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Taibbi writes: "Recent efforts to sandbag Bernie Sanders and Tulsi Gabbard are crude repeats of behaviors that helped elect Trump in 2016."

Sen. Bernie Sanders. (photo: Stephen Maturen/Getty)
Sen. Bernie Sanders. (photo: Stephen Maturen/Getty)

We've Hit a New Low in Campaign Hit Pieces

By Matt Taibbi, Rolling Stone

22 May 19

Recent efforts to sandbag Bernie Sanders and Tulsi Gabbard are crude repeats of behaviors that helped elect Trump in 2016

ast week, the Daily Beast ran this headline: “Tulsi Gabbard’s Campaign Is Being Boosted by Putin Apologists”

That was followed by the sub headline: “The Hawaii congresswoman is quickly becoming the top candidate for Democrats who think the Russian leader is misunderstood.”

The Gabbard campaign has received 75,000 individual donations. This crazy Beast article is based on (maybe) three of them.

The three names are professor Stephen Cohen, activist Sharon Tennison and someone using the name “Goofy Grapes,” who may or may not have once worked for comedian Lee Camp, currently employed by Russia Today.

This vicious little article might have died a quiet death, except ABC’s George Stephanopoulos regurgitated it in an interview with Gabbard days later. The This Week host put up the Beast headline in a question about whether or not Gabbard was “softer” on Putin than other candidates.

Gabbard responded: “It’s unfortunate that you’re citing that article, George, because it’s a whole lot of fake news.”

This in turn spurred another round of denunciations, this time in the form of articles finding fault not with the McCarthyite questioning, but with Gabbard’s answer. As Politico wrote: “’Fake news’ is a favorite phrase of President Donald Trump…”

Soon CNN was writing a similar piece, saying Gabbard was using a term Trump used to “attack the credibility of negative coverage.” CNN even said Gabbard “did not specify what in the article was ‘fake,’” as if the deceptive and insidious nature of this kind of guilt-by-association report needs explaining.

“Stephanopoulos shamelessly implied that because I oppose going to war with Russia, I’m not a loyal American, but a Putin puppet,” Gabbard told Rolling Stone. “It just shows what absurd lengths warmongers in the media will go, to try to destroy the reputation of anyone who dares oppose their warmongering.”

Gabbard has had some “controversial” views, having been raised in a conservative religious home, the daughter of a right-wing radio personality in Hawaii who once described homosexuality as “not normal” and “morally wrong.” She later wrote of a political conversion on issues like LGBT rights, but still angered Democrats in the Obama years by invoking an infamous Republican criticism, i.e. that the president refused to use the term “radical Islam.”

Frankly, all the Democratic presidential candidates have controversial statements in their pasts, in some cases boatloads of them (see here, for example). The difference with Gabbard is her most outspoken positions cross party orthodoxy on foreign policy, particularly on war – she is staunchly anti-intervention, informed by experience seeing a failed occupation in Iraq up close — and are therefore seen as disqualifying.

She’s Exhibit A of a disturbing new media phenomenon that paints people with the wrong opinions as not merely “controversial,” but vehicles of foreign influence.

“This is how they control self-serving politicians whose only concern is their career,” Gabbard says. “Unfortunately for them, I am a soldier — not a career politician.”

A transparent hit piece came out as Gabbard was announcing her run. NBC reported “the Russian propaganda machine” is “now promoting the presidential aspirations of a controversial Hawaii Democrat.” The article among things was sourced to New Knowledge, a cyber-analysis firm claiming it had caught Russian “chatter” about Gabbard’s “usefulness.”

This was after the New York Times did a piece outing New Knowledge as having faked exactly this kind of activity in an Alabama Senate race between Democrat Doug Jones and Republican Roy Moore. In that incident, the paper got hold of a memo in which the firm admitted it had “orchestrated an elaborate ‘false flag’ operation that planted the idea that the Moore campaign was amplified on social media by a Russian botnet.”

For NBC to use New Knowledge as a source after this was bad enough. The Daily Beast piece is something beyond, rhetorically. Even during the depths of War on Terror hysteria, we didn’t see Fox headlines stating: “JOHN KERRY: TOP CANDIDATE OF PEOPLE WHO THINK BIN LADEN IS MISUNDERSTOOD.”

The tactic of making lists of thought criminals first reappeared a few years ago, when the shadowy PropOrNot group was profiled in the Washington Post. In this case, the definition of what the Daily Beast calls people pushing “the Russian government line” overlaps with views that are merely anti-interventionist or antiwar in general.

“They smear anyone who is against regime change wars,” says Gabbard.

This applies really to all of the people mentioned in the Beast piece, even Camp, whose inclusion is also ridiculous because it’s not 100% clear “Goofy Grapes” even has a connection to him (and if he does, are we in guilt-by-association-by-association land now?).

Tennison belongs to a type I saw a lot of in Russia, i.e. people who grew up under the shadow of nuclear conflict and perceived bad relations between the U.S. and the Soviet Union to be the world’s biggest threat to security. This was a big progressive craze in the Reagan/Bush years, when people like CNN founder Ted Turner were creating the “made for détente” Goodwill Games. Tennison has a long history of such “friendship” activities and is said to have brought AA to Russia.

Re Cohen: if accepting a check from him is now a treasonous offense, a lot of Democrats are going to have to send money back. I’ve known Steve a long time and though we’ve had disagreements, outlets like The Beast have frequently villainized him for saying things any Russia expert would know are true, like that the U.S. did meddle in Russian affairs after the Soviet collapse (particularly in 1996).

The other anti-interventionist candidate, Bernie Sanders, had his own gross press misadventure of late.

Sanders joins Gabbard in having been tabbed a Kremlin project countless times since 2016. The latest New York Times piece, about the “left-wing activism” of Sanders, hovers around this dreary foreign-subversion theme. The headline revelation was about a trip Sanders made to Managua in the eighties, where he may have attended a rally. The Times explains: “At the anniversary celebration, a wire report described a chant rising up: ‘Here, there, everywhere, the Yankee will die.'”

In a subsequent interview with Times writer Sydney Ember, Sanders responded, when asked about this, “They were fighting against American — huh, huh — yes, what is your point?” He then noted he didn’t remember that particular chant.

This is really silly gotcha journalism (especially since it’s not clear what language the chant was in). Ember asked Sanders if he would have “stayed at the rally” if he’d “heard that directly.” Elsewhere, she asked why Sanders once said the Soviets had a good public transportation system and free health care, and if he believed he had an “accurate” view of Nicaraguan leader Daniel Ortega.

Sanders at first didn’t respond, then spoke and was short with the reporter, seeming exasperated as he explained the context of decades of American interventions in Chile, Guatemala, Brazil and other South and Central American countries. He tried to explain that his “view” of Ortega was irrelevant because he was really protesting the policy of intervention, not supporting the foreign leader.

The whole episode was a Back to the Future version of the same criticisms leveled at anyone who opposes regime change in Venezuela today — if you protest the policy, you’re not antiwar, you must support the targeted foreign leader.

“This was not about Ortega,” Sanders said. “Do you understand?”

His curt response inspired author and Times columnist Jill Filipovic to write that Sanders was “shockingly rude,” adding: “We already have a president who attacks the press, condescends and refuses to answer questions he deems stupid.”

Bernie Sanders is not Trump. Neither is Tulsi Gabbard, nor anyone else but Trump, for that matter. It’s a preposterous take. It’s worse than fake-news: It’s self-fulfilling news.

In 2004, Howard Dean was asked repeatedly if he was “too left” or “too liberal” in campaign stops. You would see lines like, “addressing concerns that he is too liberal to be president…” in coverage. It was nearly a mandatory preamble to Dean stories.

On the trail, I watched Dean take in these questions. Over time, you could almost hear his teeth grind at words like “left” or “liberal.” Eventually he did start to flip out.

When he did, suddenly his “testy” demeanor and “combative,” “finger-thrusting” style earned write-ups of their own, culminating in the campaign-ending “Dean Scream” story. Reporters once reveled in the power to make or break candidates with these circular, quasi-invented narratives.

These smear jobs don’t work the same way they once did. Trump in 2016 clearly used impatience with media tactics as part of his strategy. The more he brought trail reporters into stump speeches by calling us things like “bloodsuckers” (“enemy of the people” didn’t come until later), the better he did with crowds.

Reporters refuse to see it, but the national media now lives on the unpopularity spectrum somewhere between botulism and congress. While some of that is undeserved, some of it isn’t. Voters especially resent being told who is and isn’t an acceptable choice, by a press corps increasingly seen as part of a corrupt and condescending political establishment.

Stories like “Tulsi Gabbard Is the Top Candidate of Traitors” represent exactly the kind of thing people hate about the commercial press as an institution. This scarlet lettering backfired badly in 2016, but we’re doing more of it this time around, not less. Don’t be surprised if it ends badly again.

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A note of caution regarding our comment sections:

For months a stream of media reports have warned of coordinated propaganda efforts targeting political websites based in the U.S., particularly in the run-up to the 2016 presidential election.

We too were alarmed at the patterns we were, and still are, seeing. It is clear that the provocateurs are far more savvy, disciplined, and purposeful than anything we have ever experienced before.

It is also clear that we still have elements of the same activity in our article discussion forums at this time.

We have hosted and encouraged reader expression since the turn of the century. The comments of our readers are the most vibrant, best-used interactive feature at Reader Supported News. Accordingly, we are strongly resistant to interrupting those services.

It is, however, important to note that in all likelihood hardened operatives are attempting to shape the dialog our community seeks to engage in.

Adapt and overcome.

Marc Ash
Founder, Reader Supported News

+47 # trimegestus 2019-05-22 12:05
"... Reporters refuse to see it, but the national media now lives on the unpopularity spectrum somewhere between botulism and congress. ... Voters especially resent being told who is and isn’t an acceptable choice, by a press corps increasingly seen as part of a corrupt and condescending political establishment."
~~~ Well said. We won't be fooled again.
+17 # wrknight 2019-05-22 18:41
Well, some of us won't, anyway.
+9 # 2019-05-22 14:08
I wish I could believe that. It's not as though we get an incredible list of options from which to choose and as has been said, the lesser of the evils is still evil!
0 # Steve B 2019-05-22 14:10
If you're disgusted with the corruption of both parties (and the mainstream media) here is the recourse:https: //wikipolitiki. com/blog/
+10 # wrknight 2019-05-22 18:52
You know, the problem is that your f'kg congressman and mine are screwing us at every opportunity and have been for as long as they have been in office, and will continue doing as long as they keep getting voted into office. There is only one way to stop it and that is to vote them OUT OF OFFICE.

You can say "well, their replacements will be just as bad", but the truth is that they won't be as bad because they will lack the experience of the pro that's been in office since God knows when.

And when 2 years is up, dump that one and elect a different one. So what if we get amateurs in Congress every 2 years? That would be better than what we have now.

Kick them all out and start fresh.
+20 # tidyidy 2019-05-22 14:43
We won't be fooled again. Only if we take the time to go looking for the truth. How many voters have or take the time to do that? How do you know the truth when you see it?

I'm 92.6 years old. I have the time and like and have the time for doing the searching. It's the sorting that's tough.

I want us to move forward. I love my memories BUT I don't want to live them again. And, kids, it can't be done.

+2 # economagic 2019-05-22 20:48
Amen, Sister. I'm a full generation behind you (not many I can say that to), and I tried for eight years to get my economics students to consider those questions. Perhaps a few of them did.
-24 # RMF 2019-05-22 14:57
Neither Gabbard nor Taibi identify, at least with any particularity, what exactly is "fake" in the Daily Beast article.

Gabbard only says she opposes war with Russia.

Well, who actually thinks a war with Russia is in the offing? The answer is no one as far as I know -- and I think Gabbard may be confusing that nation with Iran. If either Gabbard (or Taibbi) wished to comment on point they should address the saber-rattling now coming from the trumpolini WH in regard to Iran.

It is more than mildly suspicious that a piece purportedly about the issue of military intervention fails to mention the one case now most likely.

The real issue in this international context, though not mentioned by Taibbi, is the Russian hacking and influence campaign in the previous presidential campaign, and the likelihood of a repeat performance in the 2020 campaign.

Neither Taibbi or Gabbard (as reported by Taibbi) address that core issue, but instead cherry-pick at peripheral issues.

And the real problem with Russian apologists is that it's not about war per se, but rather about maintaining the integrity of US elections.

The Russian apologists always try to shift the discussion to war/aggression/ hostility because everyone is against that -- and it's something nearly all can agree on -- even with Russian apologists masquerading as small-d democrats.
+20 # wrknight 2019-05-22 19:03
Nobody wants war with Russia? You haven't been listening to John Bolton much, have you. Old chicken-hawk Bolton wants war with everyone he doesn't like (and he doesn't have a friend in the world).

As for Russian influence - it wouldn't be nearly so effective if so many Americans weren't so f'k'g gullible. As it is, most Americans will believe any shit they read on Facebook or in MSM. So long as they don't have to think, they'll buy anything.
-8 # HarryP 2019-05-23 12:32

Can you find an example where Bolton advocated war with Russia? Bolton’s warmongering is based on the ancient dictum that “the strong do what they can, and weak suffer what they must.” That was the demand by powerful Athens directed against the weak Melians.

The Melians, we are told, had no choice. But I’m not sure it’ll work against Bolton’s favorite targets, North Korea and Iran. It may work against Venezuela. It didn’t work against Cuba over this 50 years.But it won’t work against the Russians who have never played the role of the Melians. They have enough nuclear missiles that they can afford to target - just for the hell of it - Bolton’s house in Washington.They ’ll steam it live as they remind the world of their 560 year war against the Mongols and a host of lesser powers (Germans, Swedes, Turks, Poles, Livonians, French, Japanese.) And thats just a partial list.
+8 # economagic 2019-05-22 20:51
"Neither Gabbard nor Taibi identify, at least with any particularity, what exactly is "fake" in the Daily Beast article."

What was fake was what her detractors said she said and did: She didn't. Why does anyone consider The Beast a reliable source of accurate information? Or even Politico, for that matter?
-33 # HarryP 2019-05-22 14:58
Taibbi doesn’t tell half of the Daily Beast story about Gabbard.

She’s the Democrat closest to Trump on Russia (even rumored to be in line for job.) She has little in common with any of the other Democrats running for president. She is also the staunchest defender of Assad, casting doubt on his alleged use of chemical weapons. The joke around her people is her campaign headquarter will be in Damascus.

No wonder Cohen contributed to her campaign, this by a political scientist who said (in his debate with McFaul) that even if the Russians intervened in 2016, so what? That it just may have given us Trump didn’t bother him. He compared Russian intervention to the equivalent of “jay walking.” This is all “bullshit” that’s “got to stop now.”
Trump couldn’t have said it better.

The Daily Beast article isn’t a hit piece. It’s good journalism.
+9 # yolo 2019-05-23 17:59
Hillary partly lost on her platform of making Russians the enemy while Trump advocated for improving relations. If you want the democrats to lose again keep supporting candidates like Biden who support the status quo of tension and conflict over statesmanship and diplomacy. Gabbard isn't defend Assad she is criticizing our policy toward him, there is a difference.
+16 # USADUDE 2019-05-22 17:00
MSM has an agenda. A corporatists agenda of course the for profit media doesn’t want to lose the ratings bonanza of Agent Orange. A progressive agenda focused on uplifting the poor and improvement of our infrastructure doesn’t excite the bean counters at Comcast, Time Warner I mean AT&T, Fox and CBS. Sanders is an afterthought after breathless coverage of boring Biden saying a lot while saying nothing at all.
+11 # Rodion Raskolnikov 2019-05-23 08:07
It is really no longer possible to think of the corporate major media like the NYT, CNN, NBC, WashPo, and many others as journalism or the press. They are propaganda and smear agencies, a lot like Fusion GPS. They do publish fake news on a regular basis in support of the policies favored by their patrons in the weapons industry, pentagon, CIA, and the like.

We can't get rid of these pathogens of democracy. There's no democratic way to shut down the WashPo or NYT. But we can educate ourselves on the issues and we can see the lies when they are published. It is difficult to do since there is no reliable guide to the truth. And we can exposes the fake news outlets when we see it. The WashPo is a lying organization and we must always say that openly. That's true press freedom: the power to call out a liar no matter how powerful and rich he is. Bezos is the one.

Thanks to Tiabbi for being a role model in critical media studies. He's rarely fooled by the hype of the corporate war mongering media.
-10 # HarryP 2019-05-23 12:57

It’s rather rich for someone like Taibbi (and other who had once promising careers - Aaron Mate, Garett Porter, Glen Greenwald, Ray McGovern, Stephen Cohen, etc.) become apologists for Trump and Putin. They jumped into bed with Trump and have come out slimed. No one in Trump’s embrace has emerged smelling like a rose.

The MSM has it’s share of failure. But in this case it conducted itself much better in digging up Russiagate than the MSM critics, who have added nothing to our understanding. As a result, Mueller told us little we didn’t already know. None of the gentlemen listed above has done any heavy lifting trying to roll over the rocks to see what was there. All they have done is try to discredit what others had uncovered. And that’s not even journalism. It’s an easy way to make a living. Every dictatorship has a department just for that purpose. It doesn’t take any talent. All it takes is a lack of character. Just scream NO COLLUSION, ENEMY OF THE PEOPLE, and FAKE NEWS.

I noticed that among you example of journalistic malpractice you left out Fox News, Sarah Huckabee, etc. Not that it came as a shock to me.
+7 # yolo 2019-05-23 18:10
"It’s rather rich for someone like Taibbi (and other who had once promising careers - Aaron Mate, Garett Porter, Glen Greenwald, Ray McGovern, Stephen Cohen, etc.) become apologists for Trump and Putin."

It isn't apologist if what they said was the correct. The MSM rather than questioning the party line, pushed it and as a result didn't slime Trump but themselves with their inaccurate reporting. Why mention Fox News, and Huckabee everyone already knows the propaganda they push?
-3 # HarryP 2019-05-24 14:43

The problem is that what they’re saying isn’t quite correct. They faced one of the biggest stories of our time and instead of turning over rocks to see what was at the bottom, they decided to join Trump and declare NO COLLUSION. And that’s not even journalism. Anyone can do it. It doesn’t take any talent. They decided to join Trump’ Ministry of Truth, spending their time attacking their bete noir - the MSM. Along they way they made it easier to for Trump to assault the first amendment.

The MSM has gotten a lot wrong in the past, but here they did their legwork assiduously to the extent that the Mueller report didn’t tell us much that was new.

Do the Russiagate deniers still see no problem with Trump soliciting Russian intervention? Has anyone of them contributed to our knowledge of the issue?

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