Insidiocracy: Russiagate, Corporate Media & Losing My Religion (4)

by Nina Illingworth Jan 23

It’s nine-thirty on a Saturday night and for the first time in a long while, I care enough to be furious about themainstream media’s openly dishonest coverage of yet another largely fictional story in the endless and excruciating “Russiagate” saga.

The latest “bombshell” Trump-Russia revelation from Buzzfeed News had predictably fallen completely apart when special counsel Robert Mueller took the rare step of publicly disputing the accuracy of the anonymously-sourced report. This isn’t what’s infuriating me however; at this point a major media outlet having to retract (or inexplicably refusing to retract) a disputed, sensationalized anti-Russia story with terrifying implications for American national security and foreign policy because it’s utter fucking bupkis is no longer exceptional, it just means it’s Friday. No, what’s got me barking profanities at my computer screen is watching the entireRussiagate griftosphere, both professional and self-appointed, twist and distort the truth to salvage their broken “smoking gun” takes rushed out in the wake of the Buzzfeed story, even though Mueller’s office was adamant that none of the allegations or statements detailed were true.

How did we get here and at what point does the evidence that this is all a manufactured narrative become too voluminous to ignore?


Trump gets smoother ride than Clinton in Russian media – written in July 2016 and well before I’d even become aware of what would eventually be known as “Russiagate,” I must confess that I’d completely forgotten about this Associated Press gaffe until reading Twitter user Doug Johnson Hatlem’s excellent compilation thread. The long and short of the story is that the AP originally stated that the RT satellite television network (formerly Russia Today) was part of the Rossiya Segodnya state media complex. This is inaccurate and the Associated Press was forced to issue a correction five days after publishingthe initial story. The truth is that while RT does receive funding from the Russian government, it is a stand alone entity and numerous journalists and presenters who work with RT have reported that Russia exerts no controlover their content. While on the surface that might not seem like a big deal, in light of the fact that fairly absurd accusations of state-sponsored election rigging aided by RT news coverage were used to attack and discreditAmerican journalists working for the network and eventually pressure multiple cable providers to stop carrying the station altogether, it’s safe to say this ridiculously careless mistake may have had big consequences. The Associated Press has since deleted the story entirely.

Russian hackers targeted Arizona election system – this August 29th, 2016 story by Ellen Nakashima over at the Washington Post is actually the most balanced version of a “Breaking News” item that dominated US media coverage for several full days. Unlike many of her less critical colleagues, Nakashima is careful to de-fang the story by pointing out that “the hackers had not compromised the state system or even any county system. They had, however, stolen the username and password of a single election official in Gila County.” What makes this whole saga even more amusing however is that even this single incident has absolutely nothing to do with Russia; as Doug Hatlem notes, hactivist group Anonymous hadalready announced months before that they had entered the system to do a vulnerability scan as part of an investigation to see whether or not Bernie Sanders voters had been screwed in the Arizona primary – spoiler; they were, but it’s unclear if the seemingly targeted de-registration of likely Bernie supporters was large enough to change any outcomes. Nevertheless, like most of the outrageous claims about Russian interference in western politics, even after being walked back or debunked, the story never seems to truly die.

Dear Vladimir Putin, I Am Not Sidney Blumenthal – this objectively unhinged (and now deleted) screed from noted hack, general creeper andsquid porn affictionato Kurt Eichenwald, perfectly encapsulates the absurdity of mainstream media “Russiagate” hysteria. Without spending too much time reviewing a now-thoroughly discredited Newsweek story, Eichenwald seized on a simple misattribution by then-Sputnik editor Bill Moran (which was repeated once, by Donald Trump) to claim that Wikileaks had altered documents and that Trump was obviously colluding with Vladimir Putin. Naturally, this story promptly went viral as the intersection of Sputnik (which actually is part of the Rossiya Segodnya state media complex) and the Trump campaign proved irresistible to pro-Clinton hacks desperate to discredit theone-hundred percent real Podesta emails and inside a news environment already swirling with highly-speculative claims of Russian election rigging. The problem as it turns out is that Eichenwald was almostcertainly wrong about Trump getting the quote from Sputnik; which naturally didn’t stop Kurt from doubling down on his story while repeatedly threatening and publicly smearing Moran – an activity which eventually caused Newsweek to reach an undisclosed settlement with the former Sputnik editor. In what we can only hope is related news, Kurt Eichenwald no longer writes for Newsweek.

