Proof: A History

A regularly updated catalogue of key events in the history of this digital media outlet.

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October 30, 2017: Substack co-founder Hamish McKenzie graciously asks me to build a newsletter on his new platform. Overwhelmed by my writing on Twitter related to the ongoing Trump-Russia scandal, I stupidly don’t reply to—or even read—Hamish’s email, only discovering its existence in February of 2021 while checking to see if I’ve ever corresponded with anyone from Substack in the past.

March 13, 2018: Jamie Tedford of Brand Networks asks me to join a proposed Twitter pilot program allowing users to donate money to posts in order to tweak the algorithm that determines which ones are widely seen; the program would pay digital creators a small percentage of each donation. I decline, telling Tedford I believe aiding wealthier Americans in manipulating algorithms is unethical, and that content on social media should be shared or not based on its merits. I insist to Tedford that social media users are willing to donate directly to those whose work they believe in, and that this is a more honorable path for digital content creators. Tedford contends that no journalist can earn any appreciable sum by relying on direct, voluntary transactions with readers. I disagree, using my own work as an example. Tedford is surprised by the data I offer. Tedford goes on to found Booster Media, which successfully pitches a new technology to both Facebook and Instagram, becoming a “platform that empowers supporters to donate to boost a post…a supporter clicks on a link within a post to donate, at which point Booster conducts a targeted ad-buy to reach many more people with that post.” This dystopian model becomes the alternative to the one McKenzie and Substack offer.

March 28, 2019Substack launches its “Paid Publications” and “Free Publications” rankings. At launch, the paid publications that will still be ranked when Proof launches almost two years later include (with their initial ranking) those by Bill Bishop (1), Judd Legum (2), the collective known as Petition (3), Anthony Pompliano (5), Matt Taibbi (6), Daniel Lavery (10), Luke O’Neil (12), Walter Hickey (15), the group known as True Hoop (16), Robert Christgau (17), Richard Rushfield The Ankler (18), John Ellis (19), Amee Vanderpool (20), Ryan Sean Adams / Bankless (21), Grace Lavery (22), Derek Davison / Foreign Exchanges (23), and Tressie McMillan Cottom (25). The top free publications that will be ranked paid publication as Proof launches include websites by Emily Atkin (3), Heather Cox Richardson (5), Lindsay Gibbs (8), Krystal Ball (14), and Anne Helen Petersen (19). By the end of 2019, these 22 will have been joined by Nadia Bolz-Weber (4), The Dispatch (6), Heather Havrilesky (23), and Jimmy Evans (24). Of these publications launched in 2019 or earlier, six—the Dispatch and those by Legum, Richardson, Taibbi, Pompliano, and Evans—will have reached 10,000 full subscribers by mid-2021. Publications launched in 2020 that by mid-2021 have reached 10,000 full subscribers include The Bulwark and those by Glenn GreenwaldMatty Yglesias, and Andrew Sullivan. One publication launched in 2021 (by Bari Weiss) will have reached 10,000 full subscribers by mid-2021.

September 25, 2020: The podcast that gives this website its name and logo—Proof: A Pre-election Special—is launched. A ten-episode limited series intended to summarize some key revelations in the sprawling, 2,500-page Proof trilogy, the podcast becomes a Top 10 Government podcast on Apple Podcasts in 31 nations, reaching #2 in America. The podcast is produced by Pablo Salzman of Connect3, a division of Cineflix Media, with former Vice contributing editor Thomas Morton as co-host.

January 6, 2021: Incited by then-president Donald Trump, thousands of pro-Trump irregulars violently assault the United States Capitol. Nearly 1,000 breach the building itself. Five people die and more than 130 police officers are injured. The ensuing effort to impeach Trump a second time, something that has never before happened in U.S. history, achieves its end on January 13, 2021—giving birth to Proof the following day.

January 9, 2021: Less than 120 hours before the founding of ProofGavin McInnes, the founder of the white supremacist Proud Boys, threatens to sue me on Parler over false claims that my research on the Proud Boys’ role in the January 6 attack was inaccurate as to the garb worn by a key contingent of Proud Boys at the Capitol: “blaze-orange” hats. This research—first posted on Twitter, and then, thereafter, a centerpiece of two early articles at the Proof Substack—is very quickly vindicated and duplicated by media outlets across the United States, with Gavin McInnes’ threat serving as one of several inspirations for Proof focusing intently on revealing the truth about what happened in Washington on January 6.

