The piece cites “researchers” working for PropOrNot.com, a brand-new and entirely unproven source.
The Washington Post did some stellar reporting this election season. The piece in question, however, which was written by Craig Timberg, makes some very serious accusations without sufficiently backing them up. The article, as mentioned previously, cites “a nonpartisan collection of researchers with foreign policy, military and technology backgrounds” who work for the website PropOrNot.com. PropOrNot is, in their own words: “Your Friendly Neighborhood Propaganda Identification Service, Since 2016!” The issue is nobody knows anything about PropOrNot, and the “researchers” spoke with WaPo under the condition of anonymity to “avoid being targeted by Russia’s legions of skilled hackers.”
So here we have an heavily-promoted article, written for a publication read by millions, with a source that has no record for reliability, accuracy, or validity, and based off a report that is hardly peer-reviewed. The PropOrNot report which served as the basis for much of the article’s claims, names “200 distinct websites, YouTube channels and Facebook groups which qualify as Russian propaganda outlets.” Upon publication of the article, several journalists including Glenn Greenwald, Ben Norton, and Lee Fang of The Intercept, Matt Taibbi of Rolling Stone, Trevor Timm of the Freedom of the Press Foundation, The Guardian and Sheera Frenkel of BuzzFeed voiced their displeasure:
The Washington Post and Marty Baron should be ashamed of their "blacklist" report. https://t.co/OEU4gO2GrC
— Matt Taibbi (@mtaibbi) November 28, 2016
Blacklist on right-wing Western propaganda site smears left-wing & libertarian news sources as "Russian propaganda" https://t.co/CwlzQL6KKk
— Ben Norton (@BenjaminNorton) November 25, 2016
— Glenn Greenwald (@ggreenwald) November 28, 2016
On WaPo's deeply questionable story about the alleged influence of Russian propaganda: https://t.co/yqHBKM1rSL
— Trevor Timm (@trevortimm) November 25, 2016
— Sheera Frenkel (@sheeraf) November 25, 2016
The rush to find and destroy all fake news without putting in the time or the research runs the risk of dismantling and delegitimizing all independent news sources. While the article is admirable in theory, one can’t help but be disturbed by the lack of transparency and notoriety of its source. The consequences of publishing work that haphazardly labels independent news outlets as Russian propaganda are massive and could serve to entirely corporatize the industry.
While we should absolutely work to limit the spread of fake news, and determine the role Russia plays, we have to be measured and logical in the way we approach the issue. If we push too far and end up purging reliable, alternative news sources, we run the risk of being left with only a handful of monolithic, big-money outlets. This form of aggressive narrowing could result in the media landscape becoming far more plutocratic.
This source quite simply doesn’t cut it. The Washington Post needs to do better than this.
by Jesse Mechanic
Jesse Mechanic is the editor in chief of The Overgrown.