Monday, September 25, 2017

Today, Tom Tomorrow (Dan Perkins) Takes Us For A Ride... Over The Virtual Rim

Tom's/Dan's message accompanying today's TMW 'toon was short'n sweet:

I'm queueing this up in advance, but if all goes well, I'll be in Italy when you're reading it. Regular additional commentary will return in a few weeks.

Dan (aka Tom)

As the day went after the 'toon arrived in the In Box, this blogger had an A-Ha moment: Thelma and Louise rode over the edge of the Grand Canyon in a convertible and that moment was a metaphor for the USA in early October 2017. Virtually, Thelma is the AssHat-in-Chief and Louise is one of his minions and the convertible is the United States of America. And, even though we are not Thelma and Louise, it feels as if we are backseat passengers in that convertible. If this is a (fair & balanced) metaphor for our national life, so be it.

PS: You can read a synopsis of "Thelma & Louise" (film) here.

[x TMW]
Another Cliff-Parable
By Tom Tomorrow (Dan Perkins)


Tom Tomorrow/Dan Perkins

[Dan Perkins is an editorial cartoonist better known by the pen name "Tom Tomorrow." His weekly comic strip, "This Modern World," which comments on current events from a strong liberal perspective, appears regularly in approximately 150 papers across the U.S., as well as on Daily Kos. The strip debuted in 1990 in SF Weekly. Perkins, a long time resident of Brooklyn, New York, currently lives in Connecticut. He received the Robert F. Kennedy Award for Excellence in Journalism in both 1998 and 2002. When he is not working on projects related to his comic strip, Perkins writes a daily political blog, also entitled "This Modern World," which he began in December 2001. More recently, Dan Perkins, pen name Tom Tomorrow, was named the winner of the 2013 Herblock Prize for editorial cartooning. Even more recently, Dan Perkins was a runner-up for the 2015 Pulitzer Prize for Editorial Cartooning.]


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Sunday, September 24, 2017

Today, This Blog Is Just (Turabian) Stylin'

This blogger had decided earlier to choose an item to post that had nothing whatsoever to do with the AssHat-in-Chief's insane rants against North Korea and its leader. But then, the AssHat attacked the NFL, NBA, and African American citizens/players in both leagues. However, this blogger has assuaged his anger and outrage enough to turn to today's essay in a review of The Chicago Manual Of Style, 17th Edition (2017) by The University of Chicago Press Editorial Staff. Tis manual was the guide for this blogger in both his undergraduate and graduate studies. However, the blogger used a drivative of the manual: Kate L. Turabian's Manual for Writers of Research Papers, Theses, and Dissertations (1955, 2007) which is its 8th edition. Laura Larimore Turabian (1893-1987) was a Chicago secretary who — after marriage to Stephen Turabian — began working at the University of Chicago as a departmental secretary. She moved to the Graduate School and served as the dissertations secretary to ensure that all theses and dissertations written by University of Chicago graduate students conformed to what became the Chicago Manual of Style. Turabian was known to the students as "The Czarina" even though she was not Russian for her close reading of all manuscripts submitted in partial fulfillment of graduate degrees at the university. Those who wonder at the pickiness of this blogger in matters of writing can blame it all on Kate L. Turabian. If this is a (Fair & balanced) defense of academic integrity, so be it.

[x Washington Fishwrap]
Who Cares About Hyphens, Commas And Capital Letters? (You Should)
By Scott Huler


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“Of making many books there is no end,” we learn in Ecclesiastes, and in the Chicago Manual of Style, we learn that if you begin that quotation with a drop cap, you’ll probably omit the opening quotation mark.

That self-deprecating quotation moves around, but in edition after edition of the Chicago Manual of Style, the ancient wisdom of Ecclesiastes remains. Chicago is like Dr. Who: it periodically assumes a new form yet retains its essence.

For those of us for whom the making of many books is a lifetime job, a new edition of Chicago — this is the 17th — represents a feast day, a celebration. The first edition came out in 1906 when the University of Chicago Press decided that its Manual of Style ought to make the leap from pamphlet to book. In its earliest editions, Chicago focused almost entirely on matters of style, punctuation and typography, though starting with its 15th edition, Chicago finally joined the fray and included sections on grammar and usage.

But don’t think of style in the E.B. White sense. Chicago does not weigh in on omitting needless words. It has, though, a great deal to say on the order and punctuation and capitalization of the words you use. Think, that is, about what publishers call house style. Chicago addresses whether to use a colon after “namely” (nope) or “as follows” (yep), about how to set off a phrase in apposition to a noun (commas, and there had better be two), about how to alphabetize names with “Saint” in an index.

Each publication or publishing house has a style regarding such matters, and its editors rely on one guide or another as its foundation. Chicago has become so widely adopted that it functions as the foundation for virtually all book publishers and a good many magazine publishers. Newspapers tend to adopt the Associated Press Stylebook. Chicago and AP supporters get along no better than any other rivals in these divided times; they don’t even agree on whether the feuding parties are copyeditors (Chicago) or copy editors (AP), to say nothing of the serial comma, which is something of a holy war (Chicago says yes; AP says no).

Copy editors, as the final bulwark between errant writing and defenseless readers, do God’s work here on earth. For instance, Chicago Section 8.91 tells us that God takes the capital G; per 8.140, earth takes lowercase “e” (though if you’re naming planets’ proper names, it’s Earth and Mars; sun and moon take lowercase). As I said, God’s work here on earth. Section 8.109 is entitled “Heaven, hell, and so on,” which tells you all you need to know.

Each new edition of Chicago includes some changes. The 17th recommends “email” without a hyphen (copy editors at a convention actually cheered when they learned this) and “internet” without a capital I. It even — mildly, haltingly — now approves of singular “they,” at least in informal writing or when a writer thinks they should avoid gendered pronouns.

But Chicago concerns itself foremost with more formal language. It is a university press style guide, and it has university press rectitude in its DNA. Its ownership is a mark of honor. In the movie “Roxanne,” Steve Martin displays a copy on his desk as he writes those love letters to suggest the level of erudition we can expect from his character.

In an era when all rules seem to be forgotten, Chicago reemerges to remind us: There are ways to express yourself responsibly. Are you trying to express ideas so that others can understand them? Certain rules and principles help you do so; here they are.

Chicago is the rule of reason made flesh. It is belief in sensible authority and reasonable application thereof. After all, each house adapts rules to its own purposes; Chicago propounds rules with a soft authority, a gentle firmness. Even its publication as an actual book — of more than 1,000 pages — reminds us that everything is changing, but some truths remain steadfast, and they should be not merely online but at your fingertips.

As for what to do about people resolutely resisting those rules? For help on that, you will have to return to Ecclesiastes. # # #

[Scott Huler has written seven books of nonfiction. See those books here. Huler is a senior writer at Duke Magazine. He received a BA, Phi Beta Kappa (English literature) From Washington University in St. Louis (MO).]

