What We Did for You in the Past Year

As part of our annual fundraiser, we tell you what we’ve done since we last asked for your support. If you don’t need a review of last year to know how hard we work for you, please pass “go” and proceed immediately to the Tip Jar, which tells you how to donate via check, credit or debit card, or PayPal.

What We Did Last Year: Expanding Our Scope and Impact Despite General and Direct Attacks

In our long-range look at what we expected for the next ten years at Naked Capitalism, we stressed how political and economic paradigms like globalism and neoliberalism were starting to crack. Events like Brexit, Trump’s win, and Merkel’s weak election results have put the elites in a panic. Their response to the legitimacy crisis resulting from their decades of malign neglect and assaults on the welfare of ordinary people is to lash out at enemies, such as those unduly aligned with “populist” positions, including this humble blog.

Last year was particularly difficult. We got through it thanks to the NC community supporting us, both financially and by standing up for us against a stunning number of scurrilous but potentially very damaging attacks. With your help, we faced down the New McCarthyism (for now, at least), while continuing to advance the story on several fronts, old and new.

Facing down the New McCarthyism. The surprise Trump win and the concerted political and mainstream media backlash has led to a marked decline in the quality of mainstream journalism. Reporting on a widespread basis has devolved to an “any stick to beat a dog” posture on Trump, with only a few journalists like Glenn Greenwald having the stature and courage to call out shoddy and duplicitous work.

The press fixation on the Trump outrage du jour has also sucked resources and attention away from other important topics, including what the Trump administration is doing without fanfare in the executive branch. The fall in journalistic standards isn’t limited to the political sphere. The New York Times gave buyouts to some of its older star writers, including Pulitzer Prize winners James Risen and Charles Duhigg, and is also moving hard in the direction of even more business-friendly reporting.

Naked Capitalism took a direct hit as a result of the anti-Trump campaign. We, along with 198 other sites, were falsely accused on Thanksgiving day by a shadowy group with close ties to Ukrainian fascists called PropOrNot, of publishing Russian propaganda and “fake news”.

Astonishingly, the Washington Post reported on their phishing for funding masquerading as analysis. We spent a considerable amount of time and energy combatting this threat; we immediately purchased PropOrNot domains, and Outis quickly built a PropOrNot parody site. We enlisted attorney Jim Moody to write a letter to the Post, and a second on the behalf of a group we organized that included CounterPunch, Black Agenda Report, Paul Craig Roberts, to PropOrNot. The Post, rather than correcting or retracting the story, instead put up a bizarre disclaimer that basically said it was not responsible for its own misreporting. 1

We also had to contend with being defamed by an NBC News affiliate in Denver. NC readers in Denver informed us of the broadcast immediately, peppered the station with complaints, and we leaned on the station. To their credit, they took the video down and issued an apology promptly on receipt of a stern letter from Jim Moody.

We also were smeared by by CBS News, as they touted a Web developer who launched a Chrome “fake news” extension that flagged Naked Capitalism, Consortium News, Truthdig, Truthout, and Shadowproof. Our readers, particularly two who knew the offending developer personally, again came to our aid in telling hem he needed to course correct, pronto. He too complied with lawyer Moody’s demands.

We were next attacked in March by James Wolcott of Vanity Fair, who also lambasted Glenn Greenwald, Jacobin, Truthdig, Counterpunch, Mark Ames, Jill Stein, and others, for the sin of being insufficiently hostile to Trump and otherwise not serving as members in good standing of Team Dem.

A final threat came over the summer, with a Google algorithm change that gave greater weight to “authoritative,” meaning mainstream, sites, greatly reducing the search traffic of independent sites like Counterpunch, TruthDig, and WSWS. We were not much affected, mainly because Google had previously downgraded us in 2014 for the sin of having a Links feature, since curated links compete with Google’s search function. Nevertheless, diagnosing the impact was another stressor.

Even though Russia scaremongering is as hot as ever, the eye of Sauron appears to have moved on to other objects of interest. During this time, we did not deviate from our belief in rigorous testing of information and analysis, no matter where that takes us, despite the ongoing pressure to fall in line with emotional manipulation by the press and pols.

On a completely different front, the Kentucky Retirement Systems threatened us with litigation if we didn’t remove private equity limited partnership agreements that we had published years ago from a source that had gotten them without being required to sign a confidential agreement (in layperson speak, that means they weren’t confidential). Even though the charge was baseless, we still had to have our lawyer Jim Moody again saddle up.

If defense wins championships, we’re champions (thanks to your help). But we also extended Naked Capitalism’s strength and reach, both geographically, and in what we cover.

Holding more meetups. We’ve had our first meetups in Chicago, Los Angeles, Montréal, Kansas City, Dallas, Burlington, Portland, and Bangor, as well as having meetups in San Francisco, London, and New York. Readers are eager for us to do more and we’d love to, provided we can find the time, funds, and energy. The new year opened for me with a very bad hip injury/ankle sprain. Even now I am in a fair bit of pain, and that has slowed me down on a lot of fronts, particularly travel.

Investing in the quality of the comments section. As many of you affirmed when we reopened comments, the vibrancy of the discussions and the fact that we have managed to create a community are very important to you as well as to us. But the rancor and decline in the quality of comments over the election period and beyond was collateral damage from much bigger forces at work, namely an intensification of strategies, like the weaponizing of identity politics, to heighten discord and undermine new political alliances forming as the old order is crumbling. As Lambert wrote:

For reasons of their own, the powers-that-be — and this applies to most of the political class, including the leadership of both major political parties, and most of the press, in whatever medium — have decided to cope with an ongoing crisis in the legitimacy of the neoliberal dispensation by opening the floodgates to bad data: Multiple and conflicting campaigns of gaslighting, propaganda, warmongering, McCarthy-ite tactics, smears generally, “hiring one half the working class to kill the other,” all producing a plethora, not to say a superfluity, of bright shiny objects. The zeitgeist is extremely choppy, and it is to be expected that the frail bark of the NC comments section would be tossed about. It’s only human, for example, that “lukewarm takes” would be served up from the enormous amount of bad faith stupid generated by the powers-that-be, as for example comments that treat women as biologically inferior, or tout the idea that the Confederate states didn’t secede over slavery. These are opinions, to be sure, but they are not informed opinions, and the NC comments section — unlike Reddit or Facebook — is all about informed opinion. The NC comments section is not about the stupid.

We’ve had to take unprecedented measures to keep the comments section at its long-standing level of quality and verve. We brought Outis aboard to work on a daily basis to help manage comments. Later in the year, when even that level of resource commitment was becoming strained, Jules Dickson joined our team. We also tweaked the commenting the software, both for users and in our backstage.

Hardening our technology defenses. We upgraded some of our services and made other changes to make us less vulnerable to DDoS attacks, important in the current climate.

And now to why we fight: Coverage.

Publishing Hubert Horan’s shredding of Uber’s business model. Thanks to the extensive analysis of Hubert Horan, starting with his ten-part series on Uber, more and more media outlets are starting to voice doubts as to whether Uber will ever deliver. When we first started publishing his series, not only was the business and tech press united in their wonderment over the seeming inevitability of Uber’s eventual glorious profits, but some reporters attacked Hubert relentlessly. Only after Uber was reeling from scandal after scandal were captured journalists willing to question the fundamentals. The fact that Hubert came to us with this important work is yet another proof of how NC punches above its weight thanks to having an influential readership.

Exposing the biggest copyright infringement in US history. We broke the story of how CalPERS had reproduced over 9,000 articles from major publishers including Dow Jones, the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and Bloomberg in full on its “Daily News Summary” website which could be accessed by the public. CalPERS did not obtain the rights to reproduce articles from Dow Jones, the New York Times, or for that matter, Naked Capitalism, and we thus believe all of the articles it reproduced infringed upon copyright. Informed observer estimate that CalPERS damages are easily $30 to $50 million, which would make this the most costly copyright infringement in US history.

Keeping the heat on CalPERS. In addition to breaking the story of its massive copyright abuse, we’ve also caught out the giant pension fund running a non-secret, gamable board election, telling whoppers so bad about its cost reduction that , launching a kangaroo court proceeding on bogus grounds against its most effective board member, JJ Jelincic, and even violated bar rules by having a member of the legal department troll NC without disclosing his identity.

