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Skeptics who see Russiagate as warmongering will never get respect in the press

Media Analysis
on 33 Comments

A week ago I prepared a draft of a post about Russiagate, intending to revise it and publish; but since then I was scooped by everyone–even in one limited respect by freaking Ross Douthat who is the least obnoxious conservative columnist at the New York Times. (Actually, on his best days, or the others’ worst, you could strike out the word “conservative”).

In “The Trolling of the American Mind,” Douthat made the point that if you want to talk about Russian influence on the election (assuming all charges are true for the sake of argument), the Democratic National Committee emails were far more consequential than the silly Russian social media campaign, because the information supplied was real and significant whoever obtained it. Douthat doesn’t put it this way, but the revelation that the DNC was colluding with Hillary Clinton in the primaries might conceivably have embittered enough Sanders supporters to make a difference. Of course people who read far-left blogs would have also learned that an idiot Hollywood billionaire named Haim Saban was treated with great deference as he voiced his opinions re the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign, BDS, aimed at Israel. No; Ross didn’t say that. What he did say, which should be obvious to anyone who lives here, is that the social media campaign was sophomoric and the Russians could pass it off as American because it was a tiny drop of stupidity in a vast ocean of American nonsense.

The larger point about Russiagate hysteria has been made by Paul Street and various other lefties.  So what is there for me to say?

Well, there is this piece by Adrian Chen at The New Yorker: “A so-called expert’s uneasy dive into the Trump-Russia frenzy.”

The piece is good and interesting in its own right and should be read for what Chen argues. His strongest points are made in the first two paragraphs: The Russiagate hysteria is the product of experts who have their own interests— internet security types who hope for more business, thinktank pseudo-intellectuals who make their living warning of deep dark threats, journalists who need sexy headlines. And a journalist who wishes to fit in has to go along.

The most important part of the piece is the subtext, which is so close to the surface it might as well be text: journalists in the mainstream press sometimes have to make a choice between being honest to the facts as they see them and being mainstream. There is a narrative to be narrated, dammit, and facts can get in the way. And if you naively choose the facts, you might find yourself in this case demonized as a pro-Putin propagandist or find your article cited by pro-Putin propagandists and lefty skeptics of Russiagate. Though you will notice that Chen doesn’t acknowledge that such distinct categories exist; he can’t fully validate skeptics of Russiagate.

Observe his treatment of Aaron Mate, the lefty journalist at the Real News network who embarrassed Chen by citing his comments on MSNBC. Chen does not want Mate’s approval or, as he would put it, to be part of Mate’s own propaganda campaign. If Chen is to be a dissident, he wants to be alone on the life raft of truth with Martha Gessen, the only skeptic of Russiagate who can get away with it in the mainstream because of her long record of Putin criticism. If Mate tries to join him, Chen will beat him off with an oar.

I could feel my words slipping away, becoming the foundation for someone else’s shakily constructed argument. The fact that I had been given the rare opportunity to share an opinion on national television seemed pretty much cancelled out by the ways its online audience had put it to use.

In contrast, Chen mentions Rachel Maddow as the object of Mate’s attacks– she is “a strong advocate of the notion that the Trump campaign colluded with Russia.” But while Chen clearly disapproves of Mate, he is unable to single out anyone in the mainstream by name for critique. They are all simply critics of Trump– Trump critics who demonize anyone who disagrees with the Russiagate narrative.

Chen’s piece is valuable because it pulls away the curtain and we see someone in the press admitting to the uncomfortable position of a mainstream journalist who doesn’t conform to the narrative on a given subject. Yet there is something he doesn’t sufficiently explain: why is there near-unanimity in the mainstream about the enormous consequences of (the farcical) Russian social media attacks? Yes, it is because of experts drumming up business and because journalists favor sexy headlines, but why warmongering sexy headlines?

To ask the question that way is to answer it. There are hundreds of billions of dollars at stake.  The mainstream press mostly goes along with what its chosen experts tell it; and those experts seem to be people who invariably justify more military intervention, more military spending and more money spent on the intelligence community. And the passive readers are supposed to fix our gaze on the malevolent intentions of Putin and never ask questions about the military industrial complex, the Saudi lobby or the Israel lobby or any other group with actual political influence on our foreign policy because that is seen as either conspiracy thinking or as old stale rhetoric that nobody in power has to take seriously.

