We Launch PropOrNot.Org To Identify Inept Propagandists and School Amplifiers Like The Washington Post on How to Spot Them

We trust readers will enjoy and link to our new site, PropOrNot.org: Your Friendly Guide to Better Propaganda. Its aim is to combat serious deterioration of the standards of American propaganda, with the ultimate goal of restoring the US to its standing of a propaganda export powerhouse.

We include a case study on a site called PropOrNot that is so inept that it not only failed in its mission to institutionalize a blacklist of Evil Rooskie fake news sites, but got itself outed as a propagandist as well as “laughable,” “half-assed,” “amateurish,” “childish,” and “a mess.” The firestorm of criticism came not only from journalists but also experts on so-called “information operations.” This fiasco hampers its ability to run future missions.

Our launch of the spoof site PropOrNot.org came out of a desire to create more balance among the responses to this McCarthyite initiative.

The creators of the blacklist are so obviously incompetent that to the extent they were noticed at all, they should have been treated as objects of ridicule. But because they managed to latch onto red-baiting, which has a proud if unsavory history in the US, and because their work dovetailed with the desire of the MSM and big pipeline players to use “fake news” as an excuse to restrict the provision of content on the Internet, they received an extraordinary amount of attention.

Formulating a proper response to this threat to an open Internet has proven surprisingly complicated, given the need to balance competing considerations.  On the one hand, the bizarrely amateurish aspects of PropOrNot make humorous and other light-hearted responses, like Paul Craig Robert’s request to Putin for a passport, and other websites complaining that they weren’t included in The List, quite reasonable.  However, even these rejoinders are a bit of a double-edged sword: like a roast or comedy improv, they carry the joke further….which then risks reinforcing some of the underlying messaging.

On the other, the enormous amount of credulous traction that the story has received in high-profile sources underscores the genuine seriousness of the affair.  It is therefore entirely appropriate for affected parties to respond forcefully. Yet at the same time, it would be preferable not to feed into PropOrNot’s ludicrous self-image as a small band of persecuted Davids fighting a terrifying Goliath.

One way to square this circle is to keep in mind that on their own, the unhinged enthusiasm of PropOrNot would have been ignored, or at most become a joke. It is only by virtue of the Washington Post giving it a seal of approval, and the media following blindly, that what is at best baseless rumor-mongering risks doing real damage to reputations, as well as to the ability to discuss controversial subjects without fear or favor.

So in addition to responding firmly, as our related posts do today (see our demand letter to the Washington Post and the discussion of how PropOrNot is hopelessly and verifiably dishonest), we also thought it would be productive to include a more ironic response.

Careful readers may recall that PropOrNot and its useful idiot Craig Timberg of the Washington Post flogged PropOrNot’s alleged expertise: “a nonpartisan collection of researchers with foreign policy, military and technology backgrounds.”  However, if anyone in this group had any real tech or military chops, they would not have allowed yours truly to acquire the major related PropOrNot URLs (including propornot.org, propornot.net, propornot.biz, propornot.info, propornot.site, and quite a few others) even before the Washington Post story ran.

I think you’ll have fun with the site. Please tweet it and link to it on Facebook. Encourage the other targeted sites to link to it as well. Since Google heavily favors recency in its searches, the more links to PropOrNot.org, the more likely that our spoof site will outrank the censor wannabe in Google searches.

We would like to include our own own List of particularly noteworthy propaganda stories. Given that the father of propaganda, Edward Bernays, deemed half the stories on the front page of the New York Times to be propaganda, a full compendium would be overwhelming. Due to time and space constraints, we need to limit our version of The List to PropOrNot/Washington Post-level tripping-over-their-own-feet examples. We know that Ron Paul and others have provided rosters of journalists that have been purveying propaganda as news. If any of these can provide independently verifiable evidence of the validity of their lists, we will consider spotlighting them on our site. We welcome other submissions and suggestions, but remember:  they have to be egregious enough to make the grade!

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50 comments

  1. Skip Intro

    Make American Propaganda Great Again!

    I am sick and tired of this cheap knock-off propaganda that wears out after a couple news cycles. There are plenty of hard-working American propagandists forced to drive for Uber or sell Nutrilife because their jobs have been offshored and outsourced, or as in this case, given to unpaid interns fresh out of high school. Ever since the Dubya-era yellowcake debacle it has been clear that the Military Infotainment Complex is just phoning it in. What happened to craftsmanship and pride in one’s work? The Assad chemical weapons attack story that was supposed to cross the red line was so slipshod that even Obama didn’t fall for it. This is a president who destroyed an African country because he believed Hillary Clinton ferchrissakes.

    I’ve had enough and I’m not gonna take it anymore, WaPo, NYT, CNN you’re dead to me, its 100% ESPN2 for me until you guys get your heads out of your recta and back in the game!

