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Eleven Minutes of Media Falsehoods, Just On One Subject, Just On One Station
This special report hoped to make a list of all the editors' notes and retractions that would be needed because of the #TwitterFiles. The problem turned out to be too big to count
Video by Matt Orfalea
The plan was a comprehensive count. With a sizable team of smart temporary hires, each looking into a different area of the #TwitterFiles, we thought counting all the mainstream news stories that would need retracting or correcting in light of information found in Twitter documents would make for an easy little sidebar, something simple for the public to digest.
The idea seemed easy. We would take a Twitter doc raising questions about a news story and write a suggested note for the story’s editor. In a lot of cases it wasn’t clear the piece was wrong exactly, but that new information might require a call or two to clear up a quote, add an update about a source, correct a fact or two, etc.
In the Files there were around a few dozen discrete incidents in which Twitter had concerns internally, and where the public might want to know what those were. The “Hamilton 68” fiasco, in which a think-tank called the Alliance for Securing Democracy purported to track 600 Twitter accounts linked to “Russian influence activities” but turned out to mostly be following ordinary Americans, Canadians, and British, was an example of a relatively easy fix for an editor. If you used the Hamilton “dashboard” of accounts as a source for a story about “Russian bots,” you probably needed either to retract altogether, or add a note saying the Russian-ness and bot-ness of those accounts has since been called into question.
In a few cases, news organizations have already added editor’s notes as threads were released — we should commend Mother Jones for adding such updates to many of their articles which referenced Hamilton — which gave cause for optimism. Maybe we could convince other reporters and editors to make the corrections ahead of time. How big of a job could that be?
Too big, as it turned out. Once humorously obsessive Matt Orfalea got going on the project, he quickly fell into a funk. He started just by looking just for video clips of broadcast or cable outlets referencing Hamilton 68, and immediately started racking up ridiculous numbers.
The first time he mentioned he was having a fit/time problem with the video, I was skeptical. Orf wasn’t counting print stories at first, and didn’t venture initially into other incidents beyond Ham68. It didn’t seem possible there could there be too many instances to compile on video. But there were. A large part of his logistical problem involved MSNBC, whose extravagant on-air warnings of Russian bots were fattening his compilation. “I thought, ‘If I could only do this without MSNBC, I could get this down to a manageable size,’” he said.
That led to an idea of making a separate video that only chronicled MSNBC making Hamilton-inspired references to Russian bots. “I was relieved,” he said. “I thought, ‘This way, I might be able to make a video about everyone else.’”
The rest of the team eventually had to scrap the idea of counting all the reporting problems suggested by the #TwitterFiles. The amazing, agonizing video above shows why. During the time period in question — mainly the period between 2016 and 2022 — false innuendo generated either by government agencies or so-called “anti-disinformation” sites constituted such a huge part of everyday media coverage that it was almost easier to identify the stories not generated by this subterranean information cartel.
This is part of the new media strategy in the Censorship-Industrial Complex age: in addition to downgrading and deamplifying dissent, fringe political ideas, controversial takes, offensive speech, and, yes, even true errors and foreign propaganda, the CIC softens up audiences to accept certain ideas through sheer, unrelenting repetition. You’re not hearing one or two stories about Russian bots or evil anti-vaxxers or even the treachery of Jill Stein and the Green Party, you’re hearing hundreds just on one channel, and God knows how many more in other outlets and via social media. One’s defenses wear down after a while, and there’s a natural instinct to grow afraid of suggesting the opposite around friends after a while.
What was true of the bot story then is still true of other topics now. How many Ukrainian flag emojis have you seen? How many stories blaming everyone but the obvious suspect for the Nord Stream blast? How relatively nervous are you to say something even mildly counter-narrative about those subjects? Contrary to what we might imagine, conviction can be worn down by volume, like shingles cracking under years of weather.
Lastly, it’s appropriate to use strong language to describe what MSNBC did with Ham68, because they have to have known for a while these reports were problematic. Even the release of the “new” Hamilton 2.0 in 2019, in which the think-tank said it would henceforth only cite sources that “we can directly attribute to the Russian, Chinese, or Iranian governments,” should have been a red flag for anyone who did stories based on their earlier dashboard.
But MSNBC apparently didn’t go back and examine prior claims then, and have repeatedly refused requests by me and others to do so since. They don’t care, and as Orf shows, they don’t care in high, high volume.
Kudos to Orfalea for having the patience and discipline to record all of this in one place with his trademark editing wizardry, creating a video that pounds the insanity of the period into your head so repeatedly that it just might prevent the otherwise inevitable memory-holing of this episode. Eleven minutes thirty! Imagine how much video it would have taken to capture the list we tried to make.