As politics has become more divisive, promoting extremes has become the norm.
Barack Obama was not just a bad President. He was going to destroy the country and assert Marshall law. Trump is not just a doofus on Twitter. He’s going to start a nuclear holocaust and take away women’s rights.
You get the idea and the same thing is happening in the debate over Russian actions during the election now.
It’s not enough to say that Russia did attempt to interfere in the election and that it matters. I say attempt because it would need to actually be proven effectual to say they succeeded in interfering, but that’s more semantics than anything (I personally don’t want to give them the win).
Instead, you must go along with turning it up to eleven and if you don’t play into the hysteria then you are clearly a fan of Putin.
That’s basically the gist of how the conversation goes in mainstream media circles these days.
This game continued after Mueller dropped his indictments of 13 Russians and 3 companies on Friday. That development alone is important, but those who had been pushing nothing but the Trump-Russia collusion narrative for over a year needed someway to spin it into vindication of their viewpoints.
That gave us these hot takes…
Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-NY) says Russian Twitter trolls are “destroying our country” and “on par” with Pearl Harbor — this is lunatic rhetoric, and the fact that people don’t think twice about it anymore is doubly disturbing https://t.co/Tp6dyfgsyx
— Michael Tracey (@mtracey) February 18, 2018
Imagine if FDR discounted the importance of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and focused on how his critics had no proof that he knew about it. #RussianPearlHarbor
— Jonathan Alter (@jonathanalter) February 17, 2018
after she compared Russian election interference to Pearl Harbor. pic.twitter.com/bJDDxSPqCX
— David Rutz (@DavidRutz) February 18, 2018
The Russians committed an act of war against our democracy. If Trump were President on Dec. 7, 1941: “Japan started building aircraft carriers long before I became President, and they haven’t attacked any of my resort properties. What we should really be focused on is Wilkie”
— Matthew Dowd (@matthewjdowd) February 18, 2018
Imagine if, after 9/11, the president saw the attack as a political embarrassment to be minimized rather than as a national security threat to be combated. That’s roughly where we stand after the 2nd-worst foreign attack on America in recent decades. Me: https://t.co/MatJYEJO9g
— Max Boot (@MaxBoot) February 19, 2018
My latest: Imagine how history would have judged Franklin D. Roosevelt in the aftermath of Pearl Harbor, if he had taken to the radio airwaves to declare that Tokyo was “laughing their asses off.” https://t.co/soxtUzU3GN
— Karen Tumulty (@ktumulty) February 18, 2018
See the pattern here? Clearly the talking points went out.
Let me offer two reactions.
First, the Russians did have a social media presence and they did propagate the dissemination of hacked/leaked information (at least by proxy with wikileaks which was then repeated in the media).
Secondly, there is zero comparison, either via seriousness or scale, to the attacks on Pearl Harbor or 9/11. Those events are not even in the same universe.
While what the Russians did on social media should not be dismissed, it was not necessarily advanced nor was his very large. The highest estimates have them spending only $400k on ads. That’s 0.001% of total spending during the election (and that’s just qualified spending under campaign finance laws). Even when you look at twitter bots, their retweets and posts come in well under 1% of total election activity. When you compare it to total twitter activity, it comes in at a decimal so small I won’t even bother to type it out.
None of this is to say Russia isn’t bad and didn’t do bad things during the election. They did. None of this is to say they shouldn’t be punished in a measured, responsible way (we obviously can’t start a hot war over this though).
But this was not Pearl Harbor. It was not 9/11. To compare it those attacks belittles those events to the point of disrespecting the victims and the gravity of the situations.
Let’s be honest though.
These comparisons aren’t coming from a place of honest concern. After all, these are the same people who relentlessly mocked Mitt Romney when he went after Russia in 2012. They are also the same people who praised Barack Obama for his “Russian reset” and gave no criticism as he appeased Putin over and over.
Even today these people can’t muster up a bad word to say about the former President who was actually responsible for letting Russia do as it pleased during the 2016 election.
The motivation on this is clear and it’s not real worry over Russia. By playing up mass hysteria over this, they see this as just another way to “get” Trump. That’s it. With the collusion narrative on the ropes, they need something to keep the headlines going with.
Trumping up valid concerns about Russian interference into the equivalent of a mass casualty attack that led to WW2 serves that purpose. It’s a cheap way to keep Russia in the news and by proxy keep attacking Trump as somehow responsible. It also serves the purpose of tarnishing his legitimacy by exaggerating the effectual nature of Russia’s action to point of making them seem decisive.
In short, it’s transparent, shallow politics.
What’s ironic is that by continuing to put short term political gain above real discussion, these media figures are handing Russia the propaganda win they could never get with their Facebook ads or troll accounts. Russia thrives on making themselves seem bigger and more powerful than they are. Instead of having a measured, realistic conversation on their actions, this new “Red Scare” is playing right into their hands.
There are ways to deal with Russia, call out Russia, and punish Russia without becoming their willing stooges. The media should try them if they really care about the Russian menace.
(Spoiler Alert: They don’t)