Was a Trump Server Communicating With Russia? – On October 31st, 2016, this explosive (and once again, highly speculative) Slate piece by Franklin Foer burst into the national discourse with allegations of a secret “digital hotline” connecting the Trump campaign and Russia’s Alfa Bank. Unfortunately for Foer however, the story began to unravel in a matter of hours. First came news that the FBI had spent weeks studying the DNS data the story was based on and concluded there was no clear evidence the connection between these two servers meant anything at all. Soon afterward, stories in Vox and the Intercept began to expose giant holes in Foer’s thesis; the connection isn’t secret or exclusive, Trump doesn’t even control the mail server contacting Alpha Bank and it’s almost certain that spam advertisements from Trump hotels to the bank are responsible for the DNS look-ups Foer has incorrectly identified of evidence of asecret back-channel between Trump and Vladdy Putin. This isn’t the only outright error Foer makes in the piece either, there are several; for example the author claims that contact between the two servers “appeared to follow the contours of political happenings in the United States” but simply put, it didn’t. All of this quickly forced the author to release a follow-up with so many qualifications and subjective (but implausible) theories that it all but rendered the original piece pathetically toothless. Naturally, this hasn’t stopped McCarthyite liberals in the media from resurrecting the accusation recently, despite the fact that virtually nothing has changed and there remains no evidence that any of this means anything at all.

The ‘Washington Post’ ‘Blacklist’ Story Is Shameful and Disgusting – without question, the openly absurdist “Prop Or Not” story represents one of the most craven, repugnant and insulting fabrications sold to the publicduring the entire “Russiagate” saga. In this November 28th, 2016 piece at Rolling Stone, Matt Taibbi unpacks a disturbing (and now edited) November 24th WaPo article by Craig Timberg (original here) that primarily serves as a vehicle for an extremely shady, anonymous online group of “researchers” to blacklist and smear essentially everyone who doesn’t agree with the mainstream neoliberal consensus – not just on Russiagate, but on literally everything; at publication, the list the Post linked to through Prop or Not consisted of over “200 alternative news outlets” and included “popular sites like Truthdigand Naked Capitalism.” The obvious and open shades of McCarthyism rightfully enraged Taibbi, as well as the Intercept’s Glenn Greenwald who wrote a very similar piece on November 26th, 2016, with the anti-survelliance writer pointing out that that the piece “was one of the most widely circulated political news articles on social media over the last 48 hours, with dozens, perhaps hundreds, of U.S. journalists and pundits with large platforms hailing it as an earth-shattering exposé. It was the most-read piece on the entire Post website on Friday after it was published.” Despite the fact that the Washington Post’s own correction essentially renders the entire story a bust however, the paper has refused to this day to retract or take down this absurd, McCarthyite propaganda article designed to present all dissent as treason.

A Clinton Fan Manufactured Fake News That MSNBC Personalities Spread to Discredit WikiLeaks Docs – while this piece is not a retraction per se, any study of mainstream media deceptions during the “Russiagate” saga would be incomplete without including this December 9th, 2016 savage and thorough debunking of an early October lie about Russia propagatedby people associated with Hillary Clinton’s campaign and amplified by numerous high-profile mainstream liberal media allies on Twitter. As author Glenn Greenwald of the Intercept details, without any evidence whatsoever Clinton campaign officials strongly insinuated that emails from campaign manager John Podesta, released by Wikileaks were “doctored or fabricated and thus should be ignored.” This bald-faced lie was then confirmed by Nance, a former naval intelligence officer who should know better and yet, inexplicably remains a credible television pundit, before being pushed out as election damage control over the next few weeks by various mainstream news personalities. Frankly, this should actually count as two lies because forgery claims were also tied into a months-long campaign in the mainstream media to purposely conflated Wikileaks (who has literally never released a fake document in its entire twelve-plus years of existence) and far less credible anonymous propaganda operations like DCLeaks and Guccifer 2. To this day, nobody who accused Wikileaks of falsifyingemails in the Podesta release has ever issued a correction of any kind, which is a really curious situation considering the fact that we’re talking about an allegation that would represent a huge national security and international relations issue – if it had ever been true.

