Is it the run-up to the election or just our imagination? Has the team of journalists at The New York Times been instructed to turn every allusion to political messaging into a crusade against Russia? Thursday’s edition offers yet another example of The Times providing confused propaganda for American voters to ponder, though this time, Russia has the rare privilege of being accompanied by Iran.
It’s almost as if The Times itself had positioned itself as one of the occult powers it consistently accuses of spreading misinformation to foment disorder in the electoral processes in the US. Adding to the irony is the fact that the source of the latest news is none other than John Ratcliffe, President Donald Trump’s director of national intelligence whom the paper took to task a day earlier for dismissing the insistence by The Times, Politico and Senator Adam Schiff that the story about Hunter Biden’s laptop was “a Russian information operation” as being without foundation.
The Russian Pathology Deepens at The NY Times
How does The Times make its case this time? First by reminding us of Trump’s complaining “that the vote on Nov. 3 will be ‘rigged,’ that mail-in ballots will lead to widespread fraud and that the only way he can be defeated is if his opponents cheat.” “Now, on the eve of the final debate,” The Times tells us, Trump “has evidence of foreign influence campaigns designed to hurt his re-election chances, even if they did not affect the voting infrastructure.”
Here is today’s 3D definition:
Insincere communication on the internet where nothing is real and, as in politics itself, in order to exist, any powerful message must attain the status of hyperreality and show itself worthy of attracting the attention of the architects of hyperreality.
The comedy of paranoid reporting by The Times and other “liberal” outlets’ continues, with ever-increasing humorous effects. MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow, for example, took literally the content of the comical Proud Boys email described by Ratcliffe as a spoof launched by Iran. After crying havoc and announcing fire in the theater, The Times article describes the factual outcome of Iran’s terrifying assault: “There was no indication that any election result tallies were changed or that information about who is registered to vote was altered.”
Here is what The Times’ message might sound like if it were framed in more rational and objective terms: “We should all be very alarmed. We may even be thinking about going to war or at least showing how righteously indignant we feel about the evil countries that may (or may not) be trying to emulate what our intelligence agencies have been doing for decades, even though these cowardly enemies apparently lack the will or competence to effectively tamper with our electoral system, and in fact maybe never even tried since the most damning evidence shows that they never go beyond doing what most ordinary citizens do: use emails and social media outbursts to bombard others with their deranged ravings.”
Yes, Russians and Iranians are guilty of using the internet. Worse, they drafted their messages in English and targeted voters in the US who also happen to use the internet. The voters who received these texts were instantly brainwashed into changing their intention to vote. In this pre-electoral pantomime, we can always count on politicians and particularly members of the Senate Intelligence Committee for well-timed comic relief. Senator Angus King, an independent from Maine, dramatically proclaimed: “We are under attack, and we are going to be up to Nov. 3 and probably beyond. Both the American people have to be skeptical and thoughtful about information they receive, and certainly election officials have to be doubly cautious now that we know again they are targets.” King makes it sound like a 9/11 redux. But none of the evidence cited in the article resembles an attack, more an adolescent prank. The comedy continues as the article explains that these incidents fall into the category of “perception hacks,” communications with no concrete outcome that supposedly produce some mysterious psychological effect.
They do deliver one alarming fact: “The consumer and voter databases that we discovered hackers are currently selling significantly lowers the barrier to entry for nation-states to execute sophisticated phishing, disinformation and intimidation campaigns.” But what on the web isn’t disinformation, starting with every political story in The New York Times?
Free speech means everyone has the right to exaggerate and lie. And in politics, even in news stories, lying and exaggerating generally serve to create apprehension and fear. Many articles in The Times should simply begin with the sentence: “We’re going to tell you what you should now be afraid of.”
It’s time we realized that spying and hacking are a well-established feature of contemporary culture. They fit perfectly with the ethics of competitive influencing inculcated into generations of citizens in our consumer society. It’s a culture that rewards “influencers” (i.e. hustlers) or anyone with the appropriate “assertive” traits that facilitate success.
The article offers us the cherry on the cake when, toward the end, after spelling out the risk to election infrastructure, the authors admit: “So far, there is no evidence they have tried to do that, but officials said that kind of move would come only in the last days of the election campaign, if at all.” That last phrase, “if at all,” tells it all.
This is our third article this week on the lengths to which The New York Times is willing to go to spread misinformation about the Russian threat. It’s part of a campaign that has already lasted more than four years. In every case, there has been a build-up of evidence, like a balloon inflated to capacity and apparently ready to pop before someone loses their grip on the balloon’s neck and lets the air come gushing out. It happened most dramatically with the Mueller report and then again with Trump’s impeachment. It has happened on a nightly basis for all of the past four years on Rachel Maddow’s MSNBC nightly broadcast.
Alireza Miryousefi, the spokesman for the Iranian Mission to the United Nations, denied John Ratcliffe’s accusations and indignantly countered: “Unlike the U.S., Iran does not interfere in other countries’ elections.” That may be true. Or the opposite may be true, which would produce this statement: “Like the US, Iran does interfere in other countries’ elections.”
If the second statement is true, Iran would nevertheless be trailing woefully behind the US in its ability to effectively tamper with other countries’ elections. The Times notes that Miryousefi was apparently referencing the CIA’s successful collusion with Britain’s MI6 to depose Iran’s Prime Minister Mohammed Mossadegh in 1953. But the authors of the article even distort that event, calling it, with studied imprecision: “the C.I.A.’s efforts to depose an Iranian leader in the 1950s.” They didn’t just try. As history tells us, they succeeded.
Miryousefi added another comment whose truthfulness it would be legitimate to doubt given Trump’s alignment with Israel and his demonizing of Iran: “Iran has no interest in interfering in the U.S. election and no preference for the outcome.” If cooperation and peace are better than conflict and war, Iran should clearly prefer an outcome in which Donald Trump is no longer the president of the US.
But this may be the diplomat’s way of indicating that the Iranians don’t expect anything radically different from Joe Biden. They may even fear that Biden and the Democratic establishment, being more closely identified with the interests of the military-industrial complex, could be more dangerous than Trump, a man who temperamentally prefers reducing the US military engagement in the Middle East.
As the intelligence and the media continue to voice their obsession with influence campaigns while designating their favorite enemy of the month (and sometimes two), the world needs to come to grips with the fact that the real battle in the next year or two will be between reality and hyperreality. For some time, hyperreality has had the upper hand. But one of the effects produced by an authentic crisis — whether of health, the economy or politics or all three — could be finally to give reality a fighting chance.
*[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.