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Social media fact-checking, brought to you by the Deep State

By Daniel Espinosa | OffGuardian | September 7, 2020

Almost four years of mainstream media hype about “fake news” and “Russian meddling” propaganda has brought to the world exactly what they were intended to bring: an effective mechanism for internet and social media censorship.

In the center of this move toward global discourse control is an organization called the Poynter Institute, home to the International Fact-Checking Network (IFCN), a body created to coordinate, promote and train dozens of fact-checkers from around the world.

The IFCN and many non-profits working in the same field are funded by the big capitalist “philanthropists” of our era, like George Soros, Pierre Omidyar, Bill Gates, and even the Koch brothers… but also by the US Department of State and a shady “aid” – in reality, political meddling – organization, the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), historically linked to the CIA and regime change operations.

Google and Facebook – itself tied to the warmongering Atlantic Council and its “Digital Forensic Research Lab” – are also associated with Poynter, by funding and partnerships to fight “fake news” (including the development of an “automated” fact-checking program for the upcoming 2020).

The marriage between Poynter’s IFCN, politically inclined billionaires, the State Department – and the whitewashed public face of the Deep State – suggest that the institute is probably working in what Nelson Poynter, its founder, worked on for a key part of his life: propaganda and censorship for the US government.

Although this information is not available in Nelson Poynter’s Wikipedia profile or in poynter.org’s history page, his work for a government propaganda agency is not exactly a secret. A remembrance of his wife, Henrietta, also at the institute’s website, quickly passes over the fact that Poynter did work for the Office of War Information (OWI) during WWII, but his specific role as a government censor and propagandist is never mentioned.

Nevertheless, Hollywood Goes to War, a book written in 1987 by Clayton R. Koppes and Gregory D. Black, is one of the many historical sources that tell the details of Poynter’s job.

Film censorship and the birth of the Voice of America

Nelson Poynter was recruited by the OWI with his wife Henrietta, who worked as assistant program chief under Elmer Davis, head of the agency. She came up with the name for the “Voice of America”, the famous psychological war operation of the US government.

The radio project was established in February 1942 and soon grew to be the most important US overt propaganda arm of the Cold War.

Unlike his wife’s job, Poynter’s regarded not radio – or his previous line of work, journalism – but movies. In 1942, the OWI’s Bureau of Motion Pictures (BMP) set up office in Hollywood, naming Poynter as its head. His mission was to act as liaison between the agency and the owners of Warner Brothers, Twentieth Century Fox, MGM and the other big studio names.

Elmer Davis, head of the OWI, regarded films as:

The easiest way to inject a propaganda idea into most people’s minds”, in part, because they “do not realize that they are being propagandized”.

Davis was a career journalist who worked for ten years for the New York Times before being recruited by the government. Franklin D. Roosevelt’s White House needed the film industry to incorporate specific themes in their movies, ideas that promoted the notion of WWII as being a “popular” war, fought to defend his Four Freedoms.

But at first, Poynter’s office in Hollywood had little veto power over what the industry could produce – for the entire Western world – limiting itself to suggest cosmetic changes here and there, or the toning down of reactionary and racist imagery and language, an inherent feature in the Hollywood of that era.

The heads of the studios were on fairly good terms with the US Army, historically close to the industry. Its owners were happy to portrait US wars abroad as heroic, in exchange for the lending of military equipment, installations and expert advice.

But in most cases, a disappointed Poynter complained, war ended up only as “a backdrop” for shallow romance, cheap comedies and other proven formulas. Poynter and his boss at the BMP, Lowell Mellett, also hired a former assistant of Harold Lasswell, a famous social researcher who said – back in the 30s – that democracy needed propaganda because people were not the best judges of their own interest.

Eventually, the team devised a way to exert more power over the unruly, reactionary and overly commercial Hollywood studios. They decided to ask the US Office of Censorship to weigh in and threaten them with banning “offending” films from export, seriously reducing their potential earnings.

According to Koppes and Black’s Hollywood Goes to War, it was a success, prompting MGM, Warner and the other big names to start turning in their scripts for review to Poynter. The BMP knew it was important to intervene right at that stage, before large amounts of money were spent in production.

Poynter was a diligent censor and propagandist, going as far as to suggest dialogues for the movie scripts he was reviewing, breaching “one of the industries taboos” and provoking the powerful tycoons, according to the authors mentioned above.