Julian Assange gives guarded praise of Trump and blasts Clinton in interview – Although the Guardian has been one of the few mainstream, ostensibly “liberal” corporate media outlets willing to entertain some skepticism towards the more outlandish accusations in the “Russiagate” saga, the paper’s desperate (and ethically questionable) quest to distance itself from Julian Assange and the UK’s own, ongoing propaganda efforts to manufacture a New Cold War with Russia, often produces some “interesting examples of combining fiction writing with journalism” – to put it lightly. All anyone really needs to know about this December 24th, 2016 Ben Jacobs interview with Asssange can be found in the corrections at the bottom of the article, which states: “this article was amended on 29 December 2016 to remove a sentence in which it was asserted that Assange “has long had a close relationship with the Putin regime”. A sentence was also amended which paraphrased the interview, suggesting Assange said “there was no need for Wikileaks to undertake a whistleblowing role in Russia because of the open and competitive debate he claimed exists there”. It has been amended to more directly describe the question Assange was responding to when he spoke of Russia’s “many vibrant publications.” Once again, this pretty much invalidates the author’s entire framing of the interview and the article should almost certainly just be taken down altogether. More disturbing however is thatthe Guardian apparently spent five days telling its readers that Assange did have a completely fictional “close relationship with the Putin regime” and was actively avoiding the publication of Russian leaks. Neither of which are, or ever were, true in any sense of the word.

Wrong Again: Russia’s Anglo-American School Not Closing To Spite Obama – another story that fell down my memory hole until I readHatlem’s media lies, mistakes and retractions thread, this story is pretty straightforward compared with the others in this section. OnDecember 29th, 2016, CNN reported in a tweet that “a US official says Russian authorities ordered the Anglo-American School of Moscow to close as retaliation for US sanctions.” This was then repeated in another story on the website, before being picked up by Politico and Radio Free Europe – once again however,this accusation, sourced to an anonymous US official, is simply not true. While that might not seem like a very big deal, it’s important to remember that this non-event was portrayed as part of an escalating diplomatic row between the US and Russia over sanctions imposed by Obama due to Russian still unproven “election hacking” – thus it is quite strange that despite the obvious national security implications of the story, no retractions have been issued and all of the posts falsely claiming the school would be closed in retaliation, remain available online.

Insidiocracy: Russiagate, Corporate Media & Losing My Religion

It’s a humid night in September of 2016 and I’m about to publish the first in what will be a mindbogglingly large number of articles debunking what we now call “Russiagate.”

Of course, I don’t know that yet; in the moment, I can’t imagine the possibility that I’m going to spend weeks of my life going blind on data that demonstrates there is no way Russian bots or Facebook memes “rigged” the 2016 election, or that I’d waste days of my life explaining that it is highly unlikely swine emperor Trump isthreatening Russian-allied Iran, bombing Russian-allied Syria and conducting a proxy war against Russia in Ukraine, just to keep up appearances and hide his loyalty to Vladimir Putin. Right now, I just think I’m dunking on an unhinged, openly mendacious Boomer hack who figures that she can score political points for Team Hillary by going full Bircher about Russia.

What I do already know however is that the entire Pig Empire has been gearing up for a conflict with Russiasince the annexation of Crimea. I know that Syria is a Russian ally and that Vladimir Putin will consider Hillary Clinton’s proposed “no-fly zone” an open act of war. I’ve begun to notice that Democrats and friendly media minions close to the Clinton campaign are preparing voters in advance for the idea that Russia is trying to sink her run for president. I am at once so close and yet so far away from putting it all together; this whole thing should be ringing alarm bells inside my skull, but there’s just one problem – you see, despite predicting precisely how Trump will win the election in writing months before, I’ve convinced myself that Hillary Clinton can’t lose on November 9th.


Russia Hysteria Infects WashPost Again: False Story About Hacking U.S. Electric Grid – a stern rebuke of a correction to an absurd Washington Post article that really should have resulted in a retraction, this must-read, scathing December 31st, 2016 piece by Glenn Greenwald at the Intercept offers a detailed look at how outrageously sloppy reporting, click baiting and tough talk from US politicians perpetually fuels the Russiagate narrative – even in the face of retractions and the absence of facts. Without so much as rudimentary investigation or fact-checking, WaPo printed the sensational and horrifying headline“Russian hackers penetrated U.S. electricity grid through a utility in Vermont, officials say.” This then lead to the Democrat Governor and Vermont Sen. Patrick Leahy issuing aggressively belligerent statements with extremely direct accusations against Russia. Unsurprisingly, corporate mainstream media, desperate to get their hands on literally anything about Russia (perhaps to distract from their own culpability in electing a fascist), took those soundbites and ran with them like a purse snatcher fleeing the scene of the crime. As Greenwald notes however, the problem is that none of it was true. The power grid wasn’t hacked, nor is there really any evidencethat anyone was trying to do so; a malware code was found on a single laptop that was not connected to the grid at all. Furthermore, even WaPo’s insistence that “Russia” was somehow involved is based entirely on the fact that the malware (available for purchase online) found on that laptop was made in Russia; which is why their correction is still a sick joke and they were forced to release an article essentially contradicting the paper’s own story a few days later. The original of course remains live on the Washington Post website, fueling Russia-based paranoia and ensuring that variations on this sensational story (supported only by the word of US officials in departments with a long track record of lying for empire), never truly die.

