The Ball Most Media Dropped

We called Russiagate being more dud than bombshell here on Geotrickster a while ago. But rather than take a victory lap as the issue was always peripheral to my interests, I just want to acknowledge the proper and professional skepticism shown by actual journalists such as Glenn Greenwald, Aaron Mate, Matt Taibbi, and others. A small group who were all but barred from mainstream media outlets for sober critiques while the only Russiagate skeptics given airtime were Trump partisans and hacks who obviously had a vested interest in their arguments. We see the price for that exclusion now. But among such people defending Trump was never the point. It was wanting to remain focused on a variety of other issues that got swept under the rug by the spiraling spy thriller narrative spun by various grifters.

As it is, one would think Americans would be relieved to see no evidence of the subversion of their entire political system by a foreign power.

My concern both before and now are the stories given short shrift by many in the media because of this obsessive focus. Even leaving aside the intense irony that the most Russiagate invested Democrats are the ones that tend to be most offended by Ilhan Omar’s critique of Israel’s overwhelming and proven influence on the DC establishment, I feel like so many stories were short shifted or just plain lost in the noise.

Because of the foreign policy focus of this blog I will simply state the issues more relevant to that field, lest we be here all day. The Pentagon budget and accountability problems, which predate the 2016 election, are still largely unremarked upon as if we have decided en masse that this state of affairs is simply acceptable. Directly connected to that is of course the fact that the wars Obama expanded from Bush Jr have been further expanded even more by Trump. With little oversight into these policies of an endlessly growing military commitment to more and more peripheral conflicts where the national interest becomes yet more opaque. The biggest single coverage loss in the shadow of Russiagate, however, has clearly been Yemen. The American media has both downplayed the devastation there as well as the American role in enabling it. The local complexities of the conflict, when mentioned, get boiled down to some trite and not entirely accurate narrative of simply being a Saudi-Iranian proxy war. Multiple stories over the past 2 years have pointed out MSNBC in particular for this coverage gap, FAIR running one of the more recent ones.

I remember the first year of news before 9/11. It was the first year I ever really paid attention to news or politics. American news, lacking a real threat of a fear based enemy, decided to invent them while ignoring real world issues. Fear sells after all. We were fed a diet of then Congressman Gary Condit’s affair with a murdered intern, a supposed (but not really) ‘epidemic’ of shark attacks across the world, and discussions of the public morality of Brittany Spears performing with a live snake. Real things were, of course, still happening. Despite the then dominant mythology of ‘The End of History’, the bombing of the U.S.S. Cole, the conflicts in the Democratic Republic of Congo, the first staring matches between major powers across the South China Sea, and the ever tempestuous India-Pakistan relationship, and so on, showed the world was still moving onwards. This complacency apparently was also shared by the government then, as they ignored warnings about Al Qaeda’s plots towards the United States. Until it was too late of course. Then policy elites and the legacy media they consumed alike were not thinking rationally and behaved in a purely reactive capacity. We see the results of that today.

Context is important, and so is a good quality standard of coverage of world issues. My main problem with Russiagate was not even its implicit xenophobia applied to its critics or its fuel for money making interests, but rather that in the future things will happen to take the public and possibly even policymakers by surprise for the simple fact that they stem from events that saw little to no coverage before they could no longer be ignored.

6 thoughts on “The Ball Most Media Dropped

  1. You lose credibility with statements like: “one would think Americans would be relieved to see no evidence of the subversion of their entire political system by a foreign power” when, in fact, there is *extensive* evidence of the Russian meddling in our elections, which could certainly be considered a “subversion” of our political system. This article details a timeline of this activity laying out facts that are not in dispute.
    https://www.cnn.com/2016/12/26/us/2016-presidential-campaign-hacking-fast-facts/index.html

    There have been many documented cyber attacks that have been traced back to Russian operatives. There may not be unequivocal evidence that the Russian government is behind it, but there is plenty of compelling evidence.

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    • I certainly do not deny this type of cyber espionage exists, but rather doubt its relevance to the 2016 election on the actual issues that contest came down to. The kind of Russian activity we can prove happened, as listed here by CNN, is very run of the mill stuff that countries do to each other all the time. Specifically the fact that much of the sensitive information they may have helped leak came from a phishing email to Podesta is the kind of thing you can find in your inbox every day as a State Department employee from all kinds of countries of origin. I got emails like this personally at least once a week when I was there. It is told to people working in sensitive fields never to click on such things which makes me wonder why well connected political donors arent told the same thing (or even have such information on their computer in the first place). This seems to be where almost all these leaks originate.