January 14, 2021: The Proof Substack is founded. At its founding, it has a simultaneous “News,” “Politics,” and “Culture” categorization under Substack’s subject-area rubric. For ranking purposes, the site is initially categorized as “News” by Substack. America is just eight days from having watched—live—an armed insurrection on television.

January 25, 2021: The Proof email list grows by 1,997—its second-biggest one-day gain—and the site reaches 1,000 “full” subscribers, making it one of the first one hundred publications on Substack ever to do so.

January 26, 2021: Proof publishes its most-viewed article to date, “January 5 Meeting at Trump International Hotel Could Hold the Key to the January 6 Insurrection.” All told, the article receives nearly half a million views worldwide.

January 26, 2021: The Alabama Political Reporter credits Proof with being the first media outlet to report on the secretive, now-infamous January 5, 2021 meeting of Donald Trump advisers, donors, and family members inside the former president’s private residence at Trump International Hotel. The reporting in Proof provokes a response on the record by a Trump ally in the U.S. Senate, Tommy Tuberville (R-AL). The Birmingham News and City Watch Los Angeles likewise credit Proof with breaking this critical national news story.

January 27, 2021: January 2021 high—and an all-time high—for new daily website visitors to Proof (127,419).

January 28, 2021: The Proof email list grows by 2,440—its biggest one-day gain ever.

January 29, 2021: Proof reaches #2 nationally on Substack’s “Top 25” in the “News” category. The website had hit #10 on January 22, #8 on January 24, #6 on January 25 (and #5 later in the day on January 25), and #4 on January 27. The publication also sees its biggest one-day gain in paid subscribers (407).

January 29, 2021: Roger Stone, longtime Donald Trump friend and adviser, publicly threatens to sue Proof over its coverage of his role in the January 6 insurrection. Nearly four weeks later, the New York Times, Washington Post, and NBC News issue their first “breaking news” reports on the very same topic, including in their coverage much of the information that had previously been published at Proof.

January 29, 2021: Proof reaches 2,000 full subscribers.

February 4, 2021: Proof reaches 3,000 full subscribers.

February 5, 2021: Proof is recategorized as a “Politics” website by Substack’s editors, immediately debuting at #20 nationally in Substack’s “Top 25” in that category. Also, Proof hits its February 2021 high for new daily website visitors (38,111).

February 8, 2021: The Proof email list reaches 25,000 members.

February 11, 2021: Former Donald Trump National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, by and through his attorney Jesse R. Binnall at Harvey & Binnall PLLC, threatens to sue Proof for reporting on Trump donor and Nebraska gubernatorial candidate Charles W. Herbster’s Facebook claim that Flynn attended a January 5, 2021 meeting at Trump International Hotel—an event occurring just hours before Insurrection Day, during which Trump loyalists launched an armed assault on the United States Capitol.

February 11, 2021: Proof is mentioned by major media for the first time, in Columbia Journalism Review. The website credits the author of Proof with being “meticulous about sourcing.”

February 16, 2021: Proof publishes its 50th article (“Twelve Things You Need to Know About Metajournalism”).

February 17, 2021: Charles Euchner, former director of the Rappaport Institute at Harvard University and a current writing faculty member at Columbia University, credits Proof—and its associated Twitter feed—with “gather[ing] all of the great scoops and revelations from all the amazing reporters [domestically and internationally] and bring[ing] them together into a single compelling narrative.”

February 17, 2021: The Washington Post credits Proof with offering “commentary in response to…news stor[ies] that might otherwise have gone unnoticed.”

February 19, 2021: Proof launches the “University Lecture Series” feature, which will be hosted by the Media section of Proof once it is launched on May 7, 2021 (see below).

February 23, 2021: The Donald J. Trump for President Committee signs up for the Proof email list under the email address “press-info+fuckyou@donaldjtrump.com.”

February 25, 2021: The AMA Archive of “Ask Me Anything” Instagram Live sessions debuts at Proof, with thirteen episodes totaling over sixteen hours of video content.