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Saturday, September 23, 2017

Ready Or Not, Jock Talk Goes Political On ESPN (And This Blogger Goes Nuts)

If this blog had an award, Jemele Hill would receive a Profile in Courage for calling to the AssHat-in-Chief a white supremacist. Duh. Cyberspace lit up with outraged AssHat-supporters of the AssHat-in-Chief. Fook them all and the horses they rode on into town. Scum clumps together. If this is (fair & balanced) speaking to power, so be it.

[x The Atlantic]
Why ESPN Is More Political Than Before
By Conor Friedersdorf


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Bryan Curtis reports a striking scene in “Jemele Hill and the Fight for the Future of ESPN,” his essay on America’s premier sports network and its relationship with politics. The staff of "SportsCenter," a group under fire for producing shows that are “too political,” are gathered together to decide the contents of the 6 PM broadcast.

“ESPN’s transformation is usually described as swapping a highlight for a debate segment,” Curtis writes. “But the changes are even more elemental. At the SC6 staff meeting, everyone had their heads buried in their social media feeds, looking for content … Twitter is now the de facto coordinating producer of ESPN’s daytime lineup. The network’s old currency was a highlight of Klay Thompson shooting a three. The new currency — and, indeed, that day’s top offering — was a video of Thompson dancing like a dork in a Chinese nightclub. Programming ESPN is like curating your Twitter feed: Find the content that everyone’s talking about and craft the right joke.”

Upon reflection, the change makes a lot of sense. ESPN no longer enjoys a huge advantage in access to the old currency, athletic highlights; a sports junky who puts even minimal effort into curating his or her social media feeds will thereafter receive an endless stream of content that surfaces the most striking plays of the day. "SportsCenter" needs to offer something more to add value for those sports junkies.

That puts a different gloss on debates over whether the show should “stick to sports,” which started long before anchor Jemele Hill called Donald Trump a white supremacist.

On one side of that debate are people like Ben Domenech, who argues that “celebrities, comedians, and sportscasters” diminish an important good that entertainment provides when they express strong opinions. “When you ‘stick to sports,’ you are doing more than confining yourself to the field,” the conservative pundit reasoned. “You are providing a way for people who may have diametrically opposed politics to share a beer at a bar discussing quarterbacks instead of executive orders. This is valuable, particularly given that one of the factors that led to Mr. Trump’s rise is a market for outrage, on the right and the left … There is always another inch to be won, another point to be defended, and this hyper-politicization limits the space free from the culture wars Mr. Trump exploited to great effect.”

One counter-argument is that celebrities sometimes have a duty, or at least a compelling interest, to call attention to an injustice or an alarming political trajectory; that there is a reason we look back on athletes who spoke up on behalf of causes like civil rights as heroes; that staying mum in the face of evil is itself a political act; and that like it or not, millions of people look to athletes as role models. And many black athletes and much of the black talent at ESPN who cover them believe the Trump Administration poses a threat to their community, particularly in the way that it is weakening federal protections against civil-rights abuses.

The clash between those perspectives shapes the current moment, as do the decisions of individuals like Colin Kaepernick, who feels that the benefits of taking a political stand outweigh the costs. Insofar as figures within the NFL, MLB, and NBA inject themselves into politics, ESPN will get political even when “sticking to sports”––sports, it should be added, that incorporate the national anthem, flyovers by military jets, presidents throwing out first pitches, and all manner of other symbols and rituals that mark them as civic territory, not a separate realm of escapism.

But Curtis’s piece clarifies the degree to which an uptick in political content on ESPN isn’t a function of cultural elites deciding to politicize sports or to fight injustice, depending on your perspective; it is a matter of "SportsCenter" trying to remain what it has always been, a nightly sports show with hosts who are so up on what sports fans are talking about that they can distill the zeitgeist multiple times every evening; what’s changed is that many of those sports obsessives have spent all day in the milieu of social media, where sports is mashed up with politics and culture as never before.

To “just do sports,” even setting aside Tim Tebow praying or Lebron James wearing an “I can’t breathe” t-shirt, is to ignore what sports fans are talking about on their own initiative, and to seem out of touch on a program that has always thrived on knowing in-jokes.

But to allude to the latest way sports and politics intersected online is to lose touch with another set of sports fans, who do not deeply inhabit the peculiar information ecosystem of social media. They catch 15 minutes of local sports talk on the way to work and never signed up for Twitter—and so, if they tune into "SportsCenter" and hear a quip about Dunham/Dykstra, they are baffled, and mistakenly believe ESPN staffers are the instigators of the sports-culture-politics mashup when really they are reacting to it.

In this telling, the trend of not “sticking to sports” was fueled by everyone whose personal stream of posts, shares, and likes on social media evinces an interest in sports and politics; everyone who follows politicians, celebrities, and athletes online; and everyone who subjects their brain to the streams of the social web, reorienting their notion of what an ESPN host must know and say to seem conversant.

To a much greater extent than many appreciate, the uptick in political content on ESPN is not political in motivation; it is a response to the world that the audience outside the network, including large swaths of its core audience, has created together. # # #

[Conor Friedersdorf is a staff writer at The Atlantic, where he focuses on politics and national affairs. He received a BA (politics, philosophy, and economics) from Pomona College (CA) and an MA (journalism) from New York University.]

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Friday, September 22, 2017

Roll Over, Rope-A-Dope — Today, This Blog Has Pope-A-Dope

The mystery of Eags (Timothy Egan) became clear with his latest report — from Rome. Eags went on a personal pilgrimmage and discovered a key insight: Pope Francis is a better human being than our AssHat-in-Chief. Surprise, suprise, as Gomer Pyle would say. If this is a (fair & balanced) illustration that good is better than evil, so be it.

[x NY Fishwrap]
In Rome, A Visit With The Anti-Trump
By Eags (Timothy Egan)


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Walking to the Eternal City, over stones worn down by the sandals of centurions, on a pilgrim’s path nearly forgotten in all the layers of Italian time, the mind focuses as the muscles stiffen.

The Vatican is 100 kilometers (about 62 miles) away, according to a Via Francigena sign, and after another two-dozen gut-busting hills, past too much litter in too many lovely places, now only 50 kilometers distant. At last you come out sweaty and sunburned from an urban forest to see a distant St. Peter’s Basilica — the Oz of global Christianity.

What awaits is — for now — the moral center of the universe, and a very politically adept pope. The collapse of honor and principle at a White House led by a man with a pebble for a soul has allowed an enlightened octogenarian to flourish. As President Trump degrades his office by insults, lies and threats to world peace and global health, Pope Francis throws ecclesiastical shade his way.

“The more powerful you are,” the pope said earlier this year, “the more responsible you are to act humbly.” Quick, Mr. President, to the dictionary. Humble, humbly, humility.

The pope waves from a window at his Sunday appearance. He still projects that lightness of being, wearing his soul on his sleeve. At almost the same time, Trump forwards a tweet of the president of the United States hitting a woman, his political opponent from last year, in the back with a golf ball and knocking her down. Some very funny stuff, believe me.

The pope tells the crowd assembled in the square to forgive, even if the person you cannot force yourself to forgive is, say, a Trumpian monster, though he doesn’t name names. Those who cannot let things go, he says, “close our hearts to love for others.”

