When You Don’t Make the Cult

Why I No Longer Support Newsbud

Katie Aguilera

Two years ago, I was involved in the early stages of the development of Newsbud, an online news and media platform with the stated goals of being 100% people funded, unbiased, and non-partisan.  My involvement, like that of many others, was short lived.  Recently, I publicly made some comments about my change of heart regarding Newsbud, and I have also decided to remove nearly all content from this blog that promoted the organization*.  As a result, I feel that I should explain why I no longer support Newsbud.

I have been hesitant to discuss my experience with Newsbud, and have told few people the details behind my decision to leave the team.  It is not my intention now to pen a vindictive, personal attack on Newsbud or its founder, Sibel Edmonds.  I know that I have readers who support Newsbud, and I’m not writing this with the goal of changing anyone’s mind based solely on what I have to say.  People need to come to their own conclusions.  I am writing this to explain why I no longer endorse the site, why it has lost credibility in my view, and why I feel guilty for promoting it and supporting it in its early stages.

The Beginning

Several years ago, the research I was doing for the novel I am writing led me to a series of interviews posted on YouTube with James Corbett and Sibel Edmonds.  That was how I first discovered Boiling Frogs Post, or BFP, and Sibel’s work.  Her story in her book, Classified Woman, aligned really well with the sort of things happening in the plot of my novel, and I began to follow the work at BFP.

When Sibel announced the idea for Newsbud, I contacted her and offered to help any way that I could with the project.  I explained that I didn’t have much to offer, I had no related experience, and wasn’t sure what I could do, but I wanted to help if I could.  I knew that I can write, but at that point I had yet to even start my own blog.  I don’t consider myself an expert of any sort, and I had never published anything.

I was surprised by the offer to be a regular contributor to Newsbud, and I jumped at the chance.  First and foremost because I genuinely believed in the idea of what Newsbud was supposed to be, based on how it was presented.  Also, because I was excited to get to know and work with Sibel Edmonds, who I had come to respect and admire greatly.  And, of course, it was an opportunity to get published and earn some extra money.

Newsbud launched a series of Kickstarter fundraising campaigns, the first one on February 14, 2016.  The goal of the campaign was nearly one million dollars, and ultimately it was unsuccessful.  It was during this campaign that I experienced my first hint of doubt about the direction Newsbud was going.

First Doubt

It started with this article in which Sibel makes some startling claims.  I was asked to do some research and fact checking on the suspicious letters discussed in the article after it was published.  I researched, I made phone calls, I spoke by phone with an FBI spokesperson about the matter, I attempted to contact Sheriff Glenn Palmer.  He never returned my phone call.  I found a phone number for the person who sent the suspicious letters, and I passed the information on to Newsbud.  I thought the logical next step would be to contact the letter sender but I was unwilling to do that from my private phone.

In the end, my research led me to the conclusion that there really was no more to the story than what had been reported in the local news, and with no comment from Sheriff Palmer, I couldn’t confirm his reported version of the event.  I was unable to find any evidence that would prove his claims, or that there had been any sort of substance in any of the letters.  I was also unable to find evidence that the letter sender was targeting Palmer specifically.

Pretty quickly I was informed that my conclusion wasn’t satisfactory and to stop researching the story.  Shortly thereafter, this video of an interview with Dr. Fred Whitehurst was released.  When that video aired, initially I felt that what I had reported to Sibel about my conversation with the FBI spokesperson was misrepresented.  Much later, when I watched it again, I also felt as though Dr. Whitehurst was manipulated in the interview because he wasn’t given all the information.  I didn’t understand why they did not mention any attempt to contact the letter sender, or Sheriff Palmer.  So, I messaged my concerns to Spiro Skouras of Newsbud, and asked why they had pursued the story the way they did.  I got no response from him that night.

Not long after, I received a request via email from Sibel to schedule a Skype conference call with her and Spiro.  I don’t remember all of the ways in which I was informed that I had failed during that call, but I do remember the main point, that I had missed the big piece of the story.  Sibel explained her reasons for that, and shared some links, and she was right, I hadn’t found what she had found online.  Upon reflection, I didn’t see it as proof of her claims, though I didn’t say so.