When the war ended, Poynter went back to journalism. He eventually took over the St. Petersburg Times (renamed Tampa Bay Times in 2012), owned by his father. He also founded the Congressional Quarterly with his wife Henrietta, who died in 1968. As we can read in the Poynter institute’s website:

When Henrietta died suddenly at the age of 66, Nelson mourned deeply. ‘Her passing marked the end of an era for Mr. Poynter,’ said David Shedden, former research librarian at The Poynter Institute. ‘He started looking to the future and thinking about his legacy. He focused on creating a school for journalists, which of course became the Modern Media Institute, and then the Poynter Institute’.”

Nevertheless, historian W.C. Bourne explains that many of the OWI’s top brass – as Elmer Davis and Nelson Poynter, former journalists – returned to the corporate media after the war, but “retained an abiding belief in the things for which OWI stood and the possibilities of accomplishment in the international information picture”.

Many of them also retained the Deep State contacts and a nationalistic “spirit of collaboration”.

A legacy of censorship

Nelson Poynter’s work for the government ended many decades ago, and it would be reasonable to suggest that his ties to the US government and its propaganda apparatus probably never involved the journalism institution he founded years after leaving the OWI.

But we have evidence pointing precisely in the opposite direction.

Firstly, the obvious – and open – ties between the institute and today’s version of the foreign meddling machine installed by the US during the Cold War (i.e. the NED). As informed on many occasions by independent journalists, one of the founders of the National Endowment for Democracy once admitted that:

“A lot of what we do today was done covertly twenty-five years ago by the CIA.”

Secondly, the intimate ties between the Poynter Institute and the US State Department, which selected it to conduct the “Edward Murrow Program for Journalists”.

It brings together “more than 100 emerging international journalists from around the world to examine journalistic practices in the United States”.

In other words, to be indoctrinated in Western corporate journalism and culture and start a relationship with a potential foreign opinion leader.

The State Department’s Murrow program is part of Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA), an agency dedicated to “cultural diplomacy”, intimately tied to intelligence and foreign policy since way before the Cold War. The participants to be trained by Poynter are chosen by US embassies abroad.

A 2017 report of the historical success of the educational exchange agency stated that:

… 565 alumni of the ECA programs are current heads or former heads of state and government, and 31 alumni are heads of international organizations.”

Thirdly, the Poynter Institute, too, redacted an infamous blacklist of “fake news” sites, with the intention of marginalize and, in this case, deny many of them of any kind of advertisement money.

A blacklist to defund them all

For this operation, launched on April 30, 2019, Poynter ganged-up with the rest of the fact-checking “cartel”, so to speak.

The institute gathered the blacklists and analysis done in recent years by Snopes, Fact-check.org, Politifact (owned by the Tampa Bay Times and Poynter), OpenSources and the Fake News Codex, and used them to create the mother of all blacklists, naming 515 “unreliable” news websites.

It was retracted shortly after its publication, on May 2, after coming under criticism for “unreliability and poor methodology”. The irony! And this should be understood as an indictment on the whole bunch. As one critic from the George Washington University noted:

Beneath the veneer of its precision, the fact-checking enterprise relies heavily on opinion and interpretation… If a list summarizing fact-checking results and verified by fact checkers is ultimately retracted by those same fact checkers for not being rigorous, it underscores the question of why we should trust anything from the fact-checking community.”

To add insult to injury, Poynter’s dubious list of “unreliable websites” was intended to cause financial harm to those named in it, by guiding advertisers and ad-technology applications to deny them of ads.

After the retraction, Stephen Gutowski, a writer from one of the affected websites, Free Beacon, wrote:

What a disgusting exercise in bad faith from an organization that’s supposed to be about improving and promoting journalism. Instead, they’re creating tabloid-level listicles to smear reporters without offering even a single piece of evidence. Shame on you, @Poynter.”

Philip Klein, from The Washington Examiner – also listed – thought it was:

… worrisome to call for advertisers blacklisting news organizations, especially given the opacity of the process and arbitrariness of many of the judgements [sic].”

The “cartel”

Most of the non-profits behind Poynter’s blacklist share patrons, except for the controversial Snopes, that runs on less grant money than advertisement revenues.

The International Fact-checking Network and its more than a hundred “associated” – subordinated – smaller fact checkers around the globe, are also funded by the same “philanthropists”, like Bill Gates, whose foundation already finances tens of mainstream corporate news outlets with tens of millions of dollars, just like the Columbia Journalism Review recently uncovered.

