Friday, 30 November 2018

The Guardian fake news story and how the media cannot be trusted


This Guardian Fake News Story Proves That The Media Can't Be Trusted

29 November, 2018


In 2015 the British Guardian appointed Katherine Viner as editor in chief. Under her lead the paper took a new direction. While it earlier made attempts to balance its shoddier side with some interesting reporting, it is now solidly main stream in the worst sense. It promotes neo-liberalism and a delves into cranky identity grievances stories. It also became an main outlet for manipulative propaganda peddled by the British secret services.

Its recent fake news story about Paul Manafort, Wikileaks and Julian Assange aptly demonstrates this. The documentation of it is a bit lengthy but provides that it was a willful fake.

On November 27 the Guardian prepared to publish a story which asserted that Paula Manafort, Trump's former campaign manager, had met Julian Assange, the publisher of Wikileaks, in the Ecuadorian embassy in London on at least three occasions. Some two hours before the story went public it contacted Manafort and Assange's lawyers to get their comments.

Assange's Wikileaks responded through its public Twitter account which has 5.4 million followers. On of those followers is Katherine Viner:

WikiLeaks @wikileaks - 13:06 utc - 27 Nov 2018
SCOOP: In letter today to Assange's lawyers, Guardian's Luke Harding, winner of Private Eye's Plagiarist of the Year, falsely claims jailed former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort had secret meetings with Assange in 2013, 2015 and 2016 in story Guardian are "planning to run".
It attached the email the Guardian's Luke Harding had send.


90 minutes later the Guardian piece went life. It led the front page and also appeared in print.



The first version read:
Manafort held secret talks with Assange in Ecuadorian embassy

Donald Trump’s former campaign manager Paul Manafort held secret talks with Julian Assange inside the Ecuadorian embassy in London, and visited around the time he joined Trump’s campaign, the Guardian has been told.
Sources have said Manafort went to see Assange in 2013, 2015 and in spring 2016 – during the period when he was made a key figure in Trump’s push for the White House.
It is unclear why Manafort wanted to see Assange and what was discussed. But the last meeting is likely to come under scrutiny and could interest Robert Mueller, the special prosecutor who is investigating alleged collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia.
A well-placed source has told the Guardian that Manafort went to see Assange around March 2016. Months later WikiLeaks released a stash of Democratic emails stolen by Russian intelligence officers.
Manafort, 69, denies involvement in the hack and says the claim is “100% false”. His lawyers declined to answer the Guardian’s questions about the visits.
The piece did not include the public denial Wikileaks issued to its 5.4 million followers one and a half hour before it was published.

The Guardian piece came at a critical moment. Currently the U.K. and Ecuador conspire to deliver Julian Assange to U.S. authorities. On Monday special counsel Robert Mueller said Manafort lied to investigators, violating his recent plea deal.

The new sensational claim was immediately picked up by prominent reporters and major main stream outlets. They distributed is as a factual account. It is likely that millions of people took note of its claim.

But several people who had followed the Russiagate fairytale and the Mueller investigation were immediately suspicious of the Guardian claim.

The story was weakly sourced and included some details that seemed unlikely to be true. Glenn Greenwald noted that the Ecuadorian embassy is under heavy CCTV surveillance. There are several guards, and visitors have to provide their identity to enter it. Every visit is logged. If Manafort had really visited Assange, it would have long been known:

In sum, the Guardian published a story today that it knew would explode into all sorts of viral benefits for the paper and its reporters even though there are gaping holes and highly sketchy aspects to the story.

Moreover, the main author of the story, Luke Harding, is known to be a notorious fraud, a russo-phobe intelligence asset with a personal grievance towards Assange and Wikileaks. A year ago an important Moon of Alabama piece - From Snowden To Russia-gate - The CIA And The Media - mentioned Harding:

The people who promote the "Russian influence" nonsense are political operatives or hacks. Take for example Luke Harding of the Guardian who just published a book titled Collusion: Secret Meetings, Dirty Money, and How Russia Helped Donald Trump Win. He was taken apart in a Real News interview (vid) about the book. The interviewer pointed out that there is absolutely no evidence in the book to support its claims. When asked for any proof for his assertion Harding defensively says that he is just "storytelling" - in other words: it is fiction. Harding earlier wrote a book about Edward Snowden which was a similar sham. Julian Assange called it "a hack job in the purest sense of the term". Harding is also known as plagiarizer. When he worked in Moscow he copied stories and passages from the now defunct Exile, run by Matt Taibbi and Mark Ames. The Guardian had to publish an apology.

