NY Times writer was aware of fraud used by Democrats in Alabama Senate Race and did not report it at the time
Last week the New York Times revealed that money from tech billionaire Reid Hoffman was used to run a small disinformation “experiment” aimed at helping Democrat Doug Jones win last year’s Alabama special Senate election. That resulted in Facebook suspending five accounts and Hoffman issuing an apology.Engaging in the politics of fraud to influence an election would appear to be a big story and not something that could be covered up by a non-disclosure agreement. The NY Times has some explaining to do. Are they alright with this kind of conduct when it results in Democrats winning, but oppose it when it would get conservative Republicans elected?
But left unmentioned in the Times story was that one of its authors learned about the Alabama campaign when he spoke at an off-the-record meeting organized by the same group who ran the operation. A copy of a confidential report about the Alabama effort, obtained by BuzzFeed News, raises new questions about whether the project was — as the Times said — an “experiment,” or whether it was a straightforward Democratic attempt to replicate the model of the Russian Internet Research Agency.
Scott Shane, a Pulitzer Prize–winning New York Times national security reporter, was one of a handful of speakers at a meeting held in Washington in early September by American Engagement Technologies, according to an agenda obtained by BuzzFeed News. AET is run by Mikey Dickerson, who previously served in the Obama administration. The organization received $750,000 in funding that originated with Hoffman and spent approximately $100,000 of that on what was dubbed “Project Birmingham.”
During the meeting, Dickerson and Sara Hudson, a former Justice Department employee who now works for a company partly funded by Hoffman, detailed the results of their attempt to use social media and online ads to suppress Republican votes, “enrage” Democratic voters to help with turnout, and execute a “false flag” to hurt the campaign of Republican Roy Moore.
Shane told BuzzFeed News he did not know anything about Project Birmingham prior to accepting an invitation to speak about Russian disinformation at the AET event.
“It was basically a bunch of people getting together to talk about disinformation,” he said. “Part of the reason I agreed to speak, and somewhat reluctantly sign the NDA, is I was told by the organizer that I could follow up with any of the people on any of the projects after the meeting.”
Shane said it wasn’t necessary to disclose to readers that he previously spoke at a meeting organized by people behind Project Birmingham.
“I don’t think there’s any kind of disclosure that’s relevant, though I’m happy to be corrected,” he said. “If you’ve been to meet with intelligence or defense officials at an off-the-record meeting … it’s always a trade-off as to what the ground rules are versus whether you get something useful for your readers. And in this case I did get something useful.”
Shane said he followed up with people after the meeting to obtain information about Project Birmingham on the record so he could write a story.
The report provided to Shane and others at the meeting boasts of the campaign’s effectiveness and positions itself as a serious effort to influence 650,000 Alabama voters. It does not use the word “experiment” to describe the effort.