The Nation Debunks Russiagate Conspiracy “Fantasyland” And Irresponsible Media Coverage

As was the case in the run up to the Iraq war when a small number of us were disputing the claims used to justify war, there also continues to be articles disputing the Russiagate conspiracy theory that Donald Trump and Russia successfully colluded to alter the 2016 election result. This is most often spread by establishment Democrats who cannot face the fact that Hillary Clinton was such a terrible choice for the nomination that she could not beat someone as awful as Donald Trump. While Robert Mueller’s investigation is uncovering evidence of financial crimes, and obstruction of justice, no evidence has been presented to support the claims of Russia altering the election results which has not been quickly retracted or debunked. Yesterday I quoted from an article by¬†Jackson Lears,¬†Professor of History at Rutgers University. Another article on this subject by Aaron Mat√© in The Nation is less extensive but has the benefit of being more likely to be read by Democrats who are being duped this conspiracy theory.

There have been so many debunked claims regarding Russiagate that no single article can deal with them all.¬†Mat√© concentrated on the numerous reports which have been circulated by the mainstream media, only to be quickly shown to be false–a subject I previously discussed here. He also touched on the false claims of Russian hackers hacking the voting systems of 21 states and the claim that there was a consensus from all the intelligence agencies that Russia was responsible for hacking the Democratic National Committee. This later claim continues to be repeated by many Clinton apologists despite having been retracted by The New York Times last June. It is also worth noting that, while no evidence has been presented so far showing that Russia hacked the DNC, if future evidence should happen to show this, it would be a negative regarding Russia but would still not support Clinton’s argument that Russia is responsible for her loss. The hacked email which was released by Wikileaks provided factual information regarding unethical behavior by Clinton and the DNC, and Clinton would still be responsible for any votes lost because of this.

There are at least five reasons why the Russiagate conspiracy theory is so dangerous. It allows the Democratic establishment to deny responsibility for their mistakes, making reform less likely. It promotes McCarthyism and promotion of restrictions on freedom of expression in the United States. It unnecessarily increases conflict with a nuclear power (playing into the hands of Clinton’s neocon allies who desire to attempt regime change in Russia). It strengthens Putin by showing him to be a far greater master strategist than he is, to the frustration of anti-Putin forces in Russia.¬†Mat√© began his article with a fifth reason. Concentrating on such false charges distracts from forming a true resistance to the many terrible things Donald Trump has been doing.

After this introduction, Maté more directly addressed the unsupported claims regarding the 2016 election:

The basis for the ‚Äúvirtually uncontested truths‚ÄĚ of the year‚Äôs ‚Äúbiggest story‚ÄĚ remains the Office of the Director of National Intelligence‚Äôs¬†January 2017 report, which accused Russia of hacking Democratic e-mails and using social media to influence the 2016 election. Yet the report openly acknowledges that its conclusions are ‚Äúnot intended to imply that we have proof that shows something to be a fact.‚ÄĚ Nearly one year later, we have yet to see a shred of proof.

What we have in its stead is a stream of Russiagate stories that make bombastic entrances only to quietly slink away. The pattern persists thanks to a media and political culture that embraces credulity and shuns accountability.

Virtually¬†every¬†major¬†outlet¬†reported¬†claims¬†in September that Russian-government-backed hackers targeted the voting systems of 21 states. But last month Christopher Krebs, a senior cyber-security official at the Department of Homeland Security, quietly informed Congress that no such hacking had occurred. ‚ÄúThe majority of the activity was simple scanning,‚ÄĚ Krebs told a¬†House panel. ‚ÄúScanning is a regular activity across the Web. I would not characterize that as an attack.‚Ķ If that context was not provided, I apologize.‚ÄĚ He added: ‚ÄúWhen we talk about that scanning, it was not also necessarily an election system that was scanned.‚ÄĚ

Krebs‚Äôs contrition did not ring out among the media that had fervently reported the scanning as a hacking attack, and¬†continue¬†to¬†do so¬†as part of Russiagate‚Äôs ‚Äúvirtually uncontested truths.‚ÄĚ The falsity of the ‚Äú21 states‚ÄĚ claim went largely unreported, outside C-SPAN and the marginal Russian website that¬†took notice.

