Will there ever be a vaccine for the not so novel coronavirus, Russiagate-16? It has clearly infected beyond cure various media outlets and the establishment of an entire political party in the US for the past four years. Even though it has been repeatedly debunked and identified as a pathology by rational critics, multiple news outlets and public personalities continue to show symptoms of succumbing to a disease that is clearly not lethal but diabolically chronic.
Some say that politicians in Washington can never be cured of any disease other than those specifically listed in their generous government health plans. They also point out that there is little hope of cable television networks recovering from the virus of their favorite conspiracy theory because that is what their audience expects them to feed them every night. Some even speculate that network presenters have actually been cured, but because their ratings depend on their playing a role that reassures their audience, they keep coughing out the same exaggerations and lies. In the televised media, it’s crucial to appear consistent even when the message contradicts the obvious truth.
Is Realism in Foreign Policy Realistic?
The case of The New York Times is harder to explain. It has miraculously maintained its reputation as a serious newspaper reporting the news and treating it with some depth. There are no audio-visual tricks. Readers cannot be conquered by the studied vocal and facial effects of officials and experts trained to sound authoritative in front of a camera. A reader who peruses a news story in black and white has the time to process the messages it contains, reflect on the nature of the content, appreciate the points of view cited and assess the level of veracity of the facts and opinions.
In an internal meeting back in August 2019, Times Executive Editor Dean Baquet admitted that the newspaper had gone too far with its Russiagate obsession. In the meantime, many prominent independent journalists and even a former Russia specialist of the CIA have exposed the charade. But even today, The New York Times insists on putting the most visible symptoms of the disease on display. The Russians may not have tampered with elections, but they have literally invaded the copy of The Times’ coverage of the election if not the brains of its journalists.
Here is the latest example: “American officials expect that if the presidential race is not called on election night, Russian groups could use their knowledge of the local computer systems to deface websites, release nonpublic information or take similar steps that could sow chaos and doubts about the integrity of the results, according to officials briefed on the intelligence.”
Here is today’s 3D definition:
The sentence cited above can be reduced to two verb phrases: “American officials expect” and “Russian groups could.” Everything else could be filled by any creative journalist’s imagination. The single word, “expect,” transforms the meaning of what the authors are reporting.
The same sentence would sound vastly more truthful if the authors added “some” before “experts” and if the word “speculate” were to replace “expect”: But some American officials speculate that if the presidential race is not called on election night…
When officials expect something, it suggests they dispose of solid evidence that provides a high level of probability for their thesis. But a little investigation shows there is no evidence, just wild ideas.
It is possible that the officials do expect behavior even without evidence. In that case, the journalists should follow up by explaining why they do so. We know, for example, that some members of the Trump administration, including Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, expect “the rapture” or the second coming of Christ to occur in their lifetime. Could something similar be taking place in the minds of the officials cited here? Here at The Daily Devil’s Dictionary, we expect that is the case.
The idea of expectation often includes the hope that the subject of speculation will come true. That certainly applies to Pompeo’s expectation of the rapture. The Times journalists claim that the officials they cite expect Russian groups “to deface websites, release nonpublic information or take similar steps that could sow chaos and doubts about the integrity of the results.” This leaves the impression that they are hoping to find evidence of such acts. None of those nefarious deeds is likely to seriously compromise the integrity of the US presidential election results, but proof of their existence would validate the experts’ and The Times’ belief in the culpability of the scapegoat they have been promoting for the past four years.
When analyzing the pathology of the Russiagate syndrome, the language the authors use reveals their intent. They designate the culprit as “Russian groups.” What does that mean? It could be random individual Russians or a complicit association of Russians. It could be Russians using the web for fun, profit or getting even with someone or some other group of people.
But the word “groups” sounds vaguely sinister. And, of course, Russiagate from the beginning was always about a suspicion of collusion and conspiracy. The journalists clearly want the idea to germinate in the readers’ heads that Russian President Vladimir Putin is a key member of the group and probably the one who ordered and engineered the operation.
Though they leave the accusation open, they know that they can always count on Democratic Representative Adam Schiff to connect the dots. Schiff came straight out and accused Putin, claiming it is neither expectation or speculation, but knowledge: “We know that this whole smear on Joe Biden comes from the Kremlin,” Schiff told CNN, with nothing to back it up. At the same time, the political scientist Thomas Rid, writing in The Washington Post, inadvertently revealed how the system works when he counseled on Saturday: “We must treat the Hunter Biden leaks as if they were a foreign intelligence operation – even if they probably aren’t.”
Who needs knowledge or even reasonable speculation when you can formulate an “expected” result as a solid truth?
In the past, politicians and the media invented stories of attacks, interference and threats only when their aim was to provoke a serious armed conflict. Whether it was the sinking of Maine in 1898 that launched the Spanish-American War, the Bay of Tonkin incident in 1964 that triggered the conflict in Vietnam or the weapons of mass destruction imagined in the collective screenplay authored by George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld and Colin Powell before invading Iraq in 2003, the accusation of a violation of US political or moral space (even in foreign waters) proved “necessary” only as a prelude to declaring or prosecuting war.
Russiagate was never intended to provide a pretext for war. Instead, it began as the means for the Democrats to save face and explain away their humiliating defeat in 2016 to the most unpopular and manifestly incompetent presidential candidate of all time, Donald Trump. During the campaign, Hillary Clinton was already a close second in terms of unpopularity. But Trump ultimately proved his claim to the title by losing the popular vote by nearly 3 million votes while winning the election.
Any rational observer of politics should have seen and understood the pattern at the time. Most people yawned at the comic absurdity of it. Few imagined that it might still populate the discourse of the Democratic Party four years on. Fewer still would have imagined that The New York Times would keep running with it over those four years.
And yet, that’s where we are today. Perhaps the real culprit of the story is Fox News. Its insistence on rehashing the same simplistic lies, distortions and libels night after night while refusing to take any critical distance seems to have created a model for all commercial media and especially its Democratic rivals, including The Times, MSNBC, The Post, CNN and others.
Dante reserved the eighth circle of hell for liars, just one flight up from Satan’s own dwelling. No one doubts that Trump deserves a special spot in that circle, given the number of lies he tells on a daily basis. But media outlets that try to tell the truth while repeating the same single lie day after day, year after year probably also merit their own little corner of that circle.
*[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. Read more of The Daily Devil’s Dictionary on Fair Observer.]
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.
For more than 10 years, Fair Observer has been free, fair and independent. No billionaire owns us, no advertisers control us. We are a reader-supported nonprofit. Unlike many other publications, we keep our content free for readers regardless of where they live or whether they can afford to pay. We have no paywalls and no ads.
In the post-truth era of fake news, echo chambers and filter bubbles, we publish a plurality of perspectives from around the world. Anyone can publish with us, but everyone goes through a rigorous editorial process. So, you get fact-checked, well-reasoned content instead of noise.
We publish 2,500+ voices from 90+ countries. We also conduct education and training programs on subjects ranging from digital media and journalism to writing and critical thinking. This doesn’t come cheap. Servers, editors, trainers and web developers cost money. Please consider supporting us on a regular basis as a recurring donor or a sustaining member.