What Makes Fake News Fake: Another Example From Palmer Report

There continues to be confusion about what makes fake news fake. So I’d like to demonstrate with a new story from Palmer Report.

I’ve been using Palmer Report as an example of a fake news site, even though it isn’t the only one by a long shot. But Palmer has a loyal following on the left who refuse to see why his reports are not trustworthy. So let me explain.

Today’s example is a story headlined “Treasury Department’s financial crimes unit is giving up Donald Trump’s money laundering records.” Now, I personally have long believed Trump’s real estate business could very well be involved in money laundering. It’s also the case that the Treasury Department’s financial crimes unit has investigated Trump properties for money laundering. It’s also the case that this financial crimes unit has agreed to share some documents regarding Trump’s finances with the Senate Intelligence Committee. That much of Palmer’s report is true.

So what’s the problem? First — a careful reading of the CNN story Palmer himself uses as a source doesn’t say squat about those Treasury documents containing evidence of money laundering. We don’t know what’s in those documents. It’s not even clear that the crime unit, FinCEN, is sharing everything it has on Trump with the Senate. The story just says they’re handing over some documents with information relating to connections between the Trump campaign and Russian financiers.

Second, while it’s true that FinCEN has investigated Trump properties for money laundering activities, they haven’t publicly accused anyone in the Trump organization of actually doing any money laundering. Palmer, of course, says otherwise. Palmer claims:

As Palmer Report was the first to report back on April 15th (link), the Treasury FinCEN division busted the Trump Taj Mahal casino for money laundering back in the spring of 2015.

Here’s a more reliable source, NPR:

The Trump Taj Mahal in Atlantic City, which opened in 1990 and closed in 2016, was repeatedly cited for having inadequate money-laundering controls, not an unusual charge in the gaming business.

FinCEN fined the casino $10 million in 2015, although Trump had long before declared bankruptcy and had little real involvement in the property.

If NPR is right, Palmer lies when he said the Trump Taj Mahal was “busted for money laundering.” It was cited for having inadequate money laundering controls. That’s quite a bit different. And as NPR said, by 2015 Trump was no longer involved in the Taj Mahal, and even if actual money laundering had been found there, it wouldn’t necessarily have been tied to him.

Back to Palmer:

This was announced in a press release on the FinCEN website (link), but it only became a part of the Senate’s Trump-Russia investigation after our research team dug it up and publicized it.

If you follow the link to the FinCEN website, and actually read the press release, you find that NPR is right and Palmer is wrong. FinCEN fined the Trump Taj Mahal for inadequate money-laundering controls, not for actual money laundering.

Trump Taj Mahal, a casino in Atlantic City, New Jersey, admitted to several willful BSA violations, including violations of AML program requirements, reporting obligations, and recordkeeping requirements. Trump Taj Mahal has a long history of prior, repeated BSA violations cited by examiners dating back to 2003. Additionally, in 1998, FinCEN assessed a $477,700 civil money penalty against Trump Taj Mahal for currency transaction reporting violations.

FinCEN may have suspected actual money laundering was going on, but apparently they couldn’t prove it. But, again, in 2015 Trump was mostly out of the casino business already. In fact, according to this in-depth report in the New York Times, Trump walked away from his own casino business in 2009, dumping the debt-ridden mess on the shareholders. After that he was no longer even on the board of the company, even though his name was on the buildings.

So what FinCEN found going on in the Trump Taj Mahal in 2015 probably is irrelevant to Donald Trump, no matter how breathlessly Bill Palmer tries to pump it up into a big exclusive scoop. If other news outlets weren’t making a big deal out of the 2015 press release — and Palmer isn’t the only one who found it — it’s probably because the professionals realized it wasn’t that significant.

I’m not bringing this up to make excuses for Trump. I’m bringing this up because I think facts are important. We do not need alternate facts; the standard facts ought to suffice.  Palmer is not reporting facts. He’s reporting speculation, and in some case he’s reporting lies.

If you have done real news reporting for an actual newspaper or other professional news medium — and I have — you learn to be very careful that your facts are, well, factual. People who are sloppy with the factual details get caught, eventually, and that’s the end of their careers. So it doesn’t matter how fervently you believe X to be true; if you cannot corroborate X with a reasonable source, you can’t put it in the story. But owners of clickbait sites answer to no professional standards, and as long as they don’t write anything slanderous or libelous, they can bamboozle away.

More from the Palmer Report:

The Senate Intel Committee is now looking to get to the bottom of the money laundering bust, which came at a time when Donald Trump was still part owner of the Taj Mahal. The punishment came in the form of a $10 million civil fine, and the press release did not state the nationality of the individuals who were laundering money through the casino. There is widespread suspicion, but not yet publicly available proof, that the Russians were the culprits, and that Trump knew about it. In sufficiently large dollar amounts, it would be impossible for a casino not to be aware of money laundering taking place on its floor.

