A little over two weeks ago, I was hit with a bout of the flu like a ten pound trout in the face (no fair! I had my flu shot!), and it was so debilitating that this is the first time I’ve even been able to crawl upstairs to my home office and use the computer. Before a microscopic free-floating strand of RNA beat the living crap out of me, I had this piece in the can, awaiting a final polish. It was written in the immediate aftermath of the first wave of reaction to William Barr’s supposed summary of the Mueller Report, and by now events have largely overtaken it. On the eve of that report’s release, redactions and all, as Barr himself prepares a press conference/spin extravaganza to explain it all away before we get to read it, few would accept any more that the report actually fully exonerates the President and makes fools of those who’ve been raising questions about the Trump campaign and the Russians over the past two years. But I figured I may as well post it anyway.
I keep saying it’s time to move on from Russiagate, and start focusing on policy initiatives to undo the depredations of the Trump administration, and repair the damage to norms, rules, and American democracy itself. I keep saying that, but they make it so hard. They keep launching attacks that I feel bound to repel.
A narrative has developed in the aftermath of what I’ve taken to calling “Barr’s wee crafty letter”. Swallowing hook, line, and sinker the carefully spun legalese designed to make it seem that the Mueller Report isn’t damning at all – an idea belied by the way Barr continues to play hide the ball and slow-walk the release of his own carefully redacted version of the document – various media critics have decided that there never was anything to any of this Russia business, and all the media attention on left-leaning outlets like MSNBC amounted to nothing but hysteria and fever swamp conspiracy theorizing. MSNBC, in this slanted view, is just “Fox News for the left”, and the arch-purveyor of the lefty hysterical nonsense is Rachel Maddow.
The most prominent advocate of this school is a guy named Matt Taibbi, who writes for Rolling Stone. He begins from the premise that the Mueller Report, as filtered through Trump’s hand-picked Attorney General, has definitively concluded that there never was any skullduggery involving Russian meddling, not in the Trump camp, anyway. Thus, asserts Taibbi, the coverage of the past two years, particularly Maddow’s, has amounted to the worst journalistic failing since the mainstream media bought into the Bush-Cheney line of bull on Saddam Hussein’s program to create weapons of mass destruction. In all the phoney excitement, what’s been created is an exact mirror image of Fox News over at MSNBC, with Rachel Maddow the doppelgänger for Sean Hannity, as he explained in describing how he plans to put Hannity and Maddow on the cover of his new magnum opus Hate Inc:
Rachel Maddow is not on the cover of this book because of anything she did by mistake, because Russiagate turned out to be a bad guess. She’s on the cover because of what she did on purpose, which is to transform into a towering patriotic media cudgel, a depressingly exact mirror of Hannity.
Meanwhile, over at the Washington Post, we got this from contributor Gary Abernathy:
Says the pundit:
But for now, while partisans on the left may quibble, the fact remains that on the subject of collusion with Russia by President Trump or his campaign, Fox News was right and the others were wrong. For at least two years, MSNBC and CNN devoted hour upon hour, day after day, to promoting the narrative that Trump colluded with the Russians, and that special counsel Robert S. Mueller III was going to prove it. That turned out to be wrong.
With no due respect, bullshit.
If the saga of Saddam’s WMDs has any similarity to Trump’s Russian hijinks, then it would have been discovered that Saddam was buying uranium on the black market, did have scientists working on warhead design, had other technicians working on ballistic missiles, and met repeatedly with agents of anti-American foreign powers in attempts to buy nuclear technology, but somehow, in the end, never managed to bring it all together and build a usable weapon. Yet here we are being exhorted to view the liberal reportage of the past two years as nothing but a baseless fiction, a cluster of wild conspiracy theories, goosed along by the breathless mendacity of ideologues like Maddow and her pal Chris Hayes, those Fox News equivalents. We’re supposed to buy into this view based on nothing save the assertions made in a four page memo by a known partisan with extreme views on executive power, and a history of political subterfuge going all the way back to Iran-Contra – a guy who lobbied fiercely for the A.G. job so he could protect Trump – who supplied his own artfully-crafted version of Mueller’s still unrevealed conclusions.
I’ve watched Maddow nightly for the entirety of Trump’s time in the White House. I’ve not observed her indulging in wild conspiracy theories or left-wing fever dreams. I’ve not seen her make anything up, or extrapolate from known facts in any unreasonable manner. Clearly, something was going on with Russia. What we knew, what’s already on the public record, did look extremely suspicious, and still does, despite Mueller’s purported conclusion that the line of criminality was not crossed. Facts already on the public record clearly demonstrate what might at a minimum be called “attempted conspiracy”, with Trump campaign personnel and their cut-outs meeting repeatedly with Russian cut-outs, and representatives of close Putin associates among his criminal cabal of oligarchs. The willingness to collude was clearly there, and that’s not even the whole of it – for the sake of brevity, let’s not even get into a the conflicts of interest inherent in the Trump Tower Moscow project, or the lies told about it, or the leverage this gave Putin. Somehow, and I remain mystified on this, none of this was illegal. It was, however, unethical, immoral, corrupt, and worst of all, traitorous.
Meanwhile, and this has been the real emphasis of all the reporting from Maddow, it’s irrefutable that Russia intervened in the election; that this interference was part of a larger program to undermine Western democracy, in which effort getting Trump installed in the White House was just one facet; that Trump and his key campaign officials knew all about it, and tried to pitch in; that something was going on in a sort of triangular arrangement between the GRU, Wikileaks Turd Julián Assange, and Roger Stone; that Trump eagerly used what he knew to be stolen emails at every opportunity, having publicly asked the Russians to hack them in the first place; and that Trump has rewarded Putin for his help, by asserting that Russia didn’t even interfere in the election – Putin assures him of this – and trying to remove economic sanctions imposed upon Russia after its military intervention in Ukraine, among other things, perhaps most important that no attempt has been made to thwart ongoing Russian meddling leading up to the 2020 election.
That may not be criminal, though it should be; it is, nonetheless, the worst scandal in American political history, and yes, Maddow has been fairly howling about it. So she should have been! Equating her to the liars at Fox News, especially vile bullshit machine Sean Hannity, is absurd. It seems that critics like Taibbi take the view that if one person enters a room and begins screaming outrageous lies at the top of his lungs, and another tries to drown him out by hollering God’s truth, they’re just the same, because they’re both yelling. If MSNBC is the mirror image of Fox News, then the 101st Airborne at Bastogne was the mirror image of the 2nd Panzer Division.
Now, after folks like Taibbi have bought into Barr’s spin, the Mueller team is beginning to leak. They’re outraged at the game Barr is playing, and assert that while the wee crafty letter says nothing outright false, it makes the underlying report sound far less damaging than it is. On obstruction, the gist of the leaks seems to be that Barr’s almost off-the-cuff call that obstruction of justice didn’t occur was not his to make, and is probably wrong. As to collusion, other leaks reported in the NY Times suggest that the evidence laid out in the Mueller Report refutes criminal conspiracy but indicates that the Trump team was manipulated by Russian operatives and, in effect, was turned into a Russian asset. This sort Russian compromat operation happens all the time on a much smaller scale, and isn’t criminal, necessarily, on the part of the ones being duped; it’s just very damaging to American interests. This is what counter-intelligence is all about, rooting out the Russian operations and identifying the assets they’ve compromised on our side of the line, who may well be unwitting pawns. This is what the FBI was investigating. This was the main aspect of the case Mueller inherited, counter-intelligence, and the mind-blowing question: has as an American President been compromised? Nothing Barr has said supplies anything pertinent to this most vital question. My fear is that Mueller’s findings on this score, if any (the extent of this aspect of the effort remains unclear) may legitimately need to remain classified – sources and methods, and all that. Still, look at what we know already, and ask yourself: is worrying that the Russians have their hooks into Trump in any way unreasonable?
Trump and everybody else on his team lied, lied, and lied some more about their numerous interactions with the Russians. Trump himself, based only on what he’s said and done in public, has certainly behaved in ways that ought to amount to criminal obstruction. Why all the subterfuge, if they were lily-white? Why all the attempts to block the investigation? In everything they’ve done, Trump and his crew have acted like they know only too well just how dirty they are. They clearly skirted the line – we know this – and it’s equally clear that they were mortally afraid they’d be found to have committed all sorts of crimes. Even as Trump took his victory lap you could see him mopping the flop sweat from his face, almost giddy with the joy of having dodged another bullet. That was the obvious subtext to everything Trump and his many supporters put out there after Barr dropped his “summary of principal conclusions”: sheer, ecstatic, almost incredulous relief. They were like a big, awful, collective O.J., almost weeping with joy when the jury came back with its improbable verdict.
Rachel Maddow the same thing as Sean Hannity? MSNBC equivalent to Fox News? Horse-huckey. This gross over-reaction to the Barr letter may be gaining traction now, but in due course, as the full import of Mueller’s findings becomes more clear, it’ll be critics like Taibbi and Gary Abernathy who’ll have to chow down on heaping plates of boiled crow, and not to be spiteful or anything, but I hope the feathers make them gag something awful.