Misfiring all the way down: The New York Times does some horrible work at the top of this morning's front page.
The Times has dug up the bones of Tailgunner Joe. Covering the same news event, the Washington Post performs a hundred times more capably.
To what news event do we refer? Yesterday, the world learned that a previously unmentioned person was present at Donald Trump Junior's now-famous meeting in June 2016.
That person's name is Rinat Akhmetshin. As the Times begins its front-page report, try to catch the general gist of Eileen Sullivan's portrait:
SULLIVAN (7/15/17): Soviet Veteran Says He, Too, Met Trump, Jr.Did you catch the general gist of this portrait? Let's simplify it for our lizards:
He is a veteran of the Red Army, photographed in the 1980s with fellow soldiers in a Russian birch forest. He collects fine art, likes opera and owns a nearly $2 million townhouse in trendy Logan Circle, in the center of Washington. He often zips around the city on a bright orange bicycle.
On Friday, Rinat Akhmetshin, the Soviet army veteran, revealed another detail of an exotic life: He was one of the people at the meeting Donald Trump Jr. had with a Russian lawyer at Trump Tower on June 9, 2016.
The presence of Mr. Akhmetshin adds another development to the evolving narrative about the gathering, which Donald Trump Jr. arranged after learning that a Russian lawyer claimed to have damaging information about Hillary Clinton. The news of Mr. Akhmetshin’s attendance shows how the story of the meeting keeps changing and has increased pressure on the White House to offer a more comprehensive account of what happened.
Mr. Akhmetshin, a naturalized American citizen who talks openly of his past in a K.G.B. counterintelligence unit focused on hunting spies in the Russian military, is well known in diplomatic and media circles in Washington, where he has worked for years on behalf of business and political interests in Russia and other former Soviet states.
Akhmetshin, a veteran of the Red Army, speaks openly about his work for the KGB!Sullivan is telling a scary story, evoking the scary work once perfected by Tailgunner Joe.
As it turns out, Sullivan actually knows very little about Akhmetshin's service in that scary "Red Army." According to Akhmetshin, he spent two years in the Soviet army as a teenager, after having been drafted. There is no sign in this Times report that Sullivan knows anything different.
But so what? At these highly exciting times, the androids are doing a lot of misfiring. At the Washington Post, by way of contrast, the journalists manage to keep themselves under control today as they handle this same topic.
Sullivan wasn't finished with her colorful evocations of Akhmetshin's scary behavior in those Russian birch forests. First, though, she entertained us a bit:
SULLIVAN (continuing directly): It was in that capacity, Mr. Akhmetshin said in an interview on Friday, that he accompanied a Russian lawyer, Natalia Veselnitskaya, to the meeting as part of an effort to amend an American law known as the Magnitsky Act that sanctioned Russians for human rights abuses. The 2012 law infuriated President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia, whose government retaliated by restricting adoptions of Russian children by Americans.Sullivan writes for a major newspaper whose biggest stars have focused, in the past, on Mayor Giuliani's comb-over, on Candidate Gore's bald spot, and on Candidate Edwards' $400 haircuts.
Mr. Akhmetshin, who wears his curly hair high in a manner that associates compare to the protagonist in the 1977 cult-classic horror film “Eraserhead,” said in the interview that he took part in the meeting at the request of Ms. Veselnitskaya. He said he had no ties to the Kremlin.
“I am a target of well-coordinated and financed smear campaign,’’ he said in a text message.
Its stars have even profiled Candidate Romney's hair stylist, on page one no less! In a related bit of clowning, Sullivan thus moved from Akhmetshin's pogrom-laced past to his amusing hair style.
That said, she wasn't through with the scary stuff about Akhmetshin's work in those forests for the KGB. As she continued, she finally let him have his say, then gave her readers another good scare with another colorful passage:
SULLIVAN (continuing directly): He described his time in the military as routine, serving from 1986 to 1988, like “millions of other Soviet boys.” He said he left the military with the rank of sergeant.In 1986, Akhmetshin was 18 years old. There is no sign in Sullivan's report that his claim—his claim that he served two years as a teen-aged draftee—is anything other than accurate.
NBC News first reported Mr. Akhmetshin’s role in the Donald Trump Jr. meeting, but did not identify him. He first confirmed to The Associated Press that he attended the meeting.
Mr. Akhmetshin has boasted to associates that he had served in the military with a group known as the Osoby Otdel, or Special Section, which in the Soviet period was a division of the K.G.B. The group was distinct from the G.R.U., or Main Intelligence Directorate of the defense ministry, an organization with which he has denied any affiliation.
(On-line, the Times eventually shows us that photograph of their man, with his comrades, in that scary forest. The gentlemen do indeed look like teens. Decent people can perhaps feel sorry for very young men forced to perform such service.)
There is no sign that Akhmetshin's claim is anything other than accurate.That said, Sullivan wanted to give us one more thrill ride in this general area.
