact me at yves-at-nakedcapitalism.com. Please put “Legal Defense” in the subject line.
Reinforcements. All this means we are spending considerable time and effort on things other than posting, much to our dismay. Even with our very successful fundraiser, the tsunami of news flow has at times overwhelmed us. Thanks to the unexpected Trump win, we’ve continued with close to our pre-election coverage level of Presidential politics, and have also had the high-class problem of a continuing high number of comments. That means even more wind up in moderation, which is an inconvenience to readers and loads your already over-stretched site admins to the max (some of you may notice that your comments sit in purgatory way longer than normal and for that, sincere apologies).
We would like to bring Outis Philalithopoulos on board to help moderate comments and to do more writing for us; any money not spent on the counter-attack will be used to support him. Outis is vastly nicer and more patient than Lambert or me, so this should lead not only to comments being liberated more quickly but also fewer curt exchanges, which are often the result of Lambert and me being time stressed, tired, and as a result, cranky. Regular readers will recall Outis posted the recent popular series on liberalism.
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