The Big Money Behind Fake News
What really powers the media’s fake news scandal machine.
By Daniel Greenfield
Daniel Greenfield, a Shillman Journalism Fellow at the Freedom Center, is a New York writer focusing on the radical left and Islamic terrorism.
Fake news is profitable.
The New York Times hit piece on the Comey memo earned the paper its most concurrent readers per second. Pretty good for a piece about a piece of paper that the leftist paper had never even seen and which was, supposedly, described to it by one of Comey’s associates.
But that didn’t stop it from racking up over 6 million views.
Media fake news isn’t just an agenda. It’s enormously profitable. Hit pieces powered by anonymous sources bring in over 100,000 readers in an age when live is king. For individual reporters, finding a source, real or fake, that can back up the left’s Trump conspiracy theories can put them on the map.
The Comey story comes from Michael Schmidt who made a name by supposedly finding documents relating to media claims of a “Haditha Massacre” in a Baghdad junkyard where “an attendant was burning them as fuel to cook a dinner of smoked carp.” It was dashing and also very convenient.
The claims didn’t hold up in court. Most of the Marine heroes who were dragged through the mud over Haditha had their cases dropped. One case dragged out and ultimately came out to very little. But the New York Times cashed in. And Schmidt did much better out of it than Cpl. Stephen Tatum.
Haditha was the Times’ discount version of Mai Lai. Now in a desperate effort to reclaim the glory days of the media left, the New York Times and the Washington Post are trying to recreate Watergate.
It’s no coincidence that many of the big vital hit pieces aimed at President Trump have come out of the Washington Post. At the end of last year, the paper owned by Amazon boss Jeff Bezos went on a hiring spree. The goal was “quick turnaround investigative reporting”.
Washington Post editor Marty Baron explained, “We are creating a rapid response investigative team to do investigative stories more quickly, using a lot of the digital tools that are available to us now. We hugely value the longer, deeper investigations as well, but we want to supplement that with quicker investigations that can have an impact almost immediately.”
How do you do “quicker investigations”? How can you predict that an investigation will pay off rapidly? The best way to make sure that your investigation will quickly deliver a major story is to fake it.
Those quick investigative stories haven’t been coming from digital tools. They are based on anonymous sources. Real investigative reporting takes time. But a fake news story full of innuendo backed by a bunch of anonymous sources that repeat what “everyone” in the media already knows is true, is quick.
That’s what having “an impact almost immediately” means. You don’t do the hard work. You fake it.
The Washington Post has racked up viral hit fake news stories backed by anonymous sources. And it’s paying off. The Post claimed a traffic increase of 50% at the end of last year with a 75% increase in new subscribers. The official line is that Jeff Bezos has transformed the Post’s digital strategy. The reality was conveyed by its new anti-Trump slogan. “Democracy dies in darkness.” The silly slogan was an exercise in branding. It announced that this was the paper of choice for “researched” attacks on Trump.
Now the Post has hit $100 million in digital revenues and added hundreds of thousands of digital subscribers. All of this is quite a change from a few years ago when the Post was losing $50 million a year and Baron was talking about shrinking the newsroom.
Baron, who had come out of the Boston Globe, planned to save the Post with strong metro coverage. But nobody in D.C. actually wanted metro coverage. Unlike Boston, Washington D.C. isn’t a real city. It’s a mashup of two cities, one filled with poor black people and the other with wealthy government types. The former don’t buy the Post. And the latter don’t want to read about the people living around them.
Next year, the Post suffered an 85% earnings loss. Baron’s plan to save the paper had failed. Instead what made it a powerhouse again was the flow of anti-Trump hit pieces. As Baron euphemistically put it, “I think there’s a direct connection between investigative reporting and subscriptions.”
“The people who are subscribing clearly want us to do investigative reporting… that’s something they are willing to pay for,” he said. But he was playing coy. Those subscribers wanted anti-Trump hit pieces. . They expected the paper to bring down President Trump. They were investing in dead tree media the way they invested in any left-wing political campaign. The Post had become just another PAC.
