Living in the Golden Age of Fact-Checking: fact-checking the fact-checking sites and finding fools’ gold

“Living in the Golden Age of Fact-Checking”  (ReallyGraceful, July 2020)

In an age awash with global news / information media disinformation, coupled with the increasing denigration of critical thinking in the West by governments and corporations via failing education systems and institutions, fact-checking websites on the Internet have become a necessary evil for many people. One of the most prominent fact-checking sites is Snopes.com – from here on, referred to as Snopes – originally founded by couple David and Barbara Mikkelson in the mid-1990s as an information site investigating urban legends. Over time the site grew to encompass checking a variety of stories and claims, starting with claims about the World Trade Center attacks on 11 September 2001, on the Internet, and became a go-to reference site used by many online news media outlets.

In this video, ReallyGraceful investigates the history of Snopes, what sort of company it is, how big it is, what its biases are, and how the Mikkelsens’ messy personal lives (ending in divorce) affected the company’s management and structure. RG discovers the company provides no information about its fact-checking employees or what their political biases might be. The company’s funding is equally murky: some of its funding comes from online funding campaigns but the company apparently provides no information about the breakdown of the funds raised and where the funding goes in its operations; some funding comes from advertisements on its site on the Google search engine; and Snopes’ fact-checking partnership with Facebook. Incidentally the major shareholders of both Facebook and Google include BlackRock and Vanguard investment management corporations. RG examines David Mikkelsen’s previous employment background and finds he once worked for NASA and NASA-associated companies; another Snopes employee, Alex Kasprak, also once worked for NASA; and other Snopes workers came from The Seattle Times.

The last part of the video focuses on a story in which US furniture company Wayfair was supposedly secretly trafficking missing children by using their names to advertise overpriced furniture items online. Twenty-four hours after the story became public, Snopes claimed the story was false … because a Snopes employee contacted someone at Wayfair who simply said it was untrue. There was no further investigation on Snopes’ part as to how the claims arose in the first place, or into Wayfair’s internal affairs and its management’s ties to Bain Capital, a notorious asset-stripping firm co-founded by former US Presidential candidate Mitt Romney.

RG summarises her video by analysing the useful role that Snopes and similar “fact checkers” play as propagandists policing the limits of acceptable discussion and dissent in a reality where information is a commodity to be bought and sold. These sites shepherd the public into particular acceptable directions of information search and narrow critical thinking and discussion to topics deemed acceptable and harmless by The Powers That (Should Not) Be. A real “fact-checking” site would resemble investigative news sites like 21st Century Wire and Mint Press.

In case USE readers are not convinced by RG’s video alone on Snopes’ dubious nature, they are welcome to read this Vietato Parlare article on the equally dubious Facebook associations of Snopes reporter Bethania Palma Markus, the official “debunker” of claims that the White Helmets group is a front for terrorists in Syria. The VP article shows that not only does Markus’ Facebook associations and friends demonstrate strong political bias but also her friendships with individuals in Syria linked to the White Helmets and their jihadist confreres. Revelations such as this and what RG has posted really make you wonder: who fact-checks the fact-checking sites like Snopes?

What the Media Won’t Tell You About Venezuela: mini-documentary won’t tell you much more either

What the Media Won’t Tell You About Venezuela” (ReallyGraceful, 3 June 2017)

Viewers of this very short mini-documentary on Venezuelan politics won’t learn very much about why Venezuela’s current socialist government under President Nicolas Maduro continues to survive despite the country’s poverty and food shortages – nor will they learn anything about what’s actually fuelling the food shortages there. The thrust of ReallyGraceful’s video is to show that the people of Venezuela – and by implication, people in other middle and lower income nations around the world – are caught between two camps of evil, or what ReallyGraceful herself perceives as evil, and that the Western mainstream news media will push their audiences to choose one of these camps (usually the US and its allies) as the good guys. In the film, former President Hugo Chavez and the socialist ideology and structures he implemented in Venezuela are viewed by ReallyGraceful as part of Venezuela’s ongoing problems; at the same time ReallyGraceful correctly identifies Venezuela being under siege by the US and forces allied with it (among them, Israel and the global finance industry including the Bank of International Settlements) as part and parcel of the problem as well.

