Legal Magazine

Why Does Rolling Stone's Matt Taibbi, One of America's Finest Journalists, Seem to Be on a Crusade to Debunk the Stories of Russia's Election Interference?

Posted on the 02 January 2017 by Rogershuler @RogerShuler

Why does Rolling Stone's Matt Taibbi, one of America's finest journalists, seem to be on a crusade to debunk the stories of Russia's election interference?


Perhaps the most head-scratching news event over the holidays involves an apparent effort, in both the U.S. and UK, to debunk the story of Russia's interference in the 2016 presidential election.
The biggest head-scratcher of all is that it involves Rolling Stone's Matt Taibbi, whom I've long considered one of the finest investigative journalists still walking the planet. So what is with Taibbi's December 31 piece titled "Something About This Russia Story Stinks," which might charitably be called "flimsy" (at best) and "nonsensical" (at worst)? And what is with Craig Murray, former British ambassador to Uzbekistan. who has been in the debunking business for several weeks now at his blog? Murray, a long-time associate of Julian Assange, seems to be a serious fellow -- but his reports on the Russia-interference story seem to be long on intrigue and short on solid reporting or analysis.
Is Taibbi following Murray's lead, without knowing where it's headed? That is unclear, but Taibbi seems to be shrugging off what could be the biggest political story of our lifetimes, what some have called the "Crime of the Century." (Taibbi is not alone in the U.S. Robert Parry, of Consortium News, published "Intel Vets Dispute Russia Hacking Claims" on December 12, followed by "Details Still Lacking On Russian 'Hack'" on December 29. Like Taibbi, Parry has serious journalism credentials.)
Taibbi's main concern seems to be that journalists will again find themselves on the wrong end of what he calls an "Iraq-WMD faceplant." That is a reference to the faulty weapons of mass destruction intelligence that led the United States into war with Iraq. What does that have to do with the current story about alleged Russian interference that helped put the wildly unqualified Donald Trump on the front step of the White House? We're not sure, but Taibbi says his journalistic colleagues are queasy about reporting on another story that could rest, they think, on shaky intelligence. After noting sanctions that President Obama imposed late last week on Russia, Taibbi writes:
This dramatic story puts the news media in a jackpot. Absent independent verification, reporters will have to rely upon the secret assessments of intelligence agencies to cover the story at all.
Many reporters I know are quietly freaking out about having to go through that again. We all remember the WMD fiasco. "It's déjà vu all over again" is how one friend put it.

So, angst among reporters somehow means a story isn't true, or isn't worth pursuing? Does that mean the CIA/Homeland Security assessment of October 7 is filled with holes, even though President Obama clearly does not see it that way?  Does that mean that an FBI/Homeland Security report of December 29 also has no merit?
The December 29 report, Taibbi notes, "details how Russian civilian and military intelligence services (termed "RIS" in the report) twice breached the defenses of 'a U.S. political party,' presumably the Democrats." He then proceeds to brush it off:
This report is long on jargon but short on specifics. More than half of it is just a list of suggestions for preventive measures.
At one point we learn that the code name the U.S. intelligence community has given to Russian cyber shenanigans is GRIZZLY STEPPE, a sexy enough detail.
But we don't learn much at all about what led our government to determine a) that these hacks were directed by the Russian government, or b) they were undertaken with the aim of influencing the election, and in particular to help elect Donald Trump.

Those are reasonable quibbles, but do they mean the Russian story has no legs, that it "stinks"? It's hard to see how. Less than two months have passed since the election, and we're dealing with a possible international crime involving sophisticated computer-related machinations (and yes, even jargon). That's supposed to be fully resolved in the time it takes Donald Trump to knock out a few mindless Tweets?
Taibbi seems nonplussed that the whole thing hasn't been wrapped up with a colorful bow by now. And oh, there is that Iraq-WMD thing:
The problem with this story is that, like the Iraq-WMD mess, it takes place in the middle of a highly politicized environment during which the motives of all the relevant actors are suspect. Nothing quite adds up.
If the American security agencies had smoking-gun evidence that the Russians had an organized campaign to derail the U.S. presidential election and deliver the White House to Trump, then expelling a few dozen diplomats after the election seems like an oddly weak and ill-timed response. Voices in both parties are saying this now.

But do we know this is the beginning and end of the U.S. response? Could further investigation, which clearly is needed, yield a more firm response? Could it even prompt efforts to block or force Trump from the White House? Taibbi acts as if the story is over, when perhaps it has barely begun.
At its heart, Taibbi's piece is about journalism -- how it's produced, how it's received -- not about a possible international crime of incomprehensible scope:
This has led to widespread confusion among news audiences over whether the Russians hacked the DNC emails (a story that has at least been backed by some evidence, even if it hasn't always been great evidence), or whether Russians hacked vote tallies in critical states (a far more outlandish tale backed by no credible evidence).
As noted in The Intercept and other outlets, an Economist/YouGov poll conducted this month shows that 50 percent of all Clinton voters believe the Russians hacked vote tallies.
This number is nearly as disturbing as the 62 percent of Trump voters who believe the preposterous, unsourced Trump/Alex Jones contention that "millions" of undocumented immigrants voted in the election.

