Al Franken: Victim of Russian Bots!

Nina Burleigh is best remembered as the “reporter” who offered oral sex to Bill Clinton and recommended that other women do likewise. For her, Glenn Reynolds’ famous “Democratic operative with byline” doesn’t go far enough. Today, Ms. Burleigh was back in action in defense of Al Franken. Her latest effort is the purest expression of left-wing paranoia we have seen in a long time: “How an Alt-Right Bot Network Took Down Al Franken.”

You really have to read the whole thing to grasp how fully Ms. Burleigh, Newsweek magazine, which originally published the piece, and Yahoo News, which republished it at the link, have descended into the fever swamp. But I will try to convey the flavor of the piece. She begins by smearing Leeann Tweeden, the woman who went on a USO tour with Al Franken and lived to regret it:

Analysts have now mapped out how Hooters pinup girl and lad-mag model Leeann Tweeden’s initial accusation against Franken became effective propaganda after right-wing black ops master Roger Stone first hinted at the allegation.

Because women who accuse powerful and famous men of sexual impropriety are always lying, especially when they have photographs. Right? Actually, Burleigh never does address the truth–to use an apparently archaic term–of Tweeden’s claims, nor does she mention the numerous other women who subsequently accused Franken of improprieties. Her interest lies elsewhere:

A pair of Japan-based websites, created the day before Tweeden came forward, and a swarm of related Twitter bots made the Tweeden story go viral and then weaponized a liberal writer’s criticism of Franken. The bot army—in tandem with prominent real, live members of the far right who have Twitter followers in the millions, such as Mike Cernovich—spewed thousands of posts, helping the #FrankenFondles hashtag and the “Franken is a groper” meme effectively silence the testimonies of eight former female staffers who defended the Minnesota Democrat before he resigned last year.
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On the same day, a developer named Atsufumi Otsuka registered a web domain in Japan called RealUSA.site, and a fake-news website soon emerged at that web address, according to research shared with the voting rights outfit Unhack the Vote.

“Unhack the Vote” is a scurrilous left-wing outfit that has been criticized by the Daily Kos(!) as an unreliable purveyor of fake “evidence.”

But Burleigh’s most sensational claim is that bringing down Al Franken was a Russian intelligence operation:

By November 17, the trending of “Al Franken” was officially also a Russian intelligence operation, according to the Alliance for Securing Democracy, an organization tracking Russian social media accounts, based on a sample taken that day of 600 of the fake accounts.

Is that big news, or what? But there is more:

That same day, Otsuka registered a second domain in Japan for another fake-news site, VotyUS.me. Both accounts used the same Google analytics account ID and Apple app ID, and the name of the servers and registration for both sites were virtually identical, researchers found.

On December 7, just before Democrats started calling for Franken to step down, the freshly minted Japan-based fake sites went to work and re-published an article by Ijeoma Oluo, a liberal writer, urging women and activists to stop supporting Franken. Oluo had posted the opinion piece, titled “Dear Al Franken, I’ll Miss You but You Can’t Matter Anymore,” on a much smaller website, with a reach of 10,000 followers.

Suddenly, thousands of apparently fake Twitter accounts were tweeting the title of the article—but linking back to one of the two Japanese-registered fake-news sites created in conjunction with the right-wing anti-Franken campaign. The bot accounts normally tweeted about celebrities, bitcoin and sports, but on that day, they were mobilized against Franken. Researchers have found that each bot account had 30 to 60 followers, all Japanese.

So Al Franken resigned because he was being criticized in Japan? This is so confusing! Actually, Burleigh suffers a brief encounter with reality when she acknowledges that it was Senate Democrats, not the “alt-right,” whatever that is, who forced Franken out. But then the madness continues:

One question remains: Who is paying for this operation? The researchers believe that the operation was expensive. “We estimate dozens of hours of initial development time and at least one person working full time to produce and distribute content,” one of the researchers told Newsweek. “Additionally, it’s likely that an existing bot farm of compromised computers is basically being rented as a distributed host for these accounts.”

Dozens of hours, and one person working full-time! Obviously a cabal of billionaires must be funding the effort, or perhaps the Russian government.

Burleigh concludes by saying that the Democrats’ problem is that they are too nice, and they need to engage in black ops like the “alt-right.” I agree with her. I hope that in the next election cycle, the Democrats devote all of their resources to Japanese bots. That no doubt will sway the millions of voters who think the Democrats are hopelessly out of touch.

Sadly, though, the story doesn’t end there. Apparently Burleigh herself was a victim of disinformation, or maybe she was just hallucinating. In any event, the Russian connection, the crown jewel of her conspiracy theory, didn’t pan out, and her chronology was wrong, too. Newsweek, which famously once sold for a dollar and now is worth less, has deleted the Russians from Burleigh’s fever dream and added this correction:

This story is updated to remove reference to the Russian bots tracked by the Alliance for Securing Democracy and clarify the date of Democratic calls for resignation.

On the latter point, Burleigh’s story said that the major Japanese bot effort preceded Franken’s resignation:

On December 7, just before Democrats started calling for Franken to step down, the freshly minted Japan-based fake sites went to work and re-published an article by Ijeoma Oluo, a liberal writer, urging women and activists to stop supporting Franken. Oluo had posted the opinion piece, titled “Dear Al Franken, I’ll Miss You but You Can’t Matter Anymore,” on a much smaller website, with a reach of 10,000 followers.

Suddenly, thousands of apparently fake Twitter accounts were tweeting the title of the article—but linking back to one of the two Japanese-registered fake-news sites created in conjunction with the right-wing anti-Franken campaign.

Only–oops–Burleigh was wrong about the dates. The corrected paragraph states:

On December 7, a day after Democrats started calling for Franken to step down, the freshly minted Japan-based fake sites went to work and re-published an article by Ijeoma Oluo…

So the whole Japanese bot thing is pretty much irrelevant.

Even more entertaining is the fact that everything Burleigh said about the “Russian intelligence operation” was wrong and has been retracted. At Newsweek, the paragraph about the Russians that is quoted above has now disappeared down the memory hole. Not at Yahoo News, however. The Yahoo News article first linked above remains uncorrected. Misinformation is being spread, not by electronic bots from Japan and Russia, but rather by human bots like Nina Burleigh and the editors of Newsweek and Yahoo News.

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