Regarding Poynter and Gates, specifically:

… Poynter senior vice president Kelly McBride said Gates’s money was passed on to media fact-checking sites, including Africa Check, and noted that she is “absolutely confident” that no bias or blind spots emerged from the work, though she acknowledged that she has not reviewed it herself.”

In a blatant conflict of interests, those same fact-checkers often (try to) debunk information related to the Gates Foundation, just like a private PR agency.

Many lesser players in the global constellation of fact checkers are also funded directly by George Soros and his Open Society Foundation, the Ford Foundation, the US embassy and/or the NED.

When “fact-checking”, the members of this private-public consortium often limit themselves to copy/paste from their “parent” sources, like Poynter’s Politifact and Snopes.

As Emil Marmol and Lee Mager recently wrote for Project Censored, the “fake news” psychological operation was little more than a “Trojan horse for silencing alternative news and reestablishing corporate news dominance” :

The fake news hysteria created by those in government and echoed by the corporate news media is being harnessed and used as a pretext for the suppression of dissent and counterhegemonic viewpoints while re-establishing the corporate press’s preeminence as the sole purveyor and manufacturer of public opinion.”

The Covid-19 pandemic has accelerated the degenerative process under the guise of “protecting us”, prompting democratic governments to take dangerous paths, like arresting citizens for promoting street marches on Facebook.

The internet opened up a world of information to the regular citizen, we must keep it open so more of us can take a look.

Daniel Espinosa lives in Arequipa, second largest city of Peru. He graduated in Communication Sciences in Lima and started researching propaganda and mainstream media. He writes for a Peruvian in-print weekly, Hildebrandt en sus trece, since 2018, and collaborates with many online media. His writings are a critique of the role of mass media in society. You can read his previous work through his MuckRack profile.

September 8, 2020 Posted by | Mainstream Media, Warmongering | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Poynter retracts list of ‘unreliable news sources’ after listed sites prove it to be unreliable

By Helen Buyniski | RT | May 3, 2019

Journalism nonprofit Poynter has retracted a long list of supposedly unreliable news websites, admitting the list itself was unreliable – a fact ironically brought to its attention by several of the outlets it calls untrustworthy.

“We regret that we failed to ensure that the data was rigorous before publication, and apologize for the confusion and agitation caused by its publication,” Poynter’s managing director Barbara Allen wrote after removing the list from its website. Allen notably didn’t apologize for compiling the list in the first place, and it is unlikely we’ve heard the last of Poynter’s unreliability index, given that mainstream media gatekeepers have been trying to convince the public it needs an exalted class of media-whisperers to interpret the news for years.

Before deleting entirely, Poynter apologized to the Washington Examiner and FirstPost, two of several sites included on the blacklist who politely inquired as to why they’d been included. Baybars Orsek even told the Examiner that “the total number of complaints is less than 2 percent of the whole database.” By Thursday night, however, the page had vanished, and “inconsistencies between the findings of the original databases… and our own rendering” were blamed, with a promise that a “more consistent and rigorous set of criteria” was on its way. We can hardly wait!

RT made the “unreliable” list, hardly a surprise given the notable bias of neocon-affiliated “fact-checkers” like the folks at NewsGuard, but the other 515 sites held a few surprises. In addition to about 30 well-known conservative outlets like the Daily Caller (“bias,” “clickbait”) and Drudge Report (“bias”), popular progressive pages like Common Dreams (“clickbait”) and Activist Post (“conspiracy,” “unreliable”) are listed side by side with apolitical platforms like Liveleak (“fake”) among the obvious fakes (including joke sites like Clickhole and Reductress ). The list thus appears to be a PropOrNot-style “wrongthink”-tracker designed to tar legitimate dissent and other inconvenient voices with the ‘fake news’ brush.

Poynter apparently doesn’t think much of its audience’s intelligence, as the list included “satire” among the otherwise somewhat interchangeable terms it used to smear included sites – “bias,” “unreliable,” “fake,” “clickbait,” and “conspiracy.” Never mind that some conspiracies are real – Watergate, anyone? – or that their definition of “clickbait” would condemn most of the internet (“sources that provide generally credible content, but use exaggerated, misleading, or questionable headlines, social media descriptions, and/or images”). Blacklisting “satire” because you assume readers are too dim to “get it” enshrines the lowest common denominator in the driver’s seat.

