Accusations of Russian hacking and election-meddling exist in the context of a broader narrative: that Donald Trump's campaign is endorsed by--perhaps even puppeteered by--Vladimir Putin and the Kremlin. It's a sensational story that the press, egged on by the Clinton campaign, has been unable to resist, despite the fact that evidence of any such connection (as the New York Timesrevealed this week) is seriously lacking.
James Carden, a contributor to The Nation and executive editor of the American Committee for East-West Accord's EastWestAccord.com, has been distressed by the press's credulity when it comes to the Trump-Russia connection. But he believes that this shoddy coverage is just one example of the press's blind spot while covering Russia, or any other country that the US views as an adversary. He speaks with Bob about why skepticism is most necessary in moments like these.
"White Man Sleeps I" by Kronos Quartet "Jaipur" by Michael Leonhart & The Avramina 7
BOB GARFIELD: Of course, the hacking of Democratic emails is but one subplot of a much larger narrative, that Donald Trump is some sort of Manchurian candidate under the thrall of Russian President Vladimir Putin. And this week, finally, we smelled the smoking gun.
MALE CORRESPONDENT: Slate says the computer scientists have been looking into possible communication between a server belonging to Trump and two servers registered to a major Russian bank.
MALE CORRESPONDENT: There’s a very strong story between Trump servers and, and Russia.
BOB GARFIELD: It took cyber experts about five minutes to knock that story down. According to The New York Times, the FBI already had. But was Slate and the US press, in general, too accepting of such a premise? And does the press operate under lower standards of evidence where Russia is concerned?
James Carden, contributor to The Nation and executive editor of the American Committee for East-West Accord, says, oh yeah.
JAMES CARDEN: Donald Trump has brought this, in a way, upon himself because he's repeatedly said how much he admires Putin. And he's made some odd comments. When they were on 60 Minutes, they had separate segments but he somehow conflated that with friendship.
DONALD TRUMP: I got to know him very well because we were both on 60 Minutes. We were stable mates and we did very well that night.
JAMES CARDEN: He has been going around claiming that Putin has called him brilliant.
DONALD TRUMP: I think when he calls me brilliant I’ll take the compliment, okay?
JAMES CARDEN: The word that actually Putin used translates into colorful or flamboyant, so I don't believe there is a mutual admiration society between the two. I think that that is mostly a figment of Mr. Trump's imagination. Trump’s irresponsibility and clumsiness though does not excuse the American media from publishing fact-free, innuendo-laden stories.
BOB GARFIELD: You know, this is not to be an apologist for either man, especially since one of them invaded the Ukraine while lying about it the whole while, but that doesn't give the press permission to buy any anti-Putin, anti-Trump storyline uncritically.
JAMES CARDEN: Correct. I mean, with all the material, the rich, rich material that he has given us to question his motives, why rely so heavily on this borderline fictitious so-called “bromance” with, with Vladimir Putin? To do as, say, The Atlantic's Jeffrey Goldberg, to say that Donald J. Trump is chosen to unmask himself as a de facto agent of Russian President Vladimir Putin, it’s a very, very ugly echo of, of McCarthyism.
BOB GARFIELD: I guess I have to ask you at this stage if you need to be unmasked as an agent or stooge of the Kremlin. Do you draw a paycheck from Russia today or anything like that that I should know of?
JAMES CARDEN: [LAUGHING] No, but that is characteristic of the criticism that I've received and a few others far more prominent may have received, simply for questioning American policy. I happen to think that NATO expansion was a horrible mistake and has a lot to do with Russia’s behavior. Now, explaining Russia's behavior isn’t excusing Russia's behavior. There’s no excuse for the annexation of Crimea, but it would help to explain where they're coming from. But what people who object to that line of thinking tend to over-rely on is [LAUGHS] ad hominem attacks.
BOB GARFIELD: Well, let’s, for the moment, just go to one narrow subject, and that is the hacked emails that WikiLeaks released. All the evidence so far is that the provenance of these was Russian hackers, maybe organized criminals, maybe vandals, who - we don't really know what motivated them. So how have we covered that story wrong and how could we have done it right?
JAMES CARDEN: It seems to me that the reporting has largely been not so much reporting but stenography. The major newspapers have simply been repeating the claims of the director of national intelligence and they've been repeating Hillary Clinton's fairly questionable claim that all 17 intelligence agencies have come to the conclusion that the Russians did it. I think that a better way to do it would be to cover it with a touch of skepticism. Journalists and the government and journalists and corporations, journalists against really anyone with lots of power, there should be an adversarial relationship there. That's the point of the fourth estate. And, after all, the US government and the intelligence community, in particular, has well-earned that skepticism, given its performance, say, for instance, in the lead-up to the Iraq War.
BOB GARFIELD: I would assert to you that the US press definitely has a double standard, but the double standard applies not just to Putin but to anybody who we more or less agree is a bad guy. Covering Erdoğan in Turkey or the North Korean regime, we seem to have a much lower threshold of evidence. Is this a Russia thing or is this just a consensus thing?
JAMES CARDEN: I, I think we go through different periods of media-induced hysteria regarding one foreign figure or another. Twenty-five years ago in the lead-up to the Gulf War, George H. W. Bush who was, I think, an otherwise exemplary foreign-policy president, embarked on a campaign of demonization of Saddam Hussein, comparing him to Hitler and the like. And we haven't been able to shake that habit. And there are very understandable objections to Russia's foreign policy and their domestic politics, but we are allied with regimes that are far more sinister than the Russian regime. And I, I - here in mind I have the Gulf State tyrannies like Saudi Arabia and Qatar, and they receive little scrutiny.
BOB GARFIELD: So you’re not saying you’re worried about poor Russia, you're saying?
JAMES CARDEN: I'm worried about poor us. I'm worried about this sort of reckless posture we have. Whether we like it or not, in order to get things done, some very important things done, we need to cooperate with them. Now, look at President Obama’s foreign policy record. You can’t point to too many achievements, but the ones that you can point to, like the Iranian nuclear deal or getting rid of Assad’s chemical weapons, that couldn’t have been done without Russia. They are a potential partner but, instead, we’re treating them as an adversary. And, and that's extremely opportunistic and, unfortunately shortsighted, and, ultimately, very dangerous.
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BOB GARFIELD: James, thanks very much.
JAMES CARDEN: Oh, thank you.
BOB GARFIELD: James Carden is the executive editor of the Nonpartisan American Committee for East-West Accord.
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