Wait, Is The U.S. Government Paying Firms To Harass Journalists?

As USA TODAY’s Gregory Korte recently reported, “The co-owner of a major Pentagon propaganda contractor publicly admitted Thursday that he was behind a series of websites used in an attempt to discredit two USA TODAY journalists who had reported on the contractor. The online ‘misinformation campaign,’ first reported last month, has raised questions about whether the Pentagon or its contractors had turned its propaganda operations against U.S. citizens…”

Two thoughts on this:

1) Why does the Pentagon have “propaganda contractors” operating on U.S. soil, potentially targeting and unduly influencing U.S. citizens, in the first place? This would appear to violate a number of federal laws designed to prevent public taxpayer dollars from being used on domestic propaganda. Not to mention the absolutely obvious chilling effect on freedom of the press that well-funded online harassment campaigns pose. If a journalist’s reputation is ruined with online “smear” tactics, few publications will hire him or her in the future.

2) I’ve seen similar things happen to me, to an admittedly much smaller degree — I’m far less visible than a USA TODAY reporter, so it’s understandable that less resources would be expended on intimidating me into silence. What, specifically, have I seen?

Twitter accounts, newly created and with only a handful of followers, used exclusively to harass myself and other journalists covering civil rights issues such as the NDAA’s indefinite detention provisions and the troublesome cybersecurity bill CISPA. The harassment is childish, psychologically abrasive, and at times frightening. I usually block these accounts as soon as they start bothering me. I’ve seen similar activities on my public Google+ page; I block those accounts as well.

Also, the other day on Reddit a user baiting and attacking me did not appear to be who he claimed to be: in one comment, he said he was my age and was disappointed in my quality of reporting. Just minutes later, in another comment he implied he was much older than me, and had served overseas in the U.S. military, seeing horrors I couldn’t even begin to fathom. Those two claims are inconsistent with each other. He can’t be both a peer who reviles my “unprofessionalism” and a much older Army veteran. The most simple explanation is probably the correct one here: he’s a liar, an online confabulator.

When I asked for proof of his military service, or even his identity, he declined to offer such information.

These things happen to me a lot. I used to take screenshots and save them. Now I don’t. Life’s too short. Block and move on, rinse and repeat. I’m here to continue serving my readers and viewers with news I find of value, consequences be damned.

Do I sometimes get too heated? Do I sometimes sound dramatic? Yes, because these are issues I care deeply about — we are quietly losing our Constitutional freedoms in America, and few know. Even fewer speak out.

Every day feels a little less free than the day that preceded it. I find that unacceptable.

Follow David on Twitter and Google+.

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