So let’s unpack this. Was Trump still a part owner of the Taj Mahal in 2015? Sort of. According to the Associated Press, Trump “cut most of his ties with Atlantic City in 2009, though he retained a small stake in its parent company, Trump Entertainment Resorts, in return for the right to use his name.” As the New York Times story already cited said, he walked away from his casinos in 2009, giving up his position on the board of directors. It’s well known that after 2009 he no longer had anything to do with the casinos, operationally. But he did retain some shares in the parent company, so technically he was a “part owner.”

But the rest of Palmer’s paragraph is just fiction. FinCEN didn’t claim to have found anyone laundering money through the casinos, so they couldn’t very well state the nationality of the individuals they didn’t catch.

So now that the Senate has managed to twist the Treasury Department’s arm into turning over the money laundering records in question, it should allow the Senate Intel Committee to follow the money and determine the identities and motives of those who were laundering the money at Trump’s casino, as well as Donald Trump’s connection to those individuals.

And that’s it. That’s the whole money laundering scoop. This is not a serious news story.

Again, I’m not saying money laundering wasn’t going on in those casinos, I’m saying that the Treasury Department never cited those casinos for money laundering, just for bad record keeping and reporting compliance. FinCEN may have more evidence it hasn’t made public, but apparently not enough to seek an indictment.

I do think there’s a large possibility that the Trump real estate business has been used for money laundering purposes. I’m not the only one who thinks so; you can find lots of people connecting those dots. For example, Jeremy Venook wrote in the Atlantic,

According to The New York Times, Trump attempted to rekindle his Russian connections during one of his brushes with bankruptcy in 1996, saying he had never been “as impressed with the potential of a city as I have been with Moscow.” Once again, the proposed development, this time an underground shopping mall near the Kremlin, fell through. In the process, though,Trump developed a partnership with a development company called the Bayrock Group, which was founded by a former Soviet official and a Russian-American businessman who has since been implicated in a stock-manipulation and money-laundering scheme involving members of the Russian mob.

See also “Trump and Money Laundering: The Key Questions to Ask” by Cerelia Athanassiou at Newsweek and “Do Trump’s Murky Financial Ties to Russia Connect to Money Laundering?” by Bill Buzenberg at Mother Jones. Lots of dots that might connect; lots of circumstantial evidence. Some of Trump’s business associates appear to be in it up to their necks. I think it’s very likely that Trump was in on it, too.

But we don’t know for sure yet. My believing this is true doesn’t make it true. We don’t know what FinCEN knows. We don’t know what are in the documents that FinCEN will share with the Senate. Bill Palmer doesn’t know, either. And that’s why this story is fake news.

Even if we find out some day that Trump really was directly involved in laundering money through his casinos for Russian mobsters, which is entirely possible, this story will still have been fake news, because it was making assertions without having the facts to back them up at the time.

The problem is that when large parts of the Left begin to buy alternate facts, it hurts our credibility and diminishes our ability to make rational decisions about What to Do About Trump. Now we’ll have a bunch of lefties believing that Trump already has been caught at money laundering, when he hasn’t, and maybe he never will be. When we fall into believing alternate facts, we’re no no different from the wackjob Right believing that Barack Obama faked his birth certificate.

So please, people, let’s try to keep it real.

20 thoughts on “What Makes Fake News Fake: Another Example From Palmer Report

  1. Once again, well done and well put.

    Sometimes, confronting alternative realities while being armed with mere facts, feels like “bringing a knife to a gun fight.” But, that’s no excuse. We have to keep it as real as we can, if only for the aim of remaining engaged in the real world. We are deluded enough without drinking the electric kool-aid.

    It all gets worse when you factor in the various degrees, and the overwhelming volume of distortion and hyperbole. Our minds are susceptible to illusion and we all have a tendency to bend the data to fit our desires and fears. Few of us have the means and resources to avoid fooling ourselves.

    I was out west for a couple of weeks, more or less, off line, with some free time. I had a particularly disturbing thought, involving citizen Trump. Maybe, instead of a right wing golem, he is the toxic distillation of what our society has become. Our democracy, such as it is, would pacify us with a game of numbers, with the “wisdom of the crowd” and the idea that we have a hand on the tiller. But, there are more brutish forces to weigh in, and it is comforting to dissociate ourselves from them. Maybe Trump represents our collective dark side, and we have to look him square in the face and see what part of ourselves is reflected there. After so many decades of adulthood, we have finally looked under the bed and found that there really was a monster there all along.