Yeah, well, what does he know? Much more than Trump has yet to figure out. One in four American voters is a Roman Catholic. And a third of those Catholics are Latino. They’re watching Trump, but they’re listening to Francis — on climate change, immigration, refugees, war and peace.

The pope’s approval rating in the United States was at 70 percent in a Pew survey at the start of this year, while Trump has been at about half that for much of the last few months. Throughout the world, every country but Russia (and to a small degree, Israel) has a lesser view of the United States under Trump.

For years at a time — make that decades — the home of the successor to St. Peter was a house of nasty intrigue, deceit and power put to awful use. Popes fathered wars, and children, had heretics executed or chained to a cell in the belly of Castel Sant’Angelo, the fortress that fronts Vatican City. The Vicar of Christ cut deals with dictators, including a devil’s bargain with Mussolini. With its institutional cover-up of pedophile clerics, the church showed the Mafia a thing or two about organized crime. In matters of sex, it was medieval and hypocritical. It was afraid of science.

Now the pope uses science to shame Trump, who stares down a parade of hurricanes and says, nothing to see there. “Whoever denies it has to go to scientists and ask them,” said Francis last week. “They speak very clearly. Scientists are precise.” Can a statue of Galileo in St. Peter’s Square be far behind?

On Wednesday, a glorious Roman morning with a bite of fall in the air, the pope holds his general audience. The goofy smile is electric. He’s buoyant. The day before, Trump spoke to the United Nations, a tweet dressed up as a speech. He made a very real threat to wipe out a nation of 25 million people. He would, if he has to, “totally destroy North Korea.”

This has always been the implication of having more nukes than the other guy. But diplomacy — another word for Trump to look up — is the art of war by other means. Trump pushed America first, which sounded like “Me, me, me.” He played the petulance card, the grievance card.

As Trump went low, the pope went high. A few days earlier, Francis was asked about a Trump decision that could break up the families of 800,000 Dreamers in the United States. “If he is a good pro-life believer, he must understand that family is the cradle of life and one must defend its unity,” Francis answered.

People who are hung up on doctrinal changes — angels-on-the-head-of-a-pin arguments over whether divorced Catholics can receive communion or not — are missing the big picture. Behold the Francis doctrine: an expansion of “pro-life” to include help for refugees, the poor, the powerless.

Trump doesn’t get it. His nominee to the Vatican is Callista Gingrich, wife of Newt Gingrich. Newt, you must remember, carried on a six-year extramarital affair with her while impeaching a president for having an affair. Her appointment was something the Vatican of old would do — a cynical ploy. The Vatican of today can marvel at how quickly history pivots on a single person.
# # #

[Timothy Egan writes "Outposts," a column at the NY Fishwrap online. Egan — winner of both a Pulitzer Prize in 2001 as a member of a team of reporters who wrote the series "How Race Is Lived in America" and a National Book Award (The Worst Hard Time in 2006) — graduated from the University of Washington with a degree in journalism, and was awarded an honorary doctorate of humane letters by Whitman College in 2000 for his environmental writings. Egan's most recent book is The Immortal Irishman: The Irish Revolutionary Who Became an American Hero (2016). See all other books by Eags here.]

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Thursday, September 21, 2017

Today, Point-Counterpoint: Ta-Nehisi Coates V. George Packer

Just last eve, an unofficial local follower of this blog e-mailed a query about Ta-Nehisi Coates, who appeared in this blog as recently as September 9, 2017. Then, this very morning, the blogger stumbled upon a rejoinder to Coates' essay by The New Yorker's George Packer. The blogger has taken the easy way out and included several links to Coates's most recent essay throughout this post. The blogger can hear echoes of a snarled description about this blogger's adolescent work-ethic: "You're so lazy, you stink!" If this is the (fair & balanced) reiteration of the hoary Foo-bird joke ("If the Foo $hits... wear it", so be it.

[x The Atlantic]
George Packer Responds To Ta-Nehisi Coates
By George Packer


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There’s a lot to admire in Ta-Nehisi Coates’s new essay. It’s one of those pieces that grabs you with its first paragraph and never lets go. The argument keeps gathering force, building on the striking imagery (“Trump cracked the glowing amulet open”) and the caustic scouring of the polemics (opioids are treated as a sickness, crack was punished as a crime), to the very end. At its heart is the undeniable truth that racism remains fundamental in American politics.

It’s the overwhelming, the single cause that Coates finds for the phenomenon of Donald Trump. It’s a cause no one in America should ever bet against. And it shapes every premise Coates lays down. Because he takes all white American political behavior as undifferentiated and founded on the idea of race, he faults me for writing a pre-election essay in The New Yorker about the white working class. Since a majority of all categories of white people ended up voting for Trump, why single out white voters without college degrees, unless it’s to absolve them of their racism by invoking other factors, like class? Or worse, to extend them sympathy, since they’ve fallen into the lower depths where, unlike black Americans, they don’t “naturally” belong? Or, worse still, to absolve myself?

During the campaign, poll after poll showed that the two main indicators of support for Trump, in differing degrees, were varieties of bias and a sense of economic decline. I wrote about white working-class voters because their political behavior is increasingly different from that of well-educated, professional whites, in ways that paint the current map of America red. From Roosevelt to Reagan, Clinton, Obama, and Trump, they’ve become the key swing vote. The razor-thin election results in the Rust Belt bore my essay out.

At the heart of American politics there is racism. But it’s not alone—there’s also greed, and broken communities, and partisan hatred, and ignorance. Any writer who wants to understand American politics has to find a way into the minds of Trump voters. Any progressive politician who wants to gain power has to find common interests with some of them, without waiting for the day of reckoning first to scourge white Americans of their original sin. This effort is one of the essential tasks of politics.

You didn’t hear it from Coates, but in my essay I discussed the relation between race and class, arguing that bigotry is fixed and immutable in some people, while in others bias can be manipulated by a demagogue like Trump depending on circumstances. I added that anyone who supported Trump, for whatever reason, “will have tried to put a dangerous and despicable man in charge of the country.” I didn’t excuse or extend comfort to anyone. Analysis isn’t justification—unless you think, as Coates does, that the entire subject is illegitimate for scrutiny because it’s an evasion of the truth about white supremacy.

Some misreadings are so serious that they’re baffling—as when Coates accuses me of dismissing concerns about police brutality, draconian sentencing, and other wrongs, just because I quoted Lawrence Summers using the word “diversity” in describing the Democratic coalition. It’s the kind of distortion brought on by zealous pursuit of the single cause. Did I also fail to understand that there’s such a thing as white identity politics? I started reporting on it a decade ago, when Sarah Palin—Trump’s John the Baptist—first strutted onto the scene. Ignoring the black working class because its condition is supposedly the proper order of things? A central part of my most recent book, The Unwinding (2013), is about a black factory worker and her struggling community in Youngstown, Ohio. I don’t ask Coates to read everything I’ve written, but I’ll ask him to stop thinking he can see into my soul and find the true source of my ideas in my white privilege.

