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Thoughts On the Potential Russian Involvement in an Ultimately Illegitimate Election

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  • There is one thing Donald Trump was (opportunistically) right about in his outrageous statement yesterday: nothing the CIA says should be taken at face value. Do I think the Russian  state was involved in the DNC hacks? Probably. And one major difference from Iraq: God knows we know Obama wasn’t pressuring them to cook the intelligence. But, still, I wouldn’t say the charges have been proven.

 

  • I, myself, don’t think that the precise source of the hacks is all that big a deal, although the potential Russian involvement will get many more people interested. We certainly know from the fact that the information targeted only one party, how it was sold, and what was excluded (as a commenter points out, no emails with oppo research on Trump) that Wikileaks was trying to throw the election to Trump. Not only do we know that now, it was blindingly obvious at the time.

 

  • Like the Comey scandal, this is really a media scandal. As Yglesias says, “Russian hackers could steal Podesta’s emails but it took an ideologically diverse set of American writers to misrepresent what they said…Whoever stole them for whatever reason, the vast bulk of the damage was done by irresponsible reporting not the hack per se.” 100% correct.  And while the relentless hyping of inane trivia as if it was a major scandal is particularly irritating coming from media organs of the ostensible left, the relentless hyping of inane trivia as if it was a major scandal by media outlets like the Washington Post was surely much more consequential.

 

  • Does this mean that the leaks shouldn’t have been reported on? No. But they should have been reported on with an appropriate skepticism given the obvious agenda behind them. To put it mildly, they weren’t. As with the Clinton Foundation stories, once reporters invested enough time they were unwilling to write stories that just said “we looked and there’s nothing here.” And by carefully portioning out the emails to ensure a steady drip of stories, Wikileaks played the media beautifully. But reporters and editors have agency: they didn’t have to be the cat’s paw of what was at least a libertarian ratfucking operation.   They chose to.

 

  • Mitch McConnell will be an interesting case study in whether there’s anything a major Republican politician can do to get the kind of contemptuous media treatment Hillary Clinton receives. It seems kind of important that the Senate majority leader put upper-class tax cuts and getting a neoconfederate on the Supreme Court over the security of the country and the integrity of its elections. He really is a disgusting figure even by contemporary Republican standards, and further reaffirms that Trump isn’t just some wild outlier.

 

  • I’ve gone back and forth about what Obama should have done. My first inclination is that he should have gone public despite McConnell’s threats. And, in retrospect, this was the best course of action — having campaign coverage dominated by a he said-she said discussion of whether Russia was throwing the election to Trump would have been better than what did dominate the final two weeks of election coverage. But at the time, Obama didn’t know how the election would turn out, and (reasonably) believed that Clinton was going to win, so going public would have poisoned her relations with Russia and undermined the CIA investigation. Unlike the Comey appointment, which was a disastrous blunder at the time, this was more a reasonable choice among bad options.

 

  • To make a related and highly unoriginal observation, a substantial portion of the collision of trainwrecks that produced President Trump was caused by people assuming Clinton would win. Clinton was covered from an aggressively adversarial pose as if she was already president, which led in part to the relentless flogging of EMAILS and A DONOR EMAILED HUMA ABEDIN stories — if you don’t have scandals you can make do with pseudo-scandals because you need something. Trump, on the other hand, was covered negatively but not really seriously.  Very few of the editors and reporters, mainstream or left, who created the impression of false equivalence actually thought that Clinton and Trump were comparably bad or dangerous figures. But because they didn’t think Trump would win — and, pro forma qualifications aside, until the Comey letter I didn’t think there was any real chance he would win either — we are where we are. And while the erroneous assumption was understandable, creating the strong implication that Hillary Clinton was the corrupt and dishonest candidate in a contest with Donald Trump is unforgivable.
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