Above: Just one of the many Russian fake news stories (this one about a pedophile sex ring involved with the Clintons and run out of a pizza shop in Washington D.C.) that found traction on social media, including being reposted by many of my neighbors!
The story of what the Russians actually accomplished in the 2016 election is emerging pretty clearly. We have our congressional investigations to thank for a lot of this information, however dysfunctional they have seemed at times.
In short, the apparent goal of the Russian election meddling may have started with Putin’s anger at Hillary Clinton, but appears to have morphed into the more strategic principle of destroying our democracy and embarrassing us in front of the world. Without making any judgment on whether they had direct help from the Trump campaign, they did that very well. The Russians, using bots, imposter accounts, and troll farms, flooded the internet with fake stories designed to go viral. They worked their wanton destruction from every political angle they could work up, since they hardly cared about the policies or candidates they were supporting — with the exception of Trump. So their operatives used social media to:
- Rouse up resentful Bernie supporters to ensure failure of the Democratic party in the election by sowing party dissension,
- Support Jill Stein to draw a few votes away from Hillary,
- Masquerade as Black Lives Matter, Antifa, or Muslim support groups to play into the racial fears that were propelling the Trump campaign
- Manufacture “lock her up” lies about Clinton to feed the populist right (and, later, resentful Sandernistas) who — enraged by hatred already cultivated for years by the right wing media — would magnify Russian lies into viral supernovas more effective than any “ad” purchases,
We’re still discovering the extent of Russian meddling; but it’s clear the dupes of the Russians are not yet to the point that they can admit to themselves that we were played. Trump supporters, the American Press corps, Bernie Sanders populist campaign do not want to admit they were, and are, being used by a clever adversary bent on the destruction and embarrassment of our democracy. So, if it can’t be them, who could possibly be to blame? Clinton, of course!!
The other part of this shadow campaign was how they were able to weaponize our mainstream press to report on half-stories, fabricated false news, and other outright falsehoods. By jumping from right wing lie-manufacturers to legitimate media searching for headlines, Russians hackers were able to amplify a thousand-fold their destruction. By throwing as much mud as they could at Hillary during the election — mostly outright lies or cherry-picked facts supporting demonstrably false narratives — some would stick. There would end up being an aura of “corruption” about Clinton used in the campaign by both Trump and Bernie, that has not dissipated even now, a year after the election has been decided.
By succeeding with the national media, they were able with the help of end-of-campaign stunners like the Comey announcement, to convince Republican women, Sandernistas, and other natural constituencies of Clinton to decide that it wasn’t worth voting, or that they might as well vote for a pussy-grabbing incompetent over the (manufactured) “corruption” of the Hillary candidacy.
Much of the damage was done by a non-story. With the Russian direct hacking into Clinton’s information networks — and using a “cutout” like Wikileaks to create “news” — the Clinton emails, the intimate conversations and strategies of the Clinton and Democratic campaigns (without revealing or hacking the other candidate) became the Russians favorite tool for duping our obediently salivating media into casting shade on Hillary Clinton. That included the internal debates, the Clinton Foundation, and the rigging of the primary story. All this while, the evidence of the actual prima facie corruption and law-breaking of Donald Trump’s “Foundation” sank, conveniently, beneath the waves of breathless speculation about Hillary!
Recall that one of Putin’s propaganda machine’s most effective strategies is, when you are caught with your hand in the cookie jar, simply gin up an accusation of your accuser of doing the same thing.
Unfortunately, our national media threw themselves enthusiastically into the trap: Russia was able to weaponize our press to conduct its cyberwarfare against Clinton and the Democratic Party — by preying on press weaknesses for propping up a naive populist belief that elections and political parties are, and should be, “fair” — a narrative that same press knows to be false.
So, during the Podesta and Wasserman-Schulz hacks, our media was led by Russians into ungracefully slobbering over the slow reveal that politics was, well, politics. It’s hard to find more than two cents of worthy news in it. But national media devoted daily headline space to each gossipy private detail. Shamelessly, they promoted the notion that there was some kind of equivalency between this internal gossip of Clinton campaign and the destructive race-baiting, constant lying, hidden conflicts of interest, Russia abetting, and the ongoing corruption of Trump’s campaign. So, many intelligent voters ultimately were led to believe that there was no difference between Trump and Clinton!
How could a male candidate get away with not bothering with truth, documentation, financial details, political norms, understanding of even the rudiments of the job, business corruption and failure? And then be applauded and lauded by the slack-jawed press for being brazen and breaking the rules! (If I hear ‘unprecedented’ one more time, I’m going to scream!)
Why was the woman candidate hoisted on a false press petard about minor problems in her wholly exposed (by the Russians) and reasonably ethical campaign, one of the best rated charities in the world for effectiveness, a speech for the normal rate given (horrors) to a big bank (oh, how the press felt entitled to scold her for the “bad optics” of that, when Trump actually WAS indebted to big banks, often Russian banks, for millions, maybe billions of dollars with a history of bankruptcies and defaults going back years!). Oh, and never mind Clinton’s history of admirable performance at every level of government?
How could the press fail to notice the millions of taxpayer dollars frittered away in substance-less “investigations” to discredit Clinton not because there was ever any crime, but because she was the most formidable democratic candidate in generations? Party apparatchik Kevin McCarthy was, accidentally, very explicit about it. The press outrage was about the optics of his admitting it, but there was no follow up to the actual scandal: the use of taxpayer dollars to finance 10’s of millions of dollars “investigations” which were cynically convened to publicly finance a continuous negative campaign ad based on lies.
Let us call it what it was: a stunning collapse of intellectual rigor in the press; an unfortunate outcome of horse-race politics (that continually tried to gin up a horse race every time Clinton rightfully seemed to be adding some daylight between her and an unqualified candidate), and “story-a-day” news reporting that waited breathlessly on each Wikileaks “reveal.” Not to mention the longer-standing hyper partisanship that created the environment. Even now the press appears to be shamelessly working overtime to deflect blame for this debacle from themselves by denigrating Clinton (again) for her incisive and truthful comments about the factors in her election loss. More unbelievable.
It’s fair to have policy differences with her exhaustive policy papers (that were NEVER reported on or analyzed — while the fiftieth Donald Trump rally was being broadcast in its entirety — on MSNBC no less!); it’s fair to not like her foreign policy directions as Secretary of State, it’s fair to vote for the other candidate, it’s fair to want a Republican over a Democrat, it’s fair to note what she herself admitted — that she was blindsided by the populist revolt signified by both Bernie and Trump’s victories.
But what was done by inference, smear, and a decade of fake “investigations” is the shame and dysfunction of the US political system. The Russians didn’t start it, but they certainly manipulated the vulnerabilities our hyper partisanship revealed. We all did the work of the Russians in crippling our democracy and installing a venal and unqualified, possibly authoritarian, “president” with a “mandate” to “tear it down, tear it all down!” And, as Trump supporters remind us almost gleefully, that’s what he, and the Russians, are doing…
Someday in the future, will the country hang its head in shame for the way Hillary Clinton (and our own proud history) was besmirched in 2016? Our most qualified presidential candidate ever? Someone who had served the public with distinction whenever the opportunity presented? Someone who was, dare I say it, a woman?