Dossier. In the grey zone. How did an American journalist turn into a pro-Russian propagandist?

Dossier. In the grey zone. How did an American journalist turn into a pro-Russian propagandist?

16 Вересня 2022

Dossier. In the grey zone. How did an American journalist turn into a pro-Russian propagandist?

16 Вересня 2022
Dossier. In the grey zone. How did an American journalist turn into a pro-Russian propagandist?
Dossier. In the grey zone. How did an American journalist turn into a pro-Russian propagandist?

Українською текст читайте тут.

The editor-in-chief of The Grayzone, Max Blumenthal, opposes "US imperialism" and defends any authoritarian regimes to criticize their state.

“Following the rout of Ukraine's regular forces, Washington seeks to fund a CIA-backed insurgency to start a civil war and destabilize Russia's borders, as it did in Syria. I suppose White Helmet-style propaganda also works." This tweet was written on February 26, 2022, by The Grayzone Online Editor-in-Chief Max Blumenthal.

The fact that no one defeated the Ukrainian regular army either then or during the following six months hardly bothered the influential left-wing journalist. The tweet is still available now, as is Max Blumenthal's lengthy interview with Russia's representative to the UN, Dmitry Polyansky, who assured for more than forty minutes that Russia has never intended and is not going to attack Ukraine. Polyansky called all publications on this topic in the Western press lies or inciting anti-Russian hysteria. They also discussed the "genocide of the Russian-speaking population of Donbas by the neo-Nazi battalion "Azov" and the fact that "the Jew Zelensky supports the neo-Nazis."

The Grayzone, created by Blumenthal in 2015, has been publishing materials consistent with Russian propaganda all these years. Now there are stories that "Azov blew up the drama theater in Mariupol," and the killed civilians in Bucha are "staging or provocation." Previously, he wrote that the chemical attacks in Syria are the work of the opposition, not Assad, and the Uyghurs are not so oppressed in China.

In 2014, The New York Times published a column by Slawomir Sierakowski, a Polish journalist and head of the Institute for Advanced Studies. He called Max Blumenthal a "useful Putin idiot." Among other things, for spreading shocking messages about the Maidan, where a bunch of "neo-Nazis and right-wings are preparing to come to power."

Of course, the radical left-wing Blumenthal, who had never been to Ukraine, had no plans to find out what was happening on the Maidan, who went to the Maidan and how many people there were with right-wing views. The target of his criticism was the "imperialist and colonial" policies of the United States and those who, in his opinion, implemented them. In particular, representatives of the US government took a picture with the leader of "Svoboda," Oleg Tyagnybok (as well as all other leaders of the Ukrainian opposition at the time, but Blumenthal was not interested in this). Russian propagandists grabbed the American journalist and began to use him in their interests.

Family affair

Max Blumenthal is not the only famous Blumenthal in the US. His father, Sidney Blumenthal, is also a journalist who wrote for the most renowned publications in America, including being the chief correspondent of The New Yorker in Washington. In the early 1990s, it was one of the most prestigious positions in American journalism.

And even then, Blumenthal Sr. had problems. One of its editors-in-chief said that "Blumenthal can write an article that is 100% true - and at the same time it will be 100% false", referring to his bias and subjectivity in evaluating US political events or figures. It is therefore predictable that Sidney's stellar journalistic career ended quickly: he was fired, including on charges of corruption, that is, using his journalistic position to promote his candidate in the presidential race and harass his political opponents.

"His candidate" was Bill Clinton. Therefore, no one was surprised when, after his release, Blumenthal Sr. went to work as an adviser and then as the head of Clinton's campaign staff during the election. He later worked with Hillary when she decided to run for president and was a Clinton Foundation staffer for many years. He wrote an 800-page biographical book about his work in Bill's administration, which the American press called "the most pro-Clinton book in history." He was also involved in high-profile scandals more than once. For example, he loved the Clintons so much that during the role of the candidate from the Democratic Party, he spread the conspiracy theory that Obama couldn't run because he was born in Kenya. Republicans spread the same fake - but for Hilary Clinton's victory, Blumenthal gave up party solidarity - many journalists wrote about it, but he denies it. When Hillary Clinton headed the State Department in the Obama administration, she proposed Blumenthal for a position in the foreign ministry, but influential Democrats reminded of Sidney Blumenthal's scandalous streak, persuaded her not to hire him.