For Chen, the larger foreign policy motivations behind Russiagate never seem to arise. But there is an important distinction between people who criticize the Russiagate hysteria because they see it as warmongering, and people who criticize it because they are pro Trump.  One never sees this distinction made in the MSM, and Chen’s piece is no exception.

Donald Johnson

Donald Johnson is a regular commenter on this site, as "Donald."

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33 Responses

  1. Citizen on February 25, 2018, 1:59 pm

    The important issue is not RussiaGate, but IsraelGate

  2. REDPILLED on February 25, 2018, 2:46 pm

    Thank you for this. Corporate media’s financial links to the Military-Industrial-Intelligence-Congressional Complex make it impossible for them to make the crucial distinction you make between Trump supporters and those of us terrified that Russiagate has already become Russiaphobia, leading us into war with Russia, either through its ally, Syria, or through Iran, or, most insanely, directly. It is Reagan redux, but with Democrats pushing the suicidal narrative, helped by supposedly ‘liberal’ media such as MSNBC (a.k.a. MSDNC).

  3. John Douglas on February 25, 2018, 5:22 pm

    One of the many ways that Trump is hurting the US is that progressives are so intent upon discrediting him (as if he hasn’t done it himself) that it’s made them stupid. They feel an urgent need to exaggerate the import of the cyber tampering so that when Trump is connected to it, they can do him in (and leave us with Pence – that’s smart.). One stupidity of the progressives in Congress and the media is the complete lack of context in expressing their horror at tampering from Russia. Suppose Russians did it, suppose even that Putin ordered it. What did they do? They meddled in our elections. Suppose even that they pushed Trump’ over the top. Is there no one to point out that this in everyday business for US intelligence operatives. They do it in their sleep. It’s so commonplace they nod off while doing it. Funding favored foreign candidates, pouring propaganda into other countries, overthrowing elected and unelected leaders, financing proxy wars against regimes the US likes even less than the regime they fund, invading countries to secure their resources. Vietnam, Nicaragua, Chile, soon Venezuela, Libya, Iran (whom the US might attack when Israel makes the call), Guatemala, Syria, Ukraine. Millions dead. And Russians, maybe officially and maybe not, hacked the corrupt DNC. What utter stupidity to pretend that’s a big deal, to pretend US innocence. Rachel Maddow, PhD in hand, either doesn’t have a clue or is a gigantic hypocrite. Matthews definitely doesn’t have a clue.

    • annie on February 25, 2018, 6:03 pm

      i guess anyone can call themselves progressives in this day and age john. but these are not progressives, these are for the most part the so-called “#resistance” establishment dems. in the primary, the sanders side was the progressives. you don’t see the berniecrats engaged in this bs for the most part. other than that, i totally agree.

      this real resistance, they know it’s not in the dem party

    • Citizen on February 26, 2018, 6:03 am

      I think both Maddow and Matthews have more than a clue, but they want to keep their lucrative careers and always know where their boss’s red are at any given moment.

    • CigarGod on February 26, 2018, 10:25 am

      JD, regarding your last two sentences:
      Please re-read DJ’s comments on Chen.

    • eljay on February 26, 2018, 11:00 am

      || john douglas @ February 25, 2018, 5:22 pm ||

      Good rant!

    • genesto on February 26, 2018, 1:02 pm

      I’m a berniecrat who, despite constantly aching joints, walked many miles canvassing for Bernie in the last campaign. However, I cannot and would not call him a true progressive. When it comes to Israel/Palestine, despite his bold statement saying that true peace requires that Palestinians be treated with basic understanding and respect, he is actually a liberal Zionist still. Also, he has never called for the deep cutbacks in military spending, nor strong gun control legislation, that would qualify him as a true progressive. Nevertheless, he is a man of integrity, who would have offered a breath of fresh air to the Presidency if HRC hadn’t succeeded in sabotaging his efforts.