The new Guardian story looked like another weak attempt to connect the alleged Russian malfeasance with Assange and the Wikileaks publishing of the DNC emails. Assange and other involved people deny that such a relation existed. There is no public evidence that support such claims.

Shortly after the Guardian's fake news story went public Paul Manafort issued an unequivocal denial:

I have never met Julian Assange or anyone connected to him,” the statement said. “I have never been contacted by anyone connected to Wikileaks, either directly or indirectly. I have never reached out to Assange or Wikileaks on any matter. We are considering all legal options against the Guardian who proceeded with this story even after being notified by my representatives that it was false.”

At 16:05 utc the Guardian silently edited the story.


Caveats (here in italic and underlined) were added to the headline and within several paragraphs. No editorial note was attached to inform the readers of the changes:

Manafort held secret talks with Assange in Ecuadorian embassy, sources say
...
It is unclear why Manafort 
would have wanted to see Assange and what was discussed. But the last apparent meeting is likely to come under scrutiny and could interest Robert Mueller, the special prosecutor who is investigating alleged collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia.
...
Why Manafort 
might have sought out Assange in 2013 is unclear.
...
Manafort, 69, denies involvement in the hack and says the claim is “100% false”. His lawyers 
initially declined to answer the Guardian’s questions about the visits.
One paragraph was added to included Wikileaks' denial:

In a series of tweets WikiLeaks said Assange and Manafort had not met. Assange described the story as a hoax.

At 16:30 utc, under fire from other media and journalists, the Guardian issued a statement:

This story relied on a number of sources. We put these allegations to both Paul Manafort and Julian Assange's representatives prior to publication. Neither responded to deny the visits taking place. We have since updated the story to reflect their denials.

This defensive Guardian claim is, like its story, evidently completely false. Wikileaks publicly denied the Guardian's claims 90 minutes before the story was first published. Manafort asserts that his lawyers had notified the Guardian that the story was false before the Guardian'proceeded with the story'.

At 21:05 utc a third version was published which included Manafort's denial.

Half an hour later Julian Assange instructed his lawyers to sue the Guardian for libel. Wikileaks opened a fund to support the lawsuit.

A day after the Guardian smear piece the Washington Times reported that Manafort's passports, entered into evidence by the Mueller prosecution, show that he did not visit London in any of the years the Guardian claimed he was there to visit Assange.

The story was completely false and the Guardian knew it was. It disregarded and left out the denials the subjects of the story had issued before it was published.

The 
Guardian has become a main outlet for British government disinformation operationsaimed at defaming Russia. It smeared Assange and Snowden as Russian collaborators. It uncritically peddled the Russiagate story and the nonsensical Skripal claims which are both obviously concocted by British intelligence services. That seems to have become its main purpose.

As Disobediant Media notes (emphasis in the original):

While most readers with functional critical thinking capacity may readily dismiss the Guardian’s smear on its face, the fact that the Guardian published this piece, and that Luke Harding is still operating with even the tiniest modicum of respect as a journalist despite his history of deceit, tells us something bone-chilling about journalism.

It is no accident that Luke Harding is still employed: in fact, it is because of Harding’s consistent loyalty to establishment, specifically the UK intelligence apparatus, over the truth that determines his “success” amongst legacy press outlets. Harding is not a defacement or a departure from the norm, but the personification of it.
Jonathan Cook, a former Guardian writer, makes a similar point:

The truth is that the Guardian has not erred in this latest story attacking Assange, or in its much longer-running campaign to vilify him. With this story, it has done what it regularly does when supposedly vital western foreign policy interests are at stake – it simply regurgitates an elite-serving, western narrative.
Its job is to shore up a consensus on the left for attacks on leading threats to the existing, neoliberal order: ...
The Guardian did not make a mistake in vilifying Assange without a shred of evidence. It did what it is designed to do.

