How Propaganda becomes “News”: A Republican Dossier, a “Reliable Source”, and a Clinton Donor

To a historian who studies slander in the ancient world, the fast-changing landscape of “received opinion” in the progressive and centrist wings of the US Democratic Party over the past few weeks has been un-put-downably addictive – the sharing and spinning, the borrowing and re-cycling all happen so quickly, and so often they leave a brilliantly visible trace. (Obviously we ancient historians never have enough evidence.)
One of the things that fascinates and disturbs me is how easily Republican providers of pseudo-news are able to gain traction for their stories: it is simply not hard at all to get Democratic voters  to share stories criticizing Democratic candidates, even if the criticism is based on dubious sources and obviously comes from the right.
Today I came across an especially transparent instance of this disturbing phenomenon.

A pro-Sanders friend shared an article from the ABC website entitled “How Clinton Donor Got on Sensitive Intelligence Board.” So far, business as usual. 

abc_rajiv_emailsSM_EasierToAnswer_lf_160608

E-mail from the Rajiv K. Fernando dossier (source: ABC News)

But on closer inspection,  the article was based on a dossier compiled by Citizens United – a conservative 501(c) which has had to defend its libel of Clinton in a Supreme Court case –  and re-packaged by ABC, a “reliable news source”. But while the catchy headline implies that Clinton was up to no good, but the story simply doesn’t support the headline. What follows does not prove that there was no malfeasance in the appointment of Mr. Fernando, but it demonstrates that the current “scandal” is not based on reliable evidence or competent journalism.
Here is my reasoning:
1) The original writers were honest enough to admit that Citizens United supplied the cited e-mails to ABC. ( I’m not disputing the genuineness of the e-mails, but I’m inclined to suspect that CU provided a briefing as to their “meaning”.)
2) While the evidence in the story can be seen as compatible with the story-line of the article, it doesn’t demonstrate that it is true. And it can also support a very different and (to Clinton) more favorablereading. If this is the worst Citizens United have been able to dig up on Clinton, she must be far cleaner than other politicians.
A) The evidence is a series of 2011 e-mails. The first one cited [from August 15 2011] simply gives evidence that before commenting to journalists an employee at State wanted to investigate whether there had been “more to the story” of why Rajiv Fernando had been appointed to the board in question.
B) An e-mail from the next day [August 16 2015] points to “youth, enthusiasm, a business perspective, and expertise in cyber security” as the reasons Fernando was appointed. Having had some modest experience with government initiatives I do not find it intrinsically implausible that someone from the business community could be brought in to a board of this kind. Looking at the photo of the largely white board, I’d also imagine that ethnic diversity may have been a point of interest in the appointment.
3) Mid-ticket fundraising of the type Fernando was involved in usually involves close working relationships, so it’s entirely possible that someone on the Clinton team (possibly even Clinton herself) thought they had spotted a rising star with experience in cyber security who could be useful to the Board.
4) The article cites Ambassador James Woolsey, a previous member of the board, as saying he thought it possible that someone with Fernando’s background could have made a real contribution to the board. In other words, the catchy headline implies that Clinton was up to no good, but the story simply doesn’t support the headline.
Within minutes of my seeing this article, a friend sent a related article my way (I am lucky to have friends who spend a lot of time reading their news feeds.)
The second article, by Eric Levitz in New York Magazine, bore the title “One of Secretary Clinton’s Top Nuclear Security Advisers Was a High-Frequency Trader (Who Donated to Her Campaign).” But while the ABC writers had admitted that the e-mails “were provided to ABC News by the conservative political group Citizens United”; Levitz simply says the e-mails were “obtained by ABC.”
Levitz has erased Citizens United’s role altogether! THIS is why it’s imperative that progressives insist on credible evidence and analysis by credible economists and political scientists where criticism of Clinton is concerned. THIS is how “news” is manufactured by the Republican machine.
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