Providing laser-sharp election coverage. Even though the election now seems like history, Naked Capitalism made important and accurate calls. We were virtually alone in treating Sanders as a possible contender when he was polling at only the 1% level. Similarly, we never ruled Trump out as a possible victor; the way he kept bouncing back in the polls despite a seeming unending stream of gaffes and Twitter outbursts suggested he was never out of the running. In the final weeks of the campaign, Lambert focused methodically on the candidates’ paths to victory in the electoral college, showing – very much against conventional wisdom – that a Clinton victory was by no means a foregone conclusion.

Focusing on Trump’s actions, not his noise-making. Despite the widespread, and typically very well-deserved criticism of Trump, the press and pundits have been trying to stoke fear and anger rather than report, sometimes for the wrong reasons. Our Jerri-Lynn Scofield has kept her eye on Trump administration legal and regulatory moves that will have lasting impact and the press has often ignored, such as his judicial appointments, rolling back the overtime rule, as well as changes his appointees are making to financial and environmental regulations.

Opening a new beat: the War on Cash. Jerri-Lynn has also provided important coverage on the War on Cash via Modi’s botched demonetization program. Clive has pitched in with important technical posts.

Chronicling the health care wars. Lambert continued his relentless coverage of Obamacare and the steady rise of support for single payer, despite the efforts of the Democratic party establishment to kill it (as for example, never putting #SaveTheACA in the larger context of #MedicareForAll).

Maintaining rigorous standards of reporting and analysis in the face of widespread misinformation in the mainstream media. It is a sorry testament to the state of American journalism that we are listing this as an accomplishment. One of Naked Capitalism’s hallmarks, of being early and accurate, has been the result of our long-standing rigor about the quality and significance of information. This year, it became much harder to sort out information wheat from chaff due to reporters on even more beats acting as transcriptionists rather than reporters.

How This Fundraiser Works

Please give whatever you can. $5, $50, or $5000 are all appreciated. If you can only afford to give a little, then give a little. If you’re doing well these days, then please give more. It will all even out in the end. Everything you do – reading, commenting, giving, and sending us information – is essential to making this community work. You can help right now by following this link to make a donation.

We’d like to get broad-based participation from the Naked Capitalism community. Our target is 1100 donors for this fundraiser.

Our accompanying kickoff post gives a high-level view of what we intend to do in the long term. Over the course of the fundraiser, we identify specific things that your donations will fund and tell you when we’ve hit each of these monetary goals.

The first goal is funding for digital infrastructure essentials, particularly in light of both the large number of comments we get on post (which loads our database of nearly one million).

The result is that our “nut” for digital essentials is certain to increase this year. So our first target is $19,000. Once we’ve hit that, we’ll let you know what our next item is.

How to Give

There are multiple channels for donating, and you will see them all when you go to our Tip Jar. To give by check (which saves us PayPal/credit card fees), please make it out in the name of “Aurora Advisors Incorporated” and send it to:

Aurora Advisors Incorporated
903 Park Avenue, 8th Floor
New York, NY 10075

At the same time, please send an e-mail to yves@nakedcapitalism.com with the headline “Check is in the mail” (and just the $ amount in the message) so we can count your contribution in the total number of donations.

Thanks again for your interest and generous support!

_____

1 We were prepared to sue PropOrNot and the Post, and quite a few of the wronged sites were keen to join us. However, our lawyer Jim Moody needed to get past some court dates, as well as figure out the best strategy given the lack of any idea where PropOrNot members lived and worked, as well as steering clear of anti-SLAPP filings. When he had sorted that out, we were stunned that sites that had expressed interest in participating wouldn’t even return repeated e-mails. A suit by Naked Capitalism alone would not only not garner enough press attention but might even be seen by a judge as frivolous (if this were such a big deal, why wouldn’t other parties be joining us?).

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9 comments

  1. Basil Pesto

    I apologise in advance if, in asking this question here (and whose answer can, presumably, only be speculative and therefore of limited value), I am unduly distracting from this post’s fundraising objective, but why do you think it is that the other potential parties to your action against the Post/PropOrNot subsequently ignored your entreaties to join the suit?