When you construct an entire teleology on one cause—even a cause as powerful and abiding as white racism—you face the temptation to leave out anything that complicates the thesis. So Coates minimizes sexism—Trump’s disgusting language and the visceral hatred of many of his supporters for Hillary Clinton—background noise. He downplays xenophobia, even though foreigners were far more often the objects of Trump’s divisive rhetoric and policy proposals than black Americans. (Of all his insults, the only one Trump felt obliged to withdraw was his original foray into birtherism.) Coates doesn’t try to explain why, at one point in the campaign, a plurality of Republicans supported Ben Carson over the other nine candidates, all white. He omits the weird statistic that slightly more black and Latino voters and slightly fewer whites went for Trump than for Mitt Romney. He doesn’t even mention the estimated eight and a half million Americans who voted for President Obama and then for Trump—even though they made the difference. No need to track the descending nihilism of the Republican Party. The urban-rural divide is a sham.

Then there’s the fact that Trump’s support among working-class whites has fallen from two-thirds on Election Day to 43 percent last month. Has Trump gone soft on the bigotry? Or has he failed to deliver on the rest of his package—cleaning up corruption and doing amazing deals and making America great again? Coates might need more than one cause to explain it.

That 46 percent of voters, overwhelmingly white, chose Trump—that some chose him because of bigotry and some while overlooking it—that more than a third of the country still supports him: all this is hideous enough. But we live in a time of total vindication, when complication and concession are considered weaknesses, and counter examples are proof of false consciousness. This spirit has taken over Coates’s writing. In this essay and other recent work, he’s turned away from the self-examining quality of his earlier writing to a literary style that’s oracular. He has become the most influential writer in America today; this latest Atlantic essay is already being taught in college courses. He has never written more powerfully, and the sentences sweep you along because they don’t yield for a second to anything.

But the style of no-compromise sacrifices things that are too important for readers to surrender without a second thought. It flattens out history into a single fixed truth, so that an event in 2016 is the same as an event in 1805, the most recent election erases the one before, the Obama years turn into an illusion. It brushes aside policy proposals as distractions, and politics itself as an immoral bargain. It weakens the liberal value of individual thought, and therefore individual responsibility, by subordinating thoughts and individuals to structures and groups. It begins with the essential point that race is an idea, and ends up just about making race an essence. # # #

[After receiving a BA (government and international relations) from Yale University, George Packer served in the Peace Corps in Togo, West Africa. Packer has been a staff writer for The New Yorker since May 2003. His most recent books include The Assassins' Gate: America in Iraq (2005), Betrayed (2009), and The Unwinding: An Inner History of the New America (2013).]

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Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Roll Over, Thomas Jefferson — Make Way For The Pursuit Of... Solidarity?

With the Dumba$$-in-Chief's trash-talking speech at the United Nations General Assembly echoing in this blogger's nauseated consciousness, it helps to read the words of genuine critic of the Dumba$$: law professor Jedediah Purdy of Duke University. If this is (fair & balanced) disposal of fatuous nonsense, so be it.

[x Politico]
Is America Still A "Nation Of Ideas"?
By Jedediah Purdy


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It is a bipartisan commonplace to talk about America as a nation of ideas. House Speaker Paul Ryan declared in 2016 that the United States is “the only nation founded on an idea, not an identity.” President Barack Obama said pretty much the same thing when he won reelection in 2012. Alexander Hamilton himself opened the first of the Federalist Papers with this thunderclap: It was up to Americans “to decide... whether societies of men are really capable or not of establishing good government from reflection and choice, or whether they are forever destined to depend for their political constitutions on accident and force.” What could guide “reflection and choice” but ideas?

But the image of the United States as a country of ideas suffered a severe setback in November, and it has been reeling ever since. Donald Trump’s unexpected presidential win violated so many norms—civility, avoiding explicit racism, the rudimentary appearance of consistency—that a subtler omission was easy to miss. Trump had no truck with the paean to America as a constitutional nation, a continuous inheritance of principle running from Lexington and Concord through Philadelphia and Gettysburg, Selma and the March on Washington, and down to today. The mogul from Trump Tower talked instead about warring tribes, the need for “Christians” to “stick together” (as he claimed Muslims do), the danger from “Mexicans” (including American-born judges of Mexican descent) and, of course, zero-sum “deals” that would surely cow the Chinese and the Iranians. And Trump was full of contempt for the fine talk of more conventional politicians, deeming the principles they preached just hypocritical horseshit.

Trump’s victory was a vivid reminder of something that has been easy for many people to forget in recent decades. As often as Americans have imagined that they inhabit a country of ideas, many have insisted instead that it is a nation of identity, a land of blood and soil, more about who you are than about what you affirm. Then in August, hundreds of white supremacists gathered in Charlottesville, Virginia, to rally to the blood-and-soil idea—some chanting that very phrase—and one of them murdered a counter-protester in an automobile attack that could easily have killed many more. Notoriously, President Trump responded by lamenting violence and bigotry on “many sides,” implying that the white-tribe view of America is no less legitimate than its opposite.

As nation-of-identity politics has risen, nation-of-ideas practice has been battered. In his seven months in office, Trump has shown indifference to and contempt for the notion of shared principles, flouting basic ethical norms of financial disclosure, trolling the American institutions that elected leaders usually treat with some deference, like federal courts and the press. He has shown consistent contempt for the very idea of political principle in favor of an erratic personal code built around loyalty and betrayal, esteem for money as a sign of virtue (or at least virility) and a penchant for any utterance with shock value. As many have observed, it is as if the national id had occupied the White House and announced to its constitutional superego, “You’re fired!”

Trump might seem a singularly disruptive individual, but there are signs that he is a symptom of a bigger underlying shift. The well-regarded World Values Survey recently asked Americans, on a scale of 1 to 10, how important it was for them to live in a democracy. Only 30 percent of Americans born since the 1980s chose the highest value of 10, compared with more than 70 percent of those born before World War II. Since 1995, the share of well-to-do Americans (those in the top 20 percent of income) who approve of having “a strong leader who doesn’t have to bother with Congress or elections” has doubled, to 40 percent. Strongman politics fits naturally with nationalist identity-mongering, because a leader who acts for “the people” (the “real” people, that is) doesn’t need moral justification; he can act on the simpler imperative to protect what’s ours. Public trust in the Supreme Court, often regarded as the special voice of principle in American government, has fallen overall and fractured along ideological lines.

We all know the lived experience of the new American tribalism, both the outward-facing kind—us, the United States, versus them, the rest of the world or at least our chosen foes—and the inward-facing kind—the bubble neighborhoods, the fractured media, the rush of blood upon seeing bumper stickers for the other candidate. We know the sense that there is not even a common premise of fact in an argument over a new police shooting or the latest Trump tweet. There is a sense that maybe there is no way out of these foxholes, that this clash of tribes rules out even an imperfect common understanding or a partial overlap of common principles that might breed progress. At a bubble-neighborhood musical event recently, I stepped aside for a well-groomed, younger middle-aged guy whose shirt said, “I’VE BEEN TO THE FUTURE. WE WON.” At first, I kind of liked it. Then I wondered, what did WE do to them? What would they have done to us, if they had won instead? And who drew the lines?