    1. H. Alexander Ivey

      This and wheresOurTeddy’s line on the letters used in spelling ‘Craig Timberg’ was funny! I laughed and laughed. They would make a good supplimental reading list to Yves’ PropOrNot.org website.

      Since I’m an old guy who doesn’t FB ‘like’ and have just only now started the thumbs up icon in his texting, I’ll post this comment. Pardon the lack of brevity.

    2. knowbuddhau

      Skip Intro gets it. “Young techno-experts” FTW!

      CLINTON: Well, [Senator Lugar], I want to thank you for the report that you did on the [B]roadcasting [B]oard of [G]overnors and all of the problems that it has experienced. I agree with you. Walter Isaacson is an excellent choice. The board is a very invigorated group of Republicans and Democrats. They understand. We are engaged in an information war. During the Cold War, we did a great job in getting America’s message out. After the Berlin Wall fell we said, okay, fine, enough of that. We’ve done it. We’re done. And unfortunately, we are paying a big price for it.

      And our private media cannot fill that gap. In fact, our private media, particularly cultural programming, often works at counterpurposes to what we truly are as Americans and what our values are. [Cue “Collateral Murder”?]

      I remember having an Afghan general tell me that the only thing he thought about Americans is that all the men wrestled and the women walked around in bikinis. Because the only TV he ever saw was Baywatch and World Wide Wrestling. So we are in an information war. And we are losing that war. I’ll be very blunt in my assessment. Al-Jazeera is winning.

      The Chinese have opened up a global English-language and multi-language television network. The Russians have opened up an English-language network. I’ve seen it in a few countries, and it’s quite instructive. We are cutting back. The BBC is cutting back.

      So here’s what we are trying to do. In the State Department, we have pushed very hard on new media. So we have an Arabic Twitter feed. We have a Farsi Twitter feed. I have this group of young techno-experts who are out there engaging on websites and we’re putting all of our young Arabic-speaking diplomats out, so that they are talking about our values.

      Walter [Issacson] is working hard with his Board to try to transform the broadcasting efforts. Because most people still get their news from TV and radio. So even though we’re pushing online, we can’t forget TV and radio. And so I look — I would look very much towards your cooperation, to try to figure out how we get back in the game on this. Because I hate ceding what we are most expert in to anybody else. http://freemediaonline.org/freemediaonlineblog/2011/05/04/secretary-clinton-u-s-is-losing-the-information-war/

      In case some aren’t familiar with the BBG:

      The BBG was formed in 1999 and runs on a $721 million annual budget. It reports directly to Secretary of State John Kerry and operates like a holding company for a host of Cold War-era CIA spinoffs and old school “psychological warfare” projects: Radio Free Europe, Radio Free Asia, Radio Martí, Voice of America, Radio Liberation from Bolshevism (since renamed “Radio Liberty”) and a dozen other government-funded radio stations and media outlets pumping out pro-American propaganda across the globe. https://pando.com/2015/03/01/internet-privacy-funded-by-spooks-a-brief-history-of-the-bbg/

  2. Champagne Socialist

    Nice work! I think the link is broken above at “Our launch of the spoof site PropOrNot.org came”, it’s relative rather than absolute. Just a heads up.

      1. Ophita

        Just read your brilliant PropOrNot.org spoof! I’m sharing it far and wide for its searing irony and cutting humour. I would happily report some of the countless examples of shoddy propaganda from MSM to your site–I hear it constantly, for example, on the Canadian government funded propaganda tool, CBC, especially whenever Syria or Russia issues are discussed.

  3. Jeff

    “..Our launch of the spoof site PropOrNot.org came out of a desire to create more balance among the responses to this McCarthyite initiative..”
    The linked URL is dead wrong, which is a pity because the site is just hilarious. Now we know what ghosts do in free time: ghostwriting!

  4. wheresOurTeddy

    Time was, you could rely on American-made propaganda. Why, Saint Ronald and the boys got ’em to believe “the wealth would trickle down” for decades.

    We are in the 1970s-American-auto-manufacturers phase of our Propaganda lifespan. Retool, recalibrate, rebrand!

    And remember kids, you can’t spell “Craig Timberg” without the letters C, I, and A.

    #ProjectMockingbird

  5. hunkerdown

    Surely the use and analysis of the leaked emails which the DNC wants to censor are the “behavioral” traits indicating “Russian propaganda”, and the sites in every niche being most successful are the “analytics” which figured into their listing. If you want to double down, start with the Hillary campaign’s press surrogates (p5), as featured in the several “presstitutes” stories that went around a month or three ago.

    First Draft News: Who Cares If It’s Right?™

  6. Another Anon

    Yves,

    I was so impressed with your website that I wrote this review for
    the leading journal of our profession, Propaganda Today:

    Unfortunately I think we can all agree that in recent years too many new practitioners have
    lowered the standards of our field. I myself thought that someone ought to write a guide
    that would help the beginner propagandist. I have would wrote one myself if I was not so busy during the recent presidential election writing propaganda for the Democratic Party.