Russia offers to conduct joint military exercises with the Philippines in the South China Sea – in another story that had nothing to do with swine emperor Trump and everything to do with fomenting New Cold Warhysteria, the Associated Press and at least ABC News published reports claiming that Russian rear-admiral Eduard Mikhailov had told one of his counterparts from the US-allied Philippines that “you can choose to cooperate with United States of America or to cooperate with Russia” while visiting Manila harbor. The alarming story was subsequently corrected, and then deleted altogether by both the AP and ABC (as far as I can tell) – leaving behind only this January 5th, 2017 summary at the New Zealand Herald and the memory of sharp-eyed observers like Doug Johnson Hatlem.

Russia’s RT: The Network Implicated in U.S. Election Meddling –  this January 7th, 2017 hit piece on Empire Files creator and former RT journalist Abby Martin by Russell Goldman, came on the back of the ODNI report’s inexplicable decision to focus on Martin’s “Breaking the Set” program on the network formerly known as Russia Today (a program thatended in February 2015) in a desperate effort to “prove” that Russia “hacked” or “rigged” the 2016 US election. In the NYT, Goldman proceeded pile the McCarthyism nice and high, stating “two anchors who quit during live broadcasts say the network is a propaganda outlet.” The problem is, Martin was one of those two anchors and she has emphatically denied that Russia interferes with her reporting at all. Furthermore, Goldman stated (and the NYT correction still strongly implies) that Martin had quit RT after criticizing Vladimir Putin and Russia’s actions in Ukraine, thus in a round about way proving the ongoing claim that RT is a state controlled propaganda operation masquerading as a TV station (as we discussed briefly in Part One of this series.) Martin again disputes this, pointing out that she continued to host the network’s main prime time opinion show for an entire year after criticizing and whilecontinuing to criticize, Russia’s aggression in Crimea. Unsurprisingly, the evidence vindicates Abby; a fact which Goldman could have easily confirmed by asking her, or performing a rudimentary Google search – all of which certainly does make one wonder what exactly the NY Times considers “all the news that’s fit to print” and why.

C-SPAN Concludes Russia Didn’t Hack Network’s Online Feed – easily one of the most moronic media panics in the “Russiagate” saga, this storygained traction when Fortune magazine (inaccurately) ran the headline “C-SPAN Confirms It Was Briefly Hacked by Russian News Site” on January 12th, 2017, in this article produced with the Associate Press. Unfortunately for the authors however, even the most charitable interpretation of the evidence didn’t support that headline; C-Span itself said it suspected a mere technical glitch – a fact generally, if begrudgingly, reported by most major news outlets that picked up the story. Would cooler heads prevail? Of course not, in the immediate aftermath of glitch, prominent liberal establishment figures like Congresswoman Maxine Waters and author Amy Siskand publicly insinuated thatRussia had hacked C-Span to silence Waters; an insinuation that seems absurd on its face when levied in response to a ten minute interruption of a live online feed hardly anyone was watching. As noted in this January 19th, 2017 summary at The Wrap, C-Span itself would confirm it was simply a router problem, six days after the (non) story broke and circulated far and wide on social media.

What Constitutes Reasonable Mainstream Opinion – this brilliant, March 22nd, 2017 analysis and opinion piece by Nathan J. Robinson and Alex Nichols at Current Affairs magazine, takes a (rightfully) dim view of the New York Time’s curious decision to publish an op-ed about “Russia’s hacking of the election” by noted delusional conspiracy theorist Louise Mensch. To suggest that Mensch, a former Tory MP, longtime pinheadconservative windbag and the current voice behind the objectively unhinged Trump-Russia conspiracy blog “Patribotics,” is not a reliable source would be a mild understatement; indeed, as the CA authors note, it would be fair to say that Mensch is “one of the least credible people on the internet. Although listing Mensch’s numerous fabrications and conspiracy theories would constitute an article unto itself, she counts suggesting the death penalty (for espionage) was being considered for former Trump advisor (and noted fascist) Steve Bannon, now-convicted creeper Anthony Weiner was entrapped by a Russian hacker and that the Ferguson protests were actually a Russian psyop, among her greatest hits. Okay, but so what, right? If the New York Times wants to publish the clearly labeled “opinions” of a woman with no background in Russian politics or national security qualifications and a long history of issuing outrageously conspiratorial ravings online, what does it matter? After all, this is the same NYT that gladly publishes climate science denier Brett Stephens in its Op-Ed section, multiple times a week. The problem, as noted by Robinson, Nichols and numerous other commentators, is that when the Times, other media outlets and even someDemocratic Party officials amplify Mensch’s conspiracy theories, they lend an entirely unwarranted air of credibility to what are essentially things Mensch makes up, off the top of her head. She simply should not be in your newspaper, or on your TV screen, and if she weren’t writing what amounts to anti-Russian propaganda, she wouldn’t be. As the authors at Current Affairs remark, the very fact that Mensch was given an opportunity to write an opinion piece in “the paper of record” demonstrates that “the press’s standards for Russia commentaryare lower than at any point since the Cold War.”

