Senator Lindsey Graham, a Republican, is known especially in the last year for being a most outspoken advocate for President Trump. Senator Graham gave a press conference on Monday after the Russiagate determination from Robert Mueller was released. However, listen to this clip of his press conference. (if the video starts from the beginning, go to 24:40 to hear the clip we are quoting):
It is amazing how easily the Senator says what he says. Let’s put it in print so we can consider it in a static format rather than the cool, slickly delivered public speaking format:
PRESS QUESTION: “Is it your belief that the Russians were trying to collude…?
SENATOR GRAHAM: Absolutely! I think – there’s things I can’t tell you – they were out to get us all.
Here is what I told Trump, for whatever it’s worth: I think the dossier – a lot of it – came from the Russian intelligence service. If you just think Russia just likes Trump and hates Clinton, you are missing the point of what they are trying to do. They are trying to divide all of us against each other, and they have done a pretty good job of it. They’re still at it, by the way. They are still doing this, and one of the things I want to take away from this whole endeavor, is to try to find ways to fix it.
Critical infrastructure before this debate was power companies, financial services; now it’s got to be the political system. Parties need to realize that they are subject to being attacked. That the vote – vote [sic] tallying process needs to be hardened. That the social media outlets that we all rely upon and enrich our lives, can be co-opted top spread lies, to pit one American against the other.
If we don’t take that from this investigation, that the Russians tried to do it, and they are going to keep trying, then we missed a real big point.
This set of remarks is amazing, astounding and there may be fair cause to even say that it is frightening. Here are some reasons why this is so:
First and foremost, the First Amendment to the US Constitution says:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof, or abridging the freedom of speech or of the press, or the right of the people peaceably to assemble and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.
In other words, the press is free in America. Anyone can say anything they want. They can even lie outrageously in print or any other media. The thing that keeps honesty in the press is, in theory, the fact that given enough time, lies become exposed and the truth wins. Russiagate was a two-year long lie, but eventually its basic premise was exposed as the sham that it always was. However, before Russiagate the press of foreign powers were able to write anything they wanted about the US. The Internet made it accessible to Americans, but the ability of the American people to sort through the mess to the truth does remain intact to some degree.
The idea that – first – Russian or anyone’s input into the stream of political news – would make any difference in what people think is also amazing. It might work if someone successfully hit the whole of American media with a false narrative. Again, this happened with Russiagate itself, enough to sway the opinions of some of the American population so that now, 53% of eligible voters said in a poll that they thought President Trump really did collude with Russia to steal the election from Hillary Clinton.
But consider – this was a two year effort – even longer by some accounts, and it was literally wall-to-wall across all the major networks as such, with only Fox News disputing it. The known impact of the Internet Research Agency at best was some few thousands of dollars worth of ads on Facebook that apparently very few people knew about. We did find a purported example of one such ad, posted by Democrat Representative Adam Schiff. Take a look:
Russia sought to divide us by our race, our country of origin, our religion, and our politics. They attempted to hijack legitimate events meant to do good – teaching self-defense, providing legal aid – as well as those events meant to widen a rift.
Here's just some examples: pic.twitter.com/YMX2FTgPGU
— Adam Schiff (@RepAdamSchiff) May 10, 2018
It is remarkably unclear how these images are evidence of Russia efforts to pit Americans against one another, even so, how much it would have affected anyone. Indeed, the rather sly Mr. Schiff said that these were ‘attempts to hijack legitimate events meant to do good…’ but if one tries to think this through and see how this influences anyone – How!?
