Manafort versus "the Trump campaign:" It's a reading lesson from above the fold on the front page—on page A1—of today's New York Times.
On line, the Times begins with a bungled headline. Three reporters take over from there:
LAFRANIERE, VOGEL AND HABERMAN (1/9/19): Manafort Accused of Sharing Trump Polling Data With Russian AssociateRegarding that headline, sad! The front-page report doesn't say that Manafort has been accused of sharing polling data with a Russian associate. It says he did share polling data, according to a "disclosure" in a document filed by his own legal team.
As a top official in President Trump’s campaign, Paul Manafort shared political polling data with a business associate tied to Russian intelligence, according to a court filing unsealed on Tuesday. The document provided the clearest evidence to date that the Trump campaign may have tried to coordinate with Russians during the 2016 presidential race.
Mr. Manafort’s lawyers made the disclosure by accident, through a formatting error in a document filed to respond to charges that he had lied to prosecutors working for the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, after agreeing to cooperate with their investigation into Russian interference in the election.
Presumably, some editor composed a slapdash, inaccurate headline, one which moved from a "disclosure" to someone being "accused." That said, our lesson concerns the second sentence in paragraph one, a sentence which goes like this:
"The document provided the clearest evidence to date that the Trump campaign may have tried to coordinate with Russians during the 2016 presidential race."
That sentence is highly equivocal—needlessly so, in fact. That said, does the document in question provide any evidence that the Trump campaign coordinated with Russians? Or does it simply show that Manafort did? (Along with Rick Gates, his right-hand man.)
We ask for an obvious reason. As everybody knows, and as the reporters later note, it's widely understood that Manafort was "deeply in debt" to Oleg Deripaska, an (allegedly dangerous) Russian oligarch for whom the polling data seems to have been intended.
For many months, it has been widely reported and suggested that Manafort was trying to use his role in the Trump campaign as a way to make himself whole with Deripaska. This suggests an obvious possibility, one the Times reporters mention in paragraphs 5 and 6:
LAFRANIERE, VOGEL AND HABERMAN: “This is the closest thing we have seen to collusion,” Clint Watts, a senior fellow with the Foreign Policy Research Institute, said of the data-sharing. “The question now is, did the president know about it?”Is it possible that Manafort was playing this game as a one-man operation? Of course it is! If that's the case, how wise was it to start this report by talking about possibility that "the Trump campaign" had been "trying to coordinate with Russians?" Were the reporters possibly moving beyond what they actually knew?
The document gave no indication of whether Mr. Trump was aware of the data transfer or how Mr. Kilimnik might have used the information. But from March to August 2016, when Mr. Manafort worked for the Trump campaign, Russia was engaged in a full-fledged operation using social media, stolen emails and other tactics to boost Mr. Trump, attack Mrs. Clinton and play on divisive issues such as race and guns. Polling data could conceivably have helped Russia hone those messages and target audiences to help swing votes to Mr. Trump.
We cast ourselves in the buzzkill role for an obvious reason. The liberal world is deeply in love with trying to lock "the Trump campaign" up. On liberal corporate cable, tribal entertainers havebecome expert at overstating every suggestion or indication, all in service to the desire to say or suggest that they've finally been caught.
We love to get out over our skis; we hate the idea of waiting for full information. It seemed to us that the Times reporters were playing that game in their opening paragraph, the paragraph which appears beneath the headline which some editor blew.
As Professor Harari has noted, we humans love to move beyond what we actually know! We thought of that fact when we read this later passage:
LAFRANIERE, VOGEL AND HABERMAN: Both Mr. Manafort and Rick Gates, the deputy campaign manager, transferred the data to Mr. Kilimnik in the spring of 2016 as Mr. Trump clinched the Republican presidential nomination, according to a person knowledgeable about the situation. Most of the data was public, but some of it was developed by a private polling firm working for the campaign, according to the person.Say what? Most of the polling data in question was drawn from public sources?
If true, that suggests that Manafort, an inveterate scammer, was possibly trying to scam his Russian associates with publicly available data. More to the point, we've already seen at least one major cable pundit say the data in question "must have been" private, proprietary data because there would be no need to pass on public data.
We're sorry to say that the miscreant was Frank Figliuzzi. He spoke to Brian Williams:
FIGLIUZZI (1/8/19): I always like it when we accidentally learn things, Brian. Sometimes it's the best kind of learning when knowledge falls into your lap and we get a little bit smarter about what's up with the Trump campaign.The Times report had been on line for hours. Figliuzzi blew past what it actually said, and Brian didn't correct him. So much for the lofty goal of "getting a little bit smarter!"
So today, we're faced with a question. Why would the campaign chairman for President Trump be providing what must have been internal poll data? Why do I say "must have been?" The Russians don't need to get public poll data from Manafort. They can read that in the newspapers.
So here is this kind of proprietary poll data going to a Russian that everyone believes is at least connected to the GRU. But in looking at his bio, I think he might have been a GRU officer at one time. And what would the expectation be? He's not going to go home and stick the polling data on his refrigerator. He`s going to do something with it.
This is the service corporate cable provides. In similar ways, these entities defeated Candidate Gore and Candidate Hillary Clinton, back when anger about Bill Clinton's sex acts was the biggest thing in their world. It's how we got Bush, then Trump, though you'll never be told that.
Above the fold on page A1, should the Times have jumped from "Manafort" to "the Trump campaign?" We'd say an editor should have worked with that. That said, to assess the caliber of one editor's work, take a look at that misstated headline.
On balance, our upper-end political press corps just isn't especially sharp. This has been a major problem for decades, but our upper-end mainstream guild doesn't discuss itself.
Trump may have known about this matter, of course. That said, there's still no way to know. Rather than wait for the facts to emerge, some will improve the tale.