February 25, 2021: Proof is recategorized as a “Culture” website by Substack’s editors, immediately debuting at #2 nationally in Substack’s “Top 25” in that category.

February 28, 2021: The internal podcast at Proof, “Adventures in Metajournalism”, debuts.

March 3, 2021: Proof publishes its most-popular subscriber-only content ever, a long annotation of the Congressional testimony of William J. Walker, Commander of the D.C. National Guard. The article is viewed well over 25,000 times by Proof subscribers.

March 6, 2021: Diário do Centro do Mundo (DCM), one of the leading media outlets in Brazil—with millions of readers monthly—credits Proof with breaking the story of Jair Bolsonaro’s son Eduardo Bolsonaro meeting with Trump allies in D.C. just before the January 6 insurrection. Per DCM, “American journalist Seth Abramson alleges that Eduardo Bolsonaro attended a meeting that conspired against American democracy the day before the [January 6] invasion [of the U.S. Capitol]. The exclusive article lists ten connections between Eduardo and the [insurrection]. Brazilian taxpayers now have several questions: What did Eduardo Bolsonaro do in D.C. at the beginning of [2021]? What was the subject of his meeting with [Trump adviser] Michael Lindell? Did he attend a meeting at Trump International Hotel?” Similar credit was given by Brazilian publications Congress Em Foco (link), Revista Forum (link), Brasil 247 (link), Ler Agora (link), DCI Digital (link), GGN: O Jornal de Todos os Brasis (link), Poliarquia (link), Farol da Bahia (link), Brasil Independente (link), MBL News (link), Pensar Piauí (link), BNC Amazonas (link), and via several follow-ups in Diário do Centro do Mundo (see, e.g., here).

March 7, 2021: March 2021 high for new daily website visitors to Proof (23,692).

March 8, 2021: According to a report by German public state-owned international broadcaster Deutsche Welle, on this date Brazilian Senator Jaques Wagner (PT-BA) “submitted a request demanding clarification from the [Brazilian] Foreign Ministry about the deputy’s [Rep. Eduardo Bolsonaro’s early January 2021] trip to Washington and his possible connection with [the January 5 Trump International Hotel] meeting, raised by American journalist Seth Abramson on the Proof website.”

March 10, 2021: Proof reaches 4,000 full subscribers.

March 12, 2021: Muck Rack—the nation’s premier database of American journalists—updates its entry for Seth Abramson to acknowledge Proof as a primary media outlet.

March 25, 2021: The Proof email list hits 30,000 members and 4,500 full subscribers.

March 27, 2021: Proof undergoes its first major structural expansion, via Substack’s new “homepage links” protocol. At launch, the link-filled right-hand sidebar on the Proof homepage includes sections for the “University Lecture Series”, the “Substack Essay Series”, the Proof podcast, and all free articles on the site. In May, the sidebar is trimmed down—due to the introduction of “sections” on Substack (see May 7, 2021)—to include categories for “Recent Free Articles” and “Recently Unlocked Articles.”

April 9, 2021Proof launches the “Best Videos on the Internet” series, which will be hosted by the Extras section of Proof once it is launched on May 7, 2021 (see below).

April 10, 2021: In the wake of a new report at Proof linking Donald Trump to the ring of federal criminal probes surrounding Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL), Proof reaches 5,000 full subscribers and establishes an April 2021 high for new daily website visitors (11,736).

April 16, 2021: Nine days shy of its 100th day in publication, Proof publishes its 100th article (“U.S. Media Has Now Acknowledged Trump-Russia Collusion. When Will It Acknowledge Trump Privately Confessed to It in 2018?”).

April 25, 2021: Proof ends its “first 100 days” having received lawsuit threats from the founder of the Proud Boys (Gavin McInnes), the former National Security Advisor of the United States (Michael Flynn), and one of former president Donald Trump’s oldest friends and political advisers, Stop the Steal organizer Roger Stone. As a new media outlet, Proof has already been credited with breaking both domestic and international news—in each case, multiple times—and in doing so becoming one of the most-read Substack publications in the United States. Proof ranks #2 nationally in the “Culture” category, and hosts a community of (a) tens of thousands of email subscribers and (b) thousands and thousands of full subscribers. Its reports have been discussed by small and large media outlets on three continents—from the Washington Post and Columbia Journalism Review in America to Diário do Centro do Mundo in South America (Brazil) and Deutsche Welle in Europe (Germany).