We have previously shown that the Guardian even uses fascist propaganda tropes to smear the Russian people. It is openly publishing Goebbels' cartoons and rhetoric against Europes biggest state. There is no longer any line that it does not dare to cross. Unfortunately other 'western' media are not much better.

Within hours of being published the Guardian piece was debunked as fake news. That did not hinder other outlets to add to its smear. Politico allowed "a former CIA officer," writing under a pen name, to suggest - without any evidence - that the Guardian has been duped - not by its MI5/6 and Ecuadorian spy sources, but by Russian disinformation:

Rather than being the bombshell smoking gun that directly connects the Trump campaign to WikiLeaks, perhaps the report is something else entirely: a disinformation campaign. Is it possible someone planted this story as a means to discredit the journalists?
...

Harding is likely a major target for anyone wrapped up in Russia’s intelligence operation against the West’s democratic institutions.
...
If this latest story about Manafort and Assange is false—that is, if, for example, the sources lied to Harding and Collyns (or if the sources themselves were lied to and thus thought they were being truthful in their statements to the journalists), or if the Ecuadorian intelligence document is a fake, the most logical explanation is that it is an attempt to make Harding look bad.

The is zero evidence in the Politico screed that supports its suggestions and claims. It is fake news about a fake news story. It also included the false claim that Glenn Greenwald worked with Wikileaks on the Snowden papers. That claim was later removed. 
We have seen a similar pattern in the Skripal affair. When 'western' intelligence get caught in spreading disinformation, they accuse Russia of being the source of the fake. 

Unfortunately no western main stream media can any longer be trusted to publish the truth. The Guardian is only one of many which peddle smears and disinformation about the 'enemies' of the ruling 'western interests'. It is on all of us to debunk them and to educate the public about their scheme.

Jonathan Cook was once a first-class journalist writing for the Guardian; now he is one of the paper’s biggest critics.

Guardian ups its vilification of Julian Assange



28 November 2018

It is welcome that finally there has been a little pushback, including from leading journalists, to the Guardian’s long-running vilification of Julian Assange, the founder of Wikileaks.
Reporter Luke Harding’s latest article, claiming that Donald Trump’s disgraced former campaign manager Paul Manafort secretly visited Assange in Ecuador’s embassy in London on three occasions, is so full of holes that even hardened opponents of Assange in the corporate media are struggling to stand by it.

Faced with the backlash, the Guardian quickly – and very quietly – rowed back its initial certainty that its story was based on verified facts. Instead, it amended the text, without acknowledging it had done so, to attribute the claims to unnamed, and uncheckable, “sources”.

The propaganda function of the piece is patent. It is intended to provide evidence for long-standing allegations that Assange conspired with Trump, and Trump’s supposed backers in the Kremlin, to damage Hillary Clinton during the 2016 presidential race.
The Guardian’s latest story provides a supposedly stronger foundation for an existing narrative: that Assange and Wikileaks knowingly published emails hacked by Russia from the Democratic party’s servers. In truth, there is no public evidence that the emails were hacked, or that Russia was involved. Central actors have suggested instead that the emails were leaked from within the Democratic party.

Nonetheless, this unverified allegation has been aggressively exploited by the Democratic leadership because it shifts attention away both from its failure to mount an effective electoral challenge to Trump and from the damaging contents of the emails. These show that party bureaucrats sought to rig the primaries to make sure Clinton’s challenger for the Democratic nomination, Bernie Sanders, lost.

To underscore the intended effect of the Guardian’s new claims, Harding even throws in a casual and unsubstantiated reference to “Russians” joining Manafort in supposedly meeting Assange.
Manafort has denied the Guardian’s claims, while Assange has threatened to sue the Guardian for libel.

