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Russia-gate's Totalitarian Style

By       Message Robert Parry       (Page 1 of 5 pages)     Permalink

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It is a basic rule from Journalism 101 that when an allegation is in serious doubt -- or hasn't been established as fact -- you should convey that uncertainty to your reader by using words like "alleged" or "purportedly." But The New York Times and pretty much the entire U.S. news media have abandoned that principle in their avid pursuit of Russia-gate.

When Russia is the target of an article, the Times typically casts aside all uncertainty about Russia's guilt, a pattern that we've seen in the Times in earlier sloppy reporting about other "enemy" countries, such as Iraq or Syria, as well Russia's involvement in Ukraine's civil war. Again and again, the Times regurgitates highly tendentious claims by the U.S. government as undeniable truth.

So, despite the lack of publicly provided evidence that the Russian government did "hack" Democratic emails and slip them to WikiLeaks to damage Hillary Clinton and help Donald Trump, the Times continues to treat those allegations as flat fact.

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For a while, the Times also repeated the false claim that "all 17 U.S. intelligence agencies" concurred in the Russia-did-it conclusion, a lie that was used to intimidate and silence skeptics of the thinly sourced Russia-gate reports issued by President Obama's intelligence chiefs.

Only after two of those chiefs -- Director of National Intelligence James Clapper and CIA Director John Brennan -- admitted that the key Jan. 6 report was produced by what Clapper called "hand-picked" analysts from just three agencies, the Times was forced to run an embarrassing correction retracting the "17 agencies" canard.

But the Times then switched its phrasing to a claim that Russian guilt was a "consensus" of the U.S. intelligence community, a misleading formulation that still suggests that all 17 agencies were onboard without actually saying so -- all the better to fool the Times readers.

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The Times seems to have forgotten what one of its own journalists observed immediately after reading the Jan. 6 report. Scott Shane wrote: "What is missing from the public report is what many Americans most eagerly anticipated: hard evidence to back up the agencies' claims that the Russian government engineered the election attack. ... Instead, the message from the agencies essentially amounts to 'trust us.'"

However, if that was the calculation of Obama's intelligence chiefs -- that proof would not be required -- they got that right, since the Times and pretty much every other major U.S. news outlet has chosen to trust, not verify, on Russia-gate.

Dropping the Attribution

In story after story, the Times doesn't even bother to attribute the claims of Russian guilt. That guilt is just presented as flat fact even though the Russian government denies it and WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange says he did not get the emails from Russia or any other government.


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Of course, it is possible the Russian government is lying and that some cut-outs were used to hide from Assange the real source of the emails. But the point is that we don't know the truth and neither does The New York Times -- and likely neither does the U.S. government (although it talks boldly about its "high confidence" in the evidence-lite conclusions of those "hand-picked" analysts).

And, the Times continues with this pattern of asserting as certain what is both in dispute and lacking in verifiable evidence. In a front-page Russia-gate story on Saturday, the Times treats Russian guilt as flat fact again. The online version of the story carried the headline: "Russian Election Hacking Efforts, Wider Than Previously Known, Draw Little Scrutiny."

The Times' article opens with an alarmist lede about voters in heavily Democratic Durham, North Carolina, encountering problems with computer rolls:

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Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories in the 1980s for the Associated Press and Newsweek. His latest book, Secrecy & Privilege: Rise of the Bush Dynasty from Watergate to Iraq, can be ordered at secrecyandprivilege.com. It's also available at
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