A story of fake news

The year 2017 has come to an end. It was an unsettling and rather unfavourable year for the world; unsettling, but fruitful for Poland. The second year of “Good Change”. It also saw the great and shameful rise of the fake news phenomenon, which isn’t new at all but was once labeled media manipulation and enemy propaganda.

Today, this old tactic, thanks to its new name, has gained new vitality and clout. There were many cases of fake news: information that the leading slogan of the Independence Day March was a “Prayer for an Islamic Holocaust.” Only later was it revealed that although there was such a slogan, it was written on a banner long ago and then slapped onto the Independence Day March by Drew Hinshaw, a journalist from the Wall Street Journal. A tweet by Anne Applebaum was also a form of fake news: “Neo-fascists are still a tiny minority in Poland - but they feel more confident than they used to thanks to changes in Poland, in Europe, and in the world.” Also a blatantly fake piece of news was a tweet from a journalist attached to the Warsaw branch of the Associated Press, Vanessa Gera, “Follow the example of rabbits: Polish government asks citizens to go forth and multiply,” eviscerating the gravity surrounding the depopulation of Poland and Europe that is already bearing negative consequences in the form of a meltdown in public services and the national retirement scheme. Another tweet by the same author, “Poland demands war reparations from Germany; critics see this as way to promote anti-EU feelings,” sidesteps the entire historic and modern backdrop of the issue.

I have referred to Vanessa Gera from the AP’s Warsaw branch for good reason. Her articles and tweets reveal an openly leftist point of view, to which she is entitled, but they also make use of fake news, which is not acceptable. Vanessa Gera is one of those warriors of the worldwide left-wing liberal war against conservatism and, therefore, is anti-Polish, anti-Hungarian and anti-Trump. So her role in the enormous furore surrounding the “Independence Day March” in Warsaw should come as no surprise. Global coverage of the Independence Day March has made a sharp departure from the truth, a fact that has been covered by the conservative Polish press. It has not, however, addressed how this happened, going behind the scenes of the real manipulation. I stumbled onto this clash by accident, an incident sparked by - it seems - Vanessa Gera of the Warsaw branch of the Associated Press. Here began yet another condemnation of Poland on a global scale, the linking of the Independence Day March with the PiS government and the “country that is a fascist paradise.” We have received confirmation that such maneuvers were carried out by liberal-leftist media channels worldwide.

On November 10th, the day before the Independence March, the AP released a piece entitled Polish Far-Right March Goes Global Drawing People from Afar. “Fascists and other far-right extremists,” Gera wrote, “are set to assemble Saturday in Warsaw for a march that has become one of the largest gatherings in Europe and perhaps beyond for increasingly emboldened white supremacists. The march held on Poland’s Nov. 11 Independence Day holiday has drawn tens of thousands of participants in recent years. Extremists from Sweden, Hungary, Slovakia and elsewhere now join Polish nationalists...,” etc. etc. Not a word about the slogan We want God! or the sea of red and white flags raised proudly by young and old alike, women and children; about the lack of so-called incidents or that law enforcement had taken appropriate measures. But how could the author have known, since the “report,” describing the deadly world of right-wing extremists, was published 24 hours earlier? Perhaps we should mention the German leftists of Antifa who came to Warsaw to participate in the march, to set off firecrackers and fight with the police, or the fact that, during the two years the “ultra-right-wing PiS government” has been in power, Independence Day Marches have been held peacefully? Such things could have been written one day before the event was held and would have been true. What sources did the journalist use when preparing her materials? Enter Rafał Pankowski from the portal of the ‘Never Again’ Association, whose goal is, obviously, “counteracting social problems, racism, neo-fascism, xenophobia and discrimination.” He is known from campaigns such as Let’s Kick Racism out of Football, Music Against Racism and Racism Delete. This portal also has prophetic abilities, because on November 9th it addressed the issue of “nationalists and a lack of knowledge concerning Polish traditions,” followed by, on November 11th, 13th, 14th and 21st. , a raging debate on “the ideology behind the Independence Day March” and “nationalist slogans during the Independence Day March,” in which the guru himself, Rafał Pankowski, and TVN reporters Andrzej Sołtysik and Anna Kalczyńska participated.

Vanessa Gera’s other sources include Miroslaw Mares, an expert on extremism at Masaryk University in the Czech Republic, and Grigorij Meseznikow, President of the Institute of Public Affairs in Slovakia, who, surprise, surprise (!), share her opinions. As an example, Miroslaw Mares said: “Central Europeans hear about attacks by Islamic extremists in France, Germany and England and fear that beyond the borders is a state of chaos and war,” pointing out how foolish his fellow Slavs are. Meanwhile, Meseznikow from Slovakia expresses his amazement that: “Today, we really have a functioning economy, low inflation, declining unemployment; we are in the EU and NATO. ... and nevertheless there are fascists in parliament!” This is followed by an explanation of how these fascists came to be in parliament, but no word of the rebellion among the residents of Europe and America against the dictatorship of the left-wing elite, their social alienation and stubborn determination to cling to the anachronistic neo-Marxism that has been discredited in recent years. The end of the “report” returns to the reliable Rafał Pankowski, who expounds again on “dangerous Polish neo-fascism.” This is the message that was released to the world on November 10th, one day before the Independence Day March.