Responsible for Trump’

 

The emotional impact of the Guardian story is to suggest that Assange is responsible for four years or more of Trump rule. But more significantly, it bolsters the otherwise risible claim that Assange is not a publisher – and thereby entitled to the protections of a free press, as enjoyed by the Guardian or the New York Times – but the head of an organisation engaged in espionage for a foreign power.

The intention is to deeply discredit Assange, and by extension the Wikileaks organisation, in the eyes of right-thinking liberals. That, in turn, will make it much easier to silence Assange and the vital cause he represents: the use of new media to hold to account the old, corporate media and political elites through the imposition of far greater transparency.
The Guardian story will prepare public opinion for the moment when Ecuador’s rightwing government under President Lenin Moreno forces Assange out of the embassy, having already withdrawn most of his rights to use digital media.
It will soften opposition when the UK moves to arrest Assange on self-serving bail violation charges and extradites him to the US. And it will pave the way for the US legal system to lock Assange up for a very long time.

For the best part of a decade, any claims by Assange’s supporters that avoiding this fate was the reason Assange originally sought asylum in the embassy was ridiculed by corporate journalists, not least at the Guardian.
Even when a United Nations panel of experts in international law ruled in 2016 that Assange was being arbitrarily – and unlawfully – detained by the UK, Guardian writers led efforts to discredit the UN report. See here and here.
Now Assange and his supporters have been proved right once again. An administrative error this month revealed that the US justice department had secretly filed criminal charges against Assange.

Heavy surveillance

 

The problem for the Guardian, which should have been obvious to its editors from the outset, is that any visits by Manafort would be easily verifiable without relying on unnamed “sources”.
Glenn Greenwald is far from alone in noting that London is possibly the most surveilled city in the world, with CCTV cameras everywhere. The environs of the Ecuadorian embassy are monitored especially heavily, with continuous filming by the UK and Ecuadorian authorities and most likely by the US and other actors with an interest in Assange’s fate.

The idea that Manafort or “Russians” could have wandered into the embassy to meet Assange even once without their trail, entry and meeting being intimately scrutinised and recorded is simply preposterous.
According to Greenwald: “If Paul Manafort … visited Assange at the Embassy, there would be ample amounts of video and other photographic proof demonstrating that this happened. The Guardian provides none of that.”
Former British ambassador Craig Murray also points out the extensive security checks insisted on by the embassy to which any visitor to Assange must submit. Any visits by Manafort would have been logged.

In fact, the Guardian obtained the embassy’s logs in May, and has never made any mention of either Manafort or “Russians” being identified in them. It did not refer to the logs in its latest story.

Murray:
The problem with this latest fabrication is that [Ecuador’s President] Moreno had already released the visitor logs to the Mueller inquiry. Neither Manafort nor these “Russians” are in the visitor logs … What possible motive would the Ecuadorean government have for facilitating secret unrecorded visits by Paul Manafort? Furthermore it is impossible that the intelligence agency – who were in charge of the security – would not know the identity of these alleged “Russians”.

No fact-checking

 

It is worth noting it should be vitally important for a serious publication like the Guardian to ensure its claims are unassailably true – both because Assange’s personal fate rests on their veracity, and because, even more importantly, a fundamental right, the freedom of the press, is at stake.
Given this, one would have expected the Guardian’s editors to have insisted on the most stringent checks imaginable before going to press with Harding’s story. At a very minimum, they should have sought out a response from Assange and Manafort before publication. Neither precaution was taken.
I worked for the Guardian for a number of years, and know well the layers of checks that any highly sensitive story has to go through before publication. In that lengthy process, a variety of commissioning editors, lawyers, backbench editors and the editor herself, Kath Viner, would normally insist on cuts to anything that could not be rigorously defended and corroborated.
And yet this piece seems to have been casually waved through, given a green light even though its profound shortcomings were evident to a range of well-placed analysts and journalists from the outset.
That at the very least hints that the Guardian thought they had “insurance” on this story. And the only people who could have promised that kind of insurance are the security and intelligence services – presumably of Britain, the United States and / or Ecuador.
It appears the Guardian has simply taken this story, provided by spooks, at face value. Even if it later turns out that Manafort did visit Assange, the Guardian clearly had no compelling evidence for its claims when it published them. That is profoundly irresponsible journalism – fake news – that should be of the gravest concern to readers.