April 30, 2021: Proof reaches 5,500 full subscribers.

May 1, 2021: Proof gets commended by a major media outlet once again, with Jonah Weiner of New York Magazine reporting that Proof is now “putting up major numbers [in terms of paid subscribers].” Weiner is a former Slate pop-culture critic as well as a former editor at Rolling Stone.

May 7, 2021: Proof undergoes a massive expansion, utilizing Substack’s new “sections” protocol. At launch, the sections at Proof are January 6, Politics, The Media, Culture, The Law, Pod (the Proof podcast), Q&As and AMAs, and Extras.

May 8, 2021: Proof launches the “Lost Classics of the 1960s” series in Extras.

May 9, 2021: Proof launches the “Goodnight Playlist” series in Extras.

May 12, 2021: Proof launches the “Insurrection Update” series in January 6.

May 14, 2021: On the day of its four-month anniversary—and as the Proof email list reaches 35,000 members—Proof becomes the #1-ranked Culture substack in America.

May 17, 2021: Proof launches the “Proof Recommends the Best of the Best” series in Culture.

May 18, 2021: Proof launches a new website-only (non-subscription) section, AFOL, which “details and celebrates the most imaginative uses of LEGO bricks in the arts and sciences.”

May 23, 2021: On the strength of a three-part exposé (I, II, III) about insurrectionists Doyle Beck and Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), Proof reaches 6,000 full subscribers and experiences its May 2021 high for new daily website visitors (8,376).

May 29, 2021: The Music section of Proof is founded—and the “Lost Classics of the 1960s” and “Goodnight Playlist” series migrate there. Meanwhile, the “Best Videos on the Internet” series moves to the Culture section.

June 1, 2021: Proof reaches 6,500 full subscribers.

June 12, 2021: Proof establishes a June 2021 high for new daily website visitors (19,647).

June 13, 2021: Proof reaches 7,000 full subscribers. Proud Boy leader (communications) Eddie Block writes in to Proof to say, of this Proof reporting, “LOL, you don’t know shit. I’m not a leader, and I do not travel with bodyguards. LOL, I protect myself.” {NB: Edited for clarity.} As reported by Proof, in what Proof calls the Eddie Block Video Block discusses with other Proud Boys their accompaniment of him at certain points on January 6 to ensure his safety and ease of transportation, as Block uses a scooter. The Proud Boys have designated Block to run their digital communications nationally.

June 14, 2021: On its five-month anniversary, the Proof email list hits 40,000 members.

June 15, 2021: Joe Oltmann, a participant in the Willard Hotel-based “war room” of Donald Trump’s legal team during the week of the January 6 insurrection, threatens to sue Proof over its reporting on him. When Proof asks Oltmann to propose corrections to its recent report, Oltmann says that the photograph of the war room that war room participant Robert Hyde had said was taken on January 6 was in fact taken on January 7, and that it was inappropriate to call the war room a “war room” despite war room invitee John Eastman having called it a “war room” in an interview linked to by Proof. Proof has also written about Joe Oltmann’s stay at the Willard Hotel in this report.

June 16, 2021: Proof reaches 7,500 full subscribers.

July 1, 2021: Proof reaches 8,000 full subscribers.

July 19, 2021Proof establishes a July 2021 high for new daily website visitors (15,045).

July 22, 2021: The Top 100 Android Video Games series is founded within the Culture section of Proof.

July 27, 2021: The Marginalia section of Proof is founded.

August 8, 2021: The Games section of Proof is founded, along with the new Top 25 NES Games series. Top 100 Android Video Games migrates from Culture to Games.

August 10, 2021: Proof is cited as a key media source in the lawsuit filed by Dominion Voting Systems against Trumpist insurrectionists Christina Bobb and Chanel Rion, One America News Network, and others.

August 11, 2021: Proof launches the “All Public Sales Data for Sealed and Graded Games” series in the Games section.

August 19, 2021: Proof launches the “New Pre-Insurrection Strategy Meetings” series in the January 6 section.

