Mainstream Media’s Fail on Russia

Ed Parsons [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

If you haven’t heard about the “Russian interference in our elections,” you may have been living under a rock for the past nine months. While the hysteria has died down somewhat, it is still difficult to watch the TV news and not hear about it, or be on social media and miss the postings about it.

Rarely is the question raised about what it means for “the Russians” to have “meddled” in our “democracy.” It sounds terrible―and certainly, depending on what it actually means, it has the potential to be terrible.

However, given that hard evidence is yet to be presented by the four (not seventeen) intelligence agencies that claimed “Russia” “interfered” with our election, and that these agencies have a history of lying to the public (and interfering heavily in democracy themselves), the jumping to conclusions of the Democratic Party and the mainstream media is troubling. A properly skeptical mind would think that international relations, especially with another nuclear superpower, should not be built on so many rumors and potentially-baseless accusations.

It is still unclear, perhaps on purpose, what the “meddling” entails. But the assertion seems to be that the Russian government cooperated with WikiLeaks to release hacked emails (supposedly―it is now largely in question that they were hacked at all), which painted the U.S. Democratic Party in a bad light preceding the presidential election.

There is also the specter of “fake news” spread in the U.S. by the Russian government, through Facebook ads and shady independent websites. However, this accusation, too, is persistently vague in how it would have played out, and uncompelling in how much this comparatively small amount of “fake news” really would have influenced U.S. voters, when the U.S. “real news” is by far more pervasive. Fake news was never necessary, either. Hillary Clinton has done enough in her own politics, and said enough in her own words, for people to have a legitimate case for disliking her.

And recently, Donald Trump Jr. publicly posted his own email chain indicating that he had a meeting in New York with a Russian business person, whom he claims ultimately gave him no information on Hillary Clinton.

As the story goes, this releasing of internal emails, the propagation of “fake news,” and even a Russian citizen’s potential sharing of information about Hillary Clinton―as if there wasn’t already enough “real” opposition research for Trump’s campaign to use―is why Donald Trump is in the White House now instead of Hillary Clinton. And since these things interfering with our democracy came from a foreign country, instead of purely our own, that is not acceptable.

Unlike the lack of tangible evidence of WikiLeaks’ “collusion” with the Russian government, there is sufficient evidence for concluding that all the leaked emails were authentic. But even this could be a point of contention; I could honestly understand if someone were to believe, for example, that fake emails were strategically snuck into the WikiLeaks―or somehow, “the Russians” (or whomever) deliberately misinterpreted the emails through the media to trick the American public. We can certainly entertain this possibility.

And it appears likely that a comparatively small amount of “fake news” did make its way into the U.S. media pool. That is the risk of living in the information age, and indeed, the U.S. media has its own problems with honest journalism. Even independent journalists, without a corporate agenda, must be very good at what they do in order to maintain accuracy in their reporting. Fake news is here to stay, no matter its country of origin.

But whether you voted for Clinton, Johnson, or Harambe, there is absolutely no denying this truth: The Democrats and mainstream media have used the “Russian meddling” narrative to distract from their own failures.

Even if you believe it was wrong for any foreign, coordinated effort to propagate “fake news,” you’d also have to admit that the U.S. media avoids asking the right questions or raising the right issues. The mainstream U.S. media is guilty of perpetual dishonesty by omission. This removes their moral high ground on the issue of what is “real” news and what is “interference” in elections through propaganda.

Even if you believe it was wrong for WikiLeaks to inform the American public on the internal operations of its own powerful government figures, you cannot deny that the “meddling” narrative has been super convenient for the mainstream media, which the public really doesn’t trust these days. It has also been a very nice diversion for the Democratic party, which lost around 1,000 legislative seats in the past decade (does the mainstream U.S. media really talk about why this happened?), and a presidential election to Donald “The Apprentice” Trump (does the U.S. media really talk about how this happened, other than “Russia”??).

One reason these institutions are in such poor standing with the contemporary public is that for many years, both the mainstream media and the Democratic Party have danced around the most significant issues that affect us. And they continue, for whatever reason, to avoid fundamental issues of significance. (Maybe, just maybe, it’s because they are indebted to corporate America and the super-rich.)

On healthcare, for example, the debate is over on what is the best way forward, but the “healthcare debate” still continues in bad faith―as if we didn’t really know, conclusively, that Medicare-for-All would cost less, treat more, and lead to better outcomes.

The “debate” continues in bad faith, conveniently forgetting to discuss that Medicare was originally intended to be a universal healthcare program, and that the infrastructure is already largely in place for a transition to universal care. The debate continues in bad faith―as if the United States doing what the rest of the industrialized world does is a “radical” idea, and would be more difficult than colonizing Mars.

Fortunately, the media and party establishment have been able to change the topic to something else. A sigh of relief as they point to Russia, and are let off the hook for America.

Rarely is climate change discussed in earnest, or much at all, by the mainstream media or Democratic leadership. If it were, the public would know that our climate change problem simply cannot be overcome without a massive shift in the foundations of the energy industry―including immense regulations on the most offensive corporations, if not a forced dismantling of them or shifting into public ownership.

A real solution to climate change, if we wanted to avoid catastrophe, would essentially require us to leave the remaining fossil fuels in the ground. We’d have to make a rapid transition to renewable and sustainable energy, catalyzed by emergency government action. Not later, but now―or as climate scientists both love and hate to say, yesterday.

Are they talking about this on TV? Are the Democrats talking about this in their press conferences? No, and one reason why is because they are paid by people who don’t want them talking about it. Another reason is that they can talk about something else: something that is potentially, but not necessarily, threatening to the entire American public.

The “Russia” narrative, even if we believed it to be a major issue, would be only one of a hundred major issues. And they are not talking about the other big issues. They haven’t in many, many years, and they still aren’t.

The “Russia” issue has effectively, if not entirely purposely, been used as one big get-out-of-talking-about-the-serious-issues card. And the public feels it in their soul. David Sirota pointed out that “polls show Dems’ hyper-focus on Russia has corresponded with a decline in their favorability ratings,” and The Hill reported in an article titled Voters Grow Weary of Russia Probes that “73 percent say they’re concerned that the Russia probes have caused Congress to lose focus on the issues important to them.”

So, I suppose you could think whatever you want about the Russian interference. Based on evidence that supposedly exists, but hardly has been presented to the public, you could believe that the Russian government swindled the American public by engaging in whistleblowing during a significant national election. And you could believe that a few dinky websites and Facebook ads swung the election by making up facts about Hillary Clinton. But in any case, there’s one thing that is undoubtedly, undeniably, absolutely true. You are being played by America, too.

Written by Sammy Kayes

Sammy Kayes is an educator and activist in Chicago. Follow him on Twitter @left_judo.

Sammy is a Guest Contributor to Progressive Army.

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Mainstream Media’s Fail on Russia