      • echinococcus on February 26, 2018, 2:39 pm


        he is a man of integrity, who would have offered a breath of fresh air to the Presidency if HRC hadn’t succeeded in sabotaging his efforts

        I’ll offer an unsolicited and surely unwelcome comment: fresh air is a biologic need, not political; improper metaphors can only be stretched so far when there is an expectation of substantial change –not the case here. Men of integrity do not work as shepherd dogs in the service of the main administrative organization of US imperialism and war, the one calling itself “Democrat (or Republican) Party”.

      • annie on February 26, 2018, 2:52 pm

        i thought it was an apt metaphor, especially given genesto’s preface. not sure i’d call him a “true progressive” either but agree he (likely) would have offered a breath of fresh air.

      • Keith on February 26, 2018, 4:10 pm

        GENESTO- “Nevertheless, he is a man of integrity….”

        You mean the guy who called Chavez a dictator? And what does this “man of intergrity” have to say about Russiagate? Open your eyes, Geneto, Bernie is moving to the right of Hillary!

        “It is now clear to everyone that agents of the Russian government were, in a disgusting and dangerous manner, actively interfering in the 2016 elections in an effort to defeat Secretary Hillary Clinton. Based on media reports they intend to interfere in the mid-term elections of 2018. There has also been extensive reporting on the Russian government’s interference in European elections.
        “All of this conduct taken together is a direct assault on the free democratic systems that stand in contrast to the autocratic, nationalistic kleptocracy of Vladimir Putin and his backers in the Russian oligarchy. Sadly, despite all this evidence, the only person who seems to be unconcerned about the subversion of democracy is our own president Donald Trump. Russian interference in both the 2016 primary and general election is unacceptable and everything possible must be done to ensure it does not happen again. No candidate, whether Secretary Clinton or anyone else, should have to wage an electoral contest in the face of foreign government intervention. The same is true of other kinds of interference the Russians engaged in, including posing as supporters of the social justice movement Black Lives Matter or members of the American Muslim community.
        “Let there be no confusion about my view. What the Russians did in the 2016 election cycle deserves unconditional condemnation. That includes all of their conduct — whether it was active support of any candidate or active opposition to any candidate or the decision to not go after a candidate as a way of hurting or helping another campaign. This is true of any of the 2016 campaigns, including those of Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, or my own. As someone who campaigned hard for Secretary Clinton from one end of this country to another, it is an outrage that she had to run against not only Donald Trump but also the Russian government. All Americans rightly expected and deserved a fair election free of foreign governmental intervention. The key issues now are two: how we prevent the unwitting manipulation of the electoral and political system of our country by foreign governments; and exposing who was actively consorting with the Russian government’s attack on our democracy.” (Bernnie Sanders)

      • Keith on February 26, 2018, 4:18 pm

        ANNIE- “i thought it was an apt metaphor….”

        If he changed “fresh” to “hot” I would agree.

      • annie on February 26, 2018, 4:32 pm

        ah, well i don’t think he’s all hot air. but his latest rantings about russia i could sure do without.

      • Tuyzentfloot on February 26, 2018, 6:11 pm

        Nevertheless, he is a man of integrity, who would have offered a breath of fresh air to the Presidency if HRC hadn’t succeeded in sabotaging his efforts.

        What does it mean, integrity in politics?
        Suppose Sanders simply thought he had to pick his fights carefully , so he would focus on his priority and go with the flow on the rest.
        Those who oppose this kind of compromise, do they think he should take a stand on the other issues even if it would affect his chances of achieving anything at all, by making too many enemies and offending too many voters and funding? Or do they think it would it actually be a smart approach which would benefit him in the end?

      • genesto on February 27, 2018, 1:17 pm

        I must admit, particularly in light of Bernie’s rantings on Russiagate – of which I was unaware until these posts – I ‘overspoke’ (have at it, you English language purists!) when I said Bernie is a man of integrity. I was also disgusted with Bernie’s embrace of HRC in the campaign after she had destroyed him in the primary and he had laid bare all of her crimes.

        Look, I’m 72 years old and no Pollyanna when it comes to politics, particularly in the national arena. Anyone who gets to that level of political success has had to compromise principle somewhere along the line, and Bernie is no exception. However, I would have still preferred to see him in the White House vs any other viable candidate at the time, with the hope that he would be open to progressive pressure to ‘re-democratize’ (another opportunity) our country.