Perhaps I did miss a smoking gun, perhaps Sibel knew much more than she had published in her article and video.  However, what continued to bother me was that there was never any follow up, they never published any further evidence to support her startling claims.  They never informed me, or publicly stated, that they ever tried to contact the letter sender.  While attempts other than my own may have been made to contact Sheriff Palmer, there was no public mention of it from Newsbud.

After what felt to me like sensational claims that begged for further proof, that was basically the end of it.  That left me feeling as though the purpose of the story was to draw clicks, to capitalize on the related media furor occurring at that time over the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge occupation, and Sheriff Palmer himself.  This would become a pattern I have since noticed repeatedly with stories discussed at Newsbud.

Staying In

Unfortunately, I ignored my instincts.  I still believed in Newsbud, and I didn’t want to admit that my faith in Sibel’s credibility had just taken a significant hit.  I convinced myself that, with my lack of experience, I had screwed up, and I moved on.  Newsbud launched a second Kickstarter campaign for a significantly lower goal, and with a very different team, because many on the original team had already left for reasons I didn’t fully learn until later.  This time it was successful.  This is when I began receiving payment from Newsbud, and I published an article a week for about two months.

Around this time, the attempted coup in Turkey took place, and Newsbud launched its “Confront NBC” campaign.  I was supportive and helped to promote this because I felt (and still do) that it is really important for news outlets and journalists to retract erroneous reporting.  I also agreed that the timing of the false information was suspicious with regards to the coup attempt.  (Not to mention this very real problem.)  But, the entire thing began to feel like a publicity stunt.  Looking back, it felt like a publicity stunt that went too far, and felt uncomfortably too pro-Erdogan.  And, it led to this attack on FAIR.org.

I was asked to email FAIR, and follow up with a phone call, requesting comment from them on the Confront NBC story, and also information about their sources of funding (something I would like to see more transparency on from Newsbud).  I truly did not want to do this.  I have a lot of respect for FAIR.org and other organizations that work to hold news outlets and journalists accountable.  I was embarrassed to be involved in an attack on them.  However, I made the call, and I’m sure I sounded like a complete idiot to the man at FAIR that I spoke with.

A Way Out

This was the point that I finally began to lose, or let go of, some of my belief in Newsbud.  I realized I no longer wanted to tell anyone that I wrote for Newsbud.  I increasingly felt that, in order to fit the mold, I had to find some sort of “conspiratorial angle” to everything I wrote for Newsbud, and even here on my blog.  I was going along with things I didn’t always agree with, in order to stay with Newsbud.  It felt dishonest, like I was putting on an act.  I wasn’t being honest with myself.  I wasn’t being honest to all the people I was promoting Newsbud to.  I wasn’t being honest with Newsbud or Sibel either, because I didn’t address these concerns with them.

The final straw (or straws) came after I published this story here on my blog.  I submitted a shorter version of the story to Newsbud, and initially was told it would be published.  Later, I was told that it wouldn’t be published for several reasons.  I was disappointed, but I understood that Sibel didn’t like the story and she had the ultimate say on what was published on Newsbud.  I moved on.  However, shortly after that, I received an email that finally ended my willingness to remain on the team.

In that email, Sibel questioned my recent sharing of a GoFundMe campaign by someone that she didn’t like, and she informed me that I shouldn’t be following a certain journalist on social media.  Basically, what it came down to was that my behavior was reflecting negatively on Newsbud, and I was damaging Newsbud’s credibility.

I replied that I had no desire to cause Newsbud any harm, and if she didn’t want me on the team that was fine.  It was a way out, and I took it with relief.  I would be lying if I said that I wasn’t hurt by the things Sibel said to me, but I did not, and do not, have any desire to argue with her, or defend myself to her.  It wasn’t worth it to me to be told who I could or could not follow, who I could or could not share support for, who or what I could write about.  I had already watched other team members leave, even just disappear from the team, with no explanation.  What Newsbud had become was absolutely not what I supported in the beginning.