A pattern, not an aberration

 

Despite all this, even analysts critical of the Guardian’s behaviour have shown a glaring failure to understand that its latest coverage represents not an aberration by the paper but decisively fits with a pattern.
Glenn Greenwald, who once had an influential column in the Guardian until an apparent, though unacknowledged, falling out with his employer over the Edward Snowden revelations, wrote a series of baffling observations about the Guardian’s latest story.
First, he suggested it was simply evidence of the Guardian’s long-standing (and well-documented) hostility towards Assange.

The Guardian, an otherwise solid and reliable paper, has such a pervasive and unprofessionally personal hatred for Julian Assange that it has frequently dispensed with all journalistic standards in order to malign him.”
It was also apparently evidence of the paper’s clickbait tendencies:
They [Guardian editors] knew that publishing this story would cause partisan warriors to excitedly spread the story, and that cable news outlets would hyperventilate over it, and that they’d reap the rewards regardless of whether the story turned out to be true or false.”
And finally, in a bizarre tweet, Greenwald opined, “I hope the story [maligning Assange] turns out true” – apparently because maintenance of the Guardian’s reputation is more important than Assange’s fate and the right of journalists to dig up embarrassing secrets without fear of being imprisoned.
I think the Guardian is an important paper with great journalists. I hope the story turns out true. But the skepticism over this story is very widespread, including among Assange's most devoted haters, because it's so sketchy. If Manafort went there, there's video. Let's see it. 


The reason it will be so devastating to the Guardian if this story turns out false is because the Guardian has an institutional hatred for Assange. They've proven they'll dispense with journalistic standards for it. And factions within Ecuador's government know they can use them.
I think the Guardian is an important paper with great journalists. I hope the story turns out true. But the skepticism over this story is very widespread, including among Assange's most devoted haters, because it's so sketchy. If Manafort went there, there's video. Let's see it.
131 people are talking about this

Deeper malaise

 

What this misses is that the Guardian’s attacks on Assange are not exceptional or motivated solely by personal animosity. They are entirely predictable and systematic. Rather than being the reason for the Guardian violating basic journalistic standards and ethics, the paper’s hatred of Assange is a symptom of a deeper malaise in the Guardian and the wider corporate media.
Even aside from its decade-long campaign against Assange, the Guardian is far from “solid and reliable”, as Greenwald claims. It has been at the forefront of the relentless, and unhinged, attacks on Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn for prioritising the rights of Palestinians over Israel’s right to continue its belligerent occupation. Over the past three years, the Guardian has injected credibility into the Israel lobby’s desperate efforts to tar Corbyn as an anti-semite. 

See herehere and here.

Similarly, the Guardian worked tirelessly to promote Clinton and undermine Sanders in the 2016 Democratic nomination process – another reason the paper has been so assiduous in promoting the idea that Assange, aided by Russia, was determined to promote Trump over Clinton for the presidency.
The Guardian’s coverage of Latin America, especially of populist leftwing governments that have rebelled against traditional and oppressive US hegemony in the region, has long grated with analysts and experts. Its especial venom has been reserved for leftwing figures like Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez, democratically elected but official enemies of the US, rather than the region’s rightwing authoritarians beloved of Washington.
The Guardian has been vocal in the so-called “fake news” hysteria, decrying the influence of social media, the only place where leftwing dissidents have managed to find a small foothold to promote their politics and counter the corporate media narrative.
The Guardian has painted social media chiefly as a platform overrun by Russian trolls, arguing that this should justify ever-tighter restrictions that have so far curbed critical voices of the dissident left more than the right.

