So, in the last 2 months both Buzzfeed and The Guardian have issued “BREAKING NEWS” stories that made bold claims, but were not backed up with any evidence. Both these stories were shown to be untrue in less than 24 hours.
Anonymous sources are a common area here – both stories rely exclusively on the word of “unnamed sources” from either “the intelligence services” or “government agencies”. Anonymous sources are the batarangs on the propagandist’s utility belt. Flexible, simple, timeless.
Anonymity allows government agencies to leak misinformation on purpose, without hurting their credibility. It allows newspapers to control public opinion without having any actual facts on hand. It allows intelligence agencies to plant narratives they may want to revisit, or to give targets of blackmail operations a warning. And, most obviously, it allows journalists to simply make stuff up.
I don’t know which specific class these two stories fall into – but I do know it’s one or all of them.
So we come to the question of motive: BuzzFeed and The Guardian must have known there was no evidence to back up their assertions (yet, anyway). They must know the “significant minority” of the population who believe “conspiracy theories about their own government” will research and refute these claims.
So why publish them?
Well, in the Guardian’s case, every story demonising Assange discredits WikiLeaks’ future output, whilst also softening public sympathy for Assange in preparation for potential extradition of to the US. All the mainstream press have turned on WikiLeaks, but The Guardian – for some reason – has a particularly strong institutional axe to grind with WikiLeaks, and specifically Julian Assange.
Similarly, every “Russia bad!” story primes the public to accept increased defence spending, increased control of the internet by the government and increased social media censorship. It is very much the gift that keeps on giving in that regard.