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Russiagate: The Greatest Journalistic Collapse of the 21st Century
Brazil's largest newspaper publishes a devastating op-ed on the five years of Russiagate propaganda perpetrated by the corporate media.
Special counsel John Durham’s indictment of Igor Danchenko, the principal source for the bogus Steele dossier used by the FBI as a basis for the Trump-Russia investigation, further illustrates how the corporate media is nothing more than the propaganda apparatus of the political establishment and the national security state. For five years, all we heard was the outlandish allegation that Donald Trump and his campaign were clandestine agents of Vladimir Putin. All lies built on a dossier generated by the Clinton campaign.
Watch how the shameful US media and corrupt intelligence officials recycled the fabricated claims of the Steele Dossier as fact to the American people:
Brazil’s largest newspaper, Folha, published a devastating op-ed by, Tulane Professor Idelber Avelar, on the Russiagate lies perpetrated by the US media. How can informed Americans ever trust the corporate media again after four years of promulgating propaganda to derail a duly-elected President? Why should Americans trust the corporate media about US elections or covid-19 if they were willing to spread four years of lies, misinformation, and disinformation?
Full Folha article translated from Portuguese into English:
[Abstract] Touted over the past five years without any evidence of proof, the alleged Russian interference in the 2016 US elections, which would have led to Trump’s victory over Hillary Clinton, was an unparalleled blow to the credibility of the mainstream press, which was devoted daily coverage on TV and hundreds of pages in print newspapers. The case had the effect of spreading rumors with anonymous sources and guaranteeing political victories for Trump, who remains strong for the next election.
It would not be an exaggeration to say that it was the greatest journalistic collapse of the 21st century. We are not talking about a factual error by the news anchor at 11 pm or three poorly scored stories in the print newspapers.
It took five years of daily coverage on CNN and MSNBC and hundreds of stories in the New York Times and the Washington Post about something that proved to be a hoax, a ghost, a poorly told story whose incongruities have accumulated until it completely collapsed: the Russiagate, the so-called “Russian interference in the 2016 elections”, the result of “Trump’s collusion with the Kremlin”.
Let’s get to the facts.
On June 12, 2016, five months before the election, Julian Assange announced that Wikileaks would publish a barrage of emails referring to Hillary Clinton. Within three days, Crowdstrike, a cybersecurity firm hired by the Democratic National Committee (DNC), already claimed it had evidence that Russia had hacked the party’s server. The narrative was starting to consolidate that whoever dealt with the content of the Wikileaks publication would be playing Russia’s game.
The emails were published in July and were of obvious public interest. They revealed DNC corruption and the sabotage of Bernie Sanders’ candidacy in the primaries, including delivering debate questions to the Clinton campaign in advance. Meanwhile, at the request of Fusion GPS, a company also hired by the DNC and which presents itself as “strategic intelligence”, a former British spy, Christopher Steele, was preparing a dossier on Donald Trump’s alleged relations with Russia.
Now discredited, this dossier was the source of the story that in 2013, during the Miss Universe pageant held in Russia, upon learning that a hotel bed had been used by Barack and Michelle Obama, Trump would have hired two prostitutes to urinate on it while he watched. Vladimir Putin would be in possession of a video of this act and, since then, in a position to blackmail Trump with the threat of its publication.
The story, which became known as the “pee tape”, was presented without evidence or named sources, in a dossier hired by a political campaign and produced by a former spy — that is, someone who spent his life being paid to lie.
Still, thousands of hours of television broadcasts and countless newspaper articles were devoted to pee tape musings. Days before Trump’s inauguration, MSNBC’s main anchor, Rachel Maddow, said that the presence of American troops in Ukraine (she said, desirable) was at risk thanks to the blackmail made possible by the pee tape. In the New York Magazine, Jonathan Chait declared himself a “peeliever”, in an infamous pun on “pee” + “believer”.
In January 2017, Buzzfeed published the full Steele dossier. The few journalists who independently examined the material— Matt Taibbi, Aaron Mate, Caitlin Johnstone, Glenn Greenwald, Branko Marcetic, and others—coincided to see an unbelievable reasoning there, but that didn’t stop the press from introducing Steele as a researcher with impeccable credentials, a spy with high contracts, a singular source on the mysteries of the Kremlin and “Russian intervention” in the American elections.
In the Democratic Party, Russiagate served as an explanation for why its most powerful operator had lost a presidential election to a TV game show host after an extremely well-regarded Democratic government.
In 2017, the FBI already knew that Steele had no credible sources, but this information was withheld from the public. The origin of the rumors was an expatriate resident in Washington, named Igor Danchenko, who invited the fibs alleging conversations with people he had never seen, and who would later have their lives seriously damaged by the lies (that is, the “source” was a Russian who didn’t even live in Russia).
