August 12, 2017 8:00 am

North Korea’s nukes didn’t come from Bill Clinton, even indirectly

A television screen at a railway station in Seoul shows a picture of North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un watching the country's test launch of an intercontinental ballistic missile.

JUNG YEON-JE/AFP/Getty Images
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You can see its appeal as a “gotcha” talking point — that the nuclear material that North Korea’s nuclear weapons program is based on was originally given to the regime for use in reactors back in the 1990s by Bill Clinton’s administration.

All the fuss now about North Korea — whose fault is it really, mmm?

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Politifact traces how close the meme, circulating for the last two weeks or so, comes to reality — in 1994, the Clinton administration offered North Korea light-water reactors, which are hard to make weapons from, in exchange for a deal in which the regime would have to agree to stop its weapons program and agree to inspections. Nothing ever came of it — Pyongyang didn’t want to stop making nuclear weapons, and the reactors were never shipped.

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That’s the Coles Notes version — you can read about it in more detail here.

(How did North Korea get its nuclear material, then? It’s an interesting story, and has a lot to do with Pakistan.)

READ MORE: How did North Korea get nuclear weapons?

It’s tricky to trace the starting point of an Internet meme, but this one seems to have originated from a tweet by conservative writer Makada Duncanson on July 28, the day North Korea launched an intercontinental ballistic missile in the general direction of Japan.

From there, it was recirculated on Twitter, becoming an image-based meme. Here’s one of many examples:

It’s attributed to the pro-Trump @AmericaFirst account, but I can’t find any sign of it there.

h/t Politifact.

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In fake news news:

  • The pro-Trump Twitter account thanked by @realdonaldtrump this week isn’t a bot, as initially suspected. There is a real person behind it, the Daily Beast reported, and behind that is a strange tale of identity theft, a cut-and-pasted picture from a stock photo agency, and a New Jersey college student who wishes the whole thing would go away.
  • Politico explores the closed pro-Trump rooms on Twitter that amplify #MAGA-related hashtags. “I get called a Russian bot 50 times a day,” one participant complains.
  • CNN reports on the back story of Fox News’s decision to embrace a conspiracy theory about the 2016 death of Seth Rich, a young employee of the Democratic National Committee. And the Guardian explores the conspiracy theory’s links to the White House.
  • Buzzfeed has a deep dive into the business side of partisan anger, both liberal and conservative, on Facebook. “The …  analysis shows just how deeply, outrage and the revenue it generates, are tied to divisive online discussions.”
  • Fake news was a prominent part of elections this week in Kenya. 90 per cent of Kenyans said they had seen or heard identifiable fake news during the campaign, the New York Times reports. CNN explains how fake news reports purporting to be from the BBC and CNN itself (the fakers got CNN’s font all wrong, the network points out). Quartz has more details, including a forgery of the front page of the Daily Nation, Kenya’s paper of record.
  • The Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab looks at how the #FireMcMaster hashtag, urging the ouster of White House national security advisor H.R. McMaster, who is mistrusted by Trumpist Republicans, spread. Breitbart and Alex Jones-affiliated sites, including Infowars, played a role, but so did Sputnik host Lee Stranahan, who recently told the Atlantic that “I’m on the Russian payroll now.” DFR calls it “the most well-organized campaign in the history of the alt-right … it shows the alt-right’s capacity to organize and amplify on several platforms simultaneously, and it signals the community’s growing digital capabilities.”
  • “When did America become untethered from reality?” asks the Atlantic‘s cover story for September. Part of the problem was the idea that we all have our own truths, liberated from anything as annoying as shared facts; the other is the fragmentation of digital media. “Before the Internet, crackpots were mostly isolated, and surely had a harder time remaining convinced of their alternate realities. Now, their devoutly believed opinions are all over the airwaves and the web, just like actual news. Now all of the fantasies look real.”
  • Snopes has published a list of which @alt – U.S. government Twitter accounts (@Alt_Labor, for example) it thinks might be real.
  • The Calvert Journal (an online magazine new to us) provides more context about Veles, a Macedonian city that became abruptly famous in 2016 due to its unlikely prominence as a hub of fake news. “Such images ignore the multifaceted reality and belong to a long tradition of Westerners seeking out … the “half-barbarian” at the “unpolished extremity” of the continent. What do they make in Veles? Fictions, certainly. But not all of their own design.”
  • In the London Review of Books, a very long and pessimistic look at Facebook, Google and their role in the culture. “Facebook is in essence an advertising company which is indifferent to the content on its site except insofar as it helps to target and sell advertisements,” John Lanchester writes. ” … Fake news, which gets more clicks and is free to produce, drives out real news, which often tells people things they don’t want to hear, and is expensive to produce.”
  • Tech Republic goes inside a cyberattack exercise in Estonia. (The Red Team, playing the aggressor, are badasses with a train-hard-fight-easy attitude. “They looked tired?” one says of the Blue Team defenders. “They’d better be.”)
  • Last week, we looked at an online video series hosted by presidential son Eric Trump’s wife Lara Trump, which features an upbeat view of the Trump administration, as seen by itself. It’s marketed as “real news;” the Washington Post, which fact-checks it, calls it ” … real spin, at best. And it feels a lot like real propaganda — or state TV.” At Vox, journalism scholar Tom Rosenstiel says that Trump is “trying to delegitimize the news as an institution because they won’t cover him the way he wants to be covered.”
  • Why is the National Rifle Association targeting the media recently? Because they depend on enemies, and with a sympathetic Republican in the White House, they’re running out of bad guys, Philip Bump argues in the Washington Post. “With Obama gone and Clinton back home in Chappaqua (N.Y.), that role is now filled by the “violent left” and the media. Since the violent left is a bit nebulous, it seems that the media will enjoy the majority of the NRA’s focus.” Here’s one of the ads:

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