Their rhetoric doesn't seem to add up and make sense
An ambitious ruse has been set up by well-known journalists Anne Applebaum and Ed Lucas. It purports to be a project to promote accuracy in the news. But when I took a closer look at it, I found it hard to believe that's its real goal.
On May 6 the Washington Post reported: "Anne Applebaum, a Post columnist, and Edward Lucas, a senior editor at the Economist, are this week launching a counter-disinformation initiative at the Center for European Policy Analysis, where they are, respectively, senior vice president and senior adjunct fellow."
I went to fact-check the Post's statement of the pair's affiliation with CEPA. What I found is that Applebaum is not really a senior vice president and Lucas is not a senior adjunct fellow. In fact the opposite is true; Lucas is the VP and Applebaum is the adjunct fellow.
This goof-up is clearly not a good send-off for a project that purports to champion accuracy in journalism. Perhaps the goof is prophetic.
The Post's blurb in question was introducing an article by the project's founders titled "The Danger of Russian Disinformation." In its lead paragraph Applebaum and Lucas assert that "Much Western journalism is poorly resourced, and the proliferation of information has made it harder for people to judge the accuracy of what they see and read." That's a statement that I heartily agree with.
But the rest of their article takes its cue from the Post's intro. Applebaum and Lucas seem to have gotten everything else backwards.
For instance they cite that "Russian-backed websites promote conspiracy theories -- 9/11...." That's a Russian disinformation initiative? Haven't they heard of the slew of US-based 9/11 conspiracy stories, some starting just hours after the tragedy and persist to today? Do Applebaum and Lucas believe the Russians are behind all that? If so, perhaps it is they who are the conspiracy nuts. Or do the authors simply have this backwards too.
The authors cite another example: "The invasion, occupation, and dismemberment of Ukraine in 2014 was [sic] preceded by a highly effective propaganda blitz that fomented confusion...." Applebaum and Lucas imply a lot of certainty about who did what to whom in Ukraine. In reality, there's more to it than meets the eye. In my book Ukraine in the Crosshairs I document the almost ubiquitous misinformation that's been propagated by the Western media. And there seems to be no end to that misinformation.
And speaking of unending misinformation there is the 2008 "Russia Invades Georgia" story. Western politicians and media were quick to indict Russia for that conflict. It made big headlines and is still actively cited when politicians seek to denigrate Russia. But when an EU investigative committee concluded that it was Georgia that was the aggressor in South Ossetia it got little attention in the West. And so the Russia-invaded-Georgia misinformation lives on. Just last night I saw a CNN presentation that bemoaned that South Ossetia was forcibly ripped away from Georgia. "It's Russia now!" CNN personality Anthony Bourdain exclaimed. None of that is factual, of course. Will Applebaum and Lucas go after Bourdain over that whopper?
So, what's wrong with this Applebaum/Lucas project?
The authors are projecting alarm that "the Russian use of social media as well as a huge range of online vehicles -- 'news' websites, information portals, trolls -- are [sic] beginning to have an impact."
I don't know about Europe, but in the US that's certainly not true. According to Gallup the trend in American opinion toward Russia has been on a significant downtrend. For the past couple of years it's been at an all-time low. Less than a third of Americans have a positive view of Russia. Gallup's conclusions show that as Russian international media-outreach has increased, unfavorable opinions toward the country have risen proportionally.
Applebaum and Lucas are distressed about the Russian influence in Europe, not America, however. But Americans have been exposed to Western-aimed Russian news sites, social media, and informational portals as well.
Are Americans being influenced too? The Gallup statistics suggest otherwise. And where's the evidence that Russian misinformation, in whatever form it is alleged to be in, is any kind of perceptible danger to anybody?
The case that Applebaum and Lucas are trying to make flies in the face of the facts. It sounds like the pair is attempting to alarm people over a trumped-up problem. But to what end?
Here's my suspicion: This has nothing to do with Russian disinformation. News reports have described growing discontent among the European populace over the US/EU sanctions against Russia.
Is Russian disinformation responsible for that? Applebaum and Lucas are trying to convince us that it is and show how dismayed they are by it. But if Russian disinformation were really the culprit, why aren't we seeing the American populace reacting with discontent like the Europeans?
What is a reasonable explanation for the disparity? Gallup may have an answer for this one too. According to an April 28, 2016 report, "residents of EU countries in Eastern Europe are even more likely than Russians are to see the sanctions hurting their economies. In fact, they are also more likely than residents elsewhere in Eastern Europe or the Commonwealth of Independent States to think this."
Bingo. That's the answer. The reason we're seeing different reactions between Americans and Europeans is simple. Americans are feeling no pain from the sanctions. But a growing number of Europeans are.
Bingo. That's the ruse. This isn't a project to reduce inaccuracy in the news flow. It seems intended to counter a wave of negative European reactions to the sanctions. The project is a trick that plays upon the gullibility of people who are preconditioned to accept any negative allegations against Russia no matter how specious they are.
This all shoots a big hole in the Applebaum/Lucas assertion that Russia is misinforming its way into our good graces.
Writing on the CEPA website Lucas cautioned: "If you see people in the mainstream [re-using disinformation], you need to pick up the phone and complain."
Shouldn't that apply to what we see from Lucas, Applebaum, and their "counter disinformation initiative," too?
If so, when we pick up the phone to complain, who're we going to call? CEPA published this list of its recent donors:
Lockheed Martin Corporation
New Vista Partners
The East Tennessee Foundation
The Hirsch Family Foundation
The Hungarian Initiatives Foundation
The International Visegrad Fund
The Poses Family Foundation
The Smith Richardson Foundation
U.S. Department of Defense
That's who to call with your complaints. Someone should organize a call-in campaign to let these donors know that we're on to the kind of nonsense they're supporting. Also tell your friends who these guys are.
Incidentally, I found it interesting to observe how many of the donors are in positions to benefit from keeping world tensions high. That is certainly food for thought.
So to the question in my headline: "Are Anne Applebaum and Ed Lucas Phonies or Just Innocently Insane?" I'll let you decide. Please comment on your verdict below.
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