It also appeared on November 11th, in the online editions of the British and Irish Independent under the amended title Fascists to Stage 'World's Biggest' Far-Right March in Warsaw on Polish Independence Day, further inflating the threat of an event that had yet to take place. Interestingly, the Associated Press’ article was published around 11 am. British time, which means the AP must have released the text at 10 a.m., a full day and a half before the Independence Day March! Vanessa Gera's political fiction was picked up by the website of the Boston Herald Radio, as well as the Baltic Review, supposedly “the Independent Newspaper from the Baltics for the World.” The independence of this newspaper is demonstrated by the title of the article: Hate Finds a Home: Polish Far-Right March Goes Global. Material from the Associated Press also found its way to the website of the conservative British tabloid “The Daily Mail”. Poles are still amazed how Gera’s article could have been published in a conservative newspaper, since Poles are after all also conservatives and we should all stick together. But when British conservatives voted in the June referendum for Brexit, The Daily Mail didn’t pass up the opportunity to discredit immigrants - both the Polish vagrant who steals an apple from the market stall and the Muslim cleric, a fundamentalist calling for violence. Its readers are voters who don’t want immigrants in Britain beyond those needed for the proper functioning of the economy, and despite assurances from the government of Theresa May that it would reduce their number to 50,000 – 70,000 annually, 230,000 more arrived in 2017. This is how Vanessa Gera’s flimsy article spread around the world, from the “South China Morning Post” to the Boston Herald Radio.

Now the question arises: what is the Associated Press? It is an American information agency that employs more than 3,200 people in 240 offices around the world from China to Alaska and provides information to 1,700 newspapers and 6,000 radio and television stations in the US as well as approximately 8,500 readers outside of the United States. In other words, it is a media behemoth with an influence that cannot be overstated. It pays off to have organization on your side. But we don’t. The Associated Press is clearly at home on the left, part of the “red web” woven around our globe, and in light of its scope and capabilities, it stands on the front line in the battle for a “new, wonderful” liberal-leftist world. Considering how easy it is to lose one’s head in a war, the AP often displays a tendency towards journalistic unreliability or even news fabrication. In August 2005, photographer Ken Knight took the AP to court, claiming it had used photographs of the celebrity Britney Spears without authorisation. The settlement reached is the equivalent of an admission of guilt. Also in 2005, another photographer, John McClatchey, took the agency to court for the same misconduct and, once again, the parties settled. A similar situation befell Patricia Ann Lopez, whose court drawings were used by the AP without authorisation or a reference to their author by name. This time, the agency lost the suit. The AP has been involved in many court cases for using someone else's work without paying royalties. Later, in June 2008, the AP itself threatened to file suits against a few well-known blogs. It claimed that the AP’s copyrights had been violated by the transmission of links to the agency's articles, using its titles and short summaries.

Nonetheless, the experts claimed that, firstly, this was common practice and, secondly, the agency itself was guilty of the same practice. In November 2010, the agency was taken to court by iCopyright for breach of contract and unfair competition. Put simply, in competing with iCopyright, the agency provided false data. Then there was the global scandal surrounding Christopher Newton, an AP reporter who was fired in 2002 for fabricating sources - at least 40 individuals and organisations. As an employee of the legal desk, he wrote about campaigns to strengthen federal law and his articles referenced fictional agencies such as the Institute for Crime & Punishment in Chicago and People for Civil Rights.

With such a stained reputation, the Associated Press should be careful. I wonder whether it would make sense to file a suit on behalf of the Polish State or the organisers of the Independence Day March on the grounds of news fabrication. I will refer to the declaration of ethical principles of the Associated Press Managing Editors: “Find the truth and tell it. Operate independently and be responsible for what you do.” I would also add a list of damages Poland has suffered as a result of this fake news because this constitutes real harm: The manipulated image of the Independence Day March might influence the selection of the next EXPO host city; two days after the march, another debate was held in the European Parliament to discuss our country, bringing it one step closer to triggering Article 7.

Moreover, the Germans and the French will have an easier time cataloguing all of our non-existent sins and hiding their own problems: a state of emergency in France, the scandal associated with the formation of the new government in Germany, slogans of the true ultra-right like the National Front and Alternative for Germany as well as problems with real neo-fascists. Perhaps it would be worthwhile to file a suit against the Associated Press for its journalistic negligence. Even if we lose, it would create yet another cloud around the AP, and once again the agency’s credibility as a source of information would be called into question.

Author: Elżbieta Królikowska-Avis