Heroes of the neoliberal order

 

Equally, the Guardian has made clear who its true heroes are. Certainly not Corbyn or Assange, who threaten to disrupt the entrenched neoliberal order that is hurtling us towards climate breakdown and economic collapse.
Its pages, however, are readily available to the latest effort to prop up the status quo from Tony Blair, the man who led Britain, on false pretences, into the largest crime against humanity in living memory – the attack on Iraq.
That “humanitarian intervention” cost the lives of many hundreds of thousands of Iraqis and created a vacuum that destabilised much of the Middle East, sucked in Islamic jihadists like al-Qaeda and ISIS, and contributed to the migrant crisis in Europe that has fuelled the resurgence of the far-right. None of that is discussed in the Guardian or considered grounds for disqualifying Blair as an arbiter of what is good for Britain and the world’s future.
The Guardian also has an especial soft spot for blogger Elliot Higgins, who, aided by the Guardian, has shot to unlikely prominence as a self-styled “weapons expert”. Like Luke Harding, Higgins invariably seems ready to echo whatever the British and American security services need verifying “independently”.
Higgins and his well-staffed website Bellingcat have taken on for themselves the role of arbiters of truth on many foreign affairs issues, taking a prominent role in advocating for narratives that promote US and NATO hegemony while demonising Russia, especially in highly contested arenas such as Syria.
That clear partisanship should be no surprise, given that Higgins now enjoys an “academic” position at, and funding from, the Atlantic Council, a high-level, Washington-based think-tank founded to drum up support for NATO and justify its imperialist agenda.
Improbably, the Guardian has adopted Higgins as the poster-boy for a supposed citizen journalism it has sought to undermine as “fake news” whenever it occurs on social media without the endorsement of state-backed organisations.
The truth is that the Guardian has not erred in this latest story attacking Assange, or in its much longer-running campaign to vilify him. With this story, it has done what it regularly does when supposedly vital western foreign policy interests are at stake – it simply regurgitates an elite-serving, western narrative.

Its job is to shore up a consensus on the left for attacks on leading threats to the existing, neoliberal order: whether they are a platform like Wikileaks promoting whistle-blowing against a corrupt western elite; or a politician like Jeremy Corbyn seeking to break apart the status quo on the rapacious financial industries or Israel-Palestine; or a radical leader like Hugo Chavez who threatened to overturn a damaging and exploitative US dominance of “America’s backyard”; or social media dissidents who have started to chip away at the elite-friendly narratives of corporate media, including the Guardian.


The Guardian did not make a mistake in vilifying Assange without a shred of evidence. It did what it is designed to do.

UPDATE: Excellent background from investigative journalist Gareth Porter, published shortly before Harding’s story, explains why the Guardian’s hit-piece is so important for those who want Assange out of the embassy and behind bars. Read Porter’s article here.


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Unity4J's Elizabeth Vos has penned this article on the question.



The Guardian’s latest attack on Julian Assange was not only a fallacious smear, it represented a desperate attempt on behalf of the British intelligence community to conflate the pending US charges against the journalist with Russiagate. The Guardian’s article seeks to deflect from the reality that the prosecution of Assange will focus on Chelsea Manning-Era releases and Vault 7, not the DNC or Podesta emails.

We assert this claim based on the timing of the publication, the Guardian’s history of subservience to British intelligence agencies, animosity between The Guardian and WikiLeaks, and the longstanding personal feud between Guardian journalist Luke Harding and Assange. This conclusion is also supported  by Harding’s financial and career interest in propping up the Russiagate narrative.
All eyes were on WikiLeaks this week, as lawyers argued for US charges against Assange to be unsealed. Hours before the (Clinton-appointed) judge in the case delaying their ruling for seven days, The Guardian lobbed an unexpected shot across the bow, claiming that: Donald Trump’s former campaign manager Paul Manafort held secret talks with Julian Assange inside the Ecuadorian embassy in London, and visited around the time he joined Trump’s campaign.”

Disobedient Media recently reported on evidence indicating that charges against Assange do not relate to Russiagate. In light of this, one can immediately interpret the Guardian’s hit-piece as a distraction intended to tie public perception of Assange’s prosecution to the Russiagate narrative by any means necessary. Honesty be damned.

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