Ultimately, his career was ruined by another love - his father's. His eldest son Max wrote the book "Goliath" about the conflict between Israel and Palestine. He repeatedly wrote in the book about "Judeo-Nazism,” "war crimes of Israel`s army," called on the "Jewish minority" to come to terms with their "non-indigenousness" in the region and dissolve among the Arab population, and also compared Israel to the "Islamic State." The book caused a violent reaction in Israel`s press. Due to the comparison of Israel with Nazi Germany, it was included in the ranking of the Simon Wiesenthal Center as one of the most anti-Semitic images of the year (probably in 2022, Sergey Lavrov will be in this ranking with his statement that Hitler had Jewish blood). The book affected the relationship between the Clintons and Blumenthal Sr., who, out of pride for his son, allegedly sent his articles and quotes from the book to the foundation's corporate e-mail addresses, which irritated employees. Because support for Israel, which Max Blumenthal called the main factor in the emergence of "Judeo-Nazism," was (and remains) one of the constant vectors of US foreign policy.

The final point was a tweet about the death of Elie Wiesel, a Nobel laureate who survived the Holocaust. Max wrote that Wiesel turned from "a victim of war crimes into a supporter of those who commits them." Clinton had to distance herself from the Blumenthal family resolutely. Sydney now has a reputation as a marginal in political circles.

The Tea Party, the Secret Government, and Assad

All these situations did not hinder the career of Max Blumenthal. He wrote another book about Israel and Gaza, in which he again accused the Jewish state of war crimes, which he allegedly witnessed. Some American journalists called doubt on Max staying in Gaza at the time, as well as his other testimony and the impartiality of his assessment of the actions of Assad's forces in Syria.

His attitude to what was happening in Syria became critical evidence of Blumenthal's transition from criticizing the "neo-imperialism" and "neo-colonialism" of Western governments, particularly the US, to supporting any criminal authoritarian regimes and whitewashing their crimes. Including propaganda support for Russia and its military aggression in Ukraine.

Over the years, Blumenthal Jr. has written for influential publications such as the Huffington Post, The Nation, The Daily Beast, Al Jazeera English, The New York Times, and the Los Angeles Times. He also shot many provocative videos. For example, he asked drunk residents of Jerusalem about their attitude towards Barack Obama. The video, full of racist remarks, has received almost 400,000 views. He also asked supporters of the war in Iraq why they didn't volunteer for the army. Moreover, he regularly trolled politicians or supporters of American parties.

In 2009, Blumenthal wrote the book "Republican Gomorrah," in which he described how the ultra-conservative faction within the Republican Party, and the party in general, uses fear and intimidation in the media to increase its political influence. Those who watched Aaron Sorkin's The Newsroom will remember that the Tea Party movement has raised many questions among Republicans and even more so among Democrats. However, already two years after the publication of the book, Blumenthal, in one of the documentary series about American politics, not only talked about Fox News as a mouthpiece of the conservative right-wing but also spread a popular conspiracy theory in the United States: as if a secret government runs the state.
He later said that masks and vaccines against the coronavirus were only needed to scare people, and he called the coronavirus restrictions "prison sanctions" against the working class. Opposing the mask regime and the lockdown, calling the coronavirus and its effects a conspiracy between pharmaceutical companies and the secret government, Blumenthal participated in anti-quarantine and anti-vaccination rallies organized by Donald Trump representatives and regularly appeared in pro-Trump media. Although even ten years ago, he considered the Republican Party guilty of almost all mortal sins.

It is not the first time that Blumenthal has changed his position on any party or regime to criticize the US government. The most famous story in the American media is how Blumenthal, who had worked with publications in the Middle East for many years, resigned from one of them, Al Akhbar, in 2012. During his release, he wrote an angry column that the newspaper had turned into Assad's mouthpiece and silenced his crimes. However, for a couple of years, he contributed to resources connected to the Kremlin and supported the Assad regim, according to the Bellingcat investigation. He repeatedly criticized the actions of the "White Helmets" and constantly questioned the crimes committed by the Syrian regime against civilians. He even traveled with pro-Assad journalist Rania Khalek, who worked for a Russian-linked resource, to a "Syrian trade unions" forum organized by the Assad government for "credible and verified" activists and journalists. And, of course, Blumenthal supported Russia's actions in Syria.

Similarly, he supported the regime of Nicolas Maduro and promoted the idea that the US government inspired the mass anti-Maduro protests in Venezuela for regime change. Max Blumenthal insisted that China is in vain accused of massive violations of the rights of Uyghurs. "Of course, something is happening in Xinjiang (the province in China where the Uyghurs live. — "DM"). But we don't see evidence of mass crimes," he said. 