      • echinococcus on February 28, 2018, 8:20 am


        Of course it can’t be an appropriate metaphor: fresh air is something you need after a lot of people smoke or fart in the room. What you need in politics is stopping wars of aggression including the Zionist adventure, military presence abroad, police state inside, etc. Not air, fresh or hot. Any “fresh” anything with imperialist militant Bernard Sanders would be the totally mendacious impression –pushed by the “liberal” Empire personnel– that anything substantial has changed when the only change is the seriously increased capacity of the new “liberal” mountebank to repress and anesthetize any kind of resistance, see Nuremberg-bait Obama.

  4. Keith on February 25, 2018, 5:42 pm

    DONALD JOHNSON- “But there is an important distinction between people who criticize the Russiagate hysteria because they see it as warmongering, and people who criticize it because they are pro Trump.”

    True enough, however, it has gone far beyond warmongering. These more-or-less insignificant social media messages are ludicrously claimed to be having a significant impact in sowing divisions and social upheaval in our otherwise idyllic body politic. Social critics fellow travelers with Russian propaganda and the evil Putin. The rather obvious intent is to scapegoat Russia for our internal problems and to silence criticism of current militarism and neoliberalism through intimidation. A new Red Scare on steroids targeting a country whose economy is half the size of France. The allegations so preposterous that the situation indicates that money power is the only truth the media recognizes, theirs not to evaluate the script they are given, only to read convincingly. Also, the media has gone so far overboard that this cannot be maintained, hence, it is a pretext for actions soon to follow. We live in perilous times.

  5. Krendall Mist on February 25, 2018, 6:25 pm

    Russia-bate is latest development in the machinery’s rapidly advancing technology of manipulation.

    First there was the fact-based lie, a clumsy tool. All these remained vulnerable to refutation or exposure. E.g., Iraq WMD; war crimes; criminal wars, etc.

    Then came official sanction of the fact-based lie, once disproven or exposed. All institutions of our “democracy” fully absolved themselves and the human agents involved in the fact-based lie. The guilty were declared not subject to accountability. That become cultural acceptance of entrenched power above the law.

    The society now has no “will to fact.”

    This has become unnecessary.

    • Tuyzentfloot on February 26, 2018, 5:31 am

      Russia-bate is latest development in the machinery’s rapidly advancing technology of manipulation.

      That may be true in part but usually people see centralized control where problems are more systemic and trends are more caused by confluence of multiple agendas and natural group dynamics.

  6. RoHa on February 26, 2018, 2:38 am

    Those Russian hackers are everywhere! No-one is safe!

    I fully expect them to hack into MW, and make it look as though, I have misplaced a comma. There is no end to there evil.

    • Keith on February 26, 2018, 10:25 am

      ROHA- “I fully expect them to hack into MW, and make it look as though, I have misplaced a comma.”

      And if they do, how many of us will detect it? Not me, that’s for sure.

      • RoHa on February 26, 2018, 8:53 pm

        After all the punctuation lessons I have posted on MW?
        That is depressing.

        (Not that most things aren’t)

      • Mooser on February 27, 2018, 9:20 pm

        I took your advice about commas to heart, “RoHa”, and found it good.

  7. RoHa on February 26, 2018, 2:47 am

    But some Russian activities get more condemnation than others.

    “US warns Iraq of ‘consequences’ if it buys Russian S-400 missile systems”

    “Saudi ambassador to Moscow: S-400 missile deal with Saudi Arabia in final stages”

  8. Tuyzentfloot on February 26, 2018, 3:53 am

    Seymour Hersh has heen a regular at the New Yorker for 25 years but he had to publish his Obama articles in the London Review of Books. For his latest article he had to move again, this time to Die Welt , because:

    Hersh had also offered the article to the London Review of Books. The editors accepted it, paid for it, and prepared a fact checked article for publication, but decided against doing so, as they told Hersh, because of concerns that the magazine would vulnerable to criticism for seeming to take the view of the Syrian and Russian governments when it came to the April 4th bombing in Khan Sheikhoun.

