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  • This plagiarism-prone Russian proxy site is at the center of some of the past year’s biggest fake news stories

    YourNewsWire -- which has a verified page on Facebook -- posts easily debunked stories that spread on far-right media like wildfire. Here are its greatest hits.

    Blog ››› ››› CRISTINA LóPEZ G.

    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Whether it’s tabloid-like narratives spouting lies about British royalty or false claims about U.S. politicians that have serious repercussions, many of the major fake news stories over the past year share a common denominator: a site accused of being a Russian proxy called YourNewsWire.

    YourNewsWire looks like your typical run-of-the-mill fake news site, except its reach has earned it the attention of a European Union agency named the East StratCom Task Force, which was “set up to combat Russian propaganda” and has classified YourNewsWire as a “proxy” for Russia. Sean Adl-Tabatabai, one of the publishers of the Los Angeles-based site, has acknowledged his admiration for RT (formerly Russia Today), the Russian propaganda news outlet that YourNewsWire often uses as a source. Conversely, pro-Kremlin sites like the Centre for Research on Globalization often cite YourNewsWire, demonstrating the symbiotic relationship between Russian propaganda and the fake news industry. Adl-Tabatabai thinks of reality less as something to be reported on and more as a moving target that can be dictated by altering perceptions. “When you say facts are sacred, I would argue that no they’re not,” he said earlier this year.

    Such a casual commitment to the truth is likely what has fueled YourNewsWire’s greatest hits, which range from tabloid-like fluff, like a story claiming a dying former MI5 agent confessed to killing Princess Diana, to much more damaging false political narratives with real-life consequences, like the Pizzagate conspiracy theory. YourNewsWire played an important role in pushing that narrative, which inspired a gunman to open fire inside a D.C. family pizzeria in an attempt to “self-investigate” false claims that Democratic figures ran a pedophilia ring from its basement. These insidious false political narratives have also included making up a quote by a deceased former Haitian government official to suggest the Clintons had something to do with his death.

    YourNewsWire’s fake political news stories often go viral, spreading like wildfire among far-right internet users. The outlet was behind a story baselessly linking last weekend’s Texas church massacre shooter with anti-fascist protesters, and it similarly exploited the Las Vegas, NV, shooting by falsely claiming the gunman was “an Antifa member who was also linked with ISIS.” On another occasion, the fake news site reported that actor Morgan Freeman had called for the imprisonment of former Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton. YourNewsWire has also jumped on the recurring Russian tactic of attacking philanthropist George Soros, once claiming that the newly elected Austrian chancellor had banned Soros’ foundations from Austria, while plagiarizing entire phrases from legitimate publications.

    Facebook has verified the site’s page on its platform, which allows YourNewsWire to reach vast, unsuspecting audiences under a veneer of legitimacy. Irresponsible right-wing media figures like Fox’s Sean Hannity have helped bolster that undeserved reputation by tweeting out a false story from the site, showing that his ideological shilling gets in the way of even the most basic due diligence, as at least one such narrative “could have been disproven by a quick Twitter search,” according to CNN’s Brian Stelter. And while churning out demonstrably false narratives day in and day out has reportedly cost the site 60 percent of its revenue after Google AdSense dropped it, the ad network Revcontent still allows YourNewsWire to monetize clicks, giving its publishers financial incentives to continue pushing bullshit to gullible right-wing audiences.

  • Trump's Confidentiality Agreement Likely Means CNN's Lewandowski Cannot Legally Disparage Former Boss

    Blog ››› ››› BRENNAN SUEN

    Buzzfeed News released a non-disclosure agreement “regularly used by the [Trump] campaign” that explicitly forbids former employees from “demean[ing] or disparag[ing]” Trump, his family, or any Trump assets. The agreement further calls into question CNN’s hiring of former Donald Trump campaign manager and now-CNN contributor Corey Lewandowski, who has acted more like a Trump sycophant than an unbiased political commentator since joining the network.

    Lewandowski joined CNN in June, asserting that he was “going to tell it like it is.” During his first interview on the network as a contributor, Lewandowski would not say whether he signed a non-disparagement agreement with the Trump campaign, although CNN’s Jeff Zeleny reported that it was likely he would have in his capacity as campaign manager.

    Buzzfeed News reported on a copy of a “regularly used” Trump campaign confidentiality agreement revealed as an exhibit in a lawsuit Trump filed against a former campaign consultant. In addition to barring employees from disclosing confidential information about the candidate on TV, films, the internet, or “otherwise, even if fictionalized,” the agreement also stated that employees are not allowed to “demean or disparage publicly the Company, Mr. Trump, any Trump Company, any Family Member, or any Family Member Company,” including after employment termination (emphasis original):

    No Disparagement. During the term of your service and at all times thereafter, you hereby promise and agree not to demean or disparage publicly the Company, Mr. Trump, any Trump Company, any Family Member, or any Family Member Company or any asset any of the foregoing own, or product or service any of the foregoing offer, in each case by or in any of the Restricted Means and Contexts.

    Journalists, including numerous CNN employees, heavily criticized CNN for hiring Lewandowski after numerous incidents of Lewandowski attacking the press, and his signing of a non-disparagement agreement makes it unlikely that he can legally provide honest, unbiased commentary on the Trump campaign. Tom Fiedler, former editor of The Miami Herald, said that if Lewandowski signed a non-disparagement agreement, “He must be perceived as being totally compromised in his commentary -- put bluntly, a Trump shill.”

    During Lewandowski’s appearances on the network since his employment, he has repeatedly used his platform on CNN as a paid contributor to campaign for and defend Trump. Washington Post politics and media reporter Callum Borchers asserted that Lewandowski “has not yet transitioned out of his role as a Trump employee” on CNN and has failed “to contribute meaningful insight and analysis -- even from a pro-Trump perspective.” In addition, new reports indicate that Lewandowski is simultaneously being paid by Trump and CNN as he receives severance from the Trump campaign and still advises Trump as a CNN contributor.