Acting FBI Chief: Russia Probe Is on Track – another story that I simply would not have remembered about without Doug Hatlem’s research, this May 12th, 2017 Real Clear Politics summary notes that then-acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe’s sworn testimony directly contradicts reports by dozens of outlets (including the New York Times, Reuters, CNN, theWashington Post and others) that former FBI Director James Comey had approached Herr Donald to request more resources for the Bureau’s Russia investigation, with the obvious implication that this was part of why Trump fired Comey. Under oath however, McCabe denied that the request had occurred and added that he strongly believed the Russia investigation is adequately resourced.” Whether or not you believe Trump fired Comey because of the Russia investigation (for the record, I most certainly do believe he did) is largely besides the point; what matters here is that once again, dozens of highly-respected corporate media outlets printed false claims, attributed only to anonymous sources and that this behavior is a reoccurring pattern when it comes to stories about Russia over the past three years. Please also note, there have been to my knowledge no corrections or retractions of the now-debunked stories about Comey’s request.

First on CNN: AG Sessions did not disclose Russia meetings in security clearance form, DOJ says – this May 25, 2017 story by Manu Raju and Evan Perez turned out to be just another busted CNN “bombshell” with the shelf life of a mayfly. The network initially reported that when then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions has applied for his security clearance, he hadn’t disclosed meetings he had with a Russian ambassador when he was a senator. Soon afterward, a spokesman contacted CNN to inform them that Sessions “was instructed not to list meetings with foreign dignitaries and their staff connected with his Senate activities.” Unwilling to lose such an explosive scoop that easily, CNN promptly issued an update reporting the Justice Department’s clarification that Sessions didn’t have to report those meetings, only to then turn around and strongly imply that they thought the DoJ was full of shit; the network even brought out a dubious “legal expert” to argue the case! As this December 11th, 2017 Fox News report by Brian Flood reveals however, CNN would quietly walk back virtually all of these allegations six months later when it released a new article saying that yes, the FBI had correctly informed Sessions he didn’t have to report his contacts with the Russian ambassador from his time in the Senate. Naturally, the original “scoop” remains up, even though CNN’s own reporting has now rendered it meaningless.

The Latest: France says no trace of Russian hacking Macron – in the late spring of 2017, international media widely reported that dastardlyelection-rigging super-villain Vladimir Putin and his unstoppable team ofRussian hackers had struck again and were responsible for the leak of soon-to-be French President Emanuel Macron’s emails just before the country’s May elections. In fact, although no evidence was offered to the public, U.S intelligence officials effectively “confirmed” the story that Russia was behind the hack – which until then had relied on dubious Cyrillic metadata. Dashing the hopes of New Cold Warriors everywhere however, was Guillaume Poupard, who said France had “found no trace” that Russia was behind the attack and that the Macron campaign hack “was so generic and simple that it could have been practically anyone” – and Poupard would know, he is after all the director general of the French cyber-defense agency, ANSSI. It will of course shock no one to learn that western media largely ignored Poupard’s statement (this paltry June 1st, 2017 AP line item is one of the very few stories reporting ANSSI’s verdict that I could find online) – indeed, at least one frothing war pig WaPo writer recently cited the incident as evidence that Macron was too timid to pursue the issue with Putin and Russia.

Beyond BuzzFeed: The 10 Worst, Most Embarrassing U.S. Media Failures on the Trump/Russia Story (1)

RussiaGate’s Top 50 Greatest Hits: Stories Retracted, Corrected, and Just Plain Wronged (2)

67 Media Mistakes in the Trump Era: The Definitive List (3)

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