This cable news smear traces directly to a frenzied disinformation campaign by Russia aimed at linking the White Helmets to a broad range of wrongdoing: things like running a black market in human organs, colluding with terrorists and faking Assad’s chemical weapons attacks. Moscow has been relentless in pushing these claims, tirelessly falsifying videos and photographs, creating phony news outlets and fake think tanks to do so. Some of the same GRU officers involved in the 2016 election interference created fake freelance journalists to pitch stories smearing the White Helmets to legitimate news outlets.
Russia’s disinformation about the White Helmets has come to dominate search results, thanks to prominent American trolls, Russian government outlets like the RT network and Sputnik, and a handful of alternative news websites surrounded by a social media echo chamber.
The network has a history with fake news. Last year it reported that California lawmakers were considering a bill to outlaw the sale of Bibles in the state, and Sharp’s earlier work includes a segment pushing the noxious Seth Rich conspiracy. The networks recent hires include notorious Pizzagate pusher Jack Posobiec, who joined as a political correspondent.
Although the latest Nielsen report ranks OANN’s ratings somewhere below the Tennis Channel, there’s enormous value to Moscow in getting its fake White Helmets news repeated in any American newscast, said former FBI agent Clint Watts, a research fellow at the Foreign Policy Research Institute.
“It’s source laundering,” Watts told the Daily Beast. “Then they can recirculate the story as an organic American story, and that could travel further than if it’s only on RT and Sputnik… The more places it shows up the more it looks like it’s not a single source origin story.”