So, are Paul Ryan, Barack Obama and other nation-of-ideas defenders just hypocrites, or dupes? Is it better to look the American beast in the face and admit that it has always been a regime of “majoritarian bandits,” as the writer Ta-Nehisi Coates judged in his book Between the World and Me? Is “American ideas” one of those phrases, like “how women are” or “the will of the West to survive” that are to thinking as huffing gasoline is to breathing? Or is there still value in Americans committing ourselves to shared ideas? The answer depends on what those ideas, in 2017, should be.

The nation-of-ideas conceit has always been at best half myth. Yes, American citizenship for the first hundred years of independence was a radical experiment in political equality. Universal male suffrage, widespread property ownership and social mobility made the country the most democratic in the world—but only for those who counted as citizens, meaning white men. The United States shut out and suppressed its domestic outsiders, especially slaves and other nonwhites, more brutally and categorically than Old World elites did their disenfranchised laborers and peasants. This was the most equal and the most unequal of countries.

No one knew this better than Frederick Douglass, who, in 1852—165 years before Trump notoriously praised him as “somebody who’s done an amazing job” and “is getting recognized more and more”—told a group of New York abolitionists, “This Fourth of July is yours, not mine,” and “your celebration is a sham; your boasted liberty an unholy license.” Douglass’ onetime mentor, William Lloyd Garrison, had said much the same in an 1829 Fourth of July address, complaining of “our hypocritical cant about the unalienable rights of man.” Five years after Douglass’ address, Roger Taney, the long-serving and eminent chief justice of the Supreme Court, confirmed the abolitionists’ claim that American ideals were really white privilege: Slavery was part of the constitutional order, he ruled in Dred Scott v. Sandford (1857), and a descendant of enslaved Africans could never become an American citizen. True, Taney conceded, Thomas Jefferson had written that “all men are created equal,” but when a slaveholder wrote those words, a candid reader must assume he meant all white men. The principles, as universal as they sounded, really advanced only one of the tribes.

The Civil War and the constitutional amendments that followed abolished chattel slavery and made citizenship theoretically race-neutral, but they hardly buried the identity-first strand of American nationalism. Teddy Roosevelt, hero to many latter-day progressives for his war on monopolies and attacks on money in politics, ran with a blood-and-soil crowd that loved to praise “the Anglo-Saxon peoples” and warn that immigrants from lower races were diluting the national stock. (The nationalist internationalism of former White House strategist Steve Bannon, with its goal of linking up like-minded parties in Britain, France and elsewhere, carries echoes of the Roosevelt crowd’s axis of white people.) And whenever black people or any other disfavored group has made major advances, an identitarian reaction has followed, from the white supremacists who broke Reconstruction and established Jim Crow, to South Carolina segregationist Strom Thurmond’s Dixiecrat presidential campaign in 1948 and Alabama Governor George “Segregation Forever” Wallace’s presidential run in 1968, a direct reaction to that decade’s gains in black civil rights.

The roots of the Trump movement are deep and quintessentially American, and after decades in abeyance, they are blossoming mightily. Why now? It’s not all the Trump effect. For one thing, we’re living through the long unraveling of the Cold War era. The modern notion of an American consensus around personal liberty, legal equality and a few other principles was in good part the product of that time. Warring with the Soviet Union for global influence, especially among nonwhite post-colonial countries, American elites realized the United States could no longer afford to be seen as an apartheid state. The Justice Department urged the Supreme Court to declare segregation unconstitutional, the Democrats broke with their Southern flank to support civil rights legislation, and organized conservatism renounced its nativist, America-first wing and stopped welcoming open racists. Meantime, the Democrats and the labor movement, eager to be seen as patriotic, broke or expelled their anti-capitalist radicals and positioned themselves as squarely inside the American order of shared prosperity.

It seemed to work pretty well in decades when wealth and income were distributed more equally than at any other time in the past century. Scholars and pundits got into the habit of describing an America that was deeply unified around the shared ideas of liberty and equality, even though working out the meaning of those ideas had been a long struggle.

The past year has seen the full-throated return of what the Cold War consensus had repressed. After Republicans spent years accusing the thoroughly moderate, market-friendly Obama administration of “socialism,” young voters sick of precarious jobs, high debt and inequality decided they might as well try it and flocked to Bernie Sanders in the Democratic primaries. But the most vivid revival was Trump’s America-first nativism, a familiar strain in American politics until the decades after World War II. Trump, with a marketer’s nose for the unsatisfied appetite, tested whether there would still be consequences for bucking Cold War internationalism in favor of American identitarianism. His presidency brings back a kind of discourse that was shut out of official high politics during the Cold War (even as right-wing politicians dog-whistled to it), but has been at least as important as high principle for most of the country’s history.

If America is now going to recover its sense of a country based on something more than competing tribes, it will mean acknowledging that American divisions have deep roots and that grappling with them will take more than appeals to the better angels of our nature.

At the end of the speech in which he famously denounced Independence Day as having nothing to do with him or other enslaved people, Douglass veered to say that what could save the country from itself was the ideal of the Declaration of Independence—real equality among citizens—and that his listeners should not turn their backs on that ideal but begin to take it seriously. He might have been right. Principles are always woven partly out of myth and hypocrisy, and in practice they are always better for some people than others; but they are also a way of trying to be accountable to people who are not like you, people you don’t like, even people who frighten or disgust you. Self-affirmation doesn’t do that. When it has been most productive, the conceit of “American ideas” has motivated people to confront the country’s crimes and hypocrisies and work to overcome them.

The Cold War consensus isn’t something we can recover in a new global environment, and we shouldn’t want to. It suppressed real points of conflict that have only intensified since. In setting aside questions of who gets what in favor of making the overall economy larger, it left massive racial gaps in family wealth, incarceration and vulnerability to both crime and police violence. Respectable commentators in recent years dismissed this kind of distributional consideration as un-American “class warfare.” Warfare or not, it now seems a simple acknowledgment of the facts—deep inequality and the resentment it breeds—which the country will have to grapple with for any revival of common ideas to materialize.

Solidarity is one idea that might help begin coming to terms with these conflicts. Trump used the word in his inaugural address—surprisingly, the first time a president had done so. In his mouth, it had a nationalist meaning, but historically speaking, it is a word for robust democracy—from the Polish workers’ movement of the same name that helped bring down the Soviet-backed communist state in the 1980s to the social democratic governments of Europe that built, for a few decades after World War II, the most egalitarian societies the modern world has seen. It evokes being in a shared struggle, lending a hand, understanding that people can flourish only with support from one another.

Coming together does not mean embracing Trump’s “many sides” framing. Some American inheritances, such as nostalgia for the Confederacy’s racist social order, are flatly incompatible with real solidarity, and must be fully repudiated. And like other values, such as liberty and equality, solidarity inevitably has left-leaning and right-leaning inflections that might seem at odds—more emphasis on public higher education, on the one hand, and respect for and identification with law enforcement on the other, for instance. But institutions such as unions, public schools and religious communities still connect people with very different partisan outlooks. The fight over repealing Obamacare, with its unexpected surge of rural conservatives recognizing their communities’ reliance on Medicaid, is a reminder that when institutions really do tie people together and serve their essential needs, those institutions are harder to shred by vilifying them or identifying them with the other tribe.