    Fortunately, that guide has now been written. The beginner propagandist can now thank
    Yves Smith and collaborators for putting in the hard hours in producing a most useful guide
    and posting it on a website for all to see. Smith and collaborators give not just the basics, but they also discuss the epistemology of propaganda at a depth I have not seen elsewhere.

    The issue of security is the only topic that is missing. Here I speak as someone whose recent work was compromised by its lack and so it is fresh in my mind. After all, if word gets out that your propaganda, is well propaganda, than your efforts are worse than useless.

    In the old days, people met in back alleys or in smoked filled rooms so it was possible to directly see if they were on the level. If such a person wore a Homburg Hat, smoked a cigar and spoke with a Mid-Atlantic accent, then you could be pretty much assured that this was someone you could trust.

    These days, every thing is done on the internet and there is no way to know who one is speaking to. As the old proverb goes, “On the internet, no one knows if you are a dog”
    and as every one knows, dogs can’t be trusted. I can’t stress enough the importance of email security. The recent fiasco of the Democratic party propaganda reaching the dreaded Wikileaks
    will no doubt become a case study in future guides.

    In short, Smith and collaborators have written a most excellent guide on propaganda.
    While it is directed to beginning propagandists, even experienced practitioners will find
    much that is of use.

  7. uncle tungsten

    Love it and thank you Yves, laughter is such good therapy for all.

    BUT the link here in your 3rd par is a dud: “Our launch of the spoof site PropOrNot.org came out of a desire to create more balance among the responses to this McCarthyite initiative.”

  8. B1whois

    Yves, lambert,are two links intended here?

    “So in addition to responding firmly, as our related posts do today (see our letter to the Washington Post and the discussion of how PropOrNot is hopelessly and verifiably dishonest)”

  9. RPDC

    If this weren’t a family-friendly site, I would say that I f****** love you guys.

    And, as someone who donates to six of the wonderful platforms smeared by these hacks, I love to see someone punching back with force and wit (very Muhammad Ali), so I just chipped in a bit more to help you guys with the effort.

    Feels great to donate – highly recommended!

    1. ChiGal in Carolina

      THANK YOU!

      No time but wish I could create a list of all the many mainstream articles assuming as proven the DNC talking point that “17” agencies have determined Russia is influencing US elections.

      Even Clapper came out and said they have no proof of this.

      And Yves: absolutely brilliant!

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      Yes, I knew the PropOrNot site was up before the WaPo story ran and chose to ignore it since as of then it was getting no traffic. Why feed trolls?

  10. Anne

    Will have to look at the site on my phone as my firm has blocked access to the site; it has identified it as a security risk…pretty sure there is some irony in there somewhere…

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      Good idea. Will ask.

      Interestingly, those supposedly oh so smart experts on tech and Evil Rookies didn’t have one. We replicated their site features.

  11. FluffytheObeseCat

    I don’t want to provide the original site with any clicks, so I haven’t had a chance to compare your spoof with their piece. However, I get the sense you mimicked their tone and language pretty closely.

    Is their writing as clunky and cutesy as your spoof indicates? Is it as patronizing to the reader, with that same sort of “self-help manual” tone and that “let us help you dear reader to understand…..” attitude?

    OT, but, I really liked how Chen at the New Yorker referred to them as an “anonymous collective”. It is a politically laden turn of phrase implying both doctrinaire political cultism and seat-of-the-pants organizational ineptitude. It seemed to suit them.

    1. Outis Philalithopoulos

      On the similarities in writing, in certain places their original prose was more long and turgid than anything that made it into the spoof site. But the language is sometimes extremely close. Taking for example the FAQ, the responses to questions 1 and 5-9, despite coming off as satirical, are actually only minimally modified from their own FAQ.

  12. John Medcalf

    Where’s Bezos? I’m still speculating this is Bezos’ answer to Trump’s birthing. Annoy the press like hell. Let them whine and sue. Then save the country.

  13. Gallivan

    It’s very likely PropOrNot will be easily defeated, and that the site will slink away to never be heard from again. PropOrNot is an easy “kill.”

    However, it’s very likely new opponents will arise. The supporters of PropOrNot will figure a new weapon to go after alt-news sites. Perhaps they will impugn individual sites, such as those that didn’t fight back, or will send decoy-trolls to weaken them.

    It’s likely sons-of-Propornot will arise. It’ll be wise for the alt-news industry to prepare itself for this eventuality. PropOrNot.org may expect a new assault from a different direction.

  14. ChiGal in Carolina

    So much to love, but esp naming the perps

    and Slate, USA Today, NPR, PBS, the Daily Beast, and Rachel Maddow’s blog all echoed their conclusions uncritically.

