Washington: Journalists who love to bash the government or leaders in power through social media beware! Using the very same social media as a weapon, a group close to the US administration has started targeting scribes who are aggressively hostile to the Trump regime. This new ‘weapon’ may be used by other governments too worldwide, including India where some journalists are still putting up a tough fight against governments in power.
Though the Trump administration is not directly involved, a loose network of operatives allied with the White House has started targeting journalists by digging up their ‘past life’ on social media and publicise damaging information about them.
According to The New York Times, this is the latest step in a long-running effort by Trump and his allies to “undercut the influence of legitimate news reporting”.
The network of operatives comb through a maze of data on social media and compile dossiers of potentially embarrassing social media posts and other public statements of journalists and columnists who work at some of the most prominent news organisations in the US.
The group if highly skilled IT professionals has compiled juicy social media posts from Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, and stored images of the posts that can be publicised even if the user had deleted them, said the NYT quoting people familiar with the effort. One claimed that the operation had unearthed potentially “fireable” information on “several hundred” people.
Whether the secret operation involved the private lives of potential targets is not clear.
The group has already released damaging info about journalists at CNN, The Washington Post and The New York Times. These three news organisations have been either reporting or commenting what the allies of the White House consider unfair to Trump and his team or harmful to his re-election prospects.
The operatives have stockpiled posts of more than a decade. But the team has only released a fraction of what it has uncovered. And that was enough to rattle journalists across the US.
The damaging arsenal is being stored for future use. Sources said that more embarrassing info, full of firepower, would be unleashed as the 2020 election heats up. The dirt is being dug not just of journalists, but also of their families who are active in politics. Liberal activists and other political opponents of the president are also in the ‘dirty list’.
The operation is so secret that nobody is sure if the claims of the operatives are true or not. But the material published so far has been professionally harmful to its targets.
NYT named Arthur Schwartz, a combative 47-year-old conservative consultant who is a friend and informal adviser to Donald Trump Jr., the president’s eldest son, as the brain behind the plan.
“If the @nytimes thinks this settles the matter we can expose a few of their other bigots,” Schwartz tweeted last week in response to an apologetic tweet from a Times journalist whose anti-Semitic social media posts had just been revealed by the operation.
Despite hazy links to the White House, the press office of the President said neither Trump nor anyone in the White House was either involved in or aware of the operation. The press office also said that neither the White House nor the Republican National Committee was involved in funding it.
But the Trump campaign managers suggested that it served a worthy purpose. “We know nothing about this, but it’s clear that the media has a lot of work to do to clean up its own house,” said Tim Murtaugh, the campaign’s communications director.
In the past, Trump had labelled journalists as bad people and some of the top news media as “enemy of the people” that manufacture fake news.
Journalism, he said in a tweet last week, is “nothing more than an evil propaganda machine for the Democrat Party.”