In his seething latest, "Something About This Russia Story Stinks," Rolling Stone's Matt Taibbi again rips open his jacket to expose a T-shirted, red-and-yellow-diamond-encased S for Supersleuth, or, very Suspicious news analyst. He is suspicious of Obama's "terse statement" accompanying additional sanctions against Russia, which, in Taibbi's rather odd wording, the president "seem[ed] to blame ... for the hack of the Democratic National Committee emails." There was of course no seeming about it, since Obama declared with no equivocation that "These data theft and disclosure activities could only have been directed by the highest levels of the Russian government." What really riles Taibbi, though, is that "Absent independent verification, reporters will have to rely upon the secret assessments of intelligence agencies to cover the story at all. Many reporters I know are quietly freaking out about having to go through that again. We all remember the WMD fiasco."
There, in that last part, Taibbi commits the logical fallacy of faulty comparison, inasmuch as Bush II's ramrodded intelligence agencies are not, 15 years later, precisely the same as Obama's intelligence agencies. While it's plausible that the sitting president coerced agreement from intelligence with the administration's predetermined conclusions, in much the same aggressive manner his predecessor did, there have been no yelping agency leaks (as one would expect) suggesting this was the case. What's more, Taibbi's unhappiness with the FBI and DHS' publicly issued report, "Grizzly Steppe," stems from his assessment that it is "long on jargon but short on specifics." Just how specific these two agencies could have been -- beyond their providing, in their words, "technical details regarding the tools and infrastructure used by the Russian civilian and military intelligence Services" -- without disclosing highly sensitive methods of investigation remains a question of fierce, legitimate debate.
Putting aside these two subordinate objections to Taibbi's detection of a malodorous story, I note the Rolling Stoner goes on to grieve that "Reports by some Democrat-friendly reporters ... have attempted to argue that Trump surrogates may have been liaising with the Russians because they either visited Russia or appeared on the RT network. Similar reporting about Russian scheming has been based entirely on unnamed security sources."
Enter my further unhappiness with Taibbi's coverage. In writing that domestic news stories about Russian scheming have been based entirely on unnamed security forces, he willfully(?) overlooks an exceptionallly high-ranking Russian-security player, deputy foreign minister Sergei Ryabkov, whom the Interfax news agency quoted earlier this month: "There were contacts. We continue to do this and have been doing this work during the election campaign." The NY Times reported that Russia's Foreign Ministry later clarified that "Ryabkov had been referring to American politicians and supporters of Mr. Trump, not members of his campaign staff.... The contacts were carried out through the Russian ambassador in Washington, who reached out to the senators and other political allies to get a better sense of Mr. Trump’s positions on various issues involving Russia." The latter group -- "political allies" -- was described by Ryabkov himself as Trump's "immediate entourage."
Does it strain either phraseology or credibility to include in Ryabkov's "immediate entourage" -- often a cliché-ish substitute for mere "entourage" -- Trump's platoons of unpaid, non-staffer surrogates, those seen so exhaustingly throughout the campaign on cable news? Say, Trump's Omarosa Manigault, Scottie Nell Hughes, Jeffrey Lord or Kayleigh McEnany? Who's to say -- particularly in the manner of Taibbi's un-strained suspiciousness -- that one or more of these prattling heads were not in fact among Trump's political allies "liaising with the Russians," and anonymously referenced by Ryabkov?
Taibbi's disgust with some "Democrat-friendly" outlets continues: "There have been other excesses. An interview with Julian Assange by an Italian newspaper has been bastardized in Western re-writes, with papers like The Guardian crediting Assange with 'praise' of Trump," thus connecting WikiLeaks' selective favors to Trump with orchestrated skulduggery. Seemingly preens Taibbi in parentheses: "The Guardian has now 'amended' a number of the passages in the report in question" -- although not the leading one questioned by the preener. His mirrors Glenn Greenwald's disgust of a week before: "The shoddy and misleading Guardian article ... was published on December 24. It made ... [the] demonstrably false" claim that "Julian Assange gives guarded praise of Trump and blasts Clinton in interview."
Taibbi-Greenwald dispute any such Assangean praise by quoting what they insist are Assange's inoffensive remarks: "Donald Trump is not a DC insider, he is part of the wealthy ruling elite of the United States, and he is gathering around him a spectrum of other rich people and several idiosyncratic personalities. They do not by themselves form an existing structure, so it is a weak structure which is displacing and destabilising the pre-existing central power network within DC. It is a new patronage structure which will evolve rapidly, but at the moment its looseness means there are opportunities for change in the United States: change for the worse and change for the better." Greenwald supplies what he sees as damning context to the "shoddy and misleading" Guardian story: "Appearing to suggest the disclosures in the run-up to the election were a form of payback, [Assange] added: 'If someone and their network behave like that ['torturing' Chelsea Manning and imprisoning her for 35 years, as well as acting as the 'chief proponent and architect' of the failed Libya intervention], then there are consequences. Internal and external opponents are generated. Now there is a separate question on what Donald Trump means.'"
Let us return to the question of straining vocabulary and credibility. Is it really an in-credibility for any circumspect political commentator to assert, with the unignorable splendor of Himalayan empiricism as backdrop, that the wholesale abomination of Trumpism could in any notable way pose a "change for the better," or that "what Donald Trump means" is for now a puzzling, unanswerable question? Perhaps since I no longer possess an unsunlighted, space-inhibiting colon I, for one, could bury my head just far enough up my posterior to pen such indictable rubbish. I would promptly lose, however, my self-preening circumspection.
So there you have it -- what I interpret as Matt Taibbi's pageviews- and H.S. Thompson-induced eagerness to cosset his readers' fuming paranoia of our "deep-state" intelligence agencies. That's not to say that all of the leftist family's paranoid tendencies should be deprogrammed; it is instead to say that responsible vigilance is the nuclear family's more prudent first cousin. But for the contemporary left's polemical coddlers, to shake a stick at the nation's always fearsome intelligence services, whether under a Democratic or Republican POTUS, is nestled in the laziest of celebrated formulas.
One might level the admissible accusation that my objections to Taibbi's piece are petty and tiresome in their ardent prosecution of perhaps minor rhetorical transgressions. After all, who among us hawkers of polemical righteousness has never distorted when at least a particle of knowing distortion vastly assisted in selling the otherwise sublime product? My countering objection would be that when the topic before us is a surefire readership-pleaser, such as arrant suspicions of U.S. intel's incorrigible gathering and disposition, then what one has written is little more than a sop to vulnerable preconceptions -- not analysis. That, in "Something About This Russia Story Stinks," is what Matt Taibbi is selling -- and it's just too easy.