On Thanksgiving night, tripping on tryptophans, I surrendered to a troubled sleep aswirl with strange dreams, and awakened the next morning transformed, like Gregor Samsa, into a cockroach. Well, not a cockroach exactly. But an insect more vile and almost universally feared, the notorious Putin pest (Blattodea venenatorum putinesca).
“What has happened to me?,” I wondered, staring at the flood of emails swelling my inbox with the heading: “Are you Really a Russian agent?” Even the dog looked at me with suspicion, curious, I guess, if he needed a taste-tester for the Spot’s Stew “wild salmon” nuggets I’d just filled his bowl with. Had the tasty morsels been drift-netted from a toxic Siberian river?
What had happened was that the Washington Post had just published a scurrilous piece by a heretofore obscure technology reporter named Craig Timberg, alleging without the faintest evidence that Russian intelligence was using more than 200 independent news sites to pump out pro-Putin and anti-Clinton propaganda during the election campaign.
Under the breathless headline, “Russian propaganda effort helped spread ‘fake news’ during election, experts say,” Timberg concocted his story based on allegations from a vaporous group called ProporNot, run by nameless individuals of unknown origin, whom Timberg (cribbing from the Bob Woodward stylesheet) agreed to quote as anonymous sources.
ProporNot’s catalogue of supposed Putin-controlled outlets…