That's where this search began: The children are currently on a stampede. And when the children stage a stampede, the misinformation flows like a mighty rain.
If you want to be a functioning citizen, you need the understand this fact about the children's stampedes. If you only want to be entertained, frightened and tribally pleased, you need read no further.
The children are currently on a stampede. With that in mind, consider what happened when we read this post, the first thing we read today.
The post appears at New York Magazine, a well-known, major news site. First, though, a bit of background concerning an event which happened yesterday.
Yesterday, Sean Spicer held one of his no-videotape press events. He did allow his remarks to be captured on audiotape. At one point, this underwhelming Q-and-A occurred:
QUESTION (7/17/17): Thank you, Sean. The President tweeted earlier today that most politicians would have gone into the meeting like the one Don Jr. attended in order to get info on an opponent. He said that's politics.As usual, we've checked that transcript against the audiotape. As best we can tell, that's an exact record of what was actually said.
His FBI Director nominee said that anyone who was approached by a hostile government for opposition research should contact the FBI rather than taking the meeting.
Who's right? And what's the White House's position on whether or not it's okay to meet with a hostile government for opposition research?
SPICER: Well look, you know I'm not going to get into the specifics of this. But I will say that it is quite often for people who are given information during the heat of a campaign to ask what that is. That's what, simply, he did.
The president has made it clear through his tweet. And there was nothing that, as far as we know, that would lead anyone to believe that there was anything except for a discussion about adoption and the Magnitsky Act.
But I would refer you back to counsel on that one.
You'll note that Spicer starts by acknowledging an obvious fact. He acknowledges the fact that Donald Trump Junior held the now-famous meeting in question because "it is quite often for people who are given information during the heat of a campaign to ask what that is.
"That's what, simply, he did," Spicer says. He then refers to Trump Senior's tweet, in which Trump Senior said the same thing.
By the norms of White House spokespeople, Spicer is rather inarticulate. That said, he plainly acknowledged an obvious fact:
Donald Trump Junior attended that now-famous meeting in search of (negative) information about Candidate Clinton. Spicer directly referred to Donald Trump Senior's earlier tweet, which also acknowledged the same basic fact.
Donald Trump Junior attended that meeting in search of (negative) info! It's obvious that that's what Spicer said at the start of his statement. Unless you were watching cable last night, in which case he didn't say anything like that!
If you were watching cable last night, Spicer's answer was edited in a way which gave the children the nightly scandal they so desperately crave and need. If you were watching Anderson Cooper, you saw the multimillionaire corporate star mislead you through the wonders of editing.
In the second minute of his 8 PM hour, Cooper said that Spicer's statement had been "flat-out false." He said this after eliminating the part of Spicer's statement which would have debunked that claim.
Below, you see what Cooper did and said. Assuming minimal competence on Cooper's part, this represents an act of flat-out deception:
COOPER (7/17/17): Later today, during another no-cameras-allowed press conference, press secretary Sean Spicer gave an explanation for Donald Trump Jr.'s meeting that's flat-out false."Keeping them honest!" Yes, he actually said it!
SPICER (audiotape): The president has made it clear through his tweet. And there was nothing that, as far as we know, that would lead anyone to believe that there was anything except for a discussion about adoption and the Magnitsky Act.
COOPER: So Sean Spicer is saying that there was nothing that would lead anyone to believe that the meeting was for any other purpose than to discuss Russian adoptions and sanctions.
That answer, it ignores the chain of e-mails that Donald Trump Jr. himself released under pressure saying the meeting was about information on Hillary Clinton provided by the Russian government. Sean Spicer's answer is as if all the revelations this past week about who was at the meeting, who they claimed to represent, and what was said simply never happened at all.
Keeping them honest, that defense didn't even work two Saturdays ago. It started crumbling the next day. Tonight, just demonstrably false.
Through the miracle of selective editing, viewers didn't hear the part of Spicer's statement in which he acknowledged that Trump Junior held the meeting in search of negative information. Cooper and a few other children then spent considerable time worrying themselves about Spicer's failure to acknowledge what Junior had done—a failure Cooper had created through a misleading edit.
Cooper baldly misled his viewers. But this is what the children do when a stampede is on. And let's be fair to Cooper:
Spicer's statement was "edited" that way all over non-Fox cable last night! Everybody got to pretend that they were hugely upset by his crazy refusal to acknowledge what Junior had done!
Because we aren't the world's dumbest bunnies, we wondered about the edit of Spicer's statement when we watched Cooper last night. Plainly, the edit seemed shaky.
We wondered what Spicer's full statement had sounded like. We wondered about the antecedents to the (plainly edited) remarks which we were permitted to hear.
Early this morning, we fired up the Dell and turned to New York Magazine's Daily Intelligencer site. Because we still wondered what Spicer had said, we greedily clicked on this item:
Yesterday at 5:21 p.m.From that headline and that one-word snark, you can probably tell what happened. Benjamin Hart had spun this item pretty much as it was spun all over cable last night.
Spicer: Seriously, Donald Jr.’s Meeting Was About Adoption
By Benjamin Hart
That said, Hart did provide the full audiotape of Spicer's Q-and-A. We played the tape, and sure enough:
The analysts screamed and wailed as their suspicions were confirmed.
That's right, citizens! Cooper and a gang of fellow cable hacks pretty much conned you last night. They dropped the part of Spicer's statement where he acknowledged what Trump Junior did. Then, they wailed about the fact that Spicer hadn't acknowledged the conduct.
To read Hart's full post, just click here. As we read it, we were struck by a few statements Hart had made himself, and so our search continued.
