The Washington Post's promotion of a new, "McCarthyistic" so-called black list has journalists aghast over what appears to be a red scare redux, as independent news outlets critical of U.S. foreign policy are being smeared as "Russian propaganda."
"Now that we have entered a New Cold War, I suppose it makes sense that we should expect a New McCarthyism," writes Robert Parry, investigative journalist and editor of Consortium News, which was one of the websites flagged by the anonymous organization PropOrNot as a "Russian propaganda outlet."
Last week, the Washington Post published a feature story citing PropOrNot and other supposed "experts" who allege that "Russia's increasingly sophisticated propaganda machinery" was behind the rise of "fake news," which they say spread false information about Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, fueling the rise of Donald Trump.
The fake news was disseminated and amplified by an "online echo chamber," WaPo's Craig Timberg reported, which included players who "were knowingly part of the propaganda campaign...while others were 'useful idiots'— a term born of the Cold War to describe people or institutions that unknowingly assisted Soviet Union propaganda efforts."
PropOrNot claims that stories planted or promoted by this campaign were viewed on Facebook more than 213 million times.
But the outlets being singled out by the group, and thus smeared by the Post, run the gamut politically, with the only seeming connection being that they "do not uncritically echo a pro-NATO perspective," as journalists Ben Norton and Glenn Greenwald point out.
In a searing take-down published at The Intercept on Saturday, Norton and Greenwald accuse PropOrNot of committing "outright defamation" for "slandering obviously legitimate news sites as propaganda tools of the Kremlin."
While some, namely Sputnik News and Russia Today, are funded by the Russian government, those sites are listed alongside a host of others who do not warrant this categorization. They write:
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Included on this blacklist of supposed propaganda outlets are prominent independent left-wing news sites such as Truthout, Naked Capitalism, Black Agenda Report, Consortium News, and Truthdig.
Also included are popular libertarian hubs such as Zero Hedge, Antiwar.com, and the Ron Paul Institute, along with the hugely influential right-wing website the Drudge Report and the publishing site WikiLeaks. Far-right, virulently anti-Muslim blogs such as Bare Naked Islam are likewise dubbed Kremlin mouthpieces. Basically, everyone who isn't comfortably within the centrist Hillary Clinton/Jeb Bush spectrum is guilty.
Norton and Greenwald also lambast the Washington Post for its "shoddy, slothful" reporting. Among the piece's shortcomings, they note, is that Timberg failed to include a link to PropOrNot's website.
"If readers had the opportunity to visit the site," they write, "it would have become instantly apparent that this group of ostensible experts far more resembles amateur peddlers of primitive, shallow propagandistic clichés than serious, substantive analysis and expertise; that it has a blatant, demonstrable bias in promoting NATO's narrative about the world; and that it is engaging in extremely dubious McCarthyite tactics about a wide range of critics and dissenters."
What's more, The Intercept notes, the problematic exposé "was one of the most widely circulated political news articles on social media" following its publication, which has far-ranging consequences.
Fortune columnist Mathew Ingram similarly lamented the dangers of lumping "anyone who shared a salacious but untrue news story about Hillary Clinton as an agent of an orchestrated Russian intelligence campaign."
"Has the rise of fake news played into the hands of those who want to spread disinformation? Sure it has," Ingram wrote. "But connecting hundreds of Twitter accounts into a dark web of Russian-controlled agents, along with any website that sits on some poorly thought-out blacklist, seems like the beginnings of a conspiracy theory, rather than a scientific analysis of the problem."