Since Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, we’ve kept an eye out to see how climate disinformation channels have responded. By and large, it’s by blaming Biden, and organized denial and disinformation outlets like RealClear, Fox and Breitbart haven’t quite embraced Russian disinformation as whole-heartedly as they have other strains of deceptive content.
While Koch has been noticeably soft on Russia, its minions are largely staying on message, and away from off topic conspiracy theories. There are exceptions though, and they seem to have something in common: a history of receiving and rebroadcasting disinformation either exclusively or potentially of Russian state origin.
Gateway Pundit (an outlet that accuses school shooting survivors of being crisis actors) was founded by Jim Hoft (who’s banned from Twitter and demonitized by YouTube for election and Covid disinformation), was the first outlet we noticed that was running content questioning the “mainstream narrative” (reality) of what’s happening in Ukraine, with a noticeably pro-Putin bent.
In 2018, Gateway Pundit was one of the examples special counsel Robert Mueller’s office used to demonstrate American political media propagating Russian disinformation. In 2022, it’s carrying Russian state disinfo on biolabs, putting the right’s censorship conspiracies right in line with Russia’s interests against the “demons at Meta-Facebook,” and attacking Hillary Clinton and George Soros as “two of the most high-profile voices advocating a fight with Russia” as part of “a massive propaganda campaign” in Ukraine’s favor.
Gateway Pundit is running with the disinformation accusing environmentalists of being secretly funded by Putin (thoroughly debunked as a four-pinocchio whopper). It’s a bit behind the curve since it’s part of the disorganized disinfo ecosystem and not part of the fossil fuel industry’s organized denial apparatus.
The same goes for the rest of our examples. Mining executive Stephen McIntyre has a white whale-sized obsession with Michael Mann’s iconic hockey-stick graphs, and in the 00’s launched information requests into climate scientists’s emails about it. Then, a tranche of emails he was also after was posted, via an anonymous comment, to McIntyre’s climate audit blog. It was the first public leak of the emails that would be used to manufacture the Climategate controversy. The next place they were published was a comment on WattsUpWithThat, where they were hosted on a Russian server, and bounced around the denial blogosphere as they scrambled to cook up the conspiracy. The server connection is likely mere coincidence, but the similarities between climategate and Russia’s requested hacking and release of emails during the 2016 election have been well-documented.
These days, McIntyre is busy bringing his own special brand of auditing to Russian war crimes in Ukraine, which like Russian war crimes in Syria, he has Russia-friendly, consensus-conflicting opinions about, namely that the victims of Russian violence are actually the perpetrators.
It was James Delingpole who launched Climategate from niche narrative to mainstream though, with a Telegraph blog that was picked up on by BBC, Fox, and Drudge, cementing its place in the conservative pantheon of obviously false and long-debunked talking points, next to “Trickle-down economics,” “small government,” and “drill baby, drill.”
Thirteen years later, Delingpole is no longer afforded too many mainstream media posts. Instead, he’s occasionally blogging at Breitbart, but even that’s too good for his Russia takes: those are on his new-for-’22 substack.
Delingpole is also skeptical of the critics of his erstwhile Russian friends, asking exactly the questions Russian disinformation is designed to produce: “what if our [mainstream media] and politicians are exaggerating the threat? What if they are flat out lying to us, for ulterior motives, in much the same way they lied to us about vaccine safety and infection rates and the efficacy of masks and lockdowns?”
Before accusing Ukrainians of carrying out the civilian executions by Russian forces, just like McIntyre and Russian propaganda, Delingpole quotes extensively from a Putin-apologist’s take about how much restraint Putin has shown, and how “remarkably successful” Russia’s military has performed in this “limited war, designed to avoid killing civilians.”
But worry not, he knows it “will of course be dismissed as ‘Kremlin propaganda’. But it makes intuitive sense.” Ah! Of course! Delingpole’s defense for regurgitating what even he admits looks indistinguishable from Kremlin propaganda, because it just plain makes sense to him!
And why wouldn’t it? His post concludes with a warning that “we cannot allow ourselves to be brainwashed by the propaganda narratives of people who do not share our best interests. If we do, we deserve every bit of misery that they send our way for it makes us willing participants in their deception.”
It’s great advice, actually!
If only James would take it.