    And topping the list of allies:

    Ministry of Truth

    This is pure genius and fun to boot

  15. jacopo

    If anyone wants to do some sleuthing, look at positive retweets of propornot tweets. Maybe some retweets are signal boosts made by propornot members. Especially suspicious are new twitter accounts, say started in November, that bellyache about the New Yorker story and favorably retweet Amb. McFaul. At first I thought propornot was an elaborate alt-right or even Russian troll on the Post and similar outlets, but the organization is too profoundly tone deaf to be a spoof.

  16. aletheia33

    >The targeted websites, which absent PropOrNot’s clumsiness might have been maneuvered into internecine struggles, instead largely closed ranks against what they melodramatically termed a “new McCarthyism. . . . Skilled propagandists enlist credentialed “experts” to promote their narratives. This is extremely easy to do in America, where a human being can often be had for a pittance.<

    love it.

  17. Kim Kaufman

    For consideration for the Resources Page of PropOrNot.net:

    https://www.amazon.com/Conspiracy-Theory-America-Discovering/dp/0292757697

    Conspiracy Theory in America (Discovering America)
    by Lance deHaven-Smith (Author)

    Ever since the Warren Commission concluded that a lone gunman assassinated President John F. Kennedy, people who doubt that finding have been widely dismissed as conspiracy theorists, despite credible evidence that right-wing elements in the CIA, FBI, and Secret Service—and possibly even senior government officials—were also involved. Why has suspicion of criminal wrongdoing at the highest levels of government been rejected out-of-hand as paranoid thinking akin to superstition?

    Conspiracy Theory in America investigates how the Founders’ hard-nosed realism about the likelihood of elite political misconduct—articulated in the Declaration of Independence—has been replaced by today’s blanket condemnation of conspiracy beliefs as ludicrous by definition. Lance deHaven-Smith reveals that the term “conspiracy theory” entered the American lexicon of political speech to deflect criticism of the Warren Commission and traces it back to a CIA propaganda campaign to discredit doubters of the commission’s report. He asks tough questions and connects the dots among five decades’ worth of suspicious events, including the assassinations of John and Robert Kennedy, the attempted assassinations of George Wallace and Ronald Reagan, the crimes of Watergate, the Iran-Contra arms-for-hostages deal, the disputed presidential elections of 2000 and 2004, the major defense failure of 9/11, and the subsequent anthrax letter attacks.

    Sure to spark intense debate about the truthfulness and trustworthiness of our government, Conspiracy Theory in America offers a powerful reminder that a suspicious, even radically suspicious, attitude toward government is crucial to maintaining our democracy.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      Thanks! Because we did the site as static HTML, it takes more doing to update than a blog, but we will be making changes so we’ll be sure to include your suggestion.

    2. Gaul

      The mainstream media is all corporate owned and no longer serves the public. THEY ARE THE ‘PROPAGANDA’ Feeding the same scripts. Deceit, censorship, are fascist, police state tactics, and should never be tolerated
      Real news, and investgative journalists, are shouted down and silenced. The truthtellers, the real journalists, have been eliminated and replaced with those who only regurgitate what the are told to say, omitting anything that doesn’t fit in what THEY WANT TO TELL US, not the important, relevant reporting that is required for an informed populace who have every right to know what their ‘representatives’ are doing. Deceiving the people, manipulation by the establishment and the big money that buys our government,

  18. flora

    This is a brilliant spoof. There are 2 issues at play, imo.

    First, to discredit the apparent McCarthyism of the WaPo’s careless reporting. McCarthyism, with all its attendant personal damages to original reporters, needs to be stopped in its tracks.

    Second, to reaffirm the importance of a free press, including the WaPo, as it functions (dare I say watch dog) as a warning beacon against dangers to the Republic (if that isn’t too corny). The WaPo seems to have forgotten that importance. If WaPo cries “wolf!” at something that isn’t a wolf, then eventually when there is a wolf people will say, “oh, the WaPo, it barks at field mice and crickets, ignore it.”

    I suppose this is a tendentious argument, to suggest the press is important to democracy and should keep that in mind. It’s an argument I’m willing to make. Will the WaPo argue against this point of view?

    1. flora

      adding: the spoof site uses “nought” for “naught”, the difference standing out to this old American ‘ear’.

  19. John

    You don’t have to post this comment, I just wanted to drop you a line. Thanks to these keystone kop propagandist, I now now intend to become a frequent visitor to nakedcapitalism, TruthDig, and a few of the others ‘blacklisted’; cept’ maybe I’ll skip sites like alex’s ;-). I find the articles on your site that I’ve read so far strive to convey the truth; something apparently the wapo did not concern itself when it posted that horrible hit piece. I just wanted to say thank you & keep up your good, honest work, it is appreciated,

    John

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