RussiaGate wasn’t a media “failure,” it was a success

If you look at it dispassionately — as if you were analyzing the politics of someplace far away like, say, late Romanov Russia — it’s easy to see how RussiaGate has been a success.

For two long years, our news media has obsessively driven a xenophobic Trump-Russia collusion conspiracy theory.

Day after day, we’ve heard almost nothing but “collusion.” Didn’t matter if it was the New York Times, the Washington Post, Mother “Alex” Jones, the Atlantic, NPR, MSNBC, or CNN — our news media presented a unified conspiracy front. The Democratic Party fundraised off of it. Everyone was dead certain that “the Russians” were behind Donald Trump’s presidency. Everyone was sure that Robert Mueller’s team was going to deliver indictments showing what every spy and serious person already seemed to know was true: top Trump cronies, and probably even Trump himself, had conspired with a hostile power and engaged in all sorts of treasonous quid pro quo deals to steal the most powerful office in the world. How else could Trump have won, if not with the help of a shadowy foreign threat from the east?

And then it all came crashing down…

Now, following the meltdown of RussiaGate, some of the journalists who had critically covered RussiaGate (and there were only a handful) have been hoping that that this epic journalistic failure will serve as a teachable moment for our media establishment. Maybe mainstream journalists will finally abandon their spy-fed screeching about the “Russian threat” and focus on important issues that are impacting the lives of real Americans?

Well, I’m not that optimistic.

As I told Katie Halper, who wrote a story for FAIR about the future of RussiaGate and journalism in a post-Mueller world, I don’t see our media’s xenophobic, conspiratorial focus on Russia as a “failure” of the profession — or at least, not how most people would define the word “failure.”

Check out the FAIR story here (they even used my eugenicist James Clapper cartoon!), but here’s what I said:

The thing is that America’s media obsession with the Russian menace — this idea that Russia is the greatest threat to liberal civilization — predates the Mueller investigation. It predates the 2016 election, and it predates Trump. So this wasn’t a sudden mistake about a single investigation, but something that America’s been moving towards for over a decade. The Russian Menace has been a lucrative racket — paying the mortgages, car loans, kids’ college tuitions, for thousands of think-tankers, military contractors, academics and journalists.

After Trump, the Russia hysteria hit a new level of paranoia and bigotry. There was a need to blame America’s domestic political turmoil, and the failure of its political establishment, on someone or something — to deflect responsibility for what happened. So suddenly liberal media began to see “the Russians” everywhere — part of a shadowy foreign conspiracy to undermine America from within.

They weren’t just threatening Europe and NATO. They were in the White House, in American voting machines, in American electrical grids, in American children’s cartoons. They were hacking people’s minds. They were controlling both the international left and the international right—against the respectable political center. That’s how sneaky and devious and cynical they are. That’s how much they want to destroy America’s liberal democracy.

The Mueller report may provide us some much-needed respite from this insanity for a few weeks or months, but this focus on the Russian menace isn’t going away any time soon. You can already see Joe Biden’s creepy behavior with women being blamed on a devious Russian plot to help elect Bernie. So as we get closer to the election, this kind of stuff is gonna fire up again big time.

To treat this issue as a media problem that we “can solve” and “get right” in the future is a bit too optimistic, in my opinion. It assumes that our political and media establishment wants to actually “get it right.” What does getting it “right” mean, when they are the problem that needs to be corrected?  To “get it right,” they’d have to admit that they’ve been wrong — not just about Mueller, but about the decades of bankrupt neoliberal politics they’ve been complicit in pushing on America and around the world. To get it right, our political and media elite would have to voluntarily deplatform itself. And I don’t see that happening anytime soon.

If you zoom all the way out and look at it dispassionately — as if you were analyzing the politics of someplace far away like, say, the late Romanov Dynasty — it’s easy to see how RussiaGate has been a success. It shifted blame for Trump away from a degenerate ruling elite that has presided over stunning levels of national decline and degradation onto a totally made-up, inscrutable foreign enemy.

RussiaGate’s worked, at least in the short term. It’s not going to help get Trump out of office, but that was never really the point of blaming the Russians.

PS: Right after I wrote this, as if on cue, Tim Ryan, Democratic Congressman from Ohio, launched his presidential campaign with a rallying cry to “Keep America Russisch-Frei!” The doubling down on this xenophobic conspiracy has only just begun!

Yasha Levine is the author of Surveillance Valley: The Secret Military History of the Internet

Header image: “Eugenicist Resistance Hero James Clapper,” Yasha Levine