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The Cold War Against Bernie Sanders

The New York Times has mobilized its Cold War ethos to go after Bernie Sanders.
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Statue of Ronald Reagan in Budapest, Hungary, 3/25/2018 © Gilmanshin / Shutterstock

March 09, 2020 10:53 EDT

The New York Times once again puts on display its commitment to prolonging indefinitely the Cold War in pursuit of its own partisan purposes. Unlike Russiagate and Ukrainegate, which aimed at discrediting US President Donald Trump, The Times has now decided to deploy its Cold War alert system to help the Democratic Party in its noble quest to brand Bernie Sanders as a tool of the Soviets and clear the way for Joe Biden’s triumphant march to the Democratic nomination. 

It was on the Friday before the Nevada caucuses that The Washington Post “revealed” the Kremlin’s commitment to promoting Sanders’ candidacy. This time, on the Friday before “mini Super Tuesday” in which six states will hold their primaries, it’s The New York Times that exposes Sander’s criminal past as an accomplice of the Soviet Union back in 1988. The fact that both stories are fiction worthy of Joe McCarthy did not deter the editors of these prestigious newspapers from featuring them on their front page.

The March 6 edition of The New York Times features an article bearing the title “As Bernie Sanders Pushed for Closer Ties, Soviet Union Spotted Opportunity.” The subtitle whets its readers’ appetite as it promises a scoop revealing the content of “Previously unseen documents from a Soviet archive.” These apparently carefully concealed documents show “how hard Mr. Sanders worked to find a sister city in Russia when he was a mayor in the 1980s.” The lengthy subtitle concludes with this ominous inference: “Moscow saw a chance for propaganda.” It implies that Sanders was either too blind to see it or was criminally complicit in promoting Soviet propaganda.

Here is today’s 3D definition:


An evil activity of disinformation invented by the Soviets and perpetrated by Russians even today, which in its Western version has been renamed “political marketing” and is considered to be among the most virtuous of public activities, routinely practiced by major news media and appreciated for the consistent results it has achieved in the indoctrination of entire nations willing to accept the establishment’s official ideology, including vocabulary lists that include words like “propaganda.”

Contextual Note

The author of the article, appropriately enough, is the Russian-born Anton Troianovski, whom The Times hired as its Moscow correspondent in September of last year. Who better than a Russian to draft and disseminate the newspaper’s own propaganda? In The Times’ ongoing campaign to instill its own version of fake news, it has enlisted Troianovski to do the Democratic Party establishment’s bidding by exposing candidate Bernie Sanders as a traitor, much as Hillary Clinton recently accused candidate Tulsi Gabbard of being a “Russian asset.” 

The article paints Sanders as an enthusiast for the Soviet way of life. The factual distortion begins in the subtitle itself, when the author chooses to situate the events in “the 1980s” without specifying the particular context of the year 1988, a moment of history when the virulently anti-communist Republican President Ronald Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev were flirting with each other. This was just a year and a half before the fall of the Berlin Wall and the imminent implosion of what Reagan, the master propagandist, had previously called “the evil empire,” in a 1983 speech to the National Association of Evangelicals.

The article again invokes “the 1980s” when the author reminds his readers that Sanders “forcefully opposed the Reagan administration’s plans to have Burlington and other American cities make evacuation plans for a potential nuclear war.” This creates the impression that Sanders could be suspected of being a subversive opponent of Reagan’s singularly aggressive foreign policy with regard to the Soviet Union. Later in the article, we learn the extent of Sanders’ subversive intent: “As mayor, Mr. Sanders championed a range of international causes that often aligned him with left-wing movements and leaders in other countries, and against the Reagan administration.”

When Troianovski finally does acknowledge the specific character of the historical context, in which Gorbachev “had sparked optimism among some in the West,” he carefully qualifies the reference to optimism by adding, “along with skepticism from many others.” “Some in the West” of course means “not many,” which in turn means mainly marginal or naïve people like Sanders. “Many others” — the skeptics — is intended to signify those who had their heads on their shoulders and understood the drift of history.

In what may be the most curious (and confused) sentence in the article, we read: “While Mr. Sanders has taken heat from President Trump and his campaign for this outreach to the Soviets, his supporters say it was a timely effort to help defuse tensions and stands in contrast to Mr. Trump’s affinity for strongman leaders like Russia’s current president, Vladimir V. Putin.” Establishing a connection with Trump, even a negative one, as Troianovski attempts to do here, makes no sense. Despite the suggestion of a contrast, the author suggests not that Sanders’ case is different from Trump’s, but that both men share a proclivity toward complicity with evil Russians, who come in two flavors: Soviets (before 1991) and Putin (after 2000).

