By Glenn Greenwald / Substack
One of the primary plagues of corporate journalism, which I have documented more times than I can count, just reared its ugly head again to deceive millions of people with fake news. When one large news outlet publishes a false story based on whispers from anonymous security state agents with the CIA or FBI, other news outlets quickly purport that they have “independently confirmed” the false story, in order to bolster its credibility (oh, it must be true since other outlets have also confirmed it).
This is an obvious scam — they have not “independently confirmed” anything but rather merely acted as servants to the same lying security state agents who planted the original false story — but they do it over and over, creating the deceitful perception that a fake story has been “confirmed” by multiple outlets, thus bolstering its credibility in the public mind. It was the favored tactic for spreading debunked Russiagate frauds and is still used. One of the most vivid examples occurred in December, 2017, when CNN falsely reported what it hyped as “a major bombshell”: that Donald Trump, Jr. had advance access to the WikiLeaks archive. Within an hour, NBC News’ Ken Dilanian and CBS News both claimed they had “independently confirmed” this fairy tale. When it turned out that it was a complete lie, all based on a false date on an email to Trump Jr., these outlets embarrassingly corrected it hours later and then simply moved on as if it never happened, never explaining how multiple outlets could possibly have all “independently confirmed” the same blatant falsehood.
On Thursday night, The Washington Post, citing anonymous sources (of course), claimed that the FBI gave a “defensive briefing” to Rudy Giuliani in 2019, before he traveled to Ukraine, that he was being targeted by a Russian disinformation campaign to hurt Joe Biden’s candidacy, yet he ignored the FBI’s warnings and went anyway. The Post also claimed that the right-wing news outlet OANN was similarly briefed. The claim about Giuliani not only predictably ricocheted all over social media and cable news — where, as usual, it was uncritically treated as Truth — but it was shortly thereafter “independently confirmed” by both NBC News’ de facto CIA spokesman Ken Dilanian along with The New York Times.
What was the problem with this story? It was totally false. The FBI never briefed Giuliani on any such thing. As a result, The Washington Post had to append this “correction” — meaning a retraction — to the top of its viral story:
At first, The New York Times attempted to quietly change the story to delete the false claims without noting they were doing so. But upon being pressured, they finally faced up to what they did and posted their own retraction at the very bottom of the story that reads: “Correction: An earlier version of this article misstated whether Rudolph W. Giuliani received a formal warning from the F.B.I. about Russian disinformation. Mr. Giuliani did not receive such a so-called defensive briefing.” In their self-glorifying jargon, the Paper of Record did not spread Fake News — perish the thought — but merely “misstated” the truth. Meanwhile, NBC News, at the top of its false story, posted this explanation for why Dilanian got the story completely wrong:
An earlier version of this article included an incorrect report that Rudolph Giuliani had received a defensive briefing from the FBI in 2019 warning him that he was being targeted by a Russian influence operation. The report was based on a source familiar with the matter, but a second source now says the briefing was only prepared for Giuliani and not delivered to him, in part over concerns it might complicate the criminal investigation of Giuliani. As a result, the premise and headline of the article below have been changed to reflect the corrected information.
This credibility carnage was so glaring that even CNN acknowledged that “the corrections are black eyes to the newsrooms which have aggressively reported on Giuliani’s contacts with Ukrainians in his attempts to dig up dirt on then-presidential candidate Joe Biden.” But there have been so many similar “black eyes” like this one, indeed far worse ones, over the last five years, and they never change anything that causes these “black eyes” because they want to do this: spreading disinformation is their function. Indeed, as I have asked almost every time these debacles happen: how is it possible that these same outlets keep “confirming” one another’s false stories?
And the answer is obvious: they all serve as mouthpieces for the same propagandists and disinformation agents of the CIA, FBI and other security state agencies. In this capacity, they dutifully write down and vouch for what they are told by those agencies to publish without any investigative scrutiny or confirmation. The most amazing part of it all is that when they try to malign independent journalists for not doing “real reporting” — real reporting like these corporate outlets do — this is what they mean by real reporting: getting a call from the CIA or FBI and being told what to say. And that is why they so often mislead and deceive the public with blatant disinformation in unison.
It is hard to overstate how far and wide this false story about the FBI’s briefing to Giuliani spread, how many millions of people it deceived. The two liberal cable outlets, MSNBC and CNN, instantly convened panels to analyze the grave implications of this revelation, accusing Giuliani of knowingly spreading Russian disinformation (by which they meant, as usual, truthful information that reflects poorly on Democratic Party leaders) even though he was told not to keep doing so by the FBI.
As usual, the MSNBC program of Nicolle Wallace — who has magically transformed from a disinformation agent for the Bush/Cheney White House into an identical disinformation agent but now for the DNC — was one of the leaders in spreading this lie. She brought on former FBI agent and current MSNBC analyst Clint Watts to do just that (just as Wallace dramatized how Brian Sicknick died by falsely claiming that “they beat a Capitol Police Officer to death with a fire extinguisher” and repeatedly glorified Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D-NY) as a great and truthful leader on COVID):
This is all par for the course. But in this case, dozens of journalists for NBC News, MSNBC, CNN and The Washington Post — the very outlets that purported to “confirm” the false story — as well as activists and scholars who purport to combat “disinformation,” spread it all over Twitter and, days later, have left it up, even knowing the story is false, while not even telling their followers that the story was false and has been retracted.