That is quite a slap at Hillary Clinton supporters, comparing them to Trump and Alex Jones. But is it unreasonable for Clinton supporters to ask a few questions, such as:
* Exit polls, pretty much across the board, showed our candidate solidly ahead going into election day. How did exit polls, which have proven reliable in the past, get it so wrong this time?
* The narrative going into election day was that Trump needed to win almost all of a string of states -- Florida, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin. What are the odds of a candidate actually winning all of those states, under such circumstances? Has anything like it happened in American history?
In the end, Taibbi admits we might have a huge story on our hands:
Did the Russians do it? Very possibly, in which case it should be reported to the max. But the press right now is flying blind. Plowing ahead with credulous accounts is problematic because so many different feasible scenarios are in play.
On one end of the spectrum, America could have just been the victim of a virtual coup d'etat engineered by a combination of Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin, which would be among the most serious things to ever happen to our democracy.
But this could also just be a cynical ass-covering campaign, by a Democratic Party that has seemed keen to deflect attention from its own electoral failures.
The outgoing Democrats could just be using an over-interpreted intelligence "assessment" to delegitimize the incoming Trump administration and force Trump into an embarrassing political situation: Does he ease up on Russia and look like a patsy, or escalate even further with a nuclear-armed power?

That last paragraph is a real knee-slapper. Democrats need to "delegitimize" a Trump administration? Isn't Donald Trump capable of doing that on his own? Does Trump really need help creating "embarrassing political situations"?
Perhaps without knowing it, Taibbi gets to the heart of the matter. Americans need to know their elections produce "legitimate" results. We need to know Donald Trump is in the White House for "legitimate" reasons, not because Vladimir Putin put him there.
I still think Matt Taibbi is one of our best journalists, but he flopped badly with this story. One could even say it "stinks."
As for Craig Murray, the British fellow who seems to be blazing a trail for Taibbi, we will examine his work in an upcoming post.
(To be continued)

Back to Featured Articles on Logo Paperblog
By Don Lockman
posted on 17 February at 22:34

Centrist Democrats are, IMO, blinded by the rottenness and extremeness of Trump, and are missing much of the picture, by focusing, sometimes hysterically, on as-yet unverifed Russian connections, as well as outrageously blaming Bernie for their 2016 loss.

I am a Bernie-style progressive Democrat who is disappointed and dismayed at the shallowness and easy-manipulability of the DNC-style centrist Democrats, as well as their inability to take responsibility for their ignoring of the American middle class (and their neglect of the social safety net) over decades, which clearly contributed to the rise of Trump.

This is unquivocal, empirical, and could destroy the Democratic Party, if it does not move to the left and become a truly Progressive, non-corporate-dominated party.

Acknowledging realities like the "red-shift" in our elections, instead of reflexively blaming the Russians, would be a good early step for the Democratic Party in trying to stay together as one unified party.

By Don Lockman
posted on 17 February at 22:24

Here's some info (just a small sample of what is out there) on the notorious 2004 "red-shift", which is vital as background data for 2016, IMO:

Even Reagan-Administration Libertarian Paul Craig Roberts acknowledged the "red-shift" in 2004:

And regarding the 2016 election:

By Don Lockman
posted on 17 February at 22:01

The difference in vote totals from exit polls, when it exceeds th margin-of-error, and slants to the political right (as it nearly always does in US elections, when it does appear) is called a "red-shift".

There was generally almost no "shift" at all from exit polls in US elections right up until 2000. So, the "red-shift" is strictly a post 2000 phenomenon. Think about that.

There was a significant "red-shift" in the 2000 election, and a HUGE one in many states in the 2004 election. Both seemed to swing the election to the GOP.

I doubt the Russians were involved in those shifts.

The most likely culprit were DOMESTIC American poltical operatives (under Karl Rove's direction?) who were able to gain either direct or remote access to the computerized vote-tabulation machines in districts all over the country, and ALTER the totals, so they favored the "red" (Conservative/GOP) side. These are indicated in the differences far beyond the margin-of-error from the exit polls (anything over 1% is considered suspect, and in many states the difference was a stunning 4 to 6+%).

Why should anyone believe the Russians caused the 2016 "red-shift" in vote tabulation, when clearly, DOMESTIC operatives already have a solid, established handle on that, as indicated in those past elections.

IMO, domestic GOP-favoring operatives swung the tabulations in favor of Trump, with nearly surgical precision, in the vital swing states like Michigan, Wisconsin, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and a couple others.

The go-to experts on this "red-shift" phenomenon are author Mark Crispin Miller and attorney Bob Fitrakis, activist Bev Harris, and blogger Brad Friedman. There are others, but those are where to start.

The writer of this article seems unaware of much of he reporting on the "red-shift" phenomenon, and also seems unaware that "red-shift" is even the name for it.

This seems like uninformed reporting, IMO.

If you want ACTUAL in-detail reporting on the "red-shift", as well as other US election anomalies, go to the above sources first.