Today, too, solidarity evokes the difficulty of building movements and coalitions among people who may not know, like or trust one another. Solidarity is a call not to double down on self-affirming rallies, but to recognize lines of commonality that have been invisible—between debt-burdened college graduates and blue-collar workers who cannot earn enough to buy a house, for instance. It asks whether rural gun owners who say they mistrust the government can listen to Black Lives Matter activists who grew up fearing the police, and whether both can listen to community leaders who say that under-policing and lack of gun control can burden poor urban neighborhoods just as police violence can.

The metaphor of “listening” is too polite to capture the reality of a time of conflict and mistrust. But what it suggests is real: the need to get outside our own heads, take seriously that we share the country with people unlike ourselves and ask, quite apart from whether we like them, what we have in common and what we don’t yet have but might. Douglass was right. American self-congratulation for our supposed principles is still the worst thing about the country—except for the alternative, bare self-affirmation without principle. Maybe the high ideals of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, some 240 years later, should be reprioritized as liberty, equality and the hard working-out of things we can have in common—that is, the pursuit of solidarity. # # #

[Jedediah Purdy is the Robinson O. Everett Professor of Law at Duke University. His most recent book, After Nature: Environmental Law, Politics, and Ethics in the Anthropocene (2015) was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize. See other Jedediah Purdy books here. Purdy received a BA, summa cum laude (social sciences) from Harvard University and a JD from the Yale Law School.]

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Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Roll Over, Orbiting Sputnik — The Newest Existential Threat To The USA Is RT (Russia Today) Via Satellite

Wow, today's essay is looooooong, but worth it.The United States of America is under attack, not militarily, but by entities in cyberspace. This hybrid war and its aim is to weaken this country from within — by undermining US institutions. Hybrid war reminds this blogger of the old New Yorker cartoon by Peter Steiner:

and the punch line should be: "On the Internet, nobody knows you're the enemy." If this is a (fair & balanced) history of what happened prior to the election of 2016, so be it.

[x NY Fishwrap 'Zine]
RT, Sputnik And Russia’s New Theory Of War
By Jim Rutenberg


TagCrowd cloud of the following piece of writing

created at TagCrowd.com

One morning in January 2016, Martin Steltner showed up at his office in the state courthouse building in western Berlin. Steltner, who has served for more than a dozen years as the spokesman for the Berlin state prosecutor, resembles a detective out of classic crime fiction: crisp suit, wavy gray hair and a gallows humor that comes with having seen it all. There was the 2009 case of the therapist who mistakenly killed two patients in an Ecstasy-infused session gone wrong. The Great Poker Heist of 2010, in which masked men stormed a celebrity-studded poker tournament with machetes and made off with a quarter-million dollars. The 2012 episode involving the Canadian porn star who killed and ate his boyfriend and then sent the leftovers home in the mail. Steltner embraced the oddball aspect of his job; he kept a picture of Elvis Presley on the wall of his office.

But even Steltner found the phone calls he received that morning confounding. They came from police officers from towns far outside Berlin, who reported that protests were erupting, seemingly out of nowhere, on their streets. “They are demonstrating — ‘Save our children,’ ‘No attacks from immigrants on our children’ and some things like that,” Steltner told me when I met him in Berlin recently.

The police were calling Steltner because this was ostensibly his office’s fault. The protesters were angry over the Berlin prosecutor’s supposed refusal to indict three Arab migrants who, they said, raped a 13-year-old girl from Berlin’s tight-knit Russian-German community.

Steltner, who would certainly have been informed if such a case had come up for prosecution, had heard nothing of it. He called the Berlin Police Department, which informed him that a 13-year-old Russian-German girl had indeed gone missing a week before. When she resurfaced a day later, she told her parents that three “Southern-looking men” — by which she meant Arab migrants — had yanked her off the street and taken her to a rundown apartment, where they beat and raped her.

But when the police interviewed the girl, whose name was Lisa, she changed her story. She had left home, it turned out, because she had gotten in trouble at school. Afraid of how her parents would react, she went to stay with a 19-year-old male friend. The kidnapping and gang rape, she admitted, never happened.

By then, however, the girl’s initial story was taking on a life of its own within the Russian-German community through word of mouth and Facebook — enough so that the police felt compelled to put out a statement debunking it. Then, over the weekend, Channel One, a Russian state-controlled news station with a large following among Russian-Germans, who watch it on YouTube and its website, ran a report presenting Lisa’s story as an example of the unchecked dangers Middle Eastern refugees posed to German citizens. Angela Merkel, it strongly implied, was refusing to address these threats, even as she opened German borders to hundreds of thousands of migrants. “According to Lisa’s parents,” the Channel One reporter said, “the police simply refuse to look for criminals.”

The following day in Berlin, Germany’s far-right National Democratic Party held a protest at a plaza in Marzahn, a heavily Russian neighborhood. The featured speaker was an adult cousin of Lisa’s, who repeated the original allegations while standing in front of signs reading “Stop Foreign Infiltration!” and “Secure Borders!” The crowd was tiny, not much more than a dozen people. But it was big enough to attract the attention of RT, Russia’s state-financed international cable network, which presents local-language newscasts in numerous countries, including Germany and the United States. A crew from the network’s video service, Ruptly, arrived with a camera. The footage was on YouTube that afternoon.

That same day, Sputnik, a brash Russian-government-run news and commentary site that models itself on BuzzFeed, ran a story raising allegations of a police cover-up. Lisa’s case was not isolated, Sputnik argued; other refugee rapists, it warned, might be running free. By the start of the following week, protests were breaking out in neighborhoods with large Russian-German populations, which is why the local police were calling Steltner. In multiple interviews, including with RT and Sputnik, Steltner reiterated that the girl had recanted the original story about the kidnapping and the gang rape. In one interview with the German media, he said that in the course of the investigation, authorities had found evidence that the girl had sex with a 23-year-old man months earlier, which would later lead to a sexual-abuse conviction for the man, whose sentence was suspended. But the original, unrelated and debunked story continued circulating, drawing the interest of the German mainstream media, which pointed out inconsistencies in the Russian reports. None of that stopped the protests, which culminated in a demonstration the following Saturday, Jan. 23, by 700 people outside the Chancellery, Merkel’s office. Ruptly covered that, too.

An official in the Merkel government told me that the administration was completely perplexed, at first. Then, a few days later, Russia’s foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, held a news conference in Moscow. Bringing up Lisa’s story, he cast doubt on the official version of events. There was no way, he argued, that Lisa left home voluntarily. Germany, he suggested, was “covering up reality in a politically correct manner for the sake of domestic politics.” Two days later, RT ran a segment reporting that despite all the official denials, the case was “not so simple.” The Russian Embassy called Steltner and asked to meet, he told me. The German foreign ministry informed him that this was now a diplomatic issue.

The whole affair suddenly appeared a lot less mystifying. A realization took hold in the foreign ministry, the intelligence services and the Chancellery: Germany had been hit.

