The so-called “RussiaGate” as Another Organized Distraction

For over two years RussiaGate discourse has accounted for a substantial proportion of all mainstream US media political journalism and, because US media have significant agenda-setting propulsion, of global media coverage.

The timing has been catastrophic.

The Trump Administration has shredded environmental protectionsjettisoned nuclear agreements,   exacerbated tensions with US rivals, and pandered to the rich.

In place of sustained media concentration on the end of the human species from global warming, its even more imminent demise in nuclear warfare, or the further evisceration of democratic discourse in a society driven by historically unprecedented wealth inequalities and unbridled capitalistic greed, corporate media suffocate their publics with a puerile narrative of supposed collusion between the 2016 Trump campaign and Russia.

The discourse is profoundly mendacious and hypocritical. It presumes that the US is a State whose electoral system enjoys a high degree of public trust and security.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

The US democratic system is deeply entrenched in a dystopian two-party system led, principally, by the rich and answerable, principally, to corporate oligopolies, and is ideologically beholden to the values of extreme capitalism and imperialist domination ( https://davidkorten.org/plutocracy ).

US electoral procedures are profoundly compromised by an electoral college that detaches votes counted from votes that count.

The composition of electoral districts have been gerrymandered to minimize the possibility of electoral surprises. Voting is dependent on easily hackable corporate-manufactured electronic voting systems.

Right-wing administrations reach into a tool-box of voter-suppression tactics that run the gamut from minimizing available voting centers and voting machines through to excessive voter identification requirements, the elimination of swathes of the voting lists (e.g. groups such as people who have committed felonies or people whose names are similar to those of felons, or people who have not voted in previous elections) (https://www.pippanorris.com/electoralintegrityinamerica ).

Even the results of campaigns are corrupted when outgoing regimes abuse their remaining weeks in power to push through regulations or legislation that will scuttle the efforts of their successors ( https://www.nytimes.com/2018/12/06/us/politics/michigan-republicans-power.html ).

Democratic theory presupposes a public communications infrastructure that facilities the free and open exchange of ideas.

No such infrastructure exists.

Mainstream media are owned and controlled by a small number of large, multi-media and multi-industrial conglomerates that lie at the very heart of US oligopoly capitalism and much of whose advertising revenue and content is furnished from other conglomerates (http://fortune.com/longform/media-company-ownership-consolidation/ ).

The inability of mainstream media to sustain an information environment that can encompass histories, perspectives and vocabularies that are free of the shackles of US plutocratic self-regard is well documented. Current US media coverage of the US-gestated crisis in Venezuela is a case in point  https://www.rt.com/op-ed/450741-venezuela-media-coverage-bias/ .

The much celebrated revolutionary potential of social media is illusory. The principal suppliers of social media architecture are even more corporatized than their legacy predecessors   https://www.thenation.com/article/the-corporatization-of-the-web-has-thinned-out-our-culture-and-undermined-american-democracy/

They depend not just on corporate advertising but on the sale of big data that they pilfer from users and sell to corporate and political propagandists often for non-transparent AI-assisted micro-targeting of persuasive communications.

Like their legacy counterparts, social media are imbricate within, collaborate with and are vulnerable to the machinations of the military-industry-surveillance establishment.

So-called election meddling across the world has been an outstanding feature of the exploitation of social and legacy media by companies linked to political, defense and intelligence such as – but by no means limited to – the former Cambridge Analytica and its British parent SCL  https://qz.com/1239762/cambridge-analytica-scandal-all-the-countries-where-scl-elections-claims-to-have-worked/ ).

Democratic theory presupposes the formal equivalence of voice in the battlefield of ideas.

Again, nothing could be further from the reality of the US “democratic” system in which a small number of powerful interests enjoy ear-splitting megaphonic advantage on the basis of often anonymous “dark” money donations filtered through SuperPacs and their ilk, operating outside the confines of (the somewhat more transparently monitored) ten-week electoral campaigns  https://www.opensecrets.org/news/2019/01/dark-money.

RussiaGate presupposes that it makes any sense whatsoever to consider the alleged social media activities of, say, Russia’s Internet Research Agency, without reference to an infinitely broader universe of global social and legacy media communication, lobbying, monetary donations and formal propaganda networks from any part of the world that might in some way influence a US presidential election.

In a climate of manufactured McCarthyite hysteria, RussiaGate presupposes that any communication between a presidential campaign and Russia is in itself a deplorable and frightening thing.

Even if one were to confine this conversation only to communication between ruling oligarchs of both the US and Russia, however, the opposite would surely be the case.

This is not simply because of the benefits that accrue from a broader understanding of the world, identification of shared interests and opportunities, and their promise for peaceful relations.

A real politick analysis might advise the insertion of wedges between China and Russia so as to head off the perceived threat to the USA of a hybrid big-power control over a region of the world that has long been considered indispensable for truly global hegemony  https://www.the-american-interest.com/2018/08/21/trumps-pivot-to-eurasia .

The ultimate unfolding of RussiaGate discourse awaits the much-anticipated report of Special Counsel and former FBI director Robert Mueller.