While ReallyGraceful does well in fingering the dominance of the oil industry in Venezuela’s economy over past decades as the underlying foundation of Venezuela’s recent past and current problems, she fails to note that this dominance is the result of policies made by past politically conservative governments in the country working together with US political and corporate interests to the detriment of Venezuelan people. Such policies privileged foreign oil interests (to the extent that other industries in the country suffered from lack of support and declined) and ignored the healthcare, educational and other social needs of the Venezuelan people. When Chavez became President in 1999, he sought to rectify the dire economic straits of the majority of Venezuelan people by using oil revenues to fund social services and other programs. To his credit also, Chavez tried to diversify Venezuelan industry and support programs aimed at reviving agriculture though with mixed success.

ReallyGraceful notes that food shortages have been severe in Venezuela but fails to realise that, again, the favouring of the oil industry and US oil interests by conservative governments before Chavez led to the decline of agriculture in Venezuela to the point where the country became overly dependent on imports of food, even food staples. For some reason, or perhaps because his time as President was cut short, Chavez never tried to wrest control of food imports away from companies owned by wealthy families and individuals opposed to his government and socialist ideology, and current President Maduro and his government are perhaps too preoccupied in dealing with more urgent issues to be able to address this issue of food imports. The result is that food importers can use classic-economics demand and supply phenomena as blackmail over the general public and create social and economic chaos for the Maduro government.

ReallyGraceful’s anti-socialist stance blinds her to the possibility of Venezuelans as individuals and in groups, communities and non-profit organisations confronting the food shortage issue by growing their own food and organising their own food markets to sell, barter or otherwise distribute food to those who need it most.

I note though that ReallyGraceful ends her film by observing that Venezuela is under pressure from the US and the global finance industry to yield its natural resources to foreign ownership and control. As she always does, she invites viewers to comment on her mini-documentaries, which is her way of admitting that she is open to criticism and counter-opinions.

What the Media Won’t Tell You About China: the historical context behind the downfall and rise of modern China

“What the Media Won’t Tell You About China” (ReallyGraceful, 20 June 2018)

This short film is less a historical documentary about China and how it came to be the nation is it now and more a demonstration of the historical context behind contemporary China and its politics. The aim is to show why China takes the actions it does and how the intent of these actions is deliberately twisted by Western mainstream media to suggest that China is an aggressor with sinister imperial designs. ReallyGraceful shows how Confucianism as a political and social philosophy has influenced and shaped the relationship between the government and the people, individually and collectively, and helped give China long-lasting stability that lasted through several dynastic cycles and was ended by European, particularly British, imperial economic ambitions.

The film focuses on a few significant events that destabilised China or influenced its political direction: the Opium Wars and the corruption and instability that mass opium addiction brought to China; the Boxer Rebellion, which discredited the Qing dynasty; Mao Zedong’s Long March; and the civil war between the Communists and the Nationalists that made the country vulnerable to Japanese invasion. Along the way, RG notes the association that Mao Zedong had with Yale University in the US (a short one, by the way) and spends some time detailing the links between Yale University and one George Herbert Walker Bush, a former US President and CIA Director, through the notorious Skull & Bones Society: this association suggests that the Chinese Communists had quite intimate and complicate contacts with the CIA and the Skull & Bones Society that go right back to the 1920s. This association with its networks was rent asunder by the Tiananmen Square event which, as ReallyGraceful sets out meticulously, turns out to be nothing like its portrayal in Western mainstream media: instead the “massacre” was actually an attempt by the CIA, using people embedded among the protesting students, to take control of the protest, turn it into a violent revolution and force (through violence) the overthrow of the Communist government and with it the dissolution of the Communist Party of China.

After the Tiananmen Square incident in 1989, China forged ahead with its economic development to the extent that the nation is now the largest economy in the world and owns over a trillion US dollars’ worth of US debt. China has become a major global investor in several countries in Africa and elsewhere. The country now wields such major economic influence through trade and trading networks that it is now in a position to challenge US global financial hegemony by enticing its trade partners – and Middle Eastern suppliers of oil – to trade in petro-yuan rather than in petro-dollars. This threatens the privileged status of the US dollar as the world’s reserve currency, not least because a move away from using the US dollar would result in plummeting demand for the dollar, leading to the dollar’s deflation and the dire consequences for US trade and the economy.

RG passes no judgement on China’s human rights situation though her description of what happened during the Tiananmen Square events suggests she is less likely than most to view China as a heavily authoritarian and oppressive state that brutalises its peoples. As this short film is an opinion piece, RG gives no sources for her information. Mao Zedong’s link to Yale University and the Skull and Bones Society will come as a surprise to many – it certainly did to me – but Google searches confirm that Mao indeed received help in his political and literary career from Yale University through its Yale-in-China Group; he might never have risen as high as he did without financial help and other support from that group, and the history of China would have taken a very different direction!

RG’s portrayal of the events of Tiananmen Square in 1989 merits mention and praise in the way her commentary slides right into a more objective and critical view of those events without any bias. She puts up information and invites viewers to consider this information for themselves and to find out more and share their discoveries with others. While the film omits to mention significant events of the 20th century – the Japanese invasion of China surely merits one mention, as does the way in which China became the new workshop to the world at the expense of working and middle class jobs in Western countries whose leaders saw nothing wrong in companies offshoring jobs to China – it does well enough as an introduction to modern China and how it has become the nation it is.

What the Media Won’t Tell You about Iran: the history behind Iran’s relationship with the US and the West

“What the Media Won’t Tell You about Iran” (ReallyGraceful, 23 November 2017)

Back in 2017 I’d been watching short history mini-documentaries on ReallyGraceful’s Youtube channel but fell out of this habit for various reasons, most of which I’m too ashamed to mention. I vow from now on to watch more of RG’s videos when I can as they are highly educational yet short enough for viewers to watch whenever they have spare time and moreover watch a second or third time to digest the information Grace gives. The videos come jam-packed with facts pulled from (I presume) many and varied sources and include stills and snippets of interviews and news articles that come and go at a steady but not rushed pace.

“What the Media Won’t Tell You about Iran” is a useful introduction to the history of Iran’s fractious relationship with the West and the United States in particular over the 20th century. It starts with how the British Empire’s need for oil to fuel its naval ships – so it could have the upper edge in fuel efficiency and speed over the naval forces of Germany, the chief economic rival of Britain in the late 19th / early 20th centuries – led that evil empire to buy a 51% stake in the Anglo-Persian Oil Company, originally founded by a London millionaire in 1908 to explore and drill for oil in Iran. In 1935, the company was renamed the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company and in 1951, the company was nationalised as an Iranian company by the Iranian government, at the time led by Prime Minister Mohammed Mosaddeq. In 1953, Mosaddeq was deposed in a coup engineered by the CIA and elements in both the US and British governments, and the company (renamed British Petroleum) was back under British control. Twenty-five years of repressive and corrupt rule by the US-backed Shah followed. In early 1979 the Shah’s government was overthrown in a popular revolution. The Iranian Revolution led to the destabilisation of the US government under then President Jimmy Carter.

Thus began over 40 years of animosity between Iran and the United States, and by implication the West as well, with all the associated disinformation and propaganda in Western mainstream media portraying Iran as a backward, oppressive and corrupt theocracy, and the consequences this animosity had not only on Iran’s future economic development but on the stability, security and political integrity of Iran’s neighbours Afghanistan and Iraq.

In the documentary’s second half Grace moves into the present day to examine Iran’s present geopolitical context, in particular the country’s nuclear production program and how it is continually misrepresented by Western mainstream media as a nuclear weapons development program. Grace asks why wouldn’t Iran want to have a nuclear weapons development program, given that the US has destabilised Iraq and Afghanistan through invasion and continued occupation, and that Israel has long had nuclear weapons in violation of international law governing nations’ access to and use of nuclear energy. She looks at the possible agenda behind Israel’s access to nuclear energy and its production, why the US and the West turn a blind eye to Israel’s actions both overt and covert, and Israel’s interest in conquering more territory at the expense of Lebanon, Syria and other nations in its neighbourhood for its Greater Israel project. Grace concludes that ultimately US and Western actions in supporting Israel and destabilising Arab and other nations in the Middle East / North Africa region are tied to Saudi Arabia and other oil-rich nations’ continuing use of the US dollar in selling oil to the West – because US global political dominance depends very much on other nations’ dependence on US dollars (and the continued printing of US dollars by the US Treasury) for all global financial transactions.