The media’s business model was to become Media Matters. The parasite had eaten the beast.
The stories fit Baron’s definition of fake news as “stories that have no basis in fact” and “disseminating bizarre conspiracy theories.” But the bizarre conspiracy theory that Trump is a Russian puppet is the Post’s bread and butter. And its promise of bringing him down leads to stories that have no basis in fact.
Amazon boss Jeff Bezos bought the Post for $250 million and invested another $50 million in it. Bezos is famously intolerant of failure. The paper must deliver growth and its growth strategy is Trump fake news. If it stops delivering that “quick turnaround investigative reporting” that brings all the lefty digital subscribers, its editors will be sorting boxes in an Amazon warehouse in hundred degree temperatures.
The brand of journalism once embodied by Stephen Glass and Jayson Blair, of making up stuff so you don’t get fired, is now the modus operandi of the entire Washington Post. Make up stuff or the lefty subscribers convinced that the Post will pull off another Watergate will go back to Salon or DailyKos.
If the Post doesn’t pander to their paranoia and conspiracy theories, some other clickbait site will.
The Post’s business strategy is the false promise of Watergate. We’ll bring down Trump just like we brought down Nixon. The paper is selling readers a lie. And it’s trying to make the lie happen with fake news. The Washington Post is bad for democracy, it’s bad for journalism and it’s bad for America.
But it’s great for the bottom line. And not just at the Post.
Trump fake news has been very good for business at the New York Times, CNN and the Washington Post. It’s no coincidence that these are the media outlets in the business of churning out hit pieces backed by anonymous sources. Fake news isn’t just a lie. It’s a lie cloaked in the garb of journalism. Recognized brands and anonymous sources lend legitimacy to left-wing conspiracy theories.
The New York Times desperately needed high growth in digital subscription to compensate for its cratering print subs. To survive, the Times had to find a quarter of a million new subscribers every quarter. It actually improved on those numbers. That amounted to a $13 million profit taking it from an $8 million loss. It added 41,000 subscriptions alone in the week after President Trump’s victory.
Those are the hard numbers that drive the media’s fake news machine and help the Times’ college dropout editor Dean Baquet keep his cushy salary. It’s not just left-wing politics. It’s media greed.
Trump is the media’s golden goose. The media is making a fortune trying to kill him. Even as it knows that the fortune will vanish in a moment if its fake news echo chamber of innuendo actually got its way. Subtract Trump and CNN and MSNBC got back to the ratings basement. The lights go off on Colbert’s stage and the Washington Post and the New York Times get ready for their own extinction.
The media isn’t just biased. It’s feeding off the worst impulses of the worst of its lefty readers and viewers. The left is throbbing with organizations and outlets promising that they can pull off a coup and reverse the defeat of the last election. There’s big money at stake. And something even bigger. Survival.
The internet has been eating print. It devoured advertising. Then it devoured news. Bezos’ acquisition of the Washington Post was symbolic of the new media food chain. The media had to kill journalism to survive. Its models, Jon Stewart and lefty conspiracy clickbait sites, showed it the way.
The media left compressed into one echo chamber distinguished only by brand styles. The Post and Salon are doing the same thing. The Post is just using its brand to upsell fake news and conspiracy clickbait. It’s performing the coup de grâce on journalism’s corpse for political agendas and profit.
Instead of examining why so many Americans rejected them, leftists retreated into a fake news bubble of conspiracy theories in which President Trump is a Russian agent and the media will bring him down. The fake news bubble’s mainstreaming of conspiracy theories won’t bring down President Trump. But it is burying the media’s credibility in a pile of its own garbage that it will never climb out of again. The media is killing democracy to survive. But democracy is more likely to eventually kill the media.
The fake news media perpetrating the scam is cashing in big. But it’s headed for moral bankruptcy.