Officials in Germany [PDF] and at NATO headquarters in Brussels view the Lisa case, as it is now known, as an early strike in a new information war Russia is waging against the West. In the months that followed, politicians perceived by the Russian government as hostile to its interests would find themselves caught up in media storms that, in their broad contours, resembled the one that gathered around Merkel. They often involved conspiracy theories and outright falsehoods — sometimes with a tenuous connection to fact, as in the Lisa case, sometimes with no connection at all — amplified until they broke through into domestic politics. In other cases, they simply helped promote nationalist, far-left or far-right views that put pressure on the political center. What the efforts had in common was their agents: a loose network of Russian-government-run or -financed media outlets and apparently coordinated social-media accounts.

After RT and Sputnik gave platforms to politicians behind the British vote to leave the European Union, like Nigel Farage, a committee of the British Parliament released a report [PDF] warning that foreign governments may have tried to interfere with the referendum. Russia and China, the report argued, had an “understanding of mass psychology and of how to exploit individuals” and practiced a kind of cyberwarfare “reaching beyond the digital to influence public opinion.” When President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia visited the new French president, Emmanuel Macron, at the palace of Versailles in May, Macron spoke out about such influence campaigns at a news conference. Having prevailed weeks earlier in the election over Marine Le Pen — a far-right politician who had backed Putin’s annexation of Crimea and met with him in the Kremlin a month before the election — Macron complained that “Russia Today and Sputnik were agents of influence which on several occasions spread fake news about me personally and my campaign.”

But all of this paled in comparison with the role that Russian information networks are suspected to have played in the American presidential election of 2016. In early January, two weeks before Donald J. Trump took office, American intelligence officials released a declassified version of a report [PDF] — prepared jointly by the Central Intelligence Agency, Federal Bureau of Investigation and National Security Agency — titled “Assessing Russian Activities and Intentions in Recent U.S. Elections.” It detailed what an Obama-era Pentagon intelligence official, Michael Vickers, described in an interview in June with NBC News as “the political equivalent of 9/11.” “Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered an influence campaign in 2016 aimed at the US presidential election,” the authors wrote. “Russia’s goals were to undermine public faith in the US democratic process, denigrate Secretary Clinton and harm her electability and potential presidency.” According to the report, “Putin and the Russian government developed a clear preference for President-elect Trump.”

The intelligence assessment detailed some cloak-and-dagger activities, like the murky web of Russian (if not directly government-affiliated or -financed) hackers who infiltrated voting systems and stole gigabytes’ worth of email and other documents from the Democratic National Committee and the Clinton campaign. But most of the assessment concerned machinations that were plainly visible to anyone with a cable subscription or an internet connection: the coordinated activities of the TV and online-media properties and social-media accounts that made up, in the report’s words, “Russia’s state-run propaganda machine.”

The assessment devoted nearly half its pages to a single cable network: RT. The Kremlin started RT — shortened from the original Russia Today — a dozen years ago to improve Russia’s image abroad. It operates in several world capitals and is carried on cable and satellite networks across the United States, Europe, Asia and the Middle East. RT and the rest of the Russian information machine were working with “covert intelligence operations” to do no less than “undermine the US-led liberal democratic order,” the assessment stated. And, it warned ominously, “Moscow will apply lessons learned from its Putin-ordered campaign aimed at the US presidential election to future influence efforts worldwide, including against US allies and their election processes.” On September 11, RT announced that the Justice Department had asked a company providing all production and operations services for RT America in the United States to register as a “foreign agent” under the Foreign Agents Registration Act [FARA], a World War II-era law that was originally devised for Nazi propaganda. Also on September 11, Yahoo News reported that a former correspondent at Sputnik was speaking with the FBI as part of an investigation into whether it was violating FARA.

Russia has dismissed the intelligence-community claims as so much Cold War-era Yankee hysteria. Margarita Simonyan, RT’s chief editor, told me the allegations against the network smacked of “McCarthyism.” Still, Russian officials are remarkably open about the aims of RT and Sputnik: to “break the monopoly of the Anglo-Saxon global information streams,” as Putin himself put it during a visit to RT’s Moscow headquarters in 2013. Russia’s argument about RT’s rightful place in the American media landscape is not all that different from the one Roger Ailes made when he started Fox News: If you thought Fox looked conservative, he would say, maybe it’s because you were liberal. In Russia’s case, it’s: If RT looks biased, it’s because you live in a bubble of Western arrogance and hypocrisy. You’re the one who’s biased.

Plenty of RT’s programming, to outward appearances, is not qualitatively different from conventional opinion-infused cable news. RT America’s current roster of hosts includes the former New York Times correspondent Chris Hedges, Larry King and the former MSNBC star Ed Schultz, who told me that the network allows him to cover news that may not otherwise “get the proper attention that we think it deserves.” (And, he added, “the health care is outstanding.”) Its fans point to its coverage of political perspectives that aren’t prominent on mainstream networks — voices from the Occupy movement, the libertarian right and third parties like the Green Party. The network has been nominated for four International Emmy Awards and one Daytime Emmy.

This makes RT and Sputnik harder for the West to combat than shadowy hackers. You can tighten your internet security protocols to protect against data breaches, run counterhacking operations to take out infiltrators, sanction countries with proven links to such activities. But RT and Sputnik operate on the stated terms of Western liberal democracy; they count themselves as news organizations, protected by the First Amendment and the libertarian ethos of the internet.

So over the past decade, even as the Putin government clamped down on its own free press — and as Voice of America and Radio Free Europe, the U.S.-government-run broadcasting services, were largely squeezed off the Russian radio dial — RT easily acquired positions on the basic cable rosters of Comcast, Cox, Charter, DirecTV and Fios, among others. The network’s offshoots — RT UK, RT Arabic, RT Deutsch, RT Español — operate just as freely in other countries (though British regulators have reprimanded [PDF] RT UK for content “materially misleading or not duly impartial”). Macron might have grumbled about RT to Putin, but France is not standing in the way of RT’s plans to start a new French channel.

By standard media-industry metrics, RT is relatively small. Numbers that RT commissioned in 2015 from the polling firm Ipsos showed it was watched, weekly, by eight million people in the United States, placing it among the top five foreign networks here and in Europe. (Ipsos also found RT was watched by 70 million per week globally; the BBC, using a different polling firm, says its own audience is 372 million per week.) But American television measures itself by the Nielsen ratings, which RT doesn’t pay to be measured by. Nielsen shows Fox News with an average audience of 2.3 million people nightly, MSNBC with 1.6 million nightly and CNN with more than one million nightly. It’s a good bet that if RT thought it would rank anywhere near them, it would pay to be rated.

But the ratings are almost beside the point. RT might not have amassed an audience that remotely rivals CNN’s in conventional terms, but in the new, “democratized” media landscape, it doesn’t need to. Over the past several years, the network has come to form the hub of a new kind of state media operation: one that travels through the same diffuse online channels, chasing the same viral hits and memes, as the rest of the Twitter-and-Facebook-age media. In the process, Russia has built the most effective propaganda operation of the 21st century so far, one that thrives in the feverish political climates that have descended on many Western publics.

