New York Times journalist Lisa Lerer may see herself as US media’s top expert on the phenomenon of disinformation, which includes fake news. Even before Donald Trump’s inauguration, in December 2016, she was among the first to promote Hillary Clinton’s delirious ravings accusing Russia’s President Vladimir Putin of directing Trump’s 2016 campaign because, in Clinton’s own words, “he has a personal beef against me.”
Now Lerer uses her deep understanding of conspiracy theories to weigh in on the subtle ways Russia has once again assumed its role as a political body-snatcher, occupying the nervous systems of selected US politicians, to steal this year’s election away from its rightful owners: establishment Democrats. Her latest column ends with the conclusion: “Welcome to 2020, when disinformation is clouded in … disinformation!”
Here is today’s 3D definition:
An essential component of news stories or articles that focus on the supposed intentions and objectives of people or institutions they have no direct access to. Disinformation often includes the practice of concealing or forgetting to reveal the source of the innuendos included in the reporting.
Lerer and The New York Times seem only slightly embarrassed about their own commitment over the past three years to spreading disinformation based on the Democratic Party’s officially promoted fear of the Russian puppet master who, in their considered opinion, exerts direct control over US elections. Last August, The Times’ executive editor, Dean Baquet, admitted that his team had consistently skewed its reporting because of its obsession with what turned out to be a case of managed disinformation when he told his own newsroom: “I mean, that’s what happens when a story looks a certain way for two years. Right?”
The idea that a “story looks a certain way” tells us that the entire newsroom was managed to delude itself by the superficial “look” of the story they believed should dominate the news. Over more than 24 months, they somehow neglected to use their considerable New York Times journalistic resources to dig beneath the superficial veneer that so attracted them.
Lerer would have been more accurate had she concluded her article with “Welcome to Lisa Lerer’s column, where disinformation about disinformation is clouded in … disinformation!” Lerer has achieved a truly meta performance. She casts doubt on everyone’s information while finding a way to squeeze in her own conspiracy theory about Bernie Sanders’ intentions as if it had a high level of probability. She thus manages to make the standard suggestion that candidate Bernie Sanders is wittingly, or more likely unwittingly, an asset of Vladimir Putin.
It begins like this: Lerer cites Sanders’ denunciation of Putin as an “autocratic thug” only to follow it up by subtly suggesting that it may be a ploy to hide his real intention: promoting “a domestic conspiracy theory” directed against respectable organs of the press like The New York Times and The Washington Post. Here is how she frames it: “Yet, he has also alluded to the idea that there is a domestic conspiracy afoot, playing into the kind of theories Moscow is eager to promulgate to undermine the news media and our political system.”
As evidence, Lerer cites Sanders’ reaction on the airport tarmac to the “news” that the intelligence services had, a month earlier, informed the senator about their belief that the Russians would meddle in this year’s election. After Sanders denounced Putin and Russia’s meddling, a journalist asked him to speculate why the story of the classified briefing was coming out at this time. Sanders impatiently suggested that it just might have something to do with influencing the following day’s primary: “I’ll let you guess about one day before the Nevada caucus. Why do you think it came out? It was The Washington Post? Good friends.”
Like The New York Times, The Washington Post has consistently and very transparently promoted the Democratic establishment’s view of Sanders as a troublemaker inside the party, who appeals to the voters themselves to overturn the decisions of the party’s hierarchy. Why, after all, should voters have a voice in Democratic (or even democratic) decision-making? Both papers have, over the past three years, elevated the Russiagate theme to the status of the official everyone-must-accept-it as-true conspiracy theory that has fed a renewed and markedly irrational Cold War mentality.
Lerer doesn’t bother to describe the contents of the “domestic conspiracy theory” she believes Sanders may be promulgating, probably because examining it might expose the entire disinformation system that she has used to produce her own theories. She may be thinking of Donald Trump’s contention that Representative Adam Schiff tipped off the media about the intelligence community’s briefing, which was called to inform Sanders of Russian efforts to help his campaign. But by revealing it, The Post could hint that the evil Russians approve of Sanders, making him a Russian stooge and, by extension, “proving” that he’s a communist (because part of the new Cold War mentality involves believing that Russia is still a communist country).