For such a short documentary, this film ranges far and wide in time and space, touching on many topics worth investigating in more detail in their own right. Viewers will need to do their own research on the topics Grace raises in her video, if only to confirm if she is right in what she says. The film is very dense in facts and may not always drill down deeply enough into the details of how different facts and information are linked; it’s up to viewers to find these links and work out the wider narrative behind the links themselves.

What the Media Won’t Tell You about Syria: concentrating on one part of Syria and its geopolitical and economic importance gives way to an oil blowout

“What the Media Won’t Tell You about Syria” (ReallyGraceful, 2017)

Among other news and facts that the Western mainstream news media ignores about Syria and its war against terrorists and their foreign backers that has raged since 2011, is one juicy piece about the Golan Heights which have been contested territory between Syria and Israel since 1967 when the Israelis seized a large part of that region from Damascus: in 2013, a subsidiary of Genie Energy, an energy company based in Newark, New Jersey, secretly acquired a licence from an Israeli court to drill for oil and natural gas in an area covering half the Golan Heights. Now that fact alone might not seem important in the context of the Syrian War, were it not for who sits on the Board of Directors of Genie Energy: gosh, the directors include US media mogul Rupert Murdoch, former US vice-president Richard Cheney and former CIA head James Woolsey. Could the fact that those luminaries happen to be Genie Energy directors partly explain the slanted Western media reporting on the Syrian War which repeatedly paints the Syrian government as a brutal, repressive dictatorship that attacks its own people with chemical weapons or arrests them by the hundreds if not by the thousands and throws them into the supposedly notorious Saydnaya Prison to be tortured, killed and cremated?

Narrator Grace at ReallyGraceful can’t cover every lie and propaganda smear about Syria and its government so she sensibly concentrates on the Golan Heights and the hydrocarbon wealth there that attracted the attention of Israel and Genie Energy initially. She notes that Israel’s action in awarding a drilling licence to Genie Energy is clearly illegal under international law. She points out also that the war in Syria and the chaos there benefit Israeli interests and Western corporate energy interests: the war drives out refugees from their lands which can be seized by companies of the countries waging war in Syria. Grace also fingers Rex Tillerson, US State Secretary under US President Donald Trump, as having an interest in shutting out Syria and its allies Russia and Iran out of global collective actions against ISIS in Syria: his background as a former executive of energy giant Exxon Mobil might greatly influence the kinds of decisions he makes, especially in a context where Qatar and Iran are rivals to build natural gas pipelines across land from the Persian Gulf to the eastern Mediterranean – land that also includes a sizeable chunk of Syria.

In just seven minutes, Grace elegantly and languidly provides more information about Western energy and geopolitical interests in Syria than the Western news media has so far done. The collage of newsreel stills and photographs of Murdoch and others is put together well and visually arresting but the voice-over narration actually stands on its own very well. Grace’s conversational style may be very rambling and it hardly pauses for breath but at the same time it feels very intimate. The film can be seen at this link.

What the Media Won’t Tell You About North Korea: packing punches galore in 10 minutes about US designs on North Korea

“What the Media Won’t Tell You About North Korea” (ReallyGraceful, 2017)

ReallyGraceful is quickly becoming a useful source of alternative information on topics the Western mainstream news media refuse to touch – like the real reasons that the US is threatening North Korea with invasion and war, and why North Korea seems to act in such a paranoid way vis-a-vis the US and South Korea. Narrator Grace tunnels back into the 20th century to show viewers that the Korean peninsula was for the first 40 years of that period a colony of Japan – and like most colonies, once its overlord was vanquished in World War II, Korea was up for grabs by the victors. The peninsula became divided into a Communist north and a US-dominated capitalist south, and a vicious war soon followed. The Korean War claimed over a million lives in North Korea – in those days, that was nearly 20% of the country’s population – and every city including the capital Pyongyang was razed to the ground. Grace disabuses her audiences of the view (which she admits she also once held) that the war was a result of the conflict of ideologies: the real reason for the war was geopolitical – the Korean peninsula represented (and still does represent) a beach-head for the US to penetrate and eventually undermine China and the Soviet Union in their far frontier regions.

