A Double Twist in Russiagate

A stale scoop by The New York Times meets a fresher one from Fox News.
Russiagate, Russian interference in US elections, Russian interference elections, 2020 US presidential election, Russia news, Angus King, William Evanina, US intelligence agencies, US news, Peter Isackson

© Martial Red

The New York Times never tires of finding new pretexts to repeat the same message. Its journalists have been regularly updating it with the same lack of substance over the past four years. The latest iteration, published on August 7, bears the title, “Russia Continues Interfering in Election to Try to Help Trump, U.S. Intelligence Says.”

In the very first sentence, the author, Julian E. Barnes, presents it as breaking news, the release of a “first public assessment” of a never-to-be-doubted source: “intelligence officials.” The intelligence revealed turns out to be little more than confirmation of the theme familiar to Times readers: “that Moscow continues to try to interfere in the 2020 campaign to help President [Donald] Trump.”


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In their vast majority, Times readers are anti-Trump and mostly lifelong Democrats. For a moment last year, The New York Times seemed to admit the failure of the Mueller investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election to validate its favored thesis. In March 2019, The Guardian sensibly published an op-ed with the title, “Enough Russia: after Mueller, it’s time for Democrats to focus on America.” Its subtitle read: “With this distraction finally out of the way, it’s time to deal with issues that the majority of the electorate actually cares about.”

Now, 18 months on, The Times, faced with the serious task of getting Joe Biden elected and defeating Trump, cannot avoid returning to its past habits. Still, to keep a stale story alive and make it look like news, something new had to be added. It needed a twist. Senator Angus King, a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, revealed the scoop. It isn’t just Russia. It’s also China and Iran. In other words, Russiagate on steroids.

The senator framed it by saying that William Evanina, the director of the National Counterintelligence and Security Center, “has basically put the American people on notice that Russia in particular, also China and Iran, are going to be trying to meddle in this election and undermine our democratic system.” King spoke in reference to a statement made by Evanina on August 7 regarding the release of an intelligence report over foreign interference in this year’s US presidential election.

Here is today’s 3D definition:

Undermine:

Call into question the political credo all upstanding citizens of a powerful nation are required to recite and adhere to because failure to affirm their faith would endanger the complex political systems, potentially causing it to implode

Contextual Note

Any serious journalist with a sense of logic should question King’s reasoning when he asserts that foreign powers are “trying to meddle in this election and undermine our democratic system.” After all, in the age of social media, anyone and everyone can try to meddle. Trying doesn’t imply succeeding. But the jump from “meddle” to “undermine” poses a more fundamental logical problem.

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The three foreign nations cited — Russia, China and Iran — certainly have the capacity to meddle. Everyone does. That reality existed even before social media. Furthermore, meddling is what all reasonably solid national structures are expected to do. Why else would they have intelligence services? What does the CIA do?

But can they undermine? That requires more than simply trying to meddle. Undermining means hollowing out the ground below to destabilize the structure. It requires means that go well beyond spreading rumors and publishing lies. For the past four years — as The Times’ executive editor, Dean Baquet, admitted in private — there has been no causal link established between Russians “trying to meddle” and the effective undermining of American democracy. Publications that encourage the belief that meddling is tantamount to effective undermining are guilty, at the very least, of faulty logic.

The real irony in this attempt to produce new scoops with stale news is that the real scoop of this entire four-year drama emerged two days later. On August 9, a whistleblower, Steven P. Schrage — a former White House, State Department and G8 official — came forward in an interview with Maria Bartiromo on Fox News to put the entire Russiagate narrative in a new perspective, essentially validating President Trump’s thesis known as “Spygate.” Although Fox News can legitimately be suspected of pro-Trump bias, this is an important emerging story covered by the respected investigative journalist, Matt Taibbi.

At the end of the Fox News interview, Schrage makes this interesting comment: “This is about officials undermining our democracy and it needs to be known long before the election.” If what he describes is true, this is not a case of meddling from afar but, as he says, actively undermining the workings of US democracy from the inside.

Historical Note

The latest intelligence report that The New York Times used as the basis of its story attempts to create a new historical perspective. Building on the belief embraced by the Democratic Party for the past four years that there is a secret link between Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin, the intelligence community now adds China and Iran to the list of meddling nations.

The designation of three villains may harken back to George W. Bush’s 2002 strategy when he launched the trope of a three-pronged “axis of evil.” It worked for President Bush on the eve of his invasion of Iraq in 2003. It led to the successful multiplication of unsuccessful wars in the Middle East, a fact that has dominated the trajectory of US history ever since. Because the uncertainty of facing off against a single enemy entails the risk of losing — a humiliation the US endured in Vietnam — having three enemies to choose from strengthens the case of a power that wishes to project its strength, fearlessness and unparalleled spirit of domination. 

As a candidate for the presidency in 2000, Bush had demonstrated his keen awareness of having at least one identifiable enemy when he said, in his inimitable style: “When I was coming up, it was a dangerous world, and you knew exactly who they were. It was us versus them, and it was clear who them was. Today, we are not so sure who the they are, but we know they’re there.”

Following the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, under the Clinton administration, the US no longer had an identifiable enemy. Bush provided three in 2002. The IC now wants to make sure that we have three today, with China replacing North Korea, a nation with whom Trump seems to have made some kind of peace.

The intelligence community’s report is embarrassingly vague on all its findings. But that doesn’t seem to bother The Times. We read, for example: “They may also seek to compromise our election infrastructure for a range of possible purposes.” A sentence relying on “may” can be logically extended to state the opposite with the same degree of truth: Then again, they may not.”

The Time mentions that the report “was short on specifics, but that was largely because the intelligence community is intent on trying to protect its sources of information.” Who needs specifics? And there is a noble intention of “trying to protect” sources. “Trying” is like “may.” It admits of its opposite.

The Times itself acknowledges the lack of substance in the report. “Outside of a few scattered examples, it is hard to find much evidence of intensifying Chinese influence efforts that could have a national effect.” This sudden critical acumen may be due to the fact that the intelligence community finds that China would prefer meddling in favor of Joe Biden, assessing that “China prefers that President Trump … does not win reelection.” The Democrats should be alarmed. What would happen if Biden were to win the election and the Republicans spent the next four years complaining that it was all due to Chinese meddling?

The article is filled with sentences containing the verb “try.” “Russia tried to use influence campaigns during 2018 midterm voting to try to sway public opinion, but it did not successfully tamper with voting infrastructure,” The Times reports. And what about “nevertheless” alongside “could try” in the following sentence? “But nevertheless, the countries could try to interfere in the voting process or take steps aimed at “calling into question the validity of the election results.”

If anything, the report makes clear that the intelligence community, like The New York Times, is “trying” very hard to get across its message. It is easy to identify its targets. As Matt Taibbi notes, “The intelligence leak claiming Russia supported Bernie Sanders over Vice President Biden in 2020’s critical Nevada Democratic caucuses, shows how our national security powers could just as easily be deployed against Democrats as against Republicans.”

Steven P. Schrage perhaps deserves the final thought: “Nothing excuses foreign meddling in U.S. elections. Yet it is hypocritical and absurd to use that as an excuse to hide abuses by U.S. intelligence, law enforcement, and political officials against our own citizens.”

*[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.

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