The blacklist was supposedly “built from pre-existing databases compiled by journalists, fact-checkers and researchers around the country,” though Poynter admits that more than half the domains in those databases were no longer active as of November 2018. Most of the data came from OpenSources, a database run by Merrimack University’s Melissa Zimdars, whose academic work, as Breitbart (“bias, unreliable”) noted, centers almost exclusively on obesity (“Watching Our Weights: The Consequences and Contradictions of Televising Fatness in the ‘Obesity Epidemic’”), despite her self-styled credentials as a ‘fake news’ analyst.

The absence of any mainstream voices from the list despite numerous instances of fake stories parading across their pages just in recent months – Covington Catholic students harassing peaceful protesters, the hate crime against Jussie Smollett, Maduro’s government burning humanitarian aid, Donald Trump’s campaign colluding with the Russians – says all that is necessary about the real purpose of Poynter’s list, which is less about protecting readers from fake news than protecting readers from dissenting views.

May 3, 2019 Posted by | Deception, Fake News, Full Spectrum Dominance, Mainstream Media, Warmongering | , | Leave a comment

US Fact-Checking Institute Sponsored by Soros on War Path Against ‘Fake News’

Sputnik – 26.01.2017

The fake news “hysteria” has recently resulted in a number of initiatives to fight against the so-called misleading information and false statements. The campaign has been launched by such Internet giants, as Facebook and Google.

For instance, Google has permanently blocked 200 publishers which are labelled by the search engine giants as fake news content sites. In its turn, German Facebook tasked the fact-checking Correctiv research center with filtering out fake news in its news feed.

In an interview with Sputnik Germany, experienced freelance journalist Paul Schreyer revealed some surprising facts about fact-checking teams.

According to Schreyer’s research, the fake news campaign was originally born in the US in a journalist school called the Poynter Institute in Florida. The school had been running a so-called International Fact Checking Network for over a year, consisting of journalists working for such major media outlets like AP or ABC.

“The Poynter Institute’s network is indirectly sponsored by the US government via a think tank, but also by the Bill Gates foundation, Google, George Soros and some other foundations. So you see in the background of the campaign against fake news there is a network of very financially strong elites and the government. You should keep in mind that there are not just journalists who are concerned about the reputation of the industry, but also very influential financiers in the background,” the journalist told Sputnik Germany.

In particular, Schreyer found out that the German Correctiv team also receives a lot of money from influential supporters.

“Correctiv has existed since 2014 and is, according to own data, an independent research center. It is funded by the Brost Foundation, a foundation of a well-known journalist, who built the WAZ media group in the post-war period. Correctiv receives about one million euros every year according to official figures, and there are also funds from private sponsors, from the Federal Center for Political Education and some media groups,” Schreyer stated.

The journalist also pointed out that the members of the team have not yet worked out certain criteria which they will use to fact-check the information and define false statements.

Although Correctiv consists of professional journalists, who worked for major German media outlets, like Der Stern und Der Spiegel, exactly this can be a problem during their work. In particular, it is not quite clear what kind of approach they will use to independently and unbiasedly check the content of large media groups with whom they have connections with. According to Schreyer, it is very difficult to define what fake news, actually, is.

“David Schraven [Correctiv team member] repeatedly said that they do not want to assess opinions, but rather check factual statements. This sounds quite reasonable, but when you think about it, you realize that you can’t separate opinions and factual statements so clearly at all. There can be statement in the middle of the two. For example, “Putin jeopardizes the security of Europe.” Is this now an opinion or a factual statement? Can this be checked? What criteria should be used to check it? There you have a grey zone which can very fast fall into the area of the censorship,” the journalist said.

Earlier, it was reported that German Facebook will trial a fake news filtering system for German users of the site, allowing individuals to fact-check and report stories they suspect to be untrue. The users will be able to flag any story that appears in their newsfeed they suspect is fake news.The story will then be dispatched to Correctiv and if the team determines the story to be fake, it will be marked as false and users seeing it in their feeds will be warned about its doubted authenticity. It will also be blocked from being promoted in users’ feeds.

Commenting on the new initiative, Schreyer stated that it sounds to him, like censorship and added that “the whole fake news topic has turned into an incredibly hysterical debate at the moment.”

Facebook representatives, in their turn, stated that by adding additional context to stories deemed fake, it gives people an opportunity to decide for themselves what to believe and what information they share.

See also:

Google Blacklists 200 Publisher Sites to Quell ‘Fake News’

UK University Scientists Consider ‘Vaccine’ Against Fake News

‘Neo-Liberals’ and ‘Fake News’: The West’s Campaign Against Free Speech

January 26, 2017 Posted by | Deception, Full Spectrum Dominance | , , , | 1 Comment