    Whoa! Sorry, it was just a thought. You know what they say, “if you don’t think too good, don’t think too much.”

  2. I hate to say this, but a lot of times when I hear/see some TV/radio/internet outfit announce it has “BREAKING NEWS!!!”, I may quickly look to find out what it is they say is “breaking,” and what it is they’re saying is making it “news,” and then I either turn to another source, or go back to watching/listening/reading something else.
    In other words, in today’s “news” world, I’m very sceptical.

    I wasn’t always this way. But what’s “news” and how it is presented to us has radically changed over the course of my adult lifetime. News teams – especially the original printed news – used to pride themselves on the accuracy of their reports, when they finally reported it. Sure, they may have had a blazing headline about something, or a flash across the screen, but usually at that point, news consumers were told to wait for the details.
    And we would.
    Now, the priority is to be “FIRST!” And whether you’re right or not, is secondary. In other words, it can be taken back, largely without penalty.
    We now live in a news world full of Emily Litella’s:
    “Never mind…”

    How many times do we see that at a supposed terrorist attack, or major explosion, or something else, unsurprisingly, no one on the news team or who they’re trying to get on camera or mic, has a clue.
    And if you watch, all you do is get further confused. Jon Stewart’s “Daily Show” once brilliantly lampooned this by having one TV news member interview another one, thinking that person was some sort of expert.

    Maybe I’m overly sceptical.
    But I’d rather wait and find out the facts, than sit and nervously worry. Why do that until I have to? It won’t lessen my senses of empathy – or anger. It just makes sure that the empathy – and anger – goes out to the right folks.

  3. As a professional broadcaster has told me a number of times, 24-7 news has a flaw.  The flaw is that there is not that much news.  The pressure for ratings and the ad dollar is constant.  So getting and keeping people’s attention becomes the main goal, not the provision of credible, useful, news.  Of course with the expansion of media and the need to target certain audiences grows, so does the attention grabbing.  The term clickbait sites says it all.  I have wrestled a hook or two out of me with much wasted time and little useful information.

    Trump certainly seems to represent our collective dark side.  So many seem to waste hours on each of his tweets.  Still we do not know and may never know the true meaning of covfefe.  That’s fine with me.

  4. Yes, who among us (of a certain age) doesn’t long for the days of Robert Trout, Huntley/Brinkley, Aline Saarinen, Nancy Dickerson and Walter Cronkite?

  5. I agree with what you say about fake news, and the need to avoid it, and so forth, but, there’s a part of me that feels like “Credibility? WTF? Why do we care about credibility? It DOESN’T MEAN ANYTHING!!!”

    (This turned into a momma_dog-fest. Feel free to skip the rest.)

    I’m sure you see what I mean. The Republicans whined and whined and whined that a bill that went through open hearings and the normal legislative process was “back room deals done in secret” and now they’re doing an actual, literal, back room deal done in secret, and it doesn’t matter.

    I saw an editorial saying that Ossoff believes that global warming with be catastrophic, and people in Georgia don’t want to hear that LIEberal claptrap.

    (The editorial didn’t use a tone that suggests the speaker would use words like “LIEberal” – nevertheless, the idea that disbelief in sound, settled science is a partisan touchstone is itself showing that quiet hatred has taken hold.)

    Republicans are viewed as wise on the economy when they threatened, multiple times, to throw the US into default, and when their ideas on the economy – CUT TAXES! CUT SPENDING! – are actively harmful most of the time.

    I have a moral sense. I care about objective reality, this nation, the people of this nation, and the people of other nations. I can’t go full on “Fake news that supports ‘my side’ is great!”


    It horrifies me that the best hope for this nation is that Trump and the GOP screw things up so horribly that it breaks their brand, forevermore. And Nixon couldn’t do that, Iran Contra couldn’t do that, invading Iraq couldn’t do that… and the first two were before there was a major news channel that’s pleased to insist that possible treason is no reason for an investigation, but an e-mail server, with a complete lack of reason to suspect criminality, *is*.

    This exercise in writing-approaching-primal-scream-therapy brought to you by the letters G, O, and P, and the number 0.

  6. I learned during the Katrina newsfest that even when there is a real story, the constant repetition of today’s news programming makes it overwhelming after a while. The continued urgency claims are wearing. And when there is really no news of truly urgent nature, we just get repetition. And that becomes wearying. So I turn it off, as my aunt advised me back then. Feels better. With the advent of fake news, staying informed has just become harder. Too many alarm bells, too few alarms.

  7. I agree that smoke does not prove fire, though it does suggest its presence. I also agree about the wisdom of doubt; for without doubt, it’s easy for others to fool you, and even easier to fool yourself.

    But I sense a double standard here. Our misrulers are not held to an ethic of skepticism, error-correction, and intellectual humility; on the contrary! They answer to much lower standards!

