One of my more liberal friends recently challenged what he called my “cynical” attitude toward the big names in American journalism: the New York Times, Washington Post, etc. “There is a thing called skepticism,” he wrote, “and a thing called cynicism. You are really starting to fall into the latter.”
Ironically, not a day later, he sent me a link to an editorial in the New York Times which, he said, conveyed his own thinking on why Mueller’s Russia investigation was important. He thought the piece was spot on. It was David Klion’s “Why Don’t Sanders Supporters Care About the Russia Investigation?” When I read it, I was really almost flabbergasted.
This is what you send me to demonstrate my cynicism is misplaced?
Let me explain. I’ve lived in Asia for decades now, in Taiwan, and have keenly watched the political shifts in my home country, the US, with a feeling of ever more distance. And not a small amount of shock. In recent years, one of the things that’s struck me most is the degree to which some of my sharpest friends from the past have become what I’d call zombified. I really can’t comprehend their inability to see things that seem glaringly obvious. There are many of these things, a whole heap, and one of them is surely the absurdity of Russiagate. And this shabby editorial this good friend from the past sent me—how could he not manage to see what it was about?
Since I went out of my way this time to snap my old friend out of his NYT-induced funk, I’ve decided to post my remarks here:
-----Yes, David Klion’s piece underlines a lot of key themes relative to the problem of globalized corporate oligarchy. And these problems are obvious. But sit back and think for a minute. Fighting corporate oligarchy was not the reason Mueller was put in charge of the Russiagate investigation. The reason the investigation was launched was to find evidence of Russian collusion with the Trump administration that would amount to tampering with the 2016 election. And surprise: NO EVIDENCE HAS BEEN FOUND.
In short, this NYT piece is yet another example, and a pretty transparent one, of trying to milk something newsworthy out of Russiagate. But the problem to me seems clear enough: Russiagate is by definition NOT newsworthy. Because it doesn't exist. There was no collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia to sway the election to his advantage. If there had been, it would have been found out many months ago.
So what we have here from the NYT, sorry to say, is YET ANOTHER example of what has infuriated me and many others about the "journalism" coming from the NYT/WaPo/MSNBC/CNN axis. I'd like to call them the Axis of Feeble. Because if, like me, you've been following the Russiagate business from the start, you will see that when one claim falls apart, this little press axis just shifts to implying that the investigation is about some other claim. It's gotten downright pathetic. It's gotten mendacious. It's shameful.
Let's take a moment, old friend, to consider how this new piece works. Or tries to work. Bear me out, and I think you'll come to see what I've been seeing for many months now. The reason for what you call my cynicism. At least I hope you see it.
Look at the article's first paragraph: "Nearly every day, new details emerge about the relationship between Donald Trump’s campaign and the Russian government. The extent of the alleged collusion, which may ultimately endanger Mr. Trump’s presidency, has yet to be determined, but the scandal has dominated news coverage and enthralled Washington."
This a statement of fact that doesn't amount to anything. What is stated? "Every day, new details emerge." Of course every day new details emerge. The problem is that none of those details is evidence of collusion or even very interesting in itself. Are Paul Manafort's dealings in Ukraine many years ago newsworthy as far as the 2016 election? No. Is Flynn's undisclosed meeting such a big deal? Hardly. Plenty of people in both parties have had plenty of meetings with Russians, as they've had meetings with Germans, Chinese, and Indians. Meetings don't mean anything. After a full year of this sordid business, there is still NO SMOKING GUN. And there won't be. (A recent article by Caitlin Johnstone does a good job of explaining why there almost certainly won't be. Check her out.)
The other statement in the first paragraph, namely that "the [Russiagate] scandal has dominated news coverage and enthralled Washington"--yes, that's true too in a bland and irrelevant way. Because what does it even mean? It only means that establishment Washington, loathing Trump, can get excited over a conspiracy theory and that, to its shame, can continue to PRETEND to be excited over the theory long after it's clear the theory points to no concrete truth. A
fter the article's first few paragraphs (which quote a few sane people like Noam Chomsky) did you notice how THE WHOLE FOCUS OF THE ARTICLE SHIFTS? No more is there anything about the 2016 election; rather it's all just bromides about international capitalism. You could write the same article substituting the names of other countries in for Russia. Because there are dirty deals and money laundering from one side of the globe to the other. And probably Trump's friends and Hillary's friends and Manafort's friends have their fingers in various of these global pies. We all know this, and the Russiagate investigation is not going to help a democratic citizenry fight this constant wheeling and dealing. Nor is the NYT going to help much either, when push comes to shove.
In short, this article is an exercise in BAIT AND SHIFT. Honest analysts on right and left are all saying that the Russiagate investigation is, in terms of its original mandate, an utter joke. This NYT article does its best to imply that they're wrong about that because, you see . . . oligarchy. The writer's trying to save face for the establishment press by not-so-subtly re-purposing the investigation.
Can't you see this? Sure, parts of the article may reflect your thinking on oligarchy, but c'mon--that question is NOT what the investigation was about. Was Mueller tasked with investigating the Trump team in order to find arguments for leftists to use against apologists of globalized corporate capitalism? No, he was not. He was tasked with finding out how Russia colluded with Trump to sway a democratic election. He has found, and will find, NOTHING.
Two more things:
1) Note how the name UraniumOne doesn't even appear in the article. That's just another example of NYT bias. They're afraid a new investigation will be launched, and that their gal will be under the lens. If there's any story that might give us an object lesson in how corporate backroom deals with politicians subvert national interests, UraniumOne is at least as worthy a story as Paul Manafort's greed.
2) Note that even Masha Gessen--diehard Putin foe and Russian-American LGBT activist, a woman who loathes Trump almost as much as the guy running her homeland--note that even she is quoted in the chorus of those pointing out the Russiagate investigation is a waste of time. Gessen is not always honest in her writing. But she has to admit the truth on this one. And that should tell you something. Because Gessen is a woman who would like Trump impeached and Putin roasted alive.
This article may seem worthy to you in some of the points it makes, I don't know. But to me, in terms of a coherent editorial, it's trash. It's a cheap rhetorical game, nothing more. It's like a man who says he wants you to try a new IPA and ends by putting an iced green tea in front of you. I will drink elsewhere.
I'm still waiting for my friend's reply to these remarks.
My novel A Taipei Mutt is now in print. The Asian capital unmuzzled.