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Colloquy: Why Conservatives Don’t Care About “Russian Email Hacks”

[Italics are my interlocutor; regular text is me.]

I honestly don’t understand this “Russian hacking” thing. As I understand it, somebody (apparently presumably the Russians) stole private Democratic emails damaging to the Democrats and publicized them. This allegedly somehow supposedly “rigged” the election. As far as I can tell, there is no claim of actual rigging (vote fraud, etc.). And the emails are all true and correct. But if someone had stolen similarly damaging Republican emails and sent them to the NYT, the NYT would immediately have published them, been widely praised for their “scoop,” preened about the importance of their action, and told Republicans that “Americans have a right to know.” What am I missing? Any Democrats want to illuminate this for me?

. . .

I suppose that if there was “coordination/complicity” with the Trump campaign that would be news. But there appears to be no evidence whatsoever of that, or even any allegation of it–the focus is all on the Big, Bad Russians. (And, of course, when old Trump tax documents were leaked, or that audio of Trump, there was zero focus on all on whether the Hillary campaign had “coordination/complicity,” or the legality of it.)

It’s pretty obvious that if the roles were reversed the NYT would be collecting Pulitzer Prizes for its outstanding reporting benefiting the American people. So I guess the answer to my question is that I’m not missing anything, and that it’s just another Democratic attempt to delegitimize the latest Republican electee. No wonder fewer and fewer people get their news from places like the NYT.

OK, I’ll bite. I think it’s worth separating what are two potentially distinct arguments in your original post (which if I’m misunderstanding, of course let me know). (And apologies for folks on this thread who don’t know me and think what follows sounds snotty. Charles and I work through stuff like this–and in this manner–with some (in)frequency.)

1) The larger one: The presumption that had the Russians hacked and then calculatedly exposed emails from the RNC and/or Trump campaigns, the national media (ex. NYT, LA Times, WaPo) would not have covered this as a serious problem, and in fact would have been lionized and celebrated for their coverage. I don’t know that this argument, at least in its narrow sense, can be effectively addressed, in large part because it’s a hypothetical in which your position rests on much larger presumptions about that same media that too large to address in a single FB post. The argument here is thus inferential and circumstantial, which doesn’t by itself invalidate the conclusion, but it does limit the strength of claims (perhaps on both sides). To strengthen your claim, can you provide an analogous example in which the national media has failed to address a direct state-actor intervention in the process of American elections that disadvantaged Republicans?

I’ll presume instead the inferential foundations would instead rest on examples of the national media’s neglect or insufficient coverage of domestic election irregularities and/or “dirty tricks.” These are certainly worth discussing, but for reasons I’ll describe below I think this situation is categorically different and thus their immediate probative value is limited. Basically, I get why you’d presume these things, but I don’t know that presumption is that compelling.

2) Smaller one: Not convinced that these hackings are significant in themselves. This one I’m less clear on whether you hold it (much less are arguing it), but I find it a huge deal so I’ll address it. Background–my undergraduate major was EEuropean Studies and I initially trained to be a diplomat, so I’m biased here, especially with having [Central European] relatives and growing up during the Cold War. But an extensive, deliberate program of state-sponsored penetration of political parties and governmental figures is, if you’ll pardon the expletive, a big f*ing deal, especially if, as seems clear, the effort was designed not simply as passive intelligence gathering but to disrupt the American electoral process and its aftermath. We have laws not only against hacking but against foreign intervention and lobbying, the latter because American elections should be fundamentally a domestic decision. Charles gestured toward what he sees as a feckless Obama foreign policy that opened the door for this behavior, and in the absence of a fierce reaction by Rs and our incoming president I think that argument rebounds exponentially on Trump. Kudos go to McCain, Graham, McMullin, and others–heck, including even Fox News–who are calling out the feckless disregard on this.

Of related concern is the fact that the hacking and release is only a single, initial stage of an active disinformation campaign that did include the false circulation of email. This has been the template for Russian destabilizing efforts in Ukraine, the Baltics, and elsewhere, and I can’t see how an effort by Russia to destabilize the US can be considered of little concern.

