Russia and the stolen  emails

Again, we don’t know it’s Russia, but if this was a civil case, the preponderance of the evidence would almost surely find them liable.  And, you know what, even if it was not the Russian government, some foreign entity or person stole DNC emails and intentionally released them in a way to cause maximum damage.  How is that not more of a story than that DWS doesn’t like Bernie?!

Franklin Foer with the best on this I’ve read so far:

And when the stolen information arrived, it was dressed in the ideology of WikiLeaks, which presents its exploits as possessing a kind of journalistic bravery the traditional media lacks.

But this document dump wasn’t a high-minded act of transparency. To state the obvious, only one political party has been exposed. (Selectively exposed: Many emails were culled from the abridged dump.) And it’s not really even the inner workings of the Democrats that have been revealed; the documents don’t suggest new layers of corruption or detail any new conspiracies. They’re something closer to the embarrassing emails that fly across every office in America—griping, the testing of stupid ideas, the banal musings that take place in private correspondence. The emails don’t get us much beyond a fact every sentient political observer could already see: Officials at the DNC, hired to work hand in glove with a seemingly inevitable nominee, were actively making life easier for Hillary Clinton. It didn’t take these leaks to understand that Debbie Wasserman Schultz is a hack and that the DNC should be far more neutral in presidential primaries.

What’s galling about the WikiLeaks dump is the way in which the organization has blurred the distinction between leaks and hacks. Leaks are an important tool of journalism and accountability. When an insider uncovers malfeasance, he brings information to the public in order to stop the wrongdoing. That’s not what happened here. The better analogy for these hacks is Watergate. To help win an election, the Russians broke into the virtual headquarters of the Democratic Party. The hackers installed the cyber-version of the bugging equipment that Nixon’s goons used—sitting on the DNC computers for a year, eavesdropping on everything, collecting as many scraps as possible. This is trespassing, it’s thievery, it’s a breathtaking transgression of privacy. It falls into that classic genre, the dirty trick. Yet that term feels too innocent to describe the offense. Nixon’s dirty tricksters didn’t mindlessly expose the private data of low-level staff.

We should be appalled at the public broadcast of this minutiae. [emphasis mine] It will have a chilling effect—campaign staffers will now assume they no longer have the space to communicate honestly. This honest communication—even if it’s often trivial or dumb—is important for the process of arriving at sound strategy and sound ideas.

And, a great column from Anne Applebaum, who sure knows Russia:

The motives of the hacker, the leaker or the person in possession of the secret tapes are rarely examined. But what to do when that person has an ulterior motive quite far from “the public’s right to know”? And what if that person’s motive is to help throw an American election?

I am not asking this question in a vacuum. All available evidence now points to direct Russian involvement in the hack of the Democratic National Committee’s email system. The evidence has been described by Eli Lake  (he quotes Trump campaign adviser Mike Flynn saying he “wouldn’t be surprised” if Russia were responsible) and laid out in meticulous detail by Thomas Rid of Motherboard

Nevertheless, with the exception of a few people on Twitter and a handful of print journalists, most of those covering this story, especially on television, are not interested in the nature of the hackers, and they are not asking why the Russians apparently chose to pass the emails on to WikiLeaks at this particular moment, on the eve of the Democratic National Convention. They are focusing instead on the content of what were meant to be private emails…

In Poland, hundreds of hours of tapings of political figures were arranged by a businessman who traded coal with Russia; to make them, he used waiters, one of whom later testified that he was explicitly promised a reward when a new government came to power. They were published by a magazine run by an ex-con who spent five years hiding from police in Russia in the 1990s. And yet just as in the United States, the Polish media focused almost exclusively on the details of the conversations, the bad language and jokes — none of which revealed any genuine corruption — rather than the motivations of the people who had taped and released them. Believe me, I know this story well: My husband was one of the politicians on the tapes.

Why would the Russians do this in the United States? That’s easier: You do not need to think conspiratorially in order to understand why the Russian government badly wants Trump to win this election. His deep business connections to Russia have been documented. As I wrote last week, his stated policy positions — temper U.S. support for NATO, stop advocating democracy, withdraw support for Ukraine — are exactly what Russia wants. Russia’s primary foreign policy goals are to weaken the European Union, soften up NATO and make the European continent safe for corrupt Russian money. President Trump would make all of those things possible.