In preparation for writing this article, I spent the day notifying close to a dozen of these media luminaries that their false tweet remained up and asked whether they intend to take it down and/or correct the false tweet. Only one — NBC White House Correspondent Geoff Bennett — responded. He did so by blocking me on Twitter, while leaving the false tweet up, uncorrected. Put another way, this NBC News journalist is well aware that he lied to close to 200,000 followers when he falsely told them that “Rudy Giuliani and Sen. Ron Johnson were warned in late 2019 that they were targets of a Russian operation intended to damage Joe Biden politically” — a story (as it pertains to Giuliani) which even his own outlet has retracted — but simply refuses to note that it was false or to remove the false posting. This NBC News reporter is knowingly spreading Fake News all over Twitter.
The number of journalists with major outlets who spread this fake news and never corrected it is too high to comprehensively chronicle. But even when you tell them that the story they spread is false and that they never corrected it or deleted the false tweet, they just leave it up anyway: knowingly spreading lies.
Basically as an experiment to measure how willing they are to knowingly lie even when caught, I sent a large number of them inquiries similar to the one I sent to NBC’s Bennett. With the exception of NBC‘s Bennett — who blocked me but left up the lying claim — virtually all just left their false tweets up with no notation to the people they lied to that the story was retracted. Here, for instance, are my similar interactions with Washington Post reporter Dan Zak, frequent Russia analyst for CNN and The Daily Beast Michael Weiss, CNN‘s Senior Global Affairs analyst Bianna Golodryga, and Bloomberg columnist Tim O’Brien, all of whom spread this story and have left it up uncorrected:
Here is just a random sampling of five more people or sites who spread this lie all over the internet and refuse to take it down or tell their followers the tweet was false: MSNBC‘s ex-FBI agent Clint Watts, Washington Post reporter Greg Jaffe, Center for American Progress’ Max Bergmann who runs the liberal think tank’s “Moscow Project,” Nina Jankowicz: who says she “studies disinformation”(!) for the Wilson Center, and the liberal “news” site Raw Story:
Meanwhile, MSNBC‘s Chris Hayes’ show, All In, has left up its tweet with the false story and refuses to take it down (though, after I shamed them for it, they finally noted in a subsequent tweet an hour or so ago that the story was retracted), while MSNBC‘s viral tweet with the false story also remains up:
Perhaps the most extraordinary example is The Washington Post‘s Glenn Kessler. He is held out by that paper as its official “fact-checker”: the person responsible for decreeing what is true and what is false. Not only did he post the fake claim about Giuliani’s briefing, and not only did he never delete it or note that it was false even after his own paper retracted it and even after I advised him of this, but — just two days ago! — he endorsed a denunciation by CNN‘s Jake Tapper of an RNC official who tweeted out a story that turned out to be false (namely, that DHS was providing copies of Kamala Harris’ book to migrant children).
“Says quite a bit that this tweet is still up even after the story was proven a lie,” the CNN anchor reasonably said. Yet while Kessler endorsed that lecture, he himself did exactly the same thing: let stand a retracted story without removing the tweet or telling his audience that it was false:
As I indicated, this is just a small sampling of journalists and activists who spread this false story and simply left the lie standing and uncorrected even after being advised. The list of shame also includes MSNBC’s second-favorite neocon (after Bill Kristol) Jennifer Rubin of The Washington Post. And while the false articles from the three outlets went viral, the tweets and other notations addressing the retractions were noted by only a tiny fraction who spread the original claim.
Every journalist, even the most honest and careful, will get things wrong sometimes, and trustworthy journalists issue prompt corrections when they do. That behavior should be trust-building. But when media outlets continue to use the same reckless and deceitful tactics — such as claiming to have “independently confirmed” one another’s false stories when they have merely served as stenographers for the same anonymous security state agents while “confirming” nothing — that strongly suggests a complete indifference to the truth and, even more so, a willingness to serve as disinformation agents for various official factions. And when a journalist spreads a false story and knows they have done so, but still refuses to correct it or remove it — as is the case for many of the above examples — then they are just tawdry liars who should be driven out of journalism. But they are not driven out and will not be because the reality is that their job is to spread disinformation as long as it is in servitude to the right factions (the CIA, FBI and DNC) and against those who are ideologically disfavored.
Again we see the core truth of U.S. corporate journalism. The outlets that most vocally claim to condemn disinformation and fake news — to the point of agitating in favor of corporate and online censorship of their critics and competitors in the name of combating it — are the most prolific, aggressive and destructive disseminators of disinformation. Their refusal to remove the fake news here even after I explicitly notified them of it just makes this latest example a particularly vivid one.
Update, May 3, 2021, 20:20 pm. ET: Subsequent to publication of this article, The Washington Post‘s Glenn Kessler posted a correction to Twitter:
This is not hard to do. It’s what anyone with even minimal journalistic integrity would do. It is astonishing and grotesque how many of them simply refuse.