Why I'm Launching Stark Realities
A new beachhead in independent journalism's counterattack on viewpoint authoritarianism
What can we say about establishment journalism today?
It’s a color-coded assortment of echo chambers.
It profits from sensationalizing and promoting division, rather than educating.
It parrots government claims, rather than scrutinizing them.
It exaggerates threats at home and abroad.
It demonstrates a servile reverence for the national security establishment.
It treasures the opinions of people associated with catastrophic policy failures.
It’s a de facto public relations arm of entrenched institutions.
It perpetuates historical, economic and policy mythology.
Stark Realities seeks to be everything major media isn’t…by undermining official narratives, demolishing conventional wisdom and exposing fundamental myths across the political spectrum—with original reporting, deeply unorthodox policy arguments and excavations of key events buried by establishment media.
I’ll pursue that mission across a full range of topics, from foreign policy, economics and the war on terror to tax policy, history, criminal justice, monetary policy, current events and more.
“Brian McGlinchey is an absolutely outstanding reporter, with an enviable record in breaking stories and making waves.”
—Andrew Cockburn, Washington Editor, Harper’s Magazine
However, before I start presenting Stark Realities to you, here’s a stark reality for me: Conditions in March 2021 are extraordinarily hostile to this new independent journalism venture of mine.
Not long ago, a journalism start-up could rely heavily on social media to build a following. Today, social media titans—pressured by government officials, establishment media and even well-meaning individuals—are taking their suppression of independent voices to disturbing extremes.
Sometimes that suppression is explicit, via account suspensions or terminations. Far more often, though, it comes in the form of a black-box algorithm that silently prevents posts from appearing in users’ social media feeds. As I’ll discuss further on, it’s a menace that silenced my previous platform, 28Pages.org.
This is also a perilous time to contradict widely-accepted views, a central aim of Stark Realities. Rather than facing opposing arguments, those who question official narratives and woke ideology often face personal vilification inflicted with a grab-bag of character assassination smears.
Daunting conditions indeed—yet it’s that very set of grim circumstances that compels me to launch Stark Realities today.
Call it an act of defiance: When independent voices are under greatest attack, independent voices are most desperately needed. So here I come, with hope that 2021 brings a broad journalist-and-reader rebellion against surging viewpoint authoritarianism.
To borrow the rallying cry of the farcical 2019 meme-scheme that invited a mass storming of Area 51, "they can’t catch us all.”
Intellectual honesty: A Stark Realities core value
The tagline of Stark Realities is “invigoratingly unorthodox perspectives for intellectually honest readers.”
Intellectual honesty is the ability to rationally weigh propositions that conflict with your current opinions. Intellectual honesty isn’t a character trait—it’s a skill and a discipline acquired by people who are more dedicated to finding real truth than they are to defending their current position. Intellectual honesty requires:
The suppression of emotion and a relentless devotion to logic
An awareness of confirmation bias and other innate impediments to rationality
A disregard for the fact that a majority of people, pundits, journalists or even proclaimed subject matter experts hold a given view
Depending on the topic, the writing here will be an alternating anathema to people of all political stripes who have yet to embrace intellectual honesty. For the rest of you, Stark Realities will be thought-provoking, and help you reach more informed and rational conclusions about politics, policies, economics, history and ongoing events.
Claiming no perfection where intellectual honesty is concerned, I’ll look forward to having my own reasoning challenged in subscriber comment discussions.
From 28 Pages to Stark Realities
To give you a better sense of my path to Substack and Stark Realities, let me share some of my experiences as an independent journalist—including what it’s like to be crushed by Facebook algorithms and dissed by a Washington Post reporter.
Let’s start with an accelerated biography. I grew up in suburban Philadelphia, studied political science and history at Bucknell University, served four years as an active duty Army officer, had a 13-year career in financial services and became a Fortune 200 executive before stepping away from the grind to pursue my writing talents as a freelance copywriter.
Not counting my esteemed stint as sports editor of The Bucknellian, my journalism career began in 2014, in part by chance.
For some time, I’d been itching for an outlet for my growing agitation over U.S. foreign policy, which was and still is marked by hypocrisy, dishonesty and clumsy ruthlessness. Then, one summer evening, I happened upon intriguing video from a Capitol Hill press conference that spoke to all three of those sins.
A bipartisan trio of congressmen—Walter Jones, Stephen Lynch and Thomas Massie—were urging the declassification of 28 pages from a congressional intelligence inquiry into 9/11, which were said to document leads pointing toward Saudi officials.
