For the third time in as many weeks, my Facebook Messenger notifications went off at an alarming pace last night with concerned messages from friends and readers who found C&L listed on yet another "fake news" list.
But this one was special. Posted on a site called "Modern Liberals," the author earnestly explained that he was posting a list of "fake news" sites to encourage people to stop sharing them right away, because they were just not trustworthy in the age of Trump.
The author, "Manny Schewitz," then proceeded to drop his blacklist into the Rachel Maddow Facebook fan group, while stubbornly refusing to amend or de-list any site on his list, which was clearly derived from other fake news lists which were themselves derived from the now-infamous Professor Melissa Zimdars Google spreadsheet which she chose to pull down after receiving tremendous backlash.
Before she pulled that spreadsheet, however, she deleted C&L from her list. Apparently some folks didn't get the update.
There is a certain amount of grim irony in the idea of a guy who claims to post political satire as his main focus now posting a list of fake news sites. Deep, grim, suspect irony.
In a comment posted on his post and posted to Facebook as well, I reminded Mr. "Schewitz" that here at Crooks and Liars we link to primary sources or post actual video of the thing we are discussing in our posts. We make no secret out of our ideological bent here, but we use facts to back our claims. John Amato has interviewed President Obama at the White House, as well as many other congressional leaders. Many Blue America candidates are now in office or about to take office.
John Amato and Dave Neiwert wrote one of the seminal works on the history of the Tea Party and how they organized after Obama's election. Hardly fake.
We also choose to link to primary sources wherever possible, or reputable mainstream national news sites, which we are also unafraid to criticize when they have it wrong.
There is nothing fake about that. Those are facts, that "Manny" chose to overlook or ignore before creating his blacklist.
Any visitor to our site can have a look at our writers' profiles, or just go to our "About" page to learn about John Amato, me, and Fran Langum easily enough.
Conversely, the Modern Liberals domain was registered on January 16, 2016, with an anonymous registration and a publisher who calls himself "Manny Schewitz." Manny describes himself as "a progressive liberal from the Dirty South with a thirst for the truth, and whiskey. He is a co-founder of Modern Liberals, an avid poker player, and an unapologetic liberal who supports gun regulations."
I understand why people want to write about politics under pseudonyms and maintain anonymity. That is their right, and there are times where I certainly wish I had chosen to do so, given the number of efforts to harass me and my family in the past. So I'm not here to criticize that, but I wouldn't be blacklisting sites as "fake news" who clearly are not, either.
Fake news is, first and foremost, propaganda. Propaganda is that which is defined as "information, especially of a biased or misleading nature, used to promote or publicize a particular political cause or point of view."
Bias is not propaganda. But if the facts are twisted, and there is bias, then it is clearly propaganda. Fox News is a shining example of a propaganda operation on the largest, most national scale one could imagine. Not because of their obvious bias, but because they actually twist facts to fit their bias. This is why we go after Fox News so often. We know most of our readers don't watch, but we also know they are blasting themselves out to readers' family and friends all over the country, and their bias also comes through on the other networks' Sunday shows, commentaries, and more. When Fox News turns a public option into "government-run healthcare," you bet we're going to shout about it, correct it, and keep correcting it for as long as it takes.
Fox News is the propaganda arm of the Republican Party, just as Breitbart News functions as their online arm.
Crooks and Liars is in the business of letting the air out of propaganda, not making more of it. Do we have an opinion? You bet. No apologies for that. But here, the facts take precedence over our opinion, and facts tend to have a liberal bias.
In his "fake news" post, "Manny" says he's been a blogger for six years, but because his site has been in existence since January with no previous trail back to another one, there is absolutely no reason why that claim should be taken at face value. He could just as easily be a 501c4-funded right wing ratfcker out to do harm to legitimate sites like ours and Daily Kos, for example. Or he could just be unfamiliar with objective criteria which separates the fakery from the real.
Either his list itself is satire, or it is meant to harm the reputation of sites like ours who do try and get it right. Either way, he adds an unnecessary layer of complexity to a fairly simple goal -- Identify and reject propaganda. If propaganda-spinners themselves are claiming to identify propaganda, it makes the whole task more difficult and confusing.
Who benefits from confusion? Confusion and obfuscation are languages of the right, not the left.
The lesson here is a good one, though. All it takes is a website, a few months of fairly vanilla liberal postings, some Facebook followers and membership in some fan groups to start undermining the reputation of sites like ours which have existed for over a decade. That is the perfect example of how "fake news aka propaganda" spreads.
I expect there will be more of these "lists" in the future. The Internet loves lists. When you see our name on one, I hope you'll remember this post, or the thousands of others we've written to inform, not misinform. As for "Manny," he should reconsider the sites he's listed, or consign himself to the heap of propaganda sites he claims to condemn.
Update: Mr. "Schewitz" has now responded to my request for him to remove us from his blacklist. As I suspected, his response proves he's more interested in promoting himself by tearing down other sites than caring about "fake news." Here it is in its entirety:
This is a list I made on my own. If you don't like it, oh well.
That's not how this works, Manny. It's not how any of this works.
It's now clear you've pulled a list of sites out of your butt and called them fake in order to discredit the work we do. And that requires me to no longer give you the benefit of the doubt, but instead to see you as a right-wing self-promoting troll looking to make yourself a few bucks on the backs on people who are actually promoting facts.
Update 2: Apparently this is a pattern to build Facebook following. I've reached out to the editor of Forward Progressives, Allen Clifton, for comment. I'll get back to you when I hear from him.
Update 3: Allen Clifton advises that Manny hasn't been associated with Forward Progressives since January, 2016.