The Russian Twitter Bots Story is a Study in Media’s ‘Lie, set the Narrative, Then Quietly Backtrack’ Playbook
BY: ELLE PURNELL | JANUARY 12, 2023
VISIT ON TWITTER@_ETREYNOLDS
The Washington Post admitted Monday that “Russian trolls on Twitter had little influence on 2016 voters” — years after the Post and other corporate media water-carriers pushed the false story that former President Donald Trump’s election was illegitimate, due in part to Russian interference via bots on Twitter targeting U.S. social media users. The admission cites a New York University study that found “there was no relationship between exposure to the Russian foreign influence campaign and changes in attitudes, polarization, or voting behavior.”
Media treatment of the non-story followed a predictable, three-step process that’s become the propaganda press’s MO: Spread a false claim, control the narrative while crushing dissent with bogus “fact checks,” and then admit the truth only after the news cycle has achieved its intended purpose.
How the Russian Bots Story Followed the Playbook
In 2016, then-Clinton campaign manager Robby Mook launched the conspiracy theory that then-candidate Trump was in cahoots with Russia and colluding together to steal the 2016 election. One dossier full of bunk allegations commissioned by the Clinton campaign later, the entire media establishment, in tandem with a politicized intelligence community, was running with the Russia collusion hoax.
One of the many conspiracy theories thrown at the wall was that Russia was influencing U.S. voters via social media, including through armies of “bot” accounts. As my colleague Joy Pullmann has noted, U.S. intelligence agencies propelled that claim with an “intelligence community assessment” on Jan. 6, 2017, “signed off publicly by the FBI, National Security Agency, and CIA concluding that Trump’s election was boosted by Russian social media content farms.”
Regime media ran with it the same narrative before and after that assessment that turned out to be false:
- The Washington Post: “Russian propaganda effort helped spread ‘fake news’ during election, experts say,” November 2016.
- Politico Magazine: “How Russia Wins an Election” (spoiler: “the Kremlin’s troll army swarmed the web to spread disinformation and undermine trust in the electoral system,” the piece says), December 2016.
- NPR: “How Russian Twitter Bots Pumped Out Fake News During The 2016 Election,” April 2017.
- New York Times: “The Fake Americans Russia Created to Influence the Election,” September 2017.
- Mother Jones: “Twitter Bots Distorted the 2016 Election — Including Many Likely From Russia,” October 2017.
The “Twitter Files” revealed just weeks ago that media pressure on this story, combined with threats from elected Democrats, were successful in getting Twitter to obey U.S. intelligence agency requests for information suppression, even though Twitter executives couldn’t find any evidence of coordinated Russian disinformation campaigns on their platform.
Hilariously, Tim Starks, the same writer who wrote WaPo’s admission this week that Russian bots had “little influence” on the election, had written a 2019 piece for Politico titled “Russia’s manipulation of Twitter was far vaster than believed.”
While media outlets were running cover for the story, they slapped “fact” “checks” on those who challenged the narrative, including the U.S. president. And (you guessed it) they cited the intel community’s Jan. 6, 2017 report as evidence — the same one now called into question by The Washington Post’s latest admission.
Those allegations, along with several other now-debunked claims about Trump-Russia collusion, were the basis for a special counsel investigation and a presidential impeachment, all part of a narrative aimed at kneecapping Trump’s time in office. The Mueller investigation even indicted a Russian bot farm for election interference.
Only now — after Trump has been successfully hounded out of the White House, now that almost half of likely voters have been convinced that Russia probably “changed the outcome of the 2016 presidential election,” and everyone else has forgotten about the story — does The Washington Post come around to admitting that those troublesome Russian bots didn’t really do much after all.
5 Other Times Corporate Media Followed the Same Strategy
The Twitter bots story was just one of many instances of regime media running with the same strategy. They do it almost daily, but here are just five of the most egregious examples in recent memory.
- Covid: From masks to lockdowns to vaccines, we were hounded by media bullhorns for years about the untouchable efficacy of every recommendation the “experts” tossed our way. Those who resisted, in person or on social media, were vilified and censored. Workers lost jobs, kids fell behind in school, non-Covid medical patients were denied potentially life-saving treatments and surgeries, neighbors shunned each other, and people were forced to get experimental injections they didn’t want.
Only after the reigning narrative had been used to quash its intended targets for two years did its messengers admit the truths the rest of us had been saying from the beginning.
- Inflation: Despite the obvious pitfalls of Covid-era decisions to shut down the entire nation’s economy and then hand out free money to everyone screwed over by government lockdowns, regime media insisted that inflation wasn’t happening under the newly minted Biden administration. CNBC told us to “Ignore ‘hysterical people’ — inflation is not here to stay, economist says.”
- “Inflation isn’t a real danger,” insisted WaPo. “The Inflation Scare Doesn’t Match Reality,” said Forbes. The New York Times offered “179 Reasons You Probably Don’t Need to Panic About Inflation.”
- Now that we’re undoubtedly experiencing the worst inflation in four decades, the talking point has changed to “actually, inflation is good.”
- The Steele dossier: After British agent Christopher Steele was hired by the Clinton campaign’s opposition research firm to write now-debunked rumors about Trump in what became known as the Steele dossier, Steele shopped the story out to media outlets, which ran with the hoax. The New York Times even got a Pulitzer for it. The information in the dossier, which corporate media coverage helped legitimize, was used by the Obama FBI to obtain warrants to spy on the Trump campaign. Journalists who questioned the concocted narrative were called conspiracy theorists.
- After the damage to the Trump campaign (and eventually, the Trump administration) was done, corporate media admitted, in a laughable understatement, that the “Arrest of Steele dossier source forces some news outlets to reexamine their coverage.”
- Irreversible surgeries for gender dysphoria: Corporate media helped fuel the epidemic of sexual confusion giving rise to disfiguring surgeries and hormone “treatments” for people, including children, with gender dysphoria. Outlets like The New York Times and The Washington Post pounced on anyone who challenged the dogma that pumping teenagers with off-label hormones and dicing up their genitalia was a totally safe and normal thing to be celebrated. People like The Federalist’s own John Daniel Davidson are still locked out of their social media accounts for telling the truth about the transgender craze.
- Sandwiched between op-eds decrying critics of transgenderism, The Times allows no one but itself to wonder, belatedly: “Is There a Cost?“
- Hunter Biden laptop: When the New York Post published damning revelations about the Biden family’s overseas business dealings shortly before the 2020 presidential election, legacy outlets smeared the story as “disinformation” and a Russian info op.
- “Hunter Biden story is Russian disinfo, dozens of former intel officials say,” parroted Politico. CBS’s Lesley Stahl called the laptop “discredited.” NPR told readers, “we don’t want to waste our time on stories that are not really stories.” The Post and others who shared the story had their social media accounts frozen or their posts taken down.
- A year and a half later, The New York Times quietly admitted — in the 24th paragraph of an article about Hunter Biden’s taxes — that “a cache of files that appears to have come from a laptop abandoned by Mr. Biden in a Delaware repair shop … [was] authenticated by people familiar with them and with the investigation.” By then, the 2020 election was safely in Joe Biden’s hands.
Don’t think those six instances are the only times regime media have run the same playbook. By now, it’s their standard practice.