In April, I went to visit Dmitri Peskov, Putin’s press secretary, at his Kremlin office. Peskov, who is 49, works in the presidential administrative headquarters, a prewar building with a grand facade but cramped hallways and offices inside. He has been a spokesman for Putin since Putin first took office in 2000 and is almost always hovering on the edge of the frame in Putin’s photo ops, whether it’s at a gathering of international heads of state or as the president is positioning his pads for a star turn in an exhibition hockey game. The whole presidential-press-attaché-as-celebrity thing is finally starting to hit Russia — Peskov’s lavish wedding to a former Russian Olympic ice-dancing gold medalist in 2015 made the tabloids — but his work look is more Politburo than Paul Smith. He has bushy reddish-brown hair and a mustache, and always appears to be suppressing a sly smile, even when he is frowning.

When I asked Peskov what Putin meant by RT’s mission to “break the monopoly of Anglo-Saxon global information streams,” he went into something of a dissertation, speaking in English with obvious relish and little room for interjections. “The whole trend of global media was set by Anglo-Saxons,” he began. “It’s like the first conveyor belt. It was created by Mr. Ford in the United States.” (It wasn’t, but Ford was the first major manufacturer to use the technology on a grand scale.) But now, he went on, “the conveyor line is not only working in GM, in Ford — it’s also working in Citroën, in Renault, in Mercedes-Benz, in Toyota, everywhere in the world.”

Something like the dissemination of Ford’s conveyor belt, he said, was now happening in media; the sort of global news networks the West built were being replicated by Russia, to great effect. What was making “the whole story successful,” he said, “is a tectonic change of the global system that all of a sudden started to develop 10 years ago.”

The transformation and acceleration of information technology, Peskov said, had unmoored the global economy from real value. Perception alone could move markets or crash them. “We’ve never seen bubbles like we’ve seen in the greatest economy in the world, the United States,” he said. The same free flow of information had produced “a new clash of interests,” and so began “an informational disaster — an informational war.”

Peskov argued that this was not an information war of Russia’s choosing; it was a “counteraction.” He brought up the “color revolutions” throughout Eastern Europe and Central Asia, which led to the ousters of Russian-friendly governments in Ukraine, Georgia and Kyrgyzstan in the mid-2000s. Russia blamed American nongovernmental organizations for fomenting the upheavals. But now, Peskov argued, all you might need to shake up the geopolitical order was a Twitter account. “Now you can reach hundreds of millions in a minute,” he said.

By way of example, he pointed to “this girl, from show business, Kim Kardashian.” Kardashian is among the most popular people in all of social media, with 55 million Twitter followers, nearly 18 million more than President Trump. “Let’s imagine that one day she says, ‘My supporters — do this,’ ” Peskov said. “This will be a signal that will be accepted by millions and millions of people. And she’s got no intelligence, no interior ministry, no defense ministry, no KGB.” This, he said, was the new reality: the global proliferation of the kinds of reach and influence that were once reserved for the great powers and, more recently, great media conglomerates. Even Peskov sounded slightly amazed considering the possibilities. “The new reality creates a perfect opportunity for mass disturbances,” he said, “or for initiating mass support or mass disapproval.”

One way of looking at the activities of Russia’s information machine is as a resumption of the propaganda fight between the United States and the USSR that began immediately following the Second World War. In the late 1940s, the Marshall Plan, the herculean development project helmed by Secretary of State George Marshall, flooded postwar Europe with money and advisers to help rebuild cities, advance democracy and form an integrated economic zone. Joseph Stalin immediately saw it as a threat — and saw propaganda as one of his best weapons to contain it.

In 1947, Stalin formed the Communist Information Bureau (Cominform), a Belgrade-headquartered forum to coordinate messaging among European Communist parties. Cominform used Communist newspapers, pamphlets and posters to paint the Marshall Plan as an American plot to subjugate Europe. A representative Soviet poster distributed in Vienna showed an American — identified by American-flag shirt cuffs — offering aid packages with one hand while plundering Austria’s gold with the other. Radio Moscow — the state-run international broadcaster — and Soviet-supported newspapers throughout Europe accused the “imperialist” United States of pursuing a plan of “dollar domination” to make the Continent dependent on American goods and services, and of conscripting local youth to fight American proxy wars elsewhere.

Writing in The New York Times that year, the correspondent Anne O’Hare McCormick recounted false reports in the Red Army newspaper in Vienna that the locals were afraid to walk the streets at night lest American soldiers rob and mug them — propaganda, she wrote, that “may not convince, but it adds to the confusion between truth and falsehood and fosters that darkness of the mind in which dictatorships operate.” In a 1947 letter to George Marshall’s undersecretary, Robert A. Lovett, William C. Chanler, a wartime Defense Department official, urged a response, warning that “we are making the same mistake that was made with Hitler.”

For the counterinformation campaign, the US government enlisted journalists, including the Washington Post Pulitzer winner Alfred Friendly and the Christian Science Monitor’s Roscoe Drummond; Hollywood filmmakers; and the top marketers of Madison Avenue, including McCann-Erickson and Young and Rubicam. The new effort — which eventually fell under a new United States Information Agency — produced upbeat posters with slogans like “Whatever the weather, we only reach welfare together,” which offered a bright contrast to the Communists’ anti-Marshall Plan messaging. Operating on the theory that local voices would have more credibility than American ones, it fed news to foreign reporters about how well the Marshall Plan was progressing in their countries and recruited top European directors to produce hundreds of news features and documentaries that promoted “Western values” like free trade and representative democracy.

America went into the propaganda war with distinct advantages. At the time, the Marshall Plan was pumping $13 billion into Europe, while the Soviets were taking $14 billion out in the form of reparations and resource seizures; America’s image abroad was as squeaky clean as it would ever be. “This was the time when finally the United States came of age as an international power — when it still had its virginity, as it were,” David Reynolds, a Cambridge University history professor, told me.

America’s midcentury propaganda success set the tone for the decades to come. It was not entirely a matter of America’s having a better story to tell, and savvier storytellers, than the Soviet Union did. Soviet propaganda did, in fact, work on the people it reached. A controlled study conducted by a professor at Florida State University in 1970 found that Americans who listened to Radio Moscow broadcasts developed more open attitudes toward the USSR than those of average Americans. The problem was that very few Americans did hear Radio Moscow: It was available only on shortwave radio and on a handful of American stations — including WNYC in New York — reaching less than 2 percent of the adult population in the United States as of late 1966. Meanwhile, Voice of America, the United States’ equivalent service offering a mix of news, music and entertainment, was reaching 23 percent of the Soviet adult population by the early 1970s. Later studies [PDF] found that up to 40 percent of the Soviet Union’s adult population listened to “Western broadcasting” of one sort or another, in spite of aggressive Soviet signal-jamming efforts.

And unlike the Soviets, the United States benefited from the existence of a vast ecosystem of nongovernment media that, even when it crossed swords with the American government, still reflected an American outlook and implicitly promoted American cultural values. The first international, 24-hour networks to come online in the 1980s, like CNN, were American, and they provided their audience — which