Finally, there’s been some reporting that Republican systems were also attacked, in some instances successfully. That effort raises the larger concern that material secured by those efforts will be brought to bear upon a party and/or administration that will hold both the legislative and executive power. Whether such efforts would entail actual policy influence or just an increased paralysis/distraction is to some extent immaterial–Russia still secures a weakened US.

So as one might surmise, my analysis of #2 means that I think #1 is wrong or at least unconvincing. The scope, scale, and effect of this effort–much less the apoplexy that Rs, Trump, and Fox would have expressed (rightly!) should this effort have been effective–means that I think it would have secured major news coverage at least similar to that occurring now.

. . .

Having reviewed the thread again, I’d say the Trump tax returns are closer to an argument. But there was indeed serious discussion about whether the NYT breached the law, and that was a single instance of a limited though not insignificant data point (the first few pages of the return vs. its entirety, much less 5-10 years of tax data) that had historically, if informally, been considered relevant for public disclosure, a category private campaign emails don’t occupy.

The emails were also not a massive, single data dump. They were released in deliberate proportion to extend the impact.

As always, I am grateful to _____ for an insightful and thoughtful analysis. Now I’ve had to sit down and examine all this stuff more carefully; my original question (for once) was actually due to my concern I was missing something. My thoughts in response:

1) I agree that arguing hypotheticals is somewhat of a fool’s errand. But often it is the only possible discussion, since of all possible worlds, we live in this one. Unfortunately, in today’s world, people make no attempt at objective hypotheticals, as Godwin’s Law proves.

2) As you say, analogy is the best way to approach the question of how a similar reveal through illegal means of true facts would be dealt with if the target were Democrats. I think limiting what the media addresses to a “direct state-actor” intervention is too narrow, because (as you suggest with the addendum on the Trump tax data) this is the first state-actor intervention (if it is such) known.

3) So by analogy, as you suggest, on the Trump tax data, let me offer an extended analogy by hypothetical. Let’s say a person approached the NYT in October with Trump’s complete tax returns for the past 20 years, saying “I got these from Vladimir Putin; he handed them to me personally, and he obtained them from a person at the IRS he bribed with gold and hot, loose Russian women.” The tax returns would show, of course, that Trump pays no taxes (due to earlier losses). My belief is that (a) the NYT would immediately publish the tax returns in a massive article; (b) this would kick of a coordinated campaign of days of coverage nationwide, with the NYT running many articles, coupled with numerous editorial and op-eds, attacking Trump on the basis of the returns, and such attacks would be coordinated with the Hillary campaign; (c) the NYT might well admit where they got the returns, or might not, but in either case would preen themselves for their “whistleblowing role” and would be richly rewarded, with no punishments or consequences of any kind, or any criticism except from the Right.

I think this chain of events is just about as likely as the sun coming up tomorrow. I am curious if you think I am wrong, because that suggests I am too closed-minded or am missing something. That is to say, you say “Basically, I get why you’d presume these things, but I don’t know that presumption is that compelling.” Is my presumption irrational or obviously incorrect, to a hypothetical objective observer, given, e.g., the open coordination of the media with the Hillary campaign shown by Wikileaks? If so, why?

Regardless of whether or to what degree we agree on this, I think we can all agree that much of the country both distrusts and has no interest in what the news-setting media has to say. For a sample size of one, I used to use as my main news sources (CNN) and the NYT (online and paper). I ignored the NYT editorials and most op-eds, but read pretty much every word. Since July or so, CNN and the NYT are both functionally unreadable, since any article that has any political angle, and many that don’t, is shrilly incoherent and obviously hugely biased, with no effort to hide it. Of course they’ve always been biased, in my view, but they tried to hide it. No more. Which accelerates the process of distrust. Their reaction has been to cry “fake news” and attempt successfully, for example with FB, to censor the news based on the “fact checking” of four left-wing, and in some cases Soros-funded, organizations. While there is some fake news, this is pretty clearly merely an attempt to both keep the media complex in charge and to suppress incorrect news, and it will be used as such. Thereby further accelerating the distrust.

