The top Democrat on the Federal Election Commission is renewing focus on a plan to investigate whether conservative and alternative media outlets worked with Russians in disseminating “fake news” ahead of the 2016 presidential election. The move could have major 1st Amendment consequences.
The Washington Examiner’s Paul Bedard broke the story Tuesday, reporting:
A revived bid by a top Federal Election Commission Democrat could lead to an “inquisition” against conservative media outlets like the Drudge Report, InfoWars and Breitbart that take political advertising and are overseen by right-leaning owners or editors, according to critics.
The plan, set for discussion at Thursday’s FEC meeting, could open the door to political subpoenas targeting the websites, their editorial news decisions, and their owners, maybe even Matt Drudge and Alex Jones, according to an expert analysis.
In her effort targeting foreign influence in federal and state elections, Commissioner Ellen Weintraub would probe spending by overseas sources and even partially-foreign-owned U.S. firms on campaigns, including their media buys. Foreign influence is illegal in elections.
Weintraub reportedly became interested in attacking right-leaning media sites after reading a story in Time Magazine which detailed how Russian operatives spread stories to “sympathetic” online media consumers via social media.
From the report:
The Russians “target you and see what you like, what you click on, and see if you’re sympathetic or not sympathetic,” says a senior intelligence official. Whether and how much they have actually been able to change Americans’ behavior is hard to say. But as they have investigated the Russian 2016 operation, intelligence and other officials have found that Moscow has developed sophisticated tactics.
In one case last year, senior intelligence officials tell TIME, a Russian soldier based in Ukraine successfully infiltrated a U.S. social media group by pretending to be a 42-year-old American housewife and weighing in on political debates with specially tailored messages. In another case, officials say, Russia created a fake Facebook account to spread stories on political issues like refugee resettlement to targeted reporters they believed were susceptible to influence.
That, of course, is pretty much the same thing every political campaign and multinational corporation with a capable marketing arm is also doing on the internet.
The FEC, however, can’t simply go after alternative media organizations for looking to reach readers who appreciate their messaging.
That’s where the whole Russia thing becomes important. Time also referenced a McClatchy report which revealed that FBI counterintelligence investigators had probed “whether far-right sites like Breitbart News and Infowars had coordinated with Russian botnets to blitz social media with anti-Clinton stories, mixing fact and fiction when Trump was doing poorly in the campaign.”
Considering all of these organizations are in the business of making money by providing very loyal audiences with conservative news and views, common sense would dictate that none of the mentioned would risk knowingly collaborating with Russian propagandists to influence U.S. presidential politics. Furthermore, as the Time article points out, there’s no indication that any such efforts would even be worthwhile for someone attempting to influence the outcome of the election.
But there’s no room for common sense in this debate. It’s simply an effort to dismantle trust in alternative media to help the image of mainstream information providers which foolishly shilled for Hillary Clinton throughout the election until they could no longer even feign credibility.
Here’s how Weintraub describes her crusade: “I believe that this Commission can indeed rise to the challenge of understanding what happened in the 2016 election and plugging any legal or procedural holes that could allow foreign actors to interfere with our future elections.”
But what it really is about is an effort by the establishment to plug holes which threaten top-down information control from approved U.S. media outlets– like the very objective and all American channel CNN.
As I told you before, this isn’t about Russia… It’s a battle over who controls the narrative.