Meanwhile, accountability has been resisted even when the mistakes are seismically embarrassing. The most recent case was CNN‚Äôs¬†erroneous report¬†that the Trump campaign was offered access to Wikileaks‚Äô trove of stolen Democratic Party e-mails¬†before¬†their public release. In a story line worthy of¬†Better Call Saul, it turned out that CNN got the date wrong‚ÄĒsomeone had in fact e-mailed the Trump campaign a link to the Wikileaks e-mails, only¬†after¬†they were already all over the Internet. As¬†Glenn Greenwald noted, the mistake was egregious not just for the story‚Äôs ultimate uselessness, but also for the fact CNN and other outlets all reported they had confirmed it with multiple sources. Yet none of the networks have explained how their ‚Äúmultiple sources‚ÄĚ all ‚Äúconfirmed‚ÄĚ the same incorrect date.

Mat√© discussed CNN’s error in greater detail. He next discussed the claims that Russia affected the Brexit vote. As was the case with Russia’s actions on Facebook and Twitter in the United States, he showed that the claims regarding Brexit were highly exaggerated, and then discussed Russia Today and the investigation of Jill Stein:

Just weeks ago,¬†The New York Times¬†warned¬†that reports of Russian-linked social-media activity around the Brexit vote ‚Äúcould raise questions about the legitimacy of the referendum‚ÄĚ itself. ‚ÄúI have a very simple message for Russia,‚Ä̬†declared¬†British Prime Minister Theresa May on November 13. ‚ÄúWe know what you are doing. And you will not succeed.‚ÄĚ

We now have a full accounting of what Russia was doing:¬†According to Twitter, the Kremlin-backed network Russia Today spent just over $1,000 to promote its Brexit coverage to UK-based viewers.¬†Facebook reported¬†a grand total of 97 cents spent on three ads, ‚Äúall centered on immigration and aimed at American users,‚ÄĚ reaching no more than 200 of them over four days. Whatever Russia was doing, May‚Äôs confidence that they would not succeed was doubtless well-founded.

The unquestioning faith in evidence-free or overblown claims coincides with the targeting of those who dare challenge them. The¬†forced registration of RT America¬†as a ‚Äúforeign agent‚ÄĚ was followed by the¬†revoking¬†of the outlet‚Äôs congressional press pass, with the usual silence from press-freedom groups and media outlets, even progressive ones. Without explanation,¬†The Huffington Post¬†removed an article¬†by veteran reporter Joe Lauria that¬†methodically challenged¬†Russiagate‚Äôs precepts. On Tuesday, Green Party candidate Jill Stein¬†confirmed¬†that she is complying with a Senate Intelligence Committee investigation looking into, in the words of panel chair Senator Richard Burr, ‚Äúcollusion with the Russians.‚ÄĚ

Despite¬†multiple¬†interviews¬†explaining the nature of¬†a 2015 trip to Moscow, Stein remains the target of a smear campaign, cheered on by liberal groups, painting her as a¬†Kremlin stooge. ‚ÄúHere‚Äôs hoping this lying sack of piety-spewing shit goes to jail with the rest of the bastards Mueller is investigating,‚Ä̬†commented¬†liberal sex-advice columnist Dan Savage. Zac Petkanas, a Democratic Party senior adviser and Clinton campaign staffer, was so enthused by the Senate probe that he repeated the phrase ‚ÄúJill Stein is a Russian agent‚ÄĚ to his Twitter followers¬†eight times.

Stein calls the investigation part of a ‚Äúresurgence of McCarthyism, to suppress opposition voices, to suppress independent politics.‚ÄĚ But for its proponents to recognize that would mean acknowledging that it derives from the same kind of behavior that is recognized in Trump. ‚ÄúAny genuine interest in objective reality left the building a while ago, replaced by a self-sustaining fantasyland,‚ÄĚ the¬†New York Times¬†editors write of Trump‚Äôs right-wing defenders. The tragedy of Russiagate is that its enthusiasts have constructed a ‚Äúself-sustaining fantasyland‚ÄĚ of their own. A fantasyland is no place from which to confront Trump‚Äôs reality.

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3 Comments

  1. 1
    KP says:

    Thanks for this. Good to see some people aren't afraid to acknowledge what is going on.

    It's important that truth is pursued and reported whether the characters are sympathetic or not.

    Happy New Year.

  2. 2
    Ron Chusid says:

    Happy New Year to  you too.

    How is this all being covered at TMV? Maybe my expectations of them are too low, but my bet is that they are falling for all of this. 

  3. 3
    SocraticGadfly says:

    Consortium News has repeatedly covered this issue from various angles. One recent post notes that many high-flying Russians with Kremlin connections specifically states that they didn't want Trump, because they saw him precisely as the unstable, bloviating weathervane that he actually is.

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