And so we're told that Akhmetshin "has boasted" about the service he gave the KGB. It actually wasn't the GRU, we're also skillfully told.
(As readers, you should always be wary when reporters turn to the insinuative verbs "boasted" and "bragged." Absent very careful reporting, the use of these insinuative terms tends to be a weapon aimed at a disfavored figure.)
As he ponders Sullivan's work, Tailgunner Joe is smiling in his grave. Sensible people will simply say, "There they go again"—a weary reference to the fact that the androids tend to misfire, sometimes badly, at thrilling times like these.
Over at the Washington Post, Helderman and Hamburger wrote a lengthy front-page report about this same new figure. To their credit, they managed to keep themselves under control, starting out like this:
HELDERMAN AND HAMBURGER (7/15/17): A Russian American lobbyist and veteran of the Soviet military said Friday that he attended a June 2016 meeting between President Trump’s oldest son and a Kremlin-connected lawyer.In truth, we're not sure that Akhmetshin's military service belongs in paragraph one at all. But after that, you have to read all the way to paragraph 25 to find another reference to that military service.
That scary service in the Red Army is played for scares in today's Times. By way of contrast, the Post engages in behavior which resembles actual journalism:
HELDERMAN AND HAMBURGER: Akhmetshin [is] a controversial figure. In a letter this spring to U.S. government officials, Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa) described Akhmetshin as a person who “apparently has ties to Russian intelligence.”To its credit, the Post managed to report what is known in this area without throwing the scary terms KGB and GRU all around. For what it's worth, Akhmetshin would have been 25 or 26 when he came to the U.S.
Akhmetshin said he never worked as an intelligence agent, but he did say he was drafted as a teenager and served for two years in a unit of the Soviet military that had responsibility for law enforcement issues as well as some counterintelligence matters. He immigrated to the United States in 1993 and gained citizenship in 2009.
“I was not an intelligence officer. Never,” he said.
That said, we'll offer one small word of warning concerning Grassley's scary statement.
The scary letter Helderman cites can be seen here. In that scary letter, Grassly quickly voices scary claims about Akhmetshin's "apparent ties to Russian intelligence."
We don't know what sorts of ties may, or may not, exist. We do know this:
Grassley's scary claims are sourced, in footnotes 3 and 4, to a Politico report. The claims he sources to that report are, simply put, not present in that report.
In reality, the scary claims are made in a report by the Daily Caller, an org which may perhaps be less trustworthy. But even there, the Grassley letter quotes the claims in a very slippery manner, heightening the sense of what the Caller actually said.
The androids were apparently misfiring in this tired old hack's office too. Remember this as your favorite liberal stars excitedly sell you this claim from this Republican hack.
Have Donald Trump Junior, or his associates, engaged in illegal or unethical conduct? There are several areas in which the Trump camp could turn out to have broken the law (or not).
They may have helped the Russkies direct "fake news" at voters deemed susceptible (or not). In that instance, they would have been playing an active role in a full-blown election operation which was plainly illegal.
Beyond that, they may helped the Russkies with the dissemination of stolen emails (or not). Presumably, that too would be baldly illegal. (We'll note that some news orgs now screaming about this had a field day pimping those stolen emails all around. They often did so in the most ludicrous and irrelevant manner.)
It isn't clear that anything illegal occurred at that now-famous meeting. (It's also true that no one actually knows, at this point, what did occur at that meeting.)
Based on what is currently known, the conduct at that meeting doesn't rise to the level of the possible scenarios sketched above. But having said that, we'll also say this:
We find it instructive to see major journalists squealing and complaining about the apparent attempt, by Trump Junior, to access information from that Russian lawyer, who may or may not have been a Russian government lawyer. Here's why we find that instructive:
We have said, for many years, that information and facts play almost no role in our discourse. Our "journalists" work from novelized scripts. Again and again and again and again, our "journalism" is novelization all the way down.
Trump Junior says he wanted information about Candidate Clinton. Our journalists are currently avoiding that term, recasting it as "dirt."
We aren't fans of scandal campaigning. But we find it amusing, in a dark way, to see our journalists shrieking, squealing and complaining about an apparent attempt to attain information. As we've told you for many years, it's something they themselves would almost never do!
That front-page report in this morning's Times is pure perfect novelized crap. The androids are misfiring badly today. At our most famous least competent paper, they're misfiring all the way down.
Tailgunner Joe loved the Times report. Citizens, how about you?
Also these: Two additional points:
Here's the headline at TPM: "Former Soviet Counterintel Officer Says He Was In The Room With Don, Jr. Too"
We'll grant you, that's scary/exciting. We should also mention this:
In a 37-paragraph, front-page report, the Washington Post never got around to describing Akhmetshin's wonderfully comical hair. At the Times, a possible android went there in paragraph 6!