Of course, Hillary Clinton might win anyway. But since vastly more attention will be paid to Debbie Wasserman Schultz than to Vladimir Putin, there doesn’t seem to be a downside to this leak. It might not work — but if you were Putin, wouldn’t you try?

Paul Waldman tries to explain the media’s failure:

But there’s something utterly bizarre about the kind of coverage this story is getting. Evidence currently suggests that the Russian government may have attempted to sway the results of the U.S. presidential election. I put that in italics, because it ought to be in screaming 72-point headlines on every front page in America. And yet, it’s being treated like just one more odd story in a wacky election year, not much more important than the latest fundraising numbers or which ethnic group Donald Trump has insulted most recently.

So what’s going on? Let me offer some thoughts about why the story isn’t bigger than it is. First, the political reporters covering it have gotten distracted by the content of the emails, in which DNC staffers complain to each other about Bernie Sanders and detail the various forms of butt-kissing they have to do for big party donors. There’s always something compelling about seeing private communications that become public, and it also helps that Sanders supporters were quick to say, “See? See? They were plotting against us!”

But the truth is that the emails didn’t show that the DNC “rigged” the primaries in Hillary Clinton’s favor. Yes, DNC staffers plainly preferred that Clinton become the nominee. The DNC did appear to give more weight to the Clinton campaign’s desire for fewer debates. But there was nothing that the DNC did that seriously harmed his chances or meaningfully impacted the outcome of the nomination contest. The emails showed that some staffers talked about undermining Sanders — and that there was real hostility between the DNC and the Sanders campaign — but those DNC staffers never followed through.

And so, the emails didn’t reveal truly scandalous behavior on the part of any American political actors, which would be required to really get political reporters’ juices flowing — and get them eager to investigate and write story after story about it. Since the wrongdoing here may have been committed by Russian hackers, that makes it more interesting to foreign affairs and national security reporters (who are the ones writing most of the stories about the hack itself) than to the political reporters whose stories are given the most prominent play at the moment.

The next reason why it isn’t a bigger deal is that the aggrieved party, the Democrats, aren’t pushing the story forward as much as they might, first because they don’t want to attract more attention to the content of the emails, and second because they aren’t making the kind of vicious accusations Republicans would if the tables were turned — the kind of accusations we in the media eat up. Instead, they’re saying milquetoasty things like this from Clinton campaign manager Robby Mook: “When you put all this together, it’s a disturbing picture. I think voters need to reflect on that.”

Consider what would happen if the shoe was on the other foot. Imagine if the Republican Party’s emails had been hacked by the Russian government, and then those emails had been publicly released on the eve of the GOP convention in a fairly obvious attempt to embarrass the party, and it just so happened that the Democratic nominee and the Russian president had been blowing kisses to one another, and it just so happened that the Democratic nominee had been proposing a series of radical transformations to American foreign policy that could practically have been written by the Russian president in order to advance his aims. How would Republicans have reacted?

We all know the answer: They would be screaming their heads off, saying this just proves that the Democratic nominee hates America and is trying to destroy our position in the world. They’d be calling her a commie and a flag-burner and dirty unpatriotic hippie. And the media would duly pass along those criticisms. [emphasis mine]

Dana Milbank takes this idea and nicely runs with it (it’s great, though, I’ve pasted enough here).

And, lastly, no matter who stole these emails, a foreign-national, Julian Assange, has basically admitted that he released them for maximum damage because he wants Hillary Clinton to lose.  And, seriously, only the NYT even seems to care!  The “liberal” CNN has no mention whatsoever on their front page, just a not-so-friendly, headline about the DNC, “Truths, half-truths, and lies.”

Honestly, I think someday people will look back and see this as, among other things, an absolutely massive failure of political journalism.  Oh, and maybe Democrats should take a page from Trump’s book and push this harder.

Advertisements

About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State http://faculty.chass.ncsu.edu/shgreene

2 Responses to Russia and the stolen  emails

  1. gronke says:

    It was white hat hacking, in my opinion. Had the DNC not been up to anything nefarious, the leaks would have caused absolutely no damage. That’s like if i was cheating on my wife with someone over text messages, and my phone got hacked, the texts were made public, and I’m going around saying, “Ugh, why is all the attention on my affair when my phone got hacked! That’s what you should be upset about!”

    • Steve Greene says:

      Spoken like a true Bernie Bro ;-). They weren’t up to anything nefarious. And, the idea of anybody hacking somebody’s private texts to publicly shame/embarrass them strikes me as quite problematic.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: