An American who unwittingly interacted with Russian trolls online when planning a pro-Trump rally is facing extreme vitriol online after CNN posted her name and a video of a reporter haranguing the older woman on her own front lawn.
After spending more than a year hyping narratives that advance Russia’s election meddling goals, the network sent reporter Drew Griffin to confront Florine Gruen Goldfarb for unknowingly interacting with a Russian agitprop farm on Facebook. Goldfarb runs a Facebook page that Russian operatives targeted during the 2016 election, and that page promoted a pro-Trump rally the Russians had organized, through invitation posts and pictures of the event. She seems to have had no idea the event was created by Russian operatives when Griffin showed up on her front lawn.
“The Russians? I don’t care if they were involved or not, that to me is the least important thing,” she said.
“But they were involved with you, did you guys know that?” Griffin asked.
“They weren’t involved with us,” she replied. “You know, just make sure that you report it correctly that you know –”
“But you guys were involved with Being Patriotic, right?” he pressed.
Goldfarb didn’t realize he was talking about the name of a Russian front group’s Facebook page. The page she runs is different: Team Trump Broward County.
“Very,” she replied. “Very patriotic, but not –”
“Being Patriotic,” Griffin interrupted. “Being Patriotic was the group that contacted and helped to organize some of these activities that you posted on your own Facebook account.”
A Florida woman who ran a Trump supporters page that unwittingly promoted a Russian-coordinated event on Facebook says she doesn’t believe that she was influenced by Kremlin-linked trolls https://t.co/DmgDRFRwyn pic.twitter.com/OAz5julCyA
— CNN (@CNN) February 21, 2018
By the end of the brief interview, it’s clear this woman has no interest in working with Russians and had no idea she encouraged people to attend a rally for Trump that Russians had organized. It’s also apparent CNN didn’t have any real purpose for the interview, except to embarrass and shame a random American with different political ideas who, while in denial about or not understanding the trivial accusations against her, did nothing wrong.
Her Facebook page is easy to find — a search for her name brings up only one result — and since the interview aired she’s been inundated with hateful messages and memes accusing her of treason, mocking her appearance, and calling for the federal government to put her in prison. Here are just a few examples of the comments (cuss words amended).
“You rotten traitor pig. Rot in hell you ignorant traitor slime.”
“You are a crazy as h-ll trump loving Russian sympathizer. Move to Russia b-tch.”
“YOU ARE A TRAITOR RUSSIAN TROLL BAIT. Your profound stupidity, willing ignorance and blindness to accept you were duped proves why New York says good riddance to you. As a Jew myself, YOU utterly disgust me.”
This isn’t the first time CNN has harassed a Trump supporter. After President Trump mocked the network in a tweet featuring a GIF that had been circulating online last year, CNN took the time to track down one of the meme’s originators then threatened to reveal his identity if he didn’t properly apologize.
But this latest instance is special, because CNN was duped in exactly the same way by these same Russian operatives (the network gave an anti-Trump rally the trolls helped organize glowing coverage) and has wittingly pushed narratives for more than a year that advance Russia’s interests.
Special counsel Robert Mueller and U.S. intelligence agencies have concluded that Russia’s election meddling through political social media posts aimed to sow discord and undermine the public’s faith in the U.S. democratic process. While there is no evidence Russia’s meddling had any impact on the election result, a year out from the election it’s looking like Russia’s goal of breeding distrust and disunity has been realized, thanks in large part to news outlets like CNN.
The network is part of a team of anti-Trumpers that have been pumping narratives favorable to Russia since Trump was elected, all underpinned by the as-yet unsubstantiated “Trump colluded with Russia” charge. Almost immediately after Trump won the election, Democrats and their allies in the media began questioning the legitimacy of his win. (Never mind their prior warnings about what would happen to the foundation of democracy if Trump refused to accept the results). They blamed FBI Director James Comey, the evils of the Electoral College, the “explosion” of fake news. Democrats encouraged electors to “go rogue” and try to upend the results of the election, and the press eagerly played up these attempts.
When the intel assessment that Russia wanted Clinton to lose was released, Democrats used it to openly question on the House floor the legitimacy of Trump’s win, and take a final shot at encouraging electors to overturn the public’s votes. The media played along with this charade, which undermined confidence in the election. CNN was no exception. A poll released in November of 2016 found nearly half of Democrats thought the election was “rigged.”
CNN was also the first to break the news of a dossier compiled by a former British spy full of salacious allegations about Trump’s Russia ties. The dossier had been circulating in the press for some time, but no outlet published the unverified document until CNN reported that Trump had been briefed on the document by the intel community.
A year later, there’s still no confirmation of the substantive claims in the dossier, only reason after reason to believe that not only is the document bunk, but also that it was the result of a political hit job that likely contains Russian disinformation. It turns out the Hillary Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee paid for the document, and the former spy whose credibility played a huge role in the FBI taking it seriously turned out to be not so credible. The FBI ended its relationship with Christopher Steele, the dossier generator, after he violated an agreement not to talk to the press. Republicans in Congress are concerned so many people knew about the document as he was working on it that he was open to manipulation, including by foreign actors.
Regardless of whether Russia deliberately fed Steele disinformation that ended up in the dossier, the document has undoubtedly undermined faith in U.S. intelligence agencies. Republicans allege the FBI used it to spy on Carter Page, an American citizen and Trump campaign volunteer, in what looks like an abuse of power. Democrats claim the whole thing is a distraction from the Trump-Russia investigation. The debate is polarizing Washington.
In addition to amplifying these and other narratives that serve Russia’s interest in dividing the country and undermining faith in its institutions, CNN has contributed to a decline in the credibility of the American press, by pumping out an unbelievably persistent stream of factually challenged, misleading, and in some cases flat-out false stories.
The network retracted a story claiming the Senate was investigating Trump adviser Anthony Scaramucci over his ties to Russian bankers. The network spent hours hyping a report that Comey would publicly dispute Trump’s claim that Comey told him three times he was not under investigation. Comey did the opposite in his testimony before Congress. The network claimed the Trump campaign received advance notice of a WikiLeaks email dump prior to the election. This was utterly false.
CNN’s screwups are by no means limited to really serious “bombshell” reports. This is the network that tried to make Trump look like a doofus abroad by selectively editing a video of the president dumping fish food into a Koi pond. The full video quickly embarrassed CNN’s coverage by revealing Trump was simply following the lead of the Japanese prime minister.
Let’s review. The same network that has been willingly, even enthusiastically, pumping narratives that serve Russia’s aims of sowing discord and distrust in America — for more than a year now and at the expense of its own credibility — had the guts to send a reporter to an innocent private citizen’s home to berate and humiliate her before the world, all because she shared some Facebook posts she agreed with and unwittingly interacted with Russian trolls online.