This video isn’t so much about North Korea as it is about the threat its neighbours in China and the Russian Federation pose to the US domination of the world through the US dollar as the international reserve currency and the currency in which oil is sold and bought. The fact that Russia and China are moving away from trade in US dollars threatens US global financial and economic leadership, with potential dire consequences for the American economy and the wealth of American elites: a situation Washington will not tolerate. On top of that comes news that North Korea is sitting on a treasure trove of rare earth minerals worth trillions of dollars and may have the largest deposit of particular rare earths, and if there’s a possibility of killing two birds (attacking China through attacking North Korea, and claiming North Korea’s mineral wealth) with the one stone, the US will not hesitate to seize it.

As for North Korea itself, Grace doesn’t have much to say about the country that’s not been said before: there’s not a great deal about the ruling Kim family (other than current leader Kim Jong-un’s friendship with basketball celebrity Dennis Rodman) or the political and economic context of the unstable and uncertain 1990s after the downfall of the Soviet Union that led North Korea to invest in developing a nuclear bomb that would deter US-South Korean invasion. After seeing countries like Iraq and Libya attempt to appease the West, only to suffer invasion and the overthrow of their leaders (and those leaders’ abject deaths), North Korea’s leaders decided to take no chances with their country’s future. Having a nuclear bomb makes eminent sense: not only does that policy have a deterrent effect, it also makes possible space for diplomacy, and is better use of scarce money than equipping an army made up of conscripted farm labour with weapons that would be useless against US and South Korean fire-power.

Grace could have mentioned the fact that every year the US and South Korea hold large military exercises in which tens of thousands of soldiers participate – in 2016, some 15,000 US soldiers and 290,000 South Korean soldiers participated in exercises that included beach invasions and assassinating North Korean leaders – and which spook the North Korean leadership. Any sane country, no matter how wealthy or technologically advanced its military is, would be paranoid at seeing two strong enemies practising invasion strategies and assassination tactics in military drills every year.

As it is though, the video is very informative and packs a lot of information and some eye-opening visual montages in its 10-minute running time.

How Haiti Became the Epicenter of Crime Through Exploitation of Death and Destruction: quick history lesson and documentary on Western exploitation of Haiti

“How Haiti Became the Epicenter of Crime Through Exploitation of Death and Destruction” (ReallyGraceful, 1 April 2017)

Here’s a quick lesson on how Haiti came to be one of the poorest and most exploited countries in the Western Hemisphere since its founding in the early 1800s after slaves there revolted against their French colonial slave-masters. For that, France imposed a huge reparations bill on independent Haiti which the country has had to pay off for at least 150 years. While the collage of video news reels is important and informative, the narrative supplied by ReallyGraceful’s head honcho Grace is much more so – in her laid-back southern US accent, Grace informs us that Haiti was at the mercy of the Rothschild’s Bank for much of the 19th century, German business during the early years of the 20th century and then for the rest of that century the United States whose troops occupied Haiti from 1915 to 1934. Grace brings us up to the present day in a couple of minutes with the January 2010 earthquake after quickly glossing over the period of the Duvalier father-and-son dictatorship.

The rest of the short video investigates the links between US politicians and ex-politicians, the CIA and its private contractor supplier DynCorp on the one hand, the Clinton Foundation and the American Red Cross on the one hand, and on the other hand the corruption, the rampant crime and in particular child and organ trafficking in Haiti. Israel is also cited as being active in trafficking organs – the country happens to be prominent in medical tourism so demand for fresh organs for transplant would be strong there. The video’s pace is constant and at times probably a little too fast for viewers not familiar with Haitian politics and the current situation there. There’s a lot to take in, not to mention a lot of name-dropping – and the names of various members of the Bush political family dynasty, the Clintons and their friends and allies, among others are repeated quite a bit – so viewers may need to watch this video a few times to digest its most salient points.

I wish Grace had been a little bit slower and maybe not quite so machine-like in her delivery, with a few pauses here and there, though her laidback tone does an excellent job of highlighting the depth of the exploitation of Haiti by US political elites and agencies.

The video can be viewed on Youtube at this link or on ReallyGraceful‘s Youtube channel.