Trying to prove the criminal intentions of his government, Blumenthal ended up siding with all political opponents (or enemies) of the United States. The Chinese government media constantly quote him, and he goes on "excursions" organized for "independent" journalists by the regime of Bashar al-Assad. Of course, he is quoted a lot and pleased by Russian propagandist English-language media - RT and Sputnik. The English-language version of Sputnik alone has more than two hundred publications mentioning Blumenthal. Although he has not only ideological but also personal ties to RT: in 2020, he married Anya Parampil, a former correspondent and host of RT America, who now works for The Grayzone.

Who Pays The Grayzone?

At the same time as Blumenthal changed his position on Bashar al-Assad's regime, he became interested in Ukraine during the Maidan. Then he wrote about the Euromaidan protests as manifestations of fascism and neo-Nazi extremism. Moreover, when the American journalist Liz Wahl resigned from the RT channel live due to disagreement with the editorial policy regarding Ukraine, Blumenthal, together with Rania Khalek (already mentioned), wrote an article in which he argued that the dismissal was a PR for neoconservatives who hate Putin and are trying to start a cold war.

In December 2015, Blumenthal was invited to Russia Today's tenth-anniversary party. Of course, there were many interesting and famous people at that party, besides Putin and the channel heads. For example, retired lieutenant general and former director of US military intelligence Michael Flynn. As it became known later, Flynn was paid 45 thousand dollars for his performance at the party. American journalist Eric Alterman, who writes for The Nation, named other people who received speaking fees. Blumenthal was among them. Max never confirmed financial ties with RT — he only wrote about his love for the channel and its "impartiality and objectivity" in covering events. He criticized the US for recognizing the media as a "foreign agent."

Around the same time, Blumenthal founded The Grayzone project. Initially, as part of the left-wing online publication AlterNet. In 2018, The Grayzone split off and became "independent." It is still unknown for sure who finances The Grayzone: the project is declared as a non-profit organization but does not disclose its reporting. , Perhaps he lives on donations received through Patreon and PayPal. The project's Patreon currently has 912 people who regularly donate to The Grayzone, but the number of monthly donations is not displayed.

Even anonymous Twitter accounts are interested in the resource's funding sources. For example, an account posted the same message daily: Who is funding The Grayzone? Blumenthal, although tagged by this bot, did not respond. Although the journalist is quite active on Twitter, he now has more than 330,000 followers (three times less than two years ago). According to a study conducted by specialists of the OSINT community Molfar, the average number of likes of his tweets is between 150 and 600, which, according to the researchers, indicates fraud with the help of bots.

After analyzing his posts and links shared on Twitter after the Russian invasion of Ukraine in 2022, Molfar experts concluded that 55% contained fake news and claims and 24% aimed at inciting hatred towards Ukraine. Blumenthal's main theses are identical to those of Russian propaganda:

  • President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelenskyy uses the war to destroy the opposition;

  • Zelensky is a puppet of the West;

  • The SSU acts on the instructions of the CIA, MI-5, and European states;

  • The US and NATO are sponsoring the war in Ukraine;

  • The government in Ukraine is connected with neo-Nazis;

  • Neo-Nazis from the Azov battalion and the Ukrainian army mock civilians;

  • Ethnic cleansing is taking place in Ukraine;

  • The Ukrainian government supports the killing of officials who cooperate with Russia.

Posts about Ukraine are at the top of actual tweets with the most significant number of views/likes/comments/retweets of Blumenthal. For example, the following:

  • an ironic post about the Ukrainians' request to Biden to supply film and Zelenka to Ukraine with a photo of Ukrainians attached to poles with film;

  • a post that Americans are paying for the "failed military campaign in Ukraine" while the ruble strengthens;

  • a post about "the price of NATO" — a photo of fuel prices and a sarcastic reference to the I support the current thing meme with the flags of Ukraine, the Black Lives Matter movement and LGBTQ+;

  • a post in which Blumenthal mocks the Ukrainian army and US gasoline prices.

It is interesting that, despite his left-wing views, Blumenthal is read and respected by the right as well. For example, in 2014, an analysis of white supremacist forums revealed that Blumenthal's materials were mentioned at least 300 times. His message was later retweeted by Donald Trump and, of course, Russian diplomats. Among them is the same Polyansky, who in February 2022 assured Blumenthal on his resource that the war against Ukraine is only a fantasy of the Western mass media.

Thanks for the help in preparing the material to the Molfar OSINT community.

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