Fake News Versus Dissenting Opinions

Last week I was shocked to find that Google had banned the latest PragerU YouTube video as hate speech. As a regular listener to PragerU videos I was curious to see the video that went over the edge. From my experience hate speech is definitely not PragerU’s style. The video in question, Was Born To Hate Jews, is by a devout Muslim who describes his transformation of someone who hated Jews to gradual acceptance. Some Muslims might disagree with this man’s opinion but it was not hate speech. When did one Muslim’s decision to accept that Jews are okay and do not need to be wiped off the map become hate speech to Google?

That incident led me to question the subject of ‘fake news’.  A Washington Post article, Russian propaganda effort helped spread ‘fake news’ during election, experts say, had started off this mess. In one of the great faux pas of modern journalism the Washington Post said,

One of them was PropOrNot, a group that insists on public anonymity, which issued a report identifying more than 200 websites that, in its view, wittingly or unwittingly published or echoed Russian propaganda.

Okay, let see if I understand this correctly. The Washington Post is saying that ‘fake news’ during the recent elections came from Russian propaganda efforts. This is a considerably different story than the one portrayed by NPR in their story, We Tracked Down A Fake-News Creator In The Suburbs. Here’s What We Learned. The Washington Post went one step further and relied on a list from an anonymous source, PropOrNot. I hate to complain about the lack of journalistic standards but you have to ask the question. At what point did they get a little concerned that this organization might be a ‘fake news’ site just like the ones they were complaining about?

Is The PropOrNot List ‘Fake News’ Sites?

Someone had to do this and obviously the Washington Post was not up to the task. So I went over to the PropOrNot site and took a look at the list. The first thing I noticed was that the list was not ‘fake news’ sites by the NPR standard. The second thing I noticed was that I read several of the sites on a regular basis on the list. They are:

All of these sites express dissenting opinions. Many of the sites express libertarian opinions. From a cursory review of the list I can detect at least three themes, managed economies, Anti-War, and Truth in Government.

Managed Economy Theme

The first group, Stockman’s Contra Corner, oftwominds.com site, and zerohedge.com,  are critical of our government’s attempt to manage the economy. Their writings have more in common with the old Keynes versus Hayek debate. The most famous person in this group is former Congressman, Mr. Stockman, who wrote a New York Times bestseller, The Great Deformation: The Corruption of Capitalism in America. Ironically these free market oriented writings are critical of Russia’s managed economy.

Anti-War Theme

The second group, Lew Rockwell, antiwar.com, and the ronpaulinstitute.org, probably got included on the list due to their libertarian, anti-war dissents. Lew Rockwell and former Congressman Ron Paul are Mises Institute board members who are critical of the government’s efforts at regime change. Ironically both President-elect Trump, President Obama, and most of the Democratic party are critical of past regime change policies. It is a pretty big stretch to say that this group’s complaint about regime change “unwittingly echoed Russian propaganda”.

Truth In Government

Wikileaks and several other truth sites represent the truth in government group. Wikileaks is the only  site who I might concede wittingly helped Russian propaganda. Although Russia may have been involved in getting the emails to wikileaks, the emails are not ‘fake news’.  I went to the wikileaks.org site and confirmed that the DKIM signature said that the emails had not been altered. In the greatest irony of the fake news cycle, the Podesta and DNC emails were so damaging to the Democratic party election chances because they were true news stories.

How Much Do You Need To Write About Russia To Be Included On The PropOrNot List?

Maybe sites make the list because they write a lot about Russia. It is pretty obvious why pravda.ru and rt.com made the list but why did nakedcapitalism.com make the list? Its title implies that it devoted a lot more time discussing capitalism rather than Russia. Was this false advertising? Since the site displays a topic list with the number of posts pertaining to each subject, I downloaded the list and did some calculations. Russia was 47th on the list. The Russian posts amounted to only 0.47% of the 61,907 posts. They were just behind CEO compensation and well behind Europe(28th) and China(30th). Looking at these numbers it is difficult for me to see how this site got on the PropOrNot list. Maybe this is why the folks at nakedcapitalism are suing PropOrNot.