To me, the 28 pages presented an opportunity to spotlight the towering, mendacious, destructive hypocrisy of U.S. foreign policy: At the very same time the Bush administration was promoting false claims linking al Qaeda to Iraq, it was hiding bona fide investigative leads linking Saudi Arabia to 9/11.
I was among millions of Americans who’d been misled into supporting the invasion of Iraq. In the aftermath of 9/11, I was a workaholic executive who relied on establishment media, unaware that many lesser-known journalists were casting grave doubt on U.S. government claims of an Iraqi nuclear weapons program.
Later, I was angry and embarrassed to realize the government and its major media allies had sold me a pack of lies. Particularly as a military veteran, I also felt guilt. With the 28 pages, I sensed an opportunity to begin redeeming myself, and to help cultivate in my fellow citizens a healthy mistrust of U.S. foreign policy claims.
After searching the web and finding an information and activism void where the 28 pages were concerned, I launched 28Pages.org to serve as an advocacy journalism platform for the nonpartisan campaign to force the pages into public view.
Over the following two years, I wrote more than a hundred articles, including a big scoop about a different, quietly-declassified 9/11 document. I also appeared on radio and TV broadcasts, encouraging citizens to ask their legislators to join a House resolution urging the release of the 28 pages. The bipartisan list of cosponsors grew, and the declassification drive reached a tipping point when 60 Minutes aired a report in April 2016.
Victory came in July 2016, when the 28 pages were declassified by the Obama administration. (I should emphasize that efforts to declassify the pages predated the creation of 28Pages.org by years, and had more prominent advocates than me both in and out of government.)
In a twist of fate that was ultimately more humorous than cruel, the pages were released while I was on a no-frills, no-WiFi Frontier Airlines flight to Philadelphia. I learned in advance the pages would be posted while I was aloft, which made for an odd cocktail of feelings as I was held in information isolation at 35,000 feet.
I got my first look as my plane taxied on arrival. There were many remaining redactions, but, among other things, the pages revealed the stark reality that the Saudi ambassador, Prince Bandar, made direct cash payments to an extremist who’d bragged of the assistance he gave to two 9/11 hijackers in California.
A few weeks later, I interviewed Lawrence Wilkerson, former chief of staff to Secretary of State Colin Powell, who confirmed the Bush administration concealed Saudi government links to 9/11 to keep Americans focused on the false case for invading Iraq.
With the titular goal of 28Pages.org accomplished, I next reported on the final push of a multi-year effort to pass the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act (JASTA). It was enacted in September 2016 over President Obama’s veto, clearing the way for 9/11 victims to sue Saudi Arabia for its alleged aid to the hijackers.
A Deep Dive Into Saudi Lobbying Misconduct
Saudi Arabia had lobbied hard against JASTA. Undaunted, the law’s passage prompted the kingdom to launch a massive public relations and lobbying counterattack aimed at weakening or repealing it. Central to the campaign was a false argument that JASTA would put U.S. military veterans in danger of being sued in foreign courts.
In February 2017, Daily Caller reported that Saudi lobbyists were flying veterans to Washington to lobby against JASTA. One veteran who was solicited—but did not join the campaign—told Daily Caller the individual recruiting him refused to say who was funding the effort. One question loomed large: Were veterans who actually traveled to DC also kept in the dark?
After many grueling hours scouring countless interwoven Facebook posts about the trips by dozens of veterans who attended, I contacted several. They confirmed the worst suspicions, telling me they were outraged to have been tricked into lobbying on behalf of Saudi Arabia.
That’s a pretty sensational revelation, and I was certain my report would ignite a firestorm of coverage by major newspapers and networks. (After publishing, I notified them all.)
The silence was deafening. To my knowledge, over the next several weeks, the only outlets to follow with their own stories were AP, Yahoo’s Michael Isikoff and the syndicated Sunday news show “Full Measure.” Later, The American Conservative, Augusta Chronicle and Harper’s Magazine would join the list. (The Washington Post came much later—more on that shortly.)
The utter disinterest in the story across nearly the full breadth of Big Media was bewildering. Saudi lobbyists’ lack of disclosure wasn’t merely immoral. In recruiting hundreds of veterans to the effort without notifying them of the Saudi hand, and using many unregistered agents as recruiters and support staff, Qorvis Communications appeared to have perpetrated the most spectacular, multi-count violation of the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) in the law’s 80-year history.
The story also had a fascinating human angle: combat veterans tricked into lobbying for a government many considered an accessory to 9/11—the attack that inspired many of them to enlist in the first place.