4) Your points about “state-sponsored penetration of political parties and governmental figures,” based on your particular expertise and historical knowledge, are well-taken. The problem is that (a) it’s not clear what a “vigorous reaction” would be (Obama saying he told Putin “we can do stuff,” is, ummm, not confidence-building) and (b) it’s entirely obvious (having looked into this more) that the primary reason this topic is currently getting so much attention by the news-setting media (after all, it makes Obama look very bad, so normally, like all his foreign policy disasters, it would have been largely ignored, or cast as an act of God, not something within control of the Light Bringer) is in order to de-legitimize Trump’s election. This is standard Left practice (Reagan was just an actor who fooled the American people; GHWB cried racism with Willie Horton; GWB was “selected not elected”), but the Left’s desperation level is currently several orders of magnitude higher, for a variety of reasons beyond the scope of this discussion, but mostly related to the sickening realization that the right side of history is not the one they’re on.

That’s not to say that I have any idea of what an objectively correct, non-partisan reaction would be to a campaign of destabilization (it’s not really clear if this an attempt to aid Trump, simply destabilize, or both) None at all. For reasons having nothing to do with Obama (both structural and due to GWB), the US lacks the power and prestige it once had. And I agree that the US has reached this pass, that Russia can commit what once would have been considered acts of war, for whatever reason that is and whether or not it’s somebody’s or some group’s fault, is a big, big problem. I suspect it’s the kind of problem only someone like Trump will be able to solve or address, and even then only by increasing the short-term risk. This gets into Toynbee and the theory of civilizational rise and fall, a much larger topic that I would be interested in discussing further (for it’s not like saying “make America great again” is self-fulfilling). Good times.

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Published in Charles Colloquies Political Discussion & Analysis

One Comment

  1. IK IK

    As a bemused moderate, here is my take on things:

    — News is news and any hacked e-mail or released taxes will be published (although every news organization other than BuzzFeed did not publish the full Russian dossier).

    — My opinion is that the reason the “Russian Hacking” has spiraled into the story it is would be because our President Elect refused to accept or acknowledge that it was even possibly accurate. This resulted in:

    — Calling all of the intelligence agencies faulty (and bringing up the WMD miss)
    — DJT saying he knew more than all the intelligence agencies and had “sources” (still unclear, but potentially the ever trustworthy Assange)
    — More reporting of whether or not DJT even received any briefings
    — Speculation of whether our own intelligence agencies are at war with the president elect.

    — It would be absolutely right for any incoming leader to question his (future) direct reports on what kind of leaks were going on within the intelligence organization that it got to this, but now this is playing out in public. Leading to an incredible, public, embarrassing questioning of credibility of different parts of our intelligence organizations and state department. When DJT does bring the hammer down within the intelligence communities for the (unacceptable) leaks, because he played out his displeasure so publicly, he will look vindictive instead of just cleaning house. Side note: an operator like Mike Pence would have just handled this on the down low.

    — Wouldn’t this all have blown over if, instead of being so damn defiant, DJT had said: I will be briefed on the situation. We trust the integrity of the election process and what I have seen thus far has done nothing to suggest that the election was tainted. All of the emails, regardless who released them, have never been challenged as untrue. I’ve stated that I want to have better relations with Russia, but under no circumstances will I or the American people tolerate foreign aggression or interference of any type with our sovereignty. And if I do any deals with Russia, it will be from a position of strength and you can be damn sure it will be to protect American lives and bring back jobs to America. Please let me meet with the intelligence community and go back to focusing on making America great again. DJT Out!

    Instead, we have this mess with the lingering, meaningful discord and potential lack of stability (which, coincidentally, gives Putin what he allegedly may want) and the open question of whether our President is going to respond to every kerfuffle with immediate belligerence, defiance, denial and pot stirring. Some stuff, you just need to tamp down and move on.

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