Another claim written about was in an article published by The Atlantic entitled “What Putin Really Wants.” The piece is quite well written if one wants to read a novel, but it makes unsubstantiated claims of its own. Most interesting are these two paragraphs, not adjacent to one another in the original piece. We have added emphasis:
Even if the public notice went unheeded, the Obama administration felt that the Russians had heard its warnings behind the scenes. According to Soldatov and two former Obama-administration officials, Moscow seemed to have backed off its probes of U.S. election infrastructure by October. But the leaks and bogus news stories never stopped. Obama feared that going public with anything more would look like he was putting his thumb on the scale for Clinton. And he was sure that she would win anyway—then deal with the Russians once she took office…
A forgery, a couple of groups of hackers, and a drip of well-timed leaks were all it took to throw American politics into chaos. Whether and to what extent the Trump campaign was complicit in the Russian efforts is the subject of active inquiries today. Regardless, Putin pulled off a spectacular geopolitical heist on a shoestring budget—about $200 million, according to former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper. This point is lost on many Americans: The subversion of the election was as much a product of improvisation and entropy as it was of long-range vision. What makes Putin effective, what makes him dangerous, is not strategic brilliance but a tactical flexibility and adaptability—a willingness to experiment, to disrupt, and to take big risks…
This is unsubstantiated – we were not able to find what the “bogus” new pieces actually were. This is a purely speculative point, but the photos from Adam Schiff’s Twitter comment are at least related to real issues. There is nothing to suggest “Fake issues” and any person can create such memes. Why Russian-generated graphics should be so incredibly powerful as to control American voter’s minds in any way at all is incomprehensible. As a thought experiment, the reader might consider the effects of such ads on himself or herself personally. How gullible are we? Probably not very. The success of the Russiagate collusion story’s penetration into the minds of enough people to actually move a poll lay in its pervasiveness and persistence. But the number of people it actually moved is probably statistically rather low. Most people have their minds made up pretty well on their own, don’t they?
So by saying that the Russians actually have the ability to manipulate Americans is an amazing statement. Why can they do something we cannot do ourselves? The idea is rather absurd. Remember this woman’s reaction? Oh, but wait, this is Russia Today’s take. Prepare for your mind to be controlled… (wink, wink!)
RT actually makes the home point. Anything that might have been coming into the US internet from abroad would have no real effect were it not already capitalizing on existing themes. Russians turning Americans against one another? Given the enormous amount of effort that Americans already spend in argument based on passion (and not on discursive reasoning), there is little any outside agency could do.
To be fair, Senator Graham has shown himself to be a man with a fair sense of integrity. In a way, perhaps, one cannot fault him for saying so easily what has been rather baked in to the American narrative on all things Russia and Russiagate. But he ought to consider carefully what he said in this press conference on this issue. For what he indicated was a frightening set of ideas:
- Americans cannot think for themselves.
- They can be manipulated by anyone who wants to do so, even by people from other countries.
- The freedom of the press and social media needs to be abridged because Americans cannot handle the responsibility of processing information they consume.
Admittedly, there ARE news agencies operating abroad that seek to try to disseminate more reliable and honest information about the US or the rest of the world than that which the mainstream outlets like Reuters, CNN, the Associated Press, or Fox would like to run. The Duran is one such resource, as we try to offer information and perspective the mainstream media finds inconvenient to report or maybe even just does not want Americans to have access to for whatever reason. There are many such press agencies, and some of them operate in Russia. RT is an example of a more mainstream type of outlet, USA Really is another that is far less mainstream, and we have ZeroHedge, the Strategic Culture Foundation, and many others, all of whom offer a wide range of thought to read and study. But the notion that these networks exist to turn Americans against one another…?
This is to misinterpret the entire reason of a free press. That misunderstanding does not start and end with Senator Graham either. One report after the conclusion of the Russiagate investigation said that CNN’s CEO Jeff Zucker maintained that “We are not investigators. We are journalists” Really? It used to be that news fit for print had to be double- or triple- checked. Watch All the President’s Men and you will see how this principle mandated that the Washington Post reports got Watergate exactly right before going to print. Anything less was dangerous for the paper’s existence. But now, Mr. Zucker basically stated that journalists just pass on gossip. Since gossip exists, it is fact and can be reported as news. QED.
This whole idea of Russian interference falls apart immediately when placed under discursive scrutiny. This piece barely scratches the surface of the matter before the believability of it falls to pieces. Yet we have a prominent, respected American conservative senator giving away such power by saying that outside forces control us.
One might ask himself, perhaps: Is this true?