On top of that, for a media seemingly incapable of focusing on anything other than Trump, Saudi Arabia’s lobbyists quartered most of the veterans at the pricey Trump International DC.
With the vast majority of the journalism world opting out of the story altogether, I soldiered on, spending the next several months documenting Saudi Arabia’s anti-JASTA effort and its many deceitful and seemingly illegal dimensions.
One story exposed two Iowa state officials who’d registered as Saudi agents and received $101,500 for their service to the kingdom. A veteran said one of the officials, Connie Schmett, recruited him to travel to Washington without disclosing that she was doing so for Saudi Arabia.
When I called her for comment, she threatened me in a fashion I found particularly preposterous for a government official: “I do not give you permission to write an article about me, and if you do, you’ll hear from my lawyer. You’ll be sued!”
As part of a recurring theme, my repeated tips to the Des Moines Register and local TV and radio stations were fruitless. Then I tipped the AP’s Ryan Foley, who thankfully knows a story when he sees one. His follow-on reporting sparked a proper scandal, leading to the passage of an Iowa law forbidding state officials from working for foreign governments.
Silicon Valley Suffocates 28Pages.org
Though I was churning out the biggest series of scoops I’d written at 28Pages.org, it was growing increasingly difficult to present my articles to readers. Thanks to the 2016-inspired Russia hysteria—and the ensuing congressional intimidation of Silicon Valley—Facebook and Twitter were throttling independent journalism’s reach on their platforms, and I was no exception.
I’d worked hard to accumulate social media followers of 28Pages.org, but things were getting so bad that Facebook, for example, would present my posts to a single-digit percentage of my followers—people who’d explicitly told Facebook they wanted to see see what I was writing.
Facebook’s worst morale-crushing blow came when I published the exclusive story of a retired FBI counterterrorism agent who’d been told by the bureau not to help 9/11 victims build a case against Saudi Arabia.
Kenneth Williams—famous for having written an ignored memo warning that al Qaeda might be training pilots in the United States—said an FBI attorney told him he should deny the 9/11 victims plea because the “(Trump) White House was trying to develop good relations with the Saudi government.”
My detailed, 3,100-word story went well beyond the FBI’s brazen prioritization of politics over justice, also reporting Williams’ doubts about the thoroughness of the 9/11 investigation. The story included the reaction of former Senate intelligence committee chair Bob Graham. I considered it one of my best pieces.
Then I posted it to Facebook.
Of my several thousand followers, Facebook presented it to four. Not four thousand—just four people.
It mattered nothing to Facebook that I adhered to the highest standards of journalism, meticulously provided links to source information and had previously broken stories that prompted follow-on coverage by revered news organizations.
To Facebook and its black-box algorithms—tailored under the guidance of the quintessentially establishmentarian Atlantic Council—independent journalism is a danger to the masses, while the New York Times and Washington Post are the gold standard of “safety” and reliability.
Never mind that, just for starters, the Times and Post were instrumental in convincing the public that Saddam Hussein was building a nuclear weapon—enabling an unjust, catastrophic invasion that’s inflicted incalculable death and human suffering that continues to this day.
As my social media exposure evaporated, I was grateful that other independent platforms—particularly Antiwar.com and the Ron Paul Institute for Peace and Prosperity—continued to promote my work. However, they too were being victimized by Silicon Valley.
Since then, Silicon Valley’s servitude to the establishment—and, particularly, the establishment left—has only grown worse, with Twitter, Facebook, YouTube et al increasingly deciding which ideas and arguments and supposed falsehoods people are allowed to contemplate.
Meanwhile, the falsehoods presented by major news outlets—often on behalf of the security establishment—still gush across social media unimpeded, and now with even less competition. It’s positively dystopian.
The Washington Post Adds Insult to Injury
Silicon Valley’s suppression of independent media doesn’t just benefit the government and the powerful interests married to it; it also benefits establishment media by suffocating its competition.
That said, I didn’t view 28Pages.org as competing with Big Media. To the contrary, one of my aims with that ad-free, pro bono site was to do the hard work of breaking stories and then serving them on a platter for bigger outlets to follow up on with ease. To say the least, Big Media’s silence on my biggest stories was profoundly disappointing.
More than a year and a half after I’d first reported on Saudi lobbyists’ deceitful use of U.S. military veterans—and tipped the Washington Post and others about it—the Post finally deemed it newsworthy.