  9. Eva Smagacz on February 26, 2018, 4:45 am

    What makes me feel really cynical about this “Russia-non-gate” is that in comparison with USA involvement in subverting other countries’ government it is a grain of sand on a beach.

    Of course, this is couched in weasel words like: “we support democracy” (right type of democracy, not, God forbid, Venezuela-like independent-of-USA-democracy).

    When USA supports “democracy”, it is invariably linked to IMF manhandling countries to make conditions favourable for foreign (read: USA) investment.

    Please see this video of Victoria “f–k the EU” Nuland: She admits (at 7min25sec) that USA pumped $5 000 000 000 to help Ukraine to choose right politics.


  10. Tuyzentfloot on February 26, 2018, 5:01 am

    The Intercept posted an imporant discussion between Risen and Greenwald.

    The key concept is trust. Trust is beneficial for a group and trust can be abused. It makes sense to choose to keep operating in a regime of trust, to ‘give’ trust even while you know the system has not fully ‘earned’ trust. It’s valuable to prefer to trust because a system where trust breaks down completely is in deep trouble.

    You could set up a spectrum of trusting attitude and then mainstream journalism has its own range but overall it is very much on one side: it trusts authorities and institutions and it regards those further on the spectrum as paranoid conspiracy thinkers. Official statements are true until proven otherwise. Some people distrust the whole system and they have to speculate in the dark. They have to become conspiracy theorists. Assange distrusts mainstream press to the extent that he does not rely on them for publishing leaks while Greenwald chooses to maintain that trust knowing the press institutions don’t fully earn that trust . I can understand Risen’s choice to trust the agenda setting of the system enough to investigate wherever you’re pointed.

    Greenwald opts for the general strategy that journalists should ‘be difficult’ : official statements are false until proven true. At the same time he resists getting dragged into the Russiagate agenda by following a ‘meta’ agenda of monitoring the media.

    Not being a public intellectual like Greenwald I like the simplified position of dismissing Russiagate as trivial. The whole agenda of Russiagate is poisonous in itself and going along with the agenda feeds the agenda. The agenda is that we should escalate tensions with Russia and make them our enemy. The expected level of nefarious activities of Russia should already be considerable when relations are good,(for instance, I just read about GCHC hacking Belgian telecom) and it must be higher when relations are bad. We now have a climate where everyday there’s a new claim pumped into the media , and some of them are bound to have some truth in them. Since the reaction to the true claims is also excessive(they’re compared to some fantasy reference frame without hacking , propaganda or troll farms)this can only escalate and there’s little to be gained from investigating them in public.

    My agenda is we should deescalate whatever truth there is in Russiagate. So, completely opposite to those comparing it with Pearl Harbor.

  11. Maghlawatan on February 26, 2018, 11:03 am

    Russia is very similar to Israel. WW2 trauma drives the country.
    I think russiagate is important. The collapse of neoliberalism is separate.

    • genesto on February 26, 2018, 2:04 pm

      Both countries are run by ultra nationalists, but russiagate, until proven otherwise, is NOT important. Claiming it is, once again, feeds into the nefarious agenda as described above.

  12. James Canning on February 26, 2018, 5:54 pm

    There is no doubting that “Russiagate” is a useful means of promoting ever more virtually idiotic spending on unnecessary “defense”.

  13. Tuyzentfloot on February 26, 2018, 7:32 pm

    I like the observations about Chen. The thing is, we have a tribal, social nature with a high sensitivity to group status. That means that there are people and things you don’t want to be associated with because it affects your status , your credibility in the group, because it’s not safe. Chen doesn’t want to be associated with indy journalism. It’s like staying clear of conspiracy theorists, antisemites or really unpopular people. It’s about possibly being able to offer one unpopular idea but only after first confirming 4 other popular ideas to show you’re ok. It’s about being critical about everything because simply being in favor of something or someone lowers your status. It’s about not being able to be skeptical about russiagate because it makes you pro-Trump or a puppet of the Russians.

    Groupthink is a word used to describe situations where a group really goes off in the wrong direction, but i prefer the idea that we have an omnipresent conformism which is second or even first nature, and that it’s not necessarily bad. It’s got its downsides though.

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