Specifically, we were struck by the highlighted phrases below. In those passages, Hart describes that now-famous Russian lawyer and her now-famous, much-maligned fellow traveler:
HART (7/17/17): Asked whether the White House believes it’s acceptable to meet with a foreign power offering opposition research, Spicer defended Donald Jr.’s sit-down, adding, “There was nothing, as far as we know, that would lead anyone to believe that there was anything except for a discussion about adoption and the Magnitsky Act.”Interesting! Is the now-famous Russian lawyer "KGB-connected?"
Yes, adoptions. Never mind that one of the attendees at the eight-person meeting was a KGB-connected lawyer, and another was an ex-Soviet counterintelligence official known for opposition research...
We didn't think we'd ever seen her described that way. We decided to click Hart's link, thereby checking the source for this scary claim.
Is the now-famous Russian lawyer "KGB-connected?" When we clicked Hart's link, it took us to this report by Julia Ioffe at the Atlantic.
(Warning! Ioffe is one of "the Russians" too, based the standards which quickly surfaced during our current Red scare.)
We reread Ioffe's report, which we'd already read this weekend. At no point is the KGB mentioned in any way, shape or form.
At no point is the KGB mentioned, cited, alluded to, named, hinted at or discussed. And yet, this was supposed to be the source for Hart's exciting claim.
It's always dangerous to say that something isn't in a report. That said, we find nothing in Ioffe's report to justify New York Magazine's claim that the now-famous Russian lawyer is "KGB-connected."
Hart, a recent hire, seems to have dreamed that up. It's the sort of thing the children do when a stampede is on.
You'll note that we also highlighted Hart's description of the Russian lawyer's fellow traveler, Rinat Akhmetshin. As many other people have done, Hart described him, late yesterday afternoon, as "an ex-Soviet counterintelligence officer."
That's a scary description. It returns us to Rachel Maddow's appalling, gong-show opening segment on her eponymous "cable news" program last Friday night.
As we've often told you, Maddow is constantly selling the car. On that program, she stated, on two ccasions, that her own amazing NBC News was the first news org to tell the world that Akhmetshin is "a former Soviet counterintelligence officer."
Maddow was referring to this July 14 report by NBC's Ken Dilanian. By the next day, Dilanian had offered this second report, in which he substantially softened his scary description of Akhmetshin's military service.
Still and all, the initial scary description lives on in reports like Hart's. This leads us to ask two questions:
A tale of two questions:Let's start with that first question. Is it sensible to describe Akhmetshin as "a former Soviet counterintelligence officer?"
1) Is it sensible—is it accurate—to describe Akhmetshin in the way Hart did?
2) Where did that description originate?
By now, everyone seems to agree on some basic facts. Akhmetshin served in the Soviet army for two years as a teen-aged draftee.
How many 19-year-old "counterintelligence officers" did the Red Army have at that time? It seems to us that Hart's scary description may perhaps be a bit overwrought. We'd like to see a fuller analysis.
With that, let's turn to our second question. Where did that scary description come from in the first place?
It entered the current news flow with Dilanian's July 14 NBC report. But on what basis did Dilanian offer that scary description?
In a classic example of skill-free journalism, Dilanian's report didn't say. He dropped his bomb in his opening paragraph, saying only that NBC News had "learned" this frightening fact.
Dilanian didn't cite a source. When the children stage their stampedes, they tend to do things like this.
Where did the giants at NBC News get their alleged information? Where did they get the idea that Akhmetshin can sensibly be described, in a giant bold headline, as a "Former Soviet Counterintelligence Officer?"
Alas! Deep in their report, the NBC stars link to this letter from Senator Grassley, the tired old Republican hack. Grassley has been chasing Akhmetshin around, in part because Akhmetshin "was reportedly working with Fusion GPS, the company that oversaw the creation of the controversial dossier alleging a conspiracy between President Trump and the Russian government, on the pro-Russian lobbying effort at the same time the dossier was being created."
That's right! In part, Grassley was angry at Akhmetshin because he was affiliated with the org which created the anti-Trump dossier! At any rate, the link to Grassley probably leads to the original source of Dilanian's scary claim. Here's why we say that:
Grassley's letter claims that Akhmetshin "has admitted having been a 'Soviet counterintelligence officer.' " As we mentioned yesterday, Grassley sources this statement to a Politico report in which no such admission or claim is made.
After checking a web of citations, we find that the claim most likely originated here, in a second Politico report from last November. We'll only note that Akhmetshin isn't quoted describing himself that way. A Politico writer described him that way, claiming to be paraphrasing something Akhmetshin said.
That's an extremely shaky basis for making a claim of that type. Careful journalists would be very reluctant to function in this way.
At the present time, however, a major stampede is on. Dilanian ran with the thrilling unsourced claim, then walked it back the next day.
Let's summarize! Here's what happened last Friday:
Dilanian threw an unsourced claim into a giant bold headline. That evening, Maddow trumpeted the claim, part of a 20-minute opening segment in which she conned her liberal viewers within an inch of their lives.
By the next day. Dilanian offered a second report in which he softened his claim. But there was Hart, in our first click today, repeating the exciting claim—and offering a second, falsely-sourced claim, in which the now-famous Russian lawyer is excitingly said to be "KGB-connected."
In the past two weeks, we've been asking you to consider a basic question. Which is the more helpful heuristic as we ponder the work of our skill-free journalists?
A tale of two ultimate questions:Wittgenstein went with the latter description. In fairness, he was mainly talking about philosophers and philosophy professors.
Are we humans sensibly viewed as "the rational animal?" Or are we perhaps more profitably viewed as a bunch of misfiring machines?
We'll suggest that Hart, Dilanian, Cooper and Maddow neatly fit the machine construct too. Anderson Cooper conned you last night. That's where this search began.