Two things woke the Post from its slumber. First, the murder of Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi sparked a long-overdue wave of Saudi-critical reporting at the paper. Second, the Post’s David Fahrenthold had staked out a fertile reporting niche unearthing questionable financial transactions that benefitted Trump, and Saudi Arabia’s lobbyists had spent hundreds of thousands at the Trump International DC.
And so, 652 days after I first reported that lobbyists had tricked military veterans into acting as unregistered agents of Saudi Arabia, the Post told its readers about it.
A few weeks earlier, Fahrenthold had called me for help with his reporting. He told me he’d been reading my work on Saudi Arabia’s anti-JASTA campaign at 28Pages.org (spanning a full 17 articles), and was finding it very useful. We talked at some length as I answered his questions, and I spent time after the call compiling data he’d requested.
It only takes four words to acknowledge prior reporting (first reported by ___ ). Considering that, along with Fahrenthold’s praise of my catalog on the topic, I was dismayed to see his big story with Jonathan O’Connell gave 28Pages.org neither a mention nor a link.
Worse, the article’s claim to “provide far more detail about the extent of the trips and the organizers’ interactions with veterans than have previously been reported” likely led readers to think Fahrenthold and O’Connell were breaking key elements of the story I’d reported long before.
Beyond bringing welcome additional attention to the scandal, their principal contribution was putting a more detailed price tag on Saudi lobbyists’ spending at Trump’s hotel. Exasperatingly, though, their Trump fixation led them to completely ignore the campaign’s many apparent FARA violations.
The repercussions of their failure to acknowledge my prior reporting extended beyond potentially misleading the Post’s readership and denting my ego.
A few days later, the Wisconsin State-Journal’s Steve Verburg followed up on the Post story, focusing on Jason Johns, a key organizer of the lobbying effort who lives in Madison. Had the Post mentioned 28Pages.org’s extensive reporting, Verburg and his readers may have had the benefit of many additional, important details about Johns and other Wisconsinites involved in the campaign.
“Sorry about your treatment by the Post,” Verburg said in an email after his story ran. “Unfortunately, I’m familiar with that dynamic.”
A New Hope: The Rise of the Email Newsletter
Demoralized by Silicon Valley suppression—and uncertain what to do with a platform named for a goal that had been achieved—I stopped writing at 28Pages.org.
Since then, I’ve been filled with a gnawing sense that silence is a victory for the Government/Big Media/Silicon Valley Axis of You-Know-What. I was uncertain how best to reenter an increasingly inhibited marketplace of ideas—until Glenn Greenwald resigned from The Intercept and moved to Substack.
I was a Greenwald reader well before his Ed Snowden reporting dramatically elevated his profile. He’s had the biggest influence on me as a journalist, and his move to Substack drew my attention to the email newsletter as a promising alternative to relying on social media.
Creating direct links between journalists and their readers, email newsletters do an end run around social media gatekeepers. More broadly, they offer hope of partially restoring the internet's greatest attribute—the ability to share information and ideas with anyone, anywhere in the world.
That said, the thought vigilantes have already rattled their sabers at podcasts, and it’s only a matter of time before they come for Substack and newsletters in general. In December, independently-owned Substack reaffirmed its opposition to broad content moderation:
“We commit to keeping Substack wide open as a platform, accepting of views from across the political spectrum. We will resist public pressure to suppress voices that loud objectors deem unacceptable.”
It’s only a matter of time until Substack is demonized by establishment media and summoned to Capitol Hill. Stay strong, Substack, stay strong.
Burning My Boat
When Tariq bin Ziyad led a Berber invasion of the Iberian Peninsula in 711, it’s said he ordered his ships to be burned after landing—eliminating the option of retreat and fully committing himself and his troops to the battles ahead.
In an admittedly less cinematic, modern analogue, I’m shuttering my copywriting business and focusing exclusively on independent journalism here at Stark Realities. The freedom to express and even contemplate ideas is increasingly endangered, and I feel duty-bound to defy the forces that are threatened by diversity of opinion.
Update: Because social media platforms continue to suppress my accounts, growing my Substack audience has been even more challenging than I’d braced for. Given that, I’ve been taking on some freelance and copywriting work in addition to my writing here.
Please Help Make Stark Realities an Enduring Reality
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So, yes, go ahead and use social media to help me eventually become independent of social media. Better yet, get in the new groove and share this post or my about page directly via email—Facebook and Twitter can’t stop that.
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“Brian McGlinchey is one of the most talented hell-raisers around.”
—James Bovard, Columnist, USA Today