Last week, as a polar vortex engulfed broad swaths of the upper Midwest, Rachel Maddow offered a chilling hypothetical. “What would happen if Russia killed the power in Fargo today?” she asked her viewers. “I mean, what would you do if you lost heat indefinitely as the act of a foreign power, on the same day the temperature in your front yard matched the temperature in Antarctica?”
Since Robert Mueller began his collusion investigation nearly two years ago, Maddow has emerged as one of the nation’s leading “Russiagate”conspiracists, but she is hardly alone. Days after the MSNBC host speculated that Russian President Vladimir Putin might try to freeze unsuspecting North Dakotans to death, NBC News published an article with the headline, “Russia’s propaganda machine discovers 2020 Democratic candidate Tulsi Gabbard.”And like Maddow’s on-air musings, the report has proved no less irresponsible.
“The whole story was a sham,” The Intercept’s Glenn Greenwald writes. “The only ‘expert’ cited by NBC in support of its key claim was the firm New Knowledge, which just got caught by the New York Times fabricating Russian troll accounts on behalf of the Democratic Party in the Alabama Senate race to manufacture false accusations that the Kremlin was interfering in that election.”
New Knowledge CEO Jonathon Morgan was able to perpetrate his fraud, at least in part, through “Hamilton 68”—a dashboard that “highlights the activity of … 600 accounts that researchers believe are either tied to the Russian government or repeat the themes of its propaganda,” according to The New York Times. (In Greenwald’s telling, the tool “has so been abused that even some of its designers urged the media to stop exaggerating its meaning.”) Since the scam was exposed, Facebook has closed the accounts of several of those responsible—including Morgan—while Alabama Sen. Doug Jones has called for a federal investigation.
So why might New Knowledge identify Tulsi Gabbard as a possible Kremlin favorite? And more significantly, why is a major news network willing to carry water for such a scandal-plagued organization? Perhaps only Morgan and NBC News executive editor Catherine Kim can answer those questions definitively, but the answer is almost certainly Gabbard’s politics and platform, both of which fall to the left of the Democratic establishment.
Since announcing her run for president in January, the Hawaiian congresswoman has pledged to take on entrenched wealth and a runaway military-industrial complex. “We’re being torn apart by powerful, self-serving politicians and greedy corporations,” she said during her campaign kickoff speech in Oahu. “People fomenting hatred, bigotry and fear; inciting conflict between us because of the color of our skin, the way that we worship, or the political party that we might belong to.”
Gabbard’s run for president invites any number of legitimate criticisms. Her past jeremiads against “radical Islam” have reportedly earned the praise of Steve Bannon, and she has professed a curious admiration for India’s Hindu right; the LGBT community remains leery of her candidacy despite her support for the Employment Non-Discrimination Act and the repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act; meanwhile, her anti-interventionism can appear “shot through with a pernicious nationalism,” as Branko Marcetic observes in Jacobin.
By the same measure, the indictments of Donald Trump’s former campaign manager Paul Manafort, political consultant Rick Gates and strategist Roger Stone suggest it’s possible, even probable, that some form of collusion transpired between Russia and team Trump, if not the president himself. Still, it seems telling that more than a year ahead of the 2020 primary, the mainstream media are already branding one of the Democratic Party’s fiercest critics of American empire an unwitting Putin pawn.
“The playbook used by the axis of the Democratic Party, NBC, MSNBC, neocons, and the intelligence community has been, is, and will continue to be a very simple one: to smear any adversary of the establishment wing of the Democratic Party—whether on the left or the right—as a stooge or asset of the Kremlin (a key target will undoubtedly be, and indeed already is, Bernie Sanders),” Greenwald concludes. “To accomplish this McCarthyite goal, this Democratic Party coalition of neocons, intelligence operatives, and NBC stars will deceive, smear, and even engage in outright journalistic deception, as NBC (once again) just proved with this report.”