Mueller’s indictments and investigations have to date implicated several individuals for activities that in some cases have no connection whatsoever to the 2016 campaign, in some other instances appear to have been more about lies and obstructions to his investigation rather than material illegal acts, or amount to charges that are unlikely ever to be contested in a court of law

https://www.thenation.com/article/russiagate-russophobia-mueller-trump/.

The investigation itself is traceable back to two significant but extremely problematic reports made public in January 2017. One was the “Steele dossier” by former MI6 officer Christopher Steele.

This is principally of interest for largely unsupported allegations that in some sense of another Trump was in cahoots with, even beholden to Russia.

Steele’s company, Orbis, was commissioned to write the report by Fusion GPS which in turn was contracted by attorneys working for the Democratic National Campaign  https://www.lawfareblog.com/steele-dossier-retrospective.

Passage of earlier drafts of the Steele report through sources close to British intelligence, and accounts by Trump adviser George Papadopoulos concerning conversations he had concerning possible Russian possession of Clinton emails with a character who may as likely have been a British as a Russian spy, were instrumental in stimulating FBI interest in and spying on the Trump campaign  https://disobedientmedia.com/2018/04/all-russiagate-roads-lead-to-london-as-evidence-emerges-of-joseph-mifsuds-links-to-uk-intelligence .

There are indirect links between Christopher Steele, another former MI6 agent, Pablo Miller (who also worked for Orbis) and Sergei Skripal, a Russian agent who had been recruited as informer to MI6 by Miller and who was the target of an attempted assassination in 2018.

This event has occasioned controversial, not to say highly implausible and mischievous British government claims and accusations against Russia  https://www.craigmurray.org.uk/archives/2018/04/where-they-tell-you-not-to-look .

Perhaps the most significant matter raised by a second report, that of the Intelligence Community Assessment, representing the conclusions of a small team picked from the Director of Intelligence office, CIA, FBI and NSA, was its claim that Russian intelligence was responsible for the hacking of the computer systems of the DNC and its chairman John Podesta in summer 2016 and that the hacked documents had been passed to Julian Assange and WikiLeaks.

No evidence for this was supplied. Although the hacking allegations have become largely uncontested articles of faith in RussiaGate discourse they are significantly reliant on the findings, problematic, of a small private company hired by the DNC.

There is also robust evidence that the documents may have been leaked rather than hacked and by US-based sources  https://www.thenation.com/article/a-new-report-raises-big-questions-about-last-years-dnc-hack .

The fact that the documents revealed that the DNC, a supposedly neutral agent in the primary campaign, had in fact been biased in favor of the candidature of Hillary Clinton, and that Clinton’s private statements to industry were not in keeping with her public positions, has long been obscured in media memory in favor a preferred narrative of Russian villainy.

RussiaGate discourse can only serve the interest of a (1) corrupted Democratic Party, whose biased and arguably incompetent campaign management lost it the 2016 election, in alliance (2) with powerful factions of the US industrial-military-surveillance establishment that for the past 19 years, through NATO and other malleable international agencies, has sought to undermine Putin’s leadership, dismember Russia and the Russian Federation (undoubtedly for the benefit of western capital) and, more latterly, further contain China in a perpetual and titanic struggle for the heart of EurAsia.

In so far as Trump had indicated (for whatever reasons) in the course of his campaign that he disagreed with at least some aspects of this long-term strategy, he came to be viewed as unreliable by the US security state.

While serving the immediate purpose of containing Trump, US accusations of Russian meddling in US elections were farcical in the context of a well-chronicled history of US “meddling” in the elections and politics of many other nations for over 100 years, in all hemispheres, extending to the staging of coups, invasions and occupations on false pretext in addition to numerous instances of “color revolution” strategies of financing opposition parties and provoking uprisings, frequently coupled with economic warfare (sanctions).

A further beneficiary (3) is the sum of all those interests that favor a narrowing of public expression to a framework supportive of neoliberal imperialism.

Paradoxically exploiting the moral panic associated with both Trump’s plaintive wailing about “fake news” whenever mainstream media coverage is critical of him, and social media embarrassment over exposure of their big data sales to powerful corporate customers, these interests have called for more regulation of, as well as self-censorship by, social media.

Social media responses increasingly involve more restrictive algorithms and what are often partisan “fact-checkers” (illustrated by Facebook financial support for and dependence on the pro-NATO “think tank,” Atlantic Council – see https://www.globalresearch.ca/facebook-censorship-and-the-atlantic-council/5656896 .

The net impact has been devastating for many information organizations in the arena of social media whose only “sin” is analysis and opinion runs counter to elite neoliberal propaganda  https://www.mintpressnews.com/social-media-giants-choking-independent-news-site-traffic-to-a-trickle/244471 .

The standard justification of such attacks on free expression is to insinuate ties to Russia and/or to terrorism.

 

Oliver Boyd-Barrett is Professor (Emeritus) Bowling Green State University, Ohio;  also of California State Polytechnic University, Pomona. He has published many books in the fields of media and communications. His most recent books are Western Mainstream Media and the Ukraine Crisis(Routledge 2017), and Media Imperialism (Sage 2015). His next book is RussiaGate and Propaganda: Disinformation in the Age of Social Media is due to be published by Routledge in May this year.

 

By Oliver Boyd-Barrett

This article was originally published by Information Clearing House” 

 

The 21st Century

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