Sunday, January 8, 2017

Weapons of Mass Destruction

In Russian Intervention in American Election was No One-Off, a Politics section "News Analysis" (as opposed to breaking news or opinion, I guess), Scott Shane presents a fair and mostly complete take on the intelligence analysis of the Democratic party hacking and release of emails. But even in the better pieces, the NYT can not resist giving an inch to people who turn these inches into miles.
Let's criticize:
"What most Americans may have seen as a one-time effort - brazen meddling by Russia in the very core of American democracy..." seems like a harmless enough intro - but do we know what most Americans think is going on? In a world where every reader is an individual who knows what he or she believes, and how much they are looking for information, nothing is gained with an intro that tells us what people other than ourselves - "most Americans" (is that 51%?, 99%?) "may" or "may not" believe ---in a story about what happened, not a story about survey results.
A few paragraphs of straight analysis follows, but then comes similar framing about what everyone else is thinking - not the reporter, not the intelligence agencies, not necessarily me, the reader, but all those other readers - still without evidence:
"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. That is a significant omission: Mr. Trump has been expressing skepticism for months that Russia was to blame, variously wondering whether it might have been China, or a 400-pound guy, or a guy from New Jersey."
Look at that term "many Americans". I could swear that while the election was ongoing, the NYT often took pains to refer to "Clinton supporters" or "liberals" at times that "many Americans" would have seemed more appropriate, especially given the dissatisfaction of many Republican voters and of course, Republican leaders, with candidate Trump. Now that DT is about to become president, The people who buy the 400-pound guy claim are being elevated to "many Americans", but just how many is it? Would it not be more appropriate to say "Mr. Trump and his strongest supporters" if the writer is truly making his best guess here? Besides, disclosure alert - Scott Shane tweets that the intel report ..."alas (excises the actual hack evidence)". So maybe "many Americans" means Scott Shane and some of his followers on twitter.
From that point to the end of the piece, Shane emphasizes disappointment that absolute proof was not provided while acknowledging that giving away intelligence tools and sources compromises our agencies and our security. Unfortunately, this longtime follower of intelligence allows himself to be pulled into the center of the disagreement - a disagreement that exists only because DT, acting solely in his own personal interest, with no apparent regard for the national interest, expresses 'doubt' about the agency findings --obviously because those findings hurt him personally.
At the end of the piece, we get one more cut from the fair and balanced dagger - "But this report is unlikely to change the minds of skeptics who, like the president-elect, remember the intelligence agencies’ faulty assessments on Iraqi weapons of mass destruction and fear being misled again." Hmmm. Straight from that Trump tweet, which Saturday Night Live took pains to admire - was that SNL being fair and balanced too? Maybe.
Yes, we all remember how skeptical Dick Cheney was about intelligence - but in the other direction! Striving to push intelligence results upon those agencies. How soon these folks forget Joe Wilson's July 6, 2003 NYT article "What I didn't Find in Africa" that begins:
"Did the Bush administration manipulate intelligence about Saddam Hussein's weapons programs to justify an invasion of Iraq?
Based on my experience with the administration in the months leading up to the war, I have little choice but to conclude that some of the intelligence related to Iraq's nuclear weapons program was twisted to exaggerate the Iraqi threat."
And is it fair to ignore the active and robust weapons inspection program that the UN had in place which the U.S. decided to ignore and truncate by invading?
But wait. That's all a distraction, isn't it. And that is what Trump does. Time after time. Deny-Deflect-Distract-Accuse. And it works. Over and over. Until something breaks. We will have a president who is such an expert on obfuscation, distraction, and confusion that he wields the tools of communication like, well, weapons of mass destruction.

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