It insidiously casts doubt upon independent media at the same time it tries to get the patriotic war drums pounding in the brains of its readers.
The headline blares out its piercingly shrill dog-whistle of a warning to the reading public: Russian Hackers Find Ready Bullhorns in the Media. In other words, the media outlets that published DNC and Clinton campaign emails are, if not exactly traitorous, extremely careless and naive. And if you the reader don't want to be considered traitorous or careless or naive yourself, you'll be very, very careful about what you choose to peruse.
Reporter Max Fisher, who recently arrived at the Times's new "Interpreter" beat from previous explaining gigs at Vox and the Washington Post, immediately asserts that Russian hacking of Democratic National Committee and Clinton campaign emails is an established fact. Despite much skepticism from a wide variety of sources about the results of the government's investigation, the Russian infiltration of our democracy is no longer even up for debate, as far as the Times is concerned:
As the dust settles on Russian interference in the United States election, journalists are confronting an aspect that has received less scrutiny than the hacking itself but poses its own thorny questions: Moscow’s ability to steer Western media coverage by doling out hacked documents.Fisher enhances the official narrative by moving beyond the Russian red herring, which deflected attention from the actual damaging content of the emails. Now it's time to inflict shame on the reporters who wrote about them, and to warn them off covering future non-sanctioned leaks. Since the Russian messenger of the email story has already been vanquished as far as Max Fisher is concerned, he can now safely move on to smearing -- in a smarmy, concern-trolling way, of course - the "stenographers" of the message. The reporters who published mainly banal exposures of the self-interest, money-grubbing and petty backbiting within Hillary Clinton's Democratic Party without vetting the original sources are as good as accessories after the fact. And if you, dear readers, pay any more attention to these emails, then you too are complicit.
Any journalism from here on out now that is critical of the Wall Street/war faction of the duopoly will have Putin's bloody hand-prints all over it. And, the article hints, this whole First Amendment thing might need to be reconsidered because the Russians are spoiling it:
By releasing documents that would tarnish Hillary Clinton and other American political figures, but whose news value compelled coverage, Moscow exploited the very openness that is the basis of a free press. Its tactics have evolved with each such operation, some of which are still unfolding.Fisher goes on to quote cyber-security expert Thomas Rid, a professor at Kings College London, who has been allegedly tracking the hacking since last summer, when Obama administration officials apparently first learned of it but did nothing. They believed, like nearly everybody else, that Hillary would beat Trump, a "Pied Piper" candidate whom they themselves had set up as the perfect loathsome target for her. They did nothing, even after the embarrassing emails started appearing in print the month before the election. Obama reportedly did not want to be seen as placing his own thumb on the electoral scales by making a huge issue out of what basically is standard international mutual spying procedure.
But that was then, and the agenda now is to delegitimize the renegade Trump victory by calling him a Manchurian candidate and simultaneously beating the drums for war on Russia. And so Thomas Rid is quoted as saying that this goes well beyond run-of-the-mill hacking. "It's political engineering, social engineering on a strategic level," he ominously told the Times.
In other words, they want you to believe that Vlad Putin not only wants to eat your brains for breakfast, he wants to steal your breakfast table and all your furniture and your house and your money and the entire American consumer culture that makes us so great.
"A New Dark Art" is how Fisher balefully describes the Russian propaganda scourge in a bold subhead.
Because unlike run-of-the mill spying and meddling, Russia is using front organizations and proxies to disseminate its propaganda across our borders. Never mind what Edward Bernays revealed almost a century ago: most propaganda you read in newspapers originates from a front group or public relations agency. In his seminal work on the topic, he singled out the New York Times:
The extent to which propaganda shapes the progress of affairs about us may surprise even well informed persons. Nevertheless, it is only necessary to look under the surface of the newspaper for a hint as to propaganda's authority over public opinion. Page one of the New York Times on the day these paragraphs are written contains eight important news stories. Four of them, or one-half, are propaganda. The casual reader accepts them as accounts of spontaneous happenings. But are they? Here are the headlines which announce them: "TWELVE NATIONS WARN CHINA REAL REFORM MUST COME BEFORE THEY GIVE RELIEF," "PRITCHETT REPORTS ZIONISM WILL FAIL," "REALTY MEN DEMAND A TRANSIT INQUIRY," and "OUR LIVING STANDARD HIGHEST IN HISTORY, SAYS HOOVER REPORT....
These examples are not given to create the impression that there is anything sinister about propaganda. They are set down rather to illustrate how conscious direction is given to events, and how the men behind these events influence public opinion. As such they are examples of modern propaganda. At this point we may attempt to define propaganda.But now Thomas Rid and the Times act as though this tactic is both brand-new and lethal. As Fisher breathlessly Timesplains:
Modern propaganda is a consistent, enduring effort to create or shape events to influence the relations of the public to an enterprise, idea or group.
This practice of creating circumstances and of creating pictures in the minds of millions of persons is very common. Virtually no important undertaking is now carried on without it, whether that enterprise be building a cathedral, endowing a university, marketing a moving picture, floating a large bond issue, or electing a president. Sometimes the effect on the public is created by a professional propagandist, sometimes by an amateur deputed for the job. The important thing is that it is universal and continuous; and in its sum total it is regimenting the public mind every bit as much as an army regiments the bodies of its soldiers.
Great powers have long meddled in one another’s affairs. But Russia, throughout 2016, developed a previously unseen tactic: setting up fronts to seed into the press documents it had obtained by hacking.
Of course, Professor Rid is being disingenuous. Fisher doesn't inform his readers that his source is an alumnus of the RAND Corporation, a public-private think tank which has been churning out imperialistic American propaganda since the end of World War Two. Many of its activities and position papers are highly classified.“Doing public relations work in order to get the hacked material out as an exclusive story with the Daily Caller or Gawker or the Smoking Gun, that is new,” Mr. Rid said.That public relations work was initially done by two web presences that appeared this summer, Guccifer 2.0 and DCLeaks, each posing as activist-hackers in the mold of Julian Assange, the WikiLeaks chief. Though neither acknowledged it, and the links were not immediately known, online security experts later concluded that both were Russian fronts.
RAND was once castigated by the Soviet news agency as the "American Academy of Science and Death" and by Stanley Kubrick as the BLAND Corporation in Dr. Strangelove. It was the physical source of the eventually stolen top-secret Pentagon Papers, which revealed the lies and coverups about the Vietnam War. As Alex Abella outlined in a book he wrote about RAND, it received most of its corporate and taxpayer money during the Cold War decades:
I worked for RAND as a national security analyst from the mid-1980s to the mid-1990s, and people there spoke of those earlier times with wonder and nostalgia. Thanks to ever-expanding cold-war budgets, the Air Force essentially dumped a truckload of money at RAND’s front door every year. The organization was permitted to spend that money at its discretion. Although most of it funded useless research—I recall a 1960s-era report on the Black Death in the Middle Ages as an example of societal catastrophe and recovery—some of it helped to invent nuclear strategy, Sovietology, and systems analysis (probably RAND’s most lasting contribution to its military clients). Other analysts developed such far-reaching pursuits as game theory and rational-choice theory.Speaking of game theory, and going back to Max Fisher's slick propaganda explainer piece in the Times, propaganda just wouldn't be slick if its practitioner didn't also play the Both Siderism game. Fisher continues with his 'splaining about those dastardly Russian PR shops and how they so easily fool dumb journos:
In July, for instance, DCLeaks published emails belonging to retired Air Force Gen. Philip Breedlove. The Intercept, a left-leaning site, covered the emails in a story that portrayed Mr. Breedlove as trying to foment hostility against Russia. The story did not note Russian links to the hack. Its lead author, Lee Fang, said he had no interactions with DCLeaks and pointed out that the group’s suspected Russian ties were not widely publicized at that time.Lee Fang is a respected independent investigative reporter. But never mind all that. Because when it comes to shilling for Putin, Fisher implies, he's just as Strangelovingly "preverted" as the often-scurrilous Daily Caller:
And to give a good back-handed smack to smaller independent ("peripheral") news sites, Fisher, in a more subtle variation of the discredited PropOrNot way of smearing them as Russian propaganda tools, actually praised the conspiracy site InfoWars as being moral enough to refuse to publish some of the leaked DNC emails. If InfoWars of all places is turning down Russian leaks, then why can't more reputable organizations? Or so Fisher slickly implies in his article.In September, DCLeaks contacted Peter Hasson, a reporter at the Daily Caller, a right-leaning site, with an offer: password-protected access to hacked emails belonging to Colin Powell, the former secretary of state.The Daily Caller’s story also did not note the growing belief that the documents had been hacked by Russia and leaked as part of an influence operation. Mr. Hasson said he was unaware of the alleged Russian links at the time.
But Fisher is not done yet. Because as the final sinister subhead to his article prescribes, it's way past time to be "Developing Antibodies" to all this Russian mental germ warfare.
Get it? Independent news that afflicts the powerful is like contaminated food. You just never know who packaged the bread on that sandwich you're eating. The baker, in turn, has no real way of knowing the provenance of the flour she used, and the farmer has no earthly idea where his seed came from, or whether the pesticides he used on his crops are more toxic than the manufacturer asserted.
Ergo: we had all better quit
"I can no longer sit back and allow Communist infiltration, Communist indoctrination, Communist subversion, and the international Communist conspiracy to sap and impurify all of our precious bodily fluids.... It's incredibly obvious, isn't it? A foreign substance is introduced into our precious bodily fluids, without the knowledge of the individual, certainly without any choice. That the way a hardcore Commie works." -- Dr. Strangelove, 1964.