      Furthermore all the social media influence stuff was not then illegal (and still might not be in many forms) is also normal stuff done by any country big enough to have a cyber espionage division, which often does include selective leaking of candidates holding or hoping to be elected to office. Its certainly not that Russia does not engage in these behaviors, but rather that everyone else does too so what we have proven they have done simply does not strike me as remarkable. Especially in light of known US past efforts to promote Yeltsin’s re-election back in the 90s.

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      • Some may be run of the mill yet it is a leap to conclude that it had minimal effect on the electoral process. If that were true, then that also means that every candidate is wasting their money on political advertising. But that’s a debate for another day.
        The Podesta hack was stated to be traced back to an erroneous email sent to him by his IT person who told him that it was a legitimate email, rather than an illegitimate one. A *major* d’oh moment. Phishing may be commonplace but that doesn’t mean it’s inconsequential.
        The problem is, there’s no way of knowing how consequential – it’s not like one can run controlled experiments in election hacking. One can only infer, and that would require many WAGs. But it should bother everybody that foreign actors are distributing and amplifying messages that sow dissent, hatred between groups and so forth in *our* country. Again, it may be common, but it doesn’t make it right.
        I’ve been deeply involved in local political races, a number of which have come down to very small numbers of votes. Small enough numbers that just a few votes per precinct was enough to swing an election. It doesn’t take many repeated lies to convince an on-the-fence voter to either sit out an election or vote for the opposition.
        Unfortunately, the electorate is highly manipulable. Just look at the effectiveness of the attacks on Tulsi Gabbard. Any time her name is mentioned, there’s now at least a 10:1 ratio of those who think she’s horrible and repeat the smears to those who understand her true positions and respect her and try to defend her. This is largely media driven/amplified. Whether it’s other candidates, Russia, the “Establishment”, the Koch brothers, the NRA, FOX news, etc. is irrelevant – it’s all highly influential and indeed, threatens some of the foundations of our fair elections and we need to do everything in our power as a people and as a nation to block or eliminate these corrupting influences.

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    • Im not saying there should be no security measures taken, its obviously bad to have foreign interference but its an arms race and an omnipresent one right now. It should be taken for granted that until there is some kind of international agreement for the internet along the lines of the Geneva Accords or the universal declaration of human rights or whatnot that a state of perpetual anarchy exists between states on the web. But as in any place where relentless competition exists as the status quo, it needs to be accepted for reality until the problem is taken care of. With this in mind its only logical, indeed rational, to expect countries to interfere in each others affairs. Especially in American affairs as no country matters more for most of the rest. Considering the actions of US policy, particularly since it lost almost all constraints with the collapse of the USSR, its only logical that other countries want a say one way or the other. As an American I want to combat this, be it illegal and subversive or entirely legal through think tanks. But as an International Relations Theorist I completely understand why this is and how America is the last country who can lecture anyone on interfering in their internal affairs of other nations. For decades its the United States that probably gets blamed the most by other countries for both legal and illegal interference in their internal affairs.

      If people do want to be taken seriously on this issue (and there are people who are very serious on this but they arent russiagate partisans) they need to advocate for a universal treaty on the issue and for America to lead the way in stopping these actions. But with our own international influence operations like the US Global Engagement Center and the like we would be a laughing stock to cry fowl about it without changing our own policies first. But part of the problem with russiagate is that it uses the Moscow boogeyman to distract from just how not Russia-specific this issue is. This is most obvious when russigate partisans ignore or even support organizations like AIPAC or Gulf funded institutions. We cannot possibly make the case for the sanctity of elections between countries while we literally right now are supporting an unelected fraud candidate trying to seize power in Venezuela through a coup attempt. I take election security seriously, but I know it requires a lot of action aside from blaming Russia for the whole issue. Its the game not one player of the game. Until we have concrete and enforceable rules on issues like this that don’t reek of partisanship then it will remain yet another valid technique of politics whether used against America or by it.

      And in the end, the way our system works the ultimate way of buying into it, as you yourself mention, is by having lots of money. Once again, so much of election interference is domestic as well, and enabled by our very own laws. This, like the international system, is structural and to fix the problem you need to fix the structure of the system. Getting rid of the Kochs alone would just be like targeting Russia alone, it leaves the problem untouched and distracts from the underlying forces that enable that in the first place.

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