We also get sentences like this with some easy to recognize innuendo: “Mr. Sanders spoke by phone with Yuri Menshikov.” This suggests an act of collusion akin to Trump’s impeachable conversation with Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky. Then we are reminded of the incriminating words of Sanders himself who, after visiting the Russian town of Yaroslavl, made the heretical and deeply un-American observation: “People there seemed reasonably happy and content. I didn’t notice much deprivation.”

Then to buttress his case that paints Sanders as Russia’s useful idiot, though it has no bearing on the story he relates, Troianovski cites the since discredited report notoriously launched by The Washington Post in early February and echoed by The Times, stating “that the Kremlin was looking favorably upon Mr. Sanders’s presidential candidacy (as well as Mr. Trump’s).”

Formerly a correspondent for The Wall Street Journal, Anton Troianovksi has clearly developed his skills at outrageously twisting history to the ideological tendency of his employers. It turns out that the true story of Bernie Sanders’ work with the Soviet Union in 1988 leaves a very different impression from the one Troianovski so laboriously builds, as two very reliable witnesses testified in the letters to the editor the following day.

Historical Note

Jack F. Matlock Jr., President Reagan’s former ambassador to the Soviet Union at the time of Sanders’ initiative and author of “Reagan and Gorbachev: How the Cold War Ended,” wasted no time writing a letter to The New York Times to set the record straight. To its credit, The Times had the decency to publish it as well as another letter by a well-informed historian. Matlock stated very simply and directly that the article, “’Papers Detail Soviet Hopes for Sanders’ (front page, March 6) is a distortion of history.”

Matlock was himself part of the story: “The truth is that Bernie Sanders, then the mayor of Burlington, Vt., opened a sister-city relationship with Yaroslavl in 1988 with the encouragement and strong support of the United States government.” Matlock also contradicts the whole thesis of The Times’ article when he says that “The visit was not used as propaganda by the Soviet Union.” He points out that “the contacts played an important role in opening up Soviet society and facilitating Mr. Gorbachev’s reforms.” Instead of being the Kremlin’s “useful idiot,” Sanders acted in admirable conformity with the Reagan administration’s policies, which were refreshingly enlightened at this point of his presidency.

In another letter published by The Times, Barbara Keys, a professor of history at Durham University, makes the equally telling point — supported by a link to The Times’ own archives — that back in 1985, three years earlier than Sanders’ initiative, the newspaper “reported that President Ronald Reagan was urging ‘bold new steps to open the way for our peoples [Americans and Soviets] to participate in an unprecedented way in the building of peace.’” The Cold War had already begun its thaw, three years before Sanders’ initiative and four years before the Soviet empire began its definitive disintegration.

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Today’s New York Times appears committed to reviving the most extreme paranoia of the Cold War, which now includes not just misreporting current news, such as imagining collusion where simple convergence of interest exists, but also rewriting history to attribute guilt to politicians who challenge its own establishment ideology. Ambassador Matlock insists: “Expanding people-to-people ties was one of the important goals of President Ronald Reagan’s policy toward the U.S.S.R., a policy that was continued by President George H.W. Bush.” 

The Times and other promoters of today’s atavistic (and intensified) Cold War mentality have developed a new form of neoliberal isolationism. In contrast with former Republican administrations that believed in “people-to-people ties,” the neoliberal isolationist ideology promoted by The Times and other “liberal media” apparently prefers keeping ordinary people apart while at the same time promoting financial and military connections. This avoids the messiness of trying to get people to understand one another. It’s so much easier to cast the other as the incorrigible enemy and deploy one’s ideological arms against them as well as against one’s own compatriots who show the slightest “people-to-people” empathy with them.

In short, The Times, faithful to its mission of promoting the “electable” Democratic candidate, Joe Biden (which implies discrediting Sanders), has adopted a position on foreign policy considerably more bellicose and clearly to the right of Ronald Reagan, a president who had enough “people-to-people” sense to view mayor Bernie Sanders as an American asset rather than a Russian one. This tells us how far to the imperialistic, bellicose right US liberal media has drifted. 

Despite global warming, the new Cold War, promoted by a diversity of voices that includes The New York Times, Rachel Maddow, Adam Schiff and the rest of the “liberal” establishment, appears to be a lot icier than the one that Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush championed in the 1980s.

[In the age of Oscar Wilde and Mark Twain, another American wit, the journalist Ambrose Bierce, produced a series of satirical definitions of commonly used terms, throwing light on their hidden meanings in real discourse. Bierce eventually collected and published them as a book, The Devil’s Dictionary, in 1911. We have shamelessly appropriated his title in the interest of continuing his wholesome pedagogical effort to enlighten generations of readers of the news.]

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.

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