Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Fake news! CNN and Buzzfeed release an obviously fake report about Donald Trump being a Russian agent.

Screencap from 

As you are well aware of CNN and Buzzfeed have released their latest attack on President Elect Donald Trump. The document, created by a ex MI6 agent as opposition research for GOP anti-Trump forces, alleges that Donald Trump was some kind of compromised Manchurian Candidate for the Russians. It can be read here. The scandal, embarrassingly enough, has trended on Twitter with hashtags referencing one of the most stupid and disgusting claims in the document. Supposedly Donald Trump had been in Moscow in a bugged room and had insisted that a bunch of prostitutes pee on a bed because Barack Obama had slept in it at one point and that the Russians were blackmailing Trump because of it. This led to #GoldenShowers trending on Twitter... and yes I am serious.

That alone should tell you that the story is fake. It sounds like bad fan fiction right? Well that's because there is a good chance that it is just that. 4chan's political board, /pol/, is claiming that one of their posters was the one responsible for the pee story at the very least. 

The short version is that one of their posters, in a long con trolling game, convinced Rick Wilson (above), a GOP strategist and the guy behind the Ted Cruz sex scandal, that they had insider info about Trump. Wilson is a huge anti-Trump pundit and even went so far as to insult Trump's online supporters, calling them childless losers who masturbate to anime. Understandably upset by that description, /pol/ has been trolling him since his appearance on MSNBC. Supposedly, at least one poster was able to convince Wilson that his story was legit and it somehow got included into the report, which was created by an ex-MI6 operative named Christopher Steele. The entire thing was an attempt to discredit Rick Wilson and they happened to get CNN and Buzzfeed, two other organizations hated by /pol/, as collateral damage. 

How true is it? I have no idea. /pol/ thinks it is true, but they have been wrong before and there isn't conclusive evidence that the poster(s) in question did what they have claimed to have done. There are a lot of posts in the archive that seem to point in that direction, but no smoking gun or proof that this was anything other then big talk on the internet. What is needed is a series of posts that accurately describe what happened or proof, such as an e-mail between the poster and Wilson, that the poster actually did what he claimed to do. Neither of those things exist and the posts that have been found, while fitting the timeline, aren't rock solid proof. 

I tend to believe it though. Why? Because the pee accusations (and God does it feel stupid to write those words) are something that sounds like it was made up on 4chan. It reads like bad fan fiction used to troll people and I would not be surprised if that is what this is. We probably won't ever know for sure unless the poster comes out and proves it, but until that happens this is all just speculation. If it is true though, let it be known that /pol/ is the most influential and effective political forum in existence. 

Even if the 4chan angle is false, it was pretty obvious that this document would not hold up under scrutiny. Russia has said that the entire thing is BS. There are several obvious errors in spelling and facts that were very easy to check out. The most glaring is that the writer spelled Russia's largest and most famous bank as "Alpha Bank" instead of "Alfa Bank". One of the more scandalous accusations, that Trump's lawyer was in a meeting in Prague to work with the Russians was easily debunked when the lawyer in question said that he had never been to Prague and had been at USC during that time.   

And if you even think about the accusations for a moment, they make zero sense. How did Russia know five years ago that Donald Trump was even going to run? Why would they want to blackmail him without any idea that he was going to be president in five years? How could they have possibly known that his chances of winning were that good and that by hacking the DNC they would help him win and not one of his rivals? And if they had bugged a hotel room where Barack Obama was staying, isn't he compromised too?  And, if all that was true, why on earth didn't Hillary Clinton's campaign release this information before the election? Why? Because none of it is proven.

The story does not hold up under simple logic. So why on earth did CNN and Buzzfeed release it? That's a very good question. Other journalists, including ones from anti-Trump outlets like Mother Jones, passed on this story because even they knew that it was bunk. Nothing in it was verified and much of it was completely unverifiable. One of the rules of journalism is that you don't release damaging accusations like that without verifying it first.

Buzzfeed and CNN broke that rule. CNN reported the story first. They did not mention the direct accusations but did say that Trump had been informed of this document's existence during the Russian hacking briefing. That was false according to NBC News. Indeed, from what it sounds like the CIA just wanted to tell Trump that someone was spreading this document around, not that they believed it was accurate, and they didn't even do that correctly. Trump found out about the document from someone else. Buzzfeed decided to double down on CNN's mistake and released the document with a disclaimer that it couldn't be verified and contained obvious errors. They said that they wanted the people to decide for themselves.

This is not how you are supposed to do journalism. You don't just release stuff without verifying it first and you don't make up lies about people. CNN and Buzzfeed both broke journalistic ethics with this story and I sincerely hope that they both go out of business. I already considered both companies to be completely without journalistic value before this incident but this confirms it for me. I will never again visit either site or watch CNN on tv. Unfortunately, since that was my policy before this incident, I don't think my boycott will have much of an effect. The only reason both companies did what they did is to de-legitimize Donald Trump before he even has a chance to do anything as president.

In the end this probably helps Donald Trump long term. Right now his name is being drug through the mud, even more than it has during his past phony scandals. When this story collapses, and it is beginning to already, he is going to be bullet proof. Every single time someone reports negatively on Trump now, people are going to have this incident in the back of their mind. People now know that the media is willing to break every ethical rule in the book just to get Donald Trump and there is no reason for them to believe them even if a real scandal does come up. So if Buzzfeed's goal was to make Donald Trump completely immune to criticism, well, good going guys. Mission accomplished.

People are going to love the fact that Trump bashed both Buzzfeed and CNN today. Even though Trump's approval ratings aren't great, the approval ratings for the media is even lower and this may even help him once the storm blows over. People want a guy that will punish liars and snakes and right now it's Trump who is taking that role, not the media.

And I also think that this is the last in a long line of nails in the coffin of traditional journalism. There is no way these outlets can survive if they keep posting crap that is easily debunked in a day. People already hate the media but this seems like a "crossing the Rubicon" moment. There is no going back from this and I think people are going to distrust the media for a long time. I, for one, have vowed to never trust a news story critical of Donald Trump without verifying the facts myself because I know that I can't trust the media to do so. I may end up just tuning these kinds of accusations out entirely. They have called wolf far too many times...

Of course there still are a lot of people that believe the documents. A disturbing number of them are verified on Twitter... I can't really explain why other then conformation bias. They really want to believe that Donald Trump is some kind of Manchurian candidate and that he's also secretly a pervert. It fits their world view too perfectly. I guess quite a few of them know that the document is bunk but choose to believe it anyways...

And for the record, even if everything in the document was completely true, I would still have voted for Donald Trump over Hillary Clinton. Better a Russian puppet with weird sexual practices than a nuclear war with Russia that none of us would survive any day of the week. And if Russia really was blackmailing Trump, they no longer have any ammunition.

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