    Please delete this comment if this is the inappropriate forum to be asking such a question. If you do delete it, but are still willing to answer me (and have the time, I know you’re very busy!) then you are welcome to email me at my supplied email address.

    And, I know this doesn’t pay the bills, but: keep up the good work!

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      I wish I had a good answer. I have no idea. It did take longer than I would have liked for Jim Moody to clear his deck (the PropOrNot attack was at the end of November, and even though he wrote some nastygrams in December, he wasn’t ready to saddle up until March).

      My best guess is that the other sites felt the Russia threat (as far as they were concerned) had largely moved on, and it wasn’t a good use of their managerial resources to get involved in a suit.

      One issue (not that they would have known due to the failure to reply) is that we couldn’t proceed with litigation in the way I would have preferred. PropOrNot was such an obviously amateurish and underfunded bunch that it would have been preferable to sue them first. It would be a winner either way: either we’d get to do discovery and make them and derivatively the Post look ridiculous, or they wouldn’t show up in court and we’d get a default judgment. That would enable me to get their only assets, their Twitter account and their domain name, and shut them down. Then we could decide what to do next re the Post.

      But you can’t sue an unincorporated association of individuals if you have no idea who they are or where any of them works or lives. So we would have had to sue the Post and PropOrNot together (there is a legal term of art for this, but I can’t recall it). So the other sites were probably also afraid of going up against the Post with a super deep pocket like Bezos behind it.

      The sad part here is that when Google downgraded a whole swathe of independent sites in August, the publisher of one that was hit hard wrote me in August, saying that maybe they should have pursued the suit against the Post after all.

      1. John Zelnicker

        Thanks for the update, Yves. I, too, was wondering what happened to that suit, as I’m sure many others have. Too bad you didn’t get at least one shot at embarrassing the Post (if that’s even possible).

      2. queenslawyer

        In fairness to Mr. Moody, it can be extraordinarily difficult to “clear the deck” for high stakes litigation. Mundane cases can be handled side by side. Judges and adversaries grant courtesies, all being lawyers and knowing that you can’t make a living handling one mundane case at a time… High stakes litigation against a well-funded adversary is a different kettle of fish. White shoe law firms (like the one you’re probably up against) will staff these cases 3-4 attorneys, each with their own support staff, and the more junior attorneys will work on nothing else. They will drown you in paper work even more if they know you’re stretched thin…

        If Jim’s practice is anything like mine, taking 5 months to clear up his calendar before revving up the case is pretty darn good! Especially if there are no statute of limitation issues and all material evidence/documents have been preserved already…

        Thanks again, Yves, for everything you do. The rest of the crew too! I had to replace ALL my credit cards on Friday (fortunately did not lose anything of real value) , but will certainly be contributing before the fundraiser is over!

      3. Kim Kaufman

        I can understand a business decision not to go up against deep-pocketed WaPo. But the lack of a simple response is somewhat unforgivable. What part of common courtesy don’t they know? They like to talk about “revolution” and “solidarity” but it seems nothing more than some form of branding. Not the kind of people to go into battle with, thinking we all had each others’ backs.

      4. The Rev Kev

        I was thinking about this reply here when a thought occurred to me. Could it be that the whole PropOrNot site was actually a booby trap? In that list, a number of respected sites such as NC may have been the true targets and most of the other ratbag sites were just there for camouflage as well as smear purposes.
        It may well have been that after it started to go through the law courts that it would be found that there was some ‘barry bilionaire’ funding the defense to drain the time, money and energy of the litigating parties such as yourselves which may have been the whole point of the exercise as well as smearing any media that was not main-stream. Timing it for Thanksgiving was just icing on the cake for them as well as to spoil a lot of people’s holidays.
        In the words of Admiral Ackbar – “It’s a trap!”

  2. neighbor7

    Any thought of publishing an edited version of Horan’s Uber work as an ebook? It’s a very important analysis, and it would be good to have a book like that to point to when explaining to people why they should think three times about Uber, etc.

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