Are You Being Suckered by Fake News Websites Designed as Click Bait Profit Centers or Propaganda Operations?

(Posted 11/13/2016) - I'm hearing more and more from people about sensational news reports that they think are published by real news organizations and sourced from accredited journalists. But here's the dirty little secret - website sources and email sources can be totally faked to look like something legit! We've entered the age of fake news websites melded with propaganda ops that distribute falsehoods to the public for profit.

It has become common for fake news websites to put out click-bait stories with totally fabricated or massively distorted narratives. These sites are then linked to by social and political cause web-journalists and media pundits - providing the 'data' to support their editorial points!

Fake news websites make money based on the click-thru traffic they can generate and are motivated to make up outlandish news that their market team has identified as being of interest to a market segment. The pundit / op-ed class gleefully jump on these fake news reports and further wrap the lies inside their own narrative. At times these stories within stories are so many levels deep that it can boggle the mind (sort of an X-file phenomena).

I'd like to give a perfect example of this phenomena that came up in recent conversation. I was told that Michelle Obama's mother was going to receive a federal pension for working in the White House ($160K/year) as a glorified baby-sitter. This was a fact I was told, it was part of a FOIA discovery that was made public by an intrepid journalist in October of this year, and was being reported by an established newspaper.

I responded that I'd never heard this news report and would check into the sources and respond. Which I'm now doing in this Soapbox article.

If you are generally suspicious of government and expect politicians to abuse their office and waste tax-payer money you would be a target for fake news directed at what I call the "government waste" market.

So, here's my research method: Plug into Yahoo search engine the following string "Did Michelle Obama's Mother Get Pension for Baby Sitting" and then review the top 5 hits:

Hit Number One: Downtrend dot Com has a story with the following text excerpted.

October 21, 2016| by Kim Pines Verification is still being researched, but according to the US Herald and The Boston Tribune, Michelle Obama's mother will receive a lifetime $160k government pension. Please remind me, how long did Marian Robinson work for the government? And, in what capacity? Dubbed the "First Grandma," the 79-year-old grandmother is supposed to get that $160k pension for ... get this, taking care of her own grandchildren.

Notice the reference to the US Herald and the Boston Tribune -- sounds like mainstream media papers right? Not excerpted above, but included in the fake news is a discussion of FOIA access that can discover such unsavory practices - implying but not directly saying that the pension was 'discovered' that way.

The next three Hits are from: ThePoliticalInsider Dot Com, DailyHeadlines Dot Net, ConservativePost Dot Com all passing along this fake news.

When we get to the fifth ranked search result however, we get the following link:

from FactCheck Dot Org. Here is the Wiki Info on FactCheckDotOrg. I believe that any reasonable person would have to accept that this non-partisan public service site can be used as a verification resource. If you get into the meta-argument of not trusting established fact checking services you should get off the internet now and probably not talk to me anymore about scandal news.

Here's an excerpt on this fake news report on FactCheck

Did a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request produce congressional budget documents revealing that Marian Robinson, Michelle Obama's mother, was granted a lifetime $160,000 government pension when she leaves the White House for "services rendered as full-time/in-home caregiver" to granddaughters Malia and Sasha Obama?

The Boston Tribune, a fake news website, started this rumor with an October 2016 article titled "First Grandma Marian Robinson to Receive Lifetime $160K Government Pension." The website is designed to look like the online version of a legitimate newspaper but is part of a broader fake news network called "Associated Media Coverage."

The article claims that "First Grandma Marian Robinson, 79, will receive a lifetime 160K government pension when she leaves the White House next year, according to congressional budget statements." It cites a Freedom of Information Act request as the source of these documents, but does not provide evidence of the request or a link to the alleged budget statements.

The article goes on to reference Robinson's residence in the White House and travels abroad with the president's family. It also cites supposed interviews with "Sally Kellner" of the National Taxpayers Union and Sen. Mike Enzi, a Republican from Wyoming. Jenn Fedor, a spokeswoman for NTU, told us that there is no one by the name of "Sally Kellner" who works at the taxpayer group. "Everything about it is fake," Fedor said of the story.

It is true that Robinson lives in the White House, often cares for her granddaughters, and occasionally joins the family on presidential trips. But she is not a government employee and will not receive a pension.

PS - Here's a link about checking/rating the fact-checker sites most commonly used by folks such as myself.
Checking the fact-checkers