Whether it was Schiff, one of The Post’s many sources from within the intelligence community, or someone else altogether, three facts are incontestable. The first is that The Washington Post published the story one day before the Nevada caucuses. The second is that The Post has been consistently brutal in its treatment of Sanders over the past four years. The third is that at least some key people in the intelligence community have continued to provide the media with insinuations, if not propaganda, rarely backed up by concrete evidence, that aim at creating the impression not only that the Russians have been active in spreading chaos around US elections, as Sanders himself claims, but that it implies high-level collusion in an effort to undermine US democracy.
On Monday, Glenn Greenwald, the co-founder of the Intercept, made the totally reasonable observation that anyone who is truly concerned about possible interference in US elections by actors with hidden intentions, the first place to look is at the US intelligence community: “It’s interference by the CIA and by homeland security and by related agencies in our domestic election, which is infinitely more threatening to our democracy than whatever mischief Russian agencies are primitively doing on Facebook and Twitter.”
Media such as MSNBC, The Washington Post and The New York Times routinely receive and amplify any information they receive from their friends (sources), at the CIA in particular, who, according to the agency’s former director and current secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, are trained to “lie, cheat and steal.” US intelligence services feed the major news networks with the content of their news stories; the Russians pay for defamatory ads on Facebook. Which is likely to have the most influence?
Here are Hillary Clinton’s words Lisa Lerer quoted and highlighted back in December 2016 in the guise of analyzing Trump’s victory a month earlier: “Vladimir Putin himself directed the covert cyberattacks against our electoral system, against our democracy, apparently because he has a personal beef against me. He is determined not only to score a point against me but also undermine our democracy.”
Lerer worked at AP during the 2016 presidential campaign. The New York Times recruited her in August 2018. The Times was well aware of her personal commitment to Russiagate, the “story” that “looked a certain way for two years.” She continued building it until its collapse following the Mueller report, after which Dean Baquet felt it necessary to issue his tepid apology.
Clearly, Lerer hasn’t abandoned the cause. And although she has learned to express doubt about all forms of disinformation, she thinks the story still has legs. She now claims that the Russians are already “winning the battle.” But at the same time she appears to agree with Laura Rosenberger, whom she quotes, when the former Bush and Obama administrative official confesses her inability to understand what it’s all about: “It’s hard to even know the scale of the issue when we don’t know really what the scope of the problem is.”
Some may wonder how any reporting can be deemed responsible when it admits it has failed to determine the scale and scope of the subject it is covering. That is closer to a description of rumor-mongering than it is to “all the news that’s fit to print” — The New York Times’ motto. That deep uncertainty (cluelessness?) doesn’t stop Lerer from appearing to agree with Washington Post columnist and self-proclaimed convert from the right to the left, Max Boot, who claims to understand, just like Lerer, exactly what the Russians (i.e. Putin) think.
Here’s Boot’s take in The Washington Post: “The Russians clearly see Sanders as an agent of chaos who will exacerbate divisions in U.S. politics before ultimately losing to their preferred candidate, President Trump. And they are probably right.” Lerer’s version of this idea is slightly more agnostic and curiously similar to what Sanders himself described: “The point of Moscow’s campaign is not necessarily to help Mr. Trump or Mr. Sanders get to the presidency in 2020; it’s to sow discord and undermine the institutions of American democracy.”
Why, then, would she plant the idea that Sanders is “playing into the kind of theories Moscow is eager to promulgate to undermine the news media and our political system,” which she very clearly does? A psychoanalyst might say that it’s because, as a representative of “the news media and our political system,” she feels threatened and is prey to an incipient form of paranoia.
Like James Carville, who expressed his certainty on MSNBC that Vladimir Putin was savoring the victory he had prepared for Sanders in Nevada, the not quite so certain Lerer wants her readers to think the 2020 presidential election is essentially a contest between Moscow and Washington. She believes the Russians are winning. At the same time, she is willing to avow her ignorance of the scale, scope and degree of Russian undermining. The cure for her ignorance, paranoia or inability to recognize which competing disinformation is true may only come in November. Or it may not. It may simply emerge again in 2024.
[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.