NYT’s ‘Tinfoil Hat’ Conspiracy Theory
Robert Parry, Consortium News, Mar 19 2017
The NYT’s connect-the-dots graphic showing the Kremlin sitting atop the White House.
There are real reasons to worry about Pres Trump’s foreign policy, but the NYT obsesses on Trump’s willingness to work with Russia. On Saturday, it devoted most of its op-ed page to its favorite conspiracy theory, that Trump is Putin’s “Manchurian candidate,” though evidence continues to be lacking. The op-ed package combined a “What to Ask About Russian Hacking” article by Louise Mensch, a former Conservative member of the British Parliament who now works for Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation, and a connect-the-dots graphic that when filled out shows the Kremlin sitting atop the White House. But the featured article actually revealed how flimsy and wacky their conspiracy theory is. Usually, an investigation doesn’t begin until there is specific evidence of a crime. For instance, the investigative articles that I have written over the years have always had information from insiders about how the misconduct had occurred before a single word was published. In the early 1990s, for the investigation that I conducted for PBS Frontline into the so-called “October Surprise” case, whether Ronald Reagan’s campaign colluded with Iranians to sabotage Pres Carter’s negotiations to free 52 hostages in 1980, we had some two dozen people providing information about those contacts from multiple perspectives before we aired the allegations, from Pindostan, Iran, Israel and Europe.
We didn’t base our documentary on the suspicious circumstance that the Iranians held back the hostages until after Reagan was inaugurated President on Jan 20 1981, or on the point that Iran and the Thugs had motives to sandbag Carter. We didn’t casually throw out the names of a bunch of people who might have committed treason. When we broadcast the documentary in Apr 1991, there was a strong evidentiary case of the Reagan’s campaign guilt, and even then we were highly circumspect in how we presented the story. Ultimately, the 1980 “October Surprise” case came down to whether you believed the Thug denials or the two dozen or so witnesses who described how this operation was carried out with the help of the Israeli government, French intelligence, and former and current CIA officers, along with former D/CIA Pappy Bush and future D/CIA Bill Casey. In the end, official Faschingstein was never willing to accept that their beloved Ronald Reagan could have done something so dastardly as to conspire with Iranians to delay the release of 52 hostages. It didn’t matter what the evidence was, or that Reagan quickly approved arms shipments to Iran via Israel in 1981, a prequel to the later Iran-Contra arms-for-hostages scandal of 1985-86.
By contrast, what the current “Russia Owns Trump” allegations are completely lacking is an insider who describes any nefarious collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia to arrange the Kremlin’s help in defeating Hillary Clinton and electing Donald Trump. What we do have is Pres Obama’s outgoing intelligence chiefs putting out evidence-free “assessments” that Russia was responsible for the “hacking” and the publicizing of the DNC + Podesta emails. The DNC emails revealed that top Demagog Party officials had violated their duty to remain neutral during the primaries and instead tilted the playing field in favor of Hillary Clinton and against Bernie Sanders. The Podesta emails exposed the contents of Clinton’s paid speeches to Wall Street, which she was trying to hide from voters, as well as some pay-to-play features of the Clinton Foundation. When published by WikiLeaks last year, the emails embarrassed the Clinton campaign but were not regarded as a major factor in her defeat, which she blamed primarily on FBI Director James Comey’s decision to briefly reopen the investigation into whether she endangered national security with her basement email server while Sec State.
However, after the shock of Donald Trump’s election, Clinton supporters looked for reasons to block Trump’s inauguration or to set the stage for his impeachment. That was when Obama’s intelligence chiefs began circulating claims that Russia was behind the leaking of the DNC + Podsesta emails as part of a scheme to put Trump into the White House. The NYT and other mainstream news outlets, which were strongly hostile to Trump, seized on the allegations, making them front-page news for the past several months despite the paucity of actual evidence that any collusion occurred or that the Russians were even the ones who obtained and distributed the emails. WikiLeaks denied getting the material from the Russians, suggesting instead that two different American insiders were the sources. How thin the Russia-Trump case is becomes evident in reading the Times’ op-ed by Louise Mensch. After introducing herself as someone who has “followed the Russian hacking story closely,” she lists 25 people by name, including various Trump advisers as well as Internet moguls Mark Zuckerberg and Peter Thiel, who should be hauled before the House Intelligence Committee for interrogation along with unnamed executives of several corporations and banks. Mensch wrote:
There are many more who need to be called, but these would be a first step.
In reviewing Mensch’s long article, it’s unclear if she’s proposing only a fishing expedition, or would prefer a fully fledged witch hunt. At one point earlier in this process, I wrote an article warning that the “investigation” could become something of a “did-you-talk-to-a-Russian” inquisition. Some readers probably felt I was going too far, but that now appears to be exactly what is happening. Many of Mensch’s suggestions pertain to people associated with the Trump campaign who gave speeches in Moscow or otherwise communicated with Russians. It appears any contact with a Russian, any discussion of disagreements between Pindostan and Russia, or any political comment that in any way echoes what some Russian may have said becomes “evidence” of collusion and treason. The extremism of Mensch’s tendentious article is further illustrated by her suggestion that Trump should be impeached if there is any truth to his widely discredited tweet that Obama had ordered wiretaps on Trump Tower. She wrote:
If the president tweeted real news, he revealed the existence of intercepts that cover members of his team in a continuing investigation. That would be obstruction of justice, potentially an impeachable offense.
Most of us who have reported on Trump’s bizarre “tapp” tweet have criticized him for making a serious charge without evidence, as well as for his poor spelling, but Mensch seems to believe that the more serious offense would be if Trump somehow were telling the truth. She wants any truth-telling on this issue to be grounds for Trump’s impeachment, even though he may have been referring in part to her own November article, reporting on the FISA warrant that supposedly granted permission for members of Trump’s team to be put under electronic surveillance. To dramatize her arguments further, Mensch then demonstrates a thorough lack of knowledge about recent Pindosi history. She claims:
Never in Pindosi history has a president been suspected of collaborating with a hostile foreign power to win an election.
Whatever you want to think about the 1980 October Surprise case, it definitely constituted an example in Pindosi history when a president was “suspected of collaborating with a hostile foreign power to win an election,” and there is substantial evidence that it was real. Another case in 1968, which now even the NYT grudgingly accepts, involved Richard Nixon colluding with the South Vietnamese government to torpedo Pres Johnson’s Paris peace talks, to assure Nixon’s election. Although South Vietnam was then an ally, the allegations about Nixon also included outreach to North Vietnam, although Hanoi ended up sending a delegation to Paris while Saigon did not. Yet what is perhaps most shocking about Mensch’s op-ed and its prominent placement by the NYT is that the story has all the elements of a “tinfoil-hat” conspiracy. It’s the sort of wild-eyed smearing of Pindosi citizens that the NYT would normally deride as an offensive fantasy that would be mentioned only to mock the conspiracists. But the NYT is now so deep into its campaign to demonize Putin and to destroy Trump that all normal journalistic standards have long ago been tossed out the window. While there are many valid reasons to protest Trump and his policies, this descent into a new McCarthyism is grotesque, because it impugns the patriotism of Pindosis without evidence, only breathless questions. It is dangerous, because it escalates the new Cold War with Russia, a confrontation that could stumble into a nuclear holocaust. At such moments, supposedly serious newspapers like the NYT should show extraordinary caution and care, not a reckless disregard for truth and fairness. But no one in official Faschingstein seems willing to play the role of attorney Joseph Welch when he finally stood up to SJoe McCarthy with the famous question:
Sir! At long last, have you left no sense of decency?