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Preserving Independent Journalism and Fighting the New McCarthyism

Posted on Nov 29, 2016

  From left: Communications Coordinator Sarah Wesley, Deputy Editor Kasia Anderson, Editor in Chief Robert Scheer and Publisher Zuade Kaufman.

Editor’s note: This discussion was based on a recent Washington Post article that linked to allegations that Truthdig and numerous other news outlets were propagandists for Russia. The Post’s story is based on unsubstantiated allegations by an organization that conceals its members’ identities. Truthdig never has and never would propagandize for anyone.

The Truthdig team sat down for a live conversation Thursday to discuss The Washington Post’s uncritical piece that cites the shadowy organization PropOrNot as a source.

The team spoke about PropOrNot’s alarming McCarthyist sentiments, the importance of independent journalism, and the Post’s failure to adequately check its source.

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The conversation was streamed onto our Facebook page. Watch it in full below:


“We like to promote independent voices, and we don’t tell our writers what to write,” Publisher Zuade Kaufman remarked during the live discussion. “We have an unwavering dedication to truth.”

“We are different, we are independent,” Editor in Chief Robert Scheer stated. “I find it very liberating.”

Scheer also argued that The Washington Post should apologize. “They should correct the story,” he said, and stated that the Post’s executive editor, Marty Baron, “should apologize now.” “If you [Baron] really believe in a free press, you should not have been party to this,” he concluded.

Prop Or Not lists dozens of organizations purportedly functioning “as Russian propaganda outlets.” Truthdig is one of the outlets listed, as Deputy Editor Kasia Anderson writes:

Despite the seriousness of PropOrNot’s allegations, not to mention its call for “official action,” the organization’s motives, institutional affiliations and methodology were all left unaccounted for and uncontested in the Post’s article, even as Timberg repeated claims that effectively blacklisted more than 200 outlets. The targeted outlets on PropOrNot’s list—including Truthdig, Truthout, the Black Agenda Report, Naked Capitalism, along with the Ron Paul Institute, The Drudge Report, InfoWars, Russia Today and WikiLeaks—represented a wide range of viewpoints and political positions.

Other journalists have also weighed in to critique the Post’s piece, as Anderson notes. In a piece published Monday, Rolling Stone’s Matt Taibbi published a response titled “The ‘Washington Post’ ‘Blacklist’ Story Is Shameful and Disgusting.”

Taibbi argues that “[a]ny halfway decent editor would have been scared to death” to rely on PropOrNot as a credible source. “Most high school papers wouldn’t touch sources like these,” he continues. “But in November 2016, both the president-elect of the United States and The Washington Post are equally at ease with this sort of sourcing.”

Chris Hedges, a Truthdig contributor, also spoke with Taibbi regarding the Post piece. As Taibbi relates:

Chris Hedges of Truthdig, who was part of a group that won the Pulitzer Prize for The New York Times once upon a time, said the same. “We were named,” he tells me. “I was not contacted.”

Hedges says the Post piece was an “updated form of Red-Baiting.”

“This attack signals an open war on the independent press,” he says. “Those who do not spew the official line will be increasingly demonized in corporate echo chambers such as the Post or CNN as useful idiots or fifth columnists.”

The Intercept’s Glenn Greenwald and Ben Norton also zeroed in on the “obviously reckless and unproven allegations” made by Timberg.

“In other words, the individuals behind this newly created group are publicly branding journalists and news outlets as tools of Russian propaganda—even calling on the FBI to investigate them for espionage—while cowardly hiding their own identities,” Greenwald and Norton write. “The group promoted by the Post thus embodies the toxic essence of Joseph McCarthy, but without the courage to attach individual names to the blacklist. Echoing the Wisconsin senator, the group refers to its lengthy collection of sites spouting Russian propaganda as ‘The List.’ ”

In the days since “The List” went public, PropOrNot has sent out several disturbing tweets. “Russian imperialists & bots/trolls are vewwy vewwy upset; we’re stoked!” it writes in one.

The immaturity of PropOrNot’s social media presence hides a broader, more alarming aspect to its claims. “A new McCarthyism has emerged in the wake of the contentious 2016 presidential election,” Anderson writes. “What we see spells trouble for press freedom at a crucial moment.”

—Posted by Emma Niles

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