Ironically, after I responded that I didn’t want to harm Newsbud, I was told my behavior not only reflected negatively on Newsbud, but on myself, that it would hurt my credibility.  That was indeed true, but not about the behavior Sibel was referring to.  What would reflect negatively on me would be to continue to support what I no longer believed in.  Continuing to work with and promote Newsbud would hurt my credibility.

It is my opinion that Newsbud has gone the way of another well-known alternative media (infotainment) site that thrives on click bait, unsupported sensational claims, and false information.  I know Newsbud has deleted negative and oppositional comments from their site in what looks like attempts to shield their supporters from anything contradictory.  I know they asked numerous dissenting commenters to unsubscribe.  I see no integrity in this.  There are other things I could point to, but that and skepticism born out of my own brief experience working with Sibel, are the most important reasons why I no longer support Newsbud.

Coming Clean

It has taken me a long time to decide to write about all of this.  It took some time to admit to myself that the entire experience felt very cultish, and even longer to feel ready to admit it publicly.  I held a cult-like faith in Sibel, and that affected my judgement.  I don’t blame Sibel or Newsbud, I blame myself.  At the time, as I was still trying to make sense of the overwhelming information I was searching through online, I was especially susceptible.  But, I know that I have learned a lot from this experience.  In the chaos of today’s news cycle, the fake news, the social media trolling and bot manipulation, and endless sites spreading misinformation for profit, my experience at Newsbud, even though I regret it, does have value for me.

The following, from an International Cultic Studies Association article titled, Characteristics of Cults and Cultic Groups, describes how I feel about my experience with Newsbud perfectly:

“…the group claims to pursue lofty goals (e.g., salvation, bringing enlightenment to the world for the sake of peace, or solutions to specific world problems and injustices), …but a close look at the group’s accomplishments will invariably show that these publicly proclaimed goals are not reached, or that they mask less noble goals, such as massing monetary wealth, gaining power and control over the followers, and feeding the leader’s need for adulation.”

So, when I saw this tweet which reads, “they’ve been throwing fits due to not making the cut when it comes to Newsbud,” I laughed.  I knew immediately that I had the perfect title for this story.  I didn’t make the cult, and for that, I am so thankful.

**********

*This decision was made because I can’t in good conscience keep content posted that promotes Newsbud.  If that bothers you and you want to know what those posts contain, just ask me.  I’ve kept copies of them all.  Also, I recently noticed that all of my work has been removed from Newsbud’s site, for which I am grateful.  I have reposted most of the articles here on Seeking Redress.

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4 thoughts on “When You Don’t Make the Cult

  1. “I know Newsbud has deleted negative and oppositional comments from their site in what looks like attempts to shield their supporters from anything contradictory.”

    Check…

    “I know they asked numerous dissenting commenters to unsubscribe.”

    Check again!

    To be fair, my comment this past summer was a scathing one which I left after witnessing one too many times the dictatorial tongue-lashing she unleashed on numerous commenters who had legitimate questions or complaints. It mattered not the tone of those; with her, it’s all about control. So yes, using the term “cult” is spot on accurate and deserved. That those financial contributors had the audacity to question anything was wholly unacceptable. And believe it or not, I recently learned from one currently banned commenter that he’s still a paying subscriber!! So, they’ll take his $$$, but HIS voice is specifically unwelcome….and he’s okay with that. Wow. Oh well, such is the nature of cults, their charismatic leaders and the poor souls who trust them.

      1. Maybe so! At that time there were a couple dull threads coming to life due to unsanctioned opinions running rampant over some other conspiracy guy I’d never heard of. The scrubbing crew was busy, for sure. Regardless, kudos to the guy who started it and didn’t back down from voicing his frustration and sense of loss as to how the once-spirited atmosphere of BFP degraded into the lifeless, strictly-controlled Newsbud headed by an indignant queen bee and her obedient drone “Admin” (I’m paraphrasing, btw).

      2. Yeah, the comments I watched disappear involved numerous responses from ‘admin’. I was amazed that others didn’t call that out at the time, but maybe anyone who might’ve was already banned, lol.

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