    So what do you call it when the worse rule the better? Business as usual, or pre-revolutionary?

  8. One of the closest personal friends of mine (since JHS) works as a “spook” at XYZ Intelligence Agency, and he sent me a link to a few internal – “SECRET,” but not THAT secret – memo’s about former General M. Flynn.

    Nothing revolutionary, mind you, or I’d link you to them – but even then, he cautioned me not to even forward them, because they might be traceable (Back over 35 years ago, he told me he was being interviewed for a job at that XYZ Intelligece Agency. I was already working and well established at Manhattan Cable TV, and told him I’d gladly write him a great recommendation.
    He said “NO! THANKS, but please don’t!”
    Because of my history of joining and leading protests against nuclear power, Apartheid, and FOR the ERA and some other shit, he said “While I appreciate the offer of a personal recomendation, I DON’T EVEN WANT THE AGENCY TO KNOW THAT I KNOW YOU!!!”

    It seems that Flynn was more of a traitor than is being portrayed.
    Stay tuned.
    The poo-poo about him will soon hit the oscillating blades!!!

    • “Donald Trump is the President and people need to accept it and get on with their lives!”

      Yes, if you don’t care what happens to the U.S.A., just accept it. But if you care about America and its future, then you’d better work like hell to pry him out of office, asap. Because he’s a walking bleeping disaster.

  9. cnk guy,
    We Libtards need to accept and get on with our lives the way that conservatives and Republicans did their’s when that Kenyan SocialiFasciCommuniHeatheMusliAtheist Usurping Dictatorial Tyranical
    Nigrah was in the White (people’s) House.

    Now, sit down, and STFU, little one.
    The adult’s are talking…


  10. Donald Trump as the President is unacceptable and people need to understand how much damage he does to society and traditional American values. He’s a liar, a cheat, a scoundrel, a misogynist, a racist, a scumbag,a self centered narcissist, and adulterer, and a draft dodging coward. Just to name a few of his prominent flaws.. An if people can’t see the value in refusing to accept such a despicable individual as their President they are hopeless in passing off a better future to their children and beyond. Trump is the antithesis of every good and decent thing that most people strive to embrace throughout their entire lives. In sum and in toto Trump is a big nasty bag of shit! a vile creature.

  11. cnk guy: I can accept that Trump is the president of the USA. However, I don’t have to like it. I am ashamed of him and if I had the power to change it, I would. Although he seems to be doing a good job of sabotaging it by himself.

  12. cnk guy, I accept that a man who is President may be covering up for treason, and is likely guilty of numerous crimes (in addition to the possible treason – oh, please, let’s cut with the idiotic idea that he just *ACCIDENTALLY* let crucial intel slip to the Russians, while bragging that he fired the “nutjob” who was making their Special Friendship more difficult).

    And I’m going on with my life, which includes the hope that his crimes are discovered, and he receives appropriate punishment.

    So, I accept it and have gotten on with my life.

    OH! Did you mean I should STFU and ignore the damage he’s done, and is doing? Oh, that’s *HILARIOUS*! No, that can’t be done. See, once a political party decides that the criminal justice system is a weapon to be wielded against political opponents, and that possible treason is no biggie, so long as it’s done by one of their own, that party has become a clear and present danger to the nation. No one who loves this nation can fail to do what they can to resist such corruption.

  13. On a personal note I get nauseous when I see Trump mugging with self satisfaction. You know, like he did during his European/NATO meeting. He’s like a modern day Mussolini — Il Douche Bag. I think to myself…WOW, what a big bag of shit he is.
    He’s so fucking stupid it’s painful to even watch him. Look at the cancelation of the Cuban agreement. He doesn’t even have a clue about any meaningful potential of what that agreement entails, he just wants to destroy any progress or work that Obama accomplished. And on top of that he thinks he can do a better deal. Talk about a stupid egotistical asswipe?

  14. Excellent article.
    We all have a duty to ensure that our elected officials will follow the rule of law and allow the investigations continue.

    And CNK guy?
    I’m sure the people of Germany were so glad they followed their “elected” leader , Hitler, and did nothing.

  15. Love isn’t love until you give it away.. so on that note… Trump is a big bag of shit!

  16. Thank you so much for this analysis. The Palmer report was a rash on my FB feed for a long time. I got so frustrated going into comments on those bogus stories, begging people to smell the bullshit and stop sharing it. I finally just blocked them. Problem is, ten more pop up in its place. I think the biggest problem with fake news is that few people read the story and check the source (if there is one.) And if you DO read the story for veracity, you contributed clicks. They win when they suck you in and they win they don’t. Palmer seems to be the worst of the lefty fakers so far.

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