Steele’s dossier cemented an essential Russiagate rhetorical strategy: substantiating rumors with reference to “high and unnamed sources” of the Kremlin or American intelligence agencies. One of those who bragged about having Kremlin contacts and dealing rumors was Charles Dolan, Jr. His main political activity at that time was being a Clinton campaign operator!
After Trump’s inauguration, Russian phobia reached levels worthy of the Cold War. In May 2017, the investigation of prosecutor Robert Mueller in Congress began, and for two years the hopes of opposition to Trump were pinned on it.
Meanwhile, Trump granted obscene tax cuts to billionaires, revoked environmental protections, allotted the ministry among cheaters representing the most predatory forms of capital, encouraged racism, and blocked Muslim entry into the country. But what was important, for much of the press and the Democratic opposition, was Trump’s never-demonstrated collusion with the Kremlin.
Mueller’s investigation ended in April 2019, concluding that it had no evidence of any collusion to influence the election. Over 448 tedious pages, the report details normal business encounters between individuals from two countries, but each of these facts took up hours of TV, into a metonymy that transformed any contact between an American of interest and a Russian passport holder into a possible Kremlin conspiracy. A true McCarthyism was born, which made life hell for any citizen living in the US with a Russian passport.
The then-feared Russian bots were limited to a troll farm in St. Petersburg that, over the course of three years, invested $100,000, not even money for a U.S. congressional election. Of that $100,000, only $46,000 was spent before the 2016 election. Of those, a large portion didn’t even mention Trump or Clinton. The operation was basic internet clickbait: gathering profiles of a particular demographic then selling access to them.
That’s the only foundation of the paranoia that has produced some journalistic catastrophes, like the story that Russia would have cut Vermont’s electricity, which the Washington Post was forced to recant (not without being repeated by the state governor and by a senior producer at MSNBC) or Rachel Maddow’s hilarious show about the danger of the Russians turning off North Dakota’s heat in the winter.
That was our bread and butter on TV for five years. And now we’re scared by the fact that most American's don’t believe the information about vaccines on TV and in the newspapers?
Entire books, like Luke Harding’s “Collusion: Secret Meetings, Dirty Money, and How Russia Helped Donald Trump Win,” were written based on loose associations between real meetings that mean nothing (like a coffee shop between an American lawyer and a Russian) and a mountain of rumors about the Kremlin attributed to anonymous sources. Journalist Aaron Mate, to whom we owe a meticulous job of unmasking Russiagate, submitted Harding to the biggest argumentative ball I have ever seen an author lead over his own book.
The hoax of “Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction,” which the American press enthusiastically embarked on, has contributed to killing more people, but in damaging journalism’s credibility, Russiagate is unparalleled.
In the case of Iraq’s non-existent weapons of mass destruction, the press never took stock of its responsibilities. At most, it was the sacrifice of a few scapegoats, like Judith Miller, forced to resign from the New York Times.
In Russiagate, it took five years of unsubstantiated inferences, but the hoax is sustained thanks to reasoning that continually moves the conversational stakes. The collusion between Trump and the Kremlin was not confirmed, but when this is demonstrated, the answer is usually not the correction of the wrong statement, but the assertion that the Kremlin must have influenced the result, even without collusion with Trump.
When it turns out that there is no evidence of this either, the answer is usually that if they didn’t influence, they must have tried. When faced with the demonstration that no evidence of such attempts has been found either it is not common to hear that “they haven’t tried, but they would have liked to have tried”.
The damage caused by Russiagate is incalculable. This is no vindication of Trump, a president who caused several other damages. It’s precisely about realizing that Russiagate was Trump’s great source of political victories and one of the reasons why he remains strong for 2024. With each discarded inference, Trump strengthened his ties to the base by shouting “fake news!”.
The credibility of the press has taken an unparalleled blow. The dominant progressive politics, which once viewed intelligence agencies with healthy suspicion, came to regard them as reliable allies, sources, and arbiters of national security. The use of rumor trafficking with anonymous sources was disseminated.
At the university, professors and students with impeccable left-wing credentials were branded as trumpists for expressing skepticism of Russiagate. In the press, early-career journalists reported pressure to align themselves with the dominant narrative. After five years, the Democratic Party’s realignment process was consolidated as the most trusted by the FBI, CIA, and NSA agencies.
According to a Gallup poll, 34% of Americans say that they have none and another 29% say that they have very little confidence in the press. The split by party preferences is the biggest in history: 68% of Democratic voters and just 11% of Republicans say they trust the press.
Are Republican voters more likely to believe in fake news? It is difficult to defend this thesis in the light of Russiagate, a huge fake news factory stimulated by the mainstream press, Democratic Party leaders and state intelligence apparatus.
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