August 23, 2021: Just fifteen days after its birth, Proof Games becomes the subject of national news when its public release of a massive stock of market research about the volatile, lucrative, controversial “sealed video game” market—coupled with the release of a ground-shifting 52-minute documentary by curatorial journalist Karl Jobst—leads to significant news coverage of potential market manipulation by well-known auction and grading houses in the United States. Coverage of the historic publication, at Proof, of hard data on public sales of sealed Nintendo Entertainment System games includes articles in major industry publications Kotaku (link), Eurogamer (link), Nintendo Life (link), Nintendo Enthusiast (link), Gamer Focus (link), Video Games Chronicle (link), Tom’s Guide (link), and Nintendo News (link). Additional media coverage focusing on the Jobst Report appears at Digital Trends (link), Game Rant (link) and NME (link). A Nintendo Life follow-up reports on revelations at Proof about unusual discrepancies between the handling of moldy game boxes at Heritage Auctions and Comic Connect; Kotaku also links to Proof Games’ Twitter feed regarding this still-unresolved issue. Kotaku further credits the data journalism at Proof with “raising questions about why [grading house] WATA, which maintains...population reports, won’t release them.”

August 26, 2021: Major Proof Games reports on August 26, August 29, and August 31 expose questionable behavior by gaming industry figures associated with WATA and Heritage Auctions. These reports in Proof receive domestic and international coverage from such industry-leading media outlets as Eurogamer (link), Yahoo! Finance (link), The Gamer (link), Noobfeed (link), Video Games Chronicle (link), Nintendo Life (link), LOGNET (link), and others.

August 31, 2021Proof establishes an August 2021 high for new daily website visitors (13,455).

September 26, 2021Proof establishes a September 2021 high for new daily website visitors (6,806).

September 27, 2021: The Proof email list hits 45,000 members.

October 14, 2021: Proof reaches 8,500 full subscribers.

October 23, 2021: Proof becomes a trending topic on Twitter (see below) after the Washington Post twice cites Proof research regarding Trump’s Insurrection Week Willard Hotel “war room” in a major cover story on the January 6 insurrection.

October 24, 2021: The report of the House January 6 Committee on referring Donald Trump adviser Steve Bannon to the House of Representatives for criminal contempt cites Proof research in its evidence. Investigation by the Department of Justice ensues.

October 25, 2021: The Twitter feed connected to Proof has long been followed by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Carl Bernstein—who, with his Washington Post colleague, Bob Woodward, uncovered the Watergate scandal involving President Richard Nixon—but it is on this date that Washington Post journalist Robert Costa, sitting beside Woodward for an MSNBC interview, credits Proof and its “curatorial journalism” with making key journalistic contributions to the investigation of the January 6 insurrection, observing that “There’s a lot of great reporting [on January 6] out there: the New York Times, the Washington Post, curatorial journalists like Seth Abramson. They’re trying to piece together th[e] answer to [the] question, ‘Where are the [answers to the] other unanswered questions [about January 6]—on the [White House Ellipse] rally itself, the Oath Keepers, the Proud Boys, the march up Pennsylvania Avenue?’” The full video of Costa and Woodward’s MSNBC interview is here; the segment of the interview quoted above can be found at 31:23 in the video.

Costa’s gracious words call to mind a conversation I had with my editor at Simon & Schuster, Priscilla Painton—who’d worked with Bob Woodward in the past—about my 2018 New York Times bestseller, Proof of Collusion. At one point, as I was trying to persuade Simon & Schuster to permit the book to be just a little bit longer, as I knew its revelations about the Trump-Russia scandal were historically important, Painton responded bitterly, “You’re not Bob Woodward.” I’m certainly not. But no one who places arbitrary limits on their ambition ever becomes a journalist of Woodward’s caliber—or, more to the point (as he’s my longtime hero) of Carl Bernstein’s caliber.

October 25, 2021: Proof establishes an October 2021 high for new daily website visitors (24,060). This is one of the ten highest-traffic days ever at Proof (#10).

October 28, 2021: Proof experiences one of its dozen biggest one-day increases in paid subscribers (156; #11). In the process, the publication crosses 9,000 full subscribers. Agence-France Presse (AFP), the oldest news agency in the world—and a model for the Associated Press—covers Proof reporting on Trump’s pre-insurrection war rooms. An English translation of the French-language report can be found at this NDTV link.