NY Times’ Peter Baker — Anatomy of a Fake News Hoax

The New York Times’ Peter Baker has given us a case study in fake news. This type of fake news we’re about to discuss is subtle and thus more dangerous than outright hoaxes (which are easily disproven). What Peter Baker does here is incredulously cite a fake public interest group without demanding proof of their underlying claims, which were later proven to be false.

Step 1. Peter Baker of the NY Times writes:

The #FireMcMaster hashtag was tweeted more than 50,000 times since Wednesday. Echoing the drumbeat were social media organs tied to the Russian government. According to the Alliance for Securing Democracy, a bipartisan group created to focus attention on Russian interference in the West, the top hashtag among 600 Twitter accounts linked to Russian influence operations at one point on Thursday was #FireMcMaster.

There’s a major problem with this citation. The “Alliance for Security Democracy” did not list the 600 accounts, and indeed refused to list these accounts when asked to provide them.

Moreover, a data analysis conducted by Donara Barojan of the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab showed that #FireMcMaster was primarily pushed by the “alternative right,” and wasn’t a Russian bot operation.

Peter Baker and the NY Times copied the Washington Post’s playbook. Some might recall that the Washington Post cited a group called “Prop or Not” for the claim that several blogs were Russian propaganda:

THE WASHINGTON POST on Thursday night promoted the claims of a new, shadowy organization that smears dozens of U.S. news sites that are critical of U.S. foreign policy as being “routine peddlers of Russian propaganda.” The article by reporter Craig Timberg — headlined “Russian propaganda effort helped spread ‘fake news’ during election, experts say” — cites a report by an anonymous website calling itself PropOrNot, which claims that millions of Americans have been deceived this year in a massive Russian “misinformation campaign.”

After being threatened by these bloggers, WaPo issued a correction of sorts. Rather than admit they didn’t fact check, they said:

Editor’s Note: The Post, which did not name any of the sites, does not itself vouch for the validity of PropOrNot’s findings regarding any individual media outlet, nor did the article purport to do so. Since publication of The Post’s story, PropOrNot has removed some sites from its list.

WaPo published the false claims of a scam website, and then said, “Hey! Don’t blame us. We just quoted them without doing any fact-checking.”

Likewise Peter Baker of the NY Times published dubious claims from a scam outlet, again without fact-checking.

Here is a lesson in journalism from Peter Baker: If an organization claims 600 Russian bots made a hashtag trend, ask for a list of those 600 bots. That Baker never thought to do this shows you the level of “journalism” you can expect from him.

In an effort to combat fake news, I am producing a film called Hoaxed: The Media’s War on Truth. The film is fully funded, thanks to generous backers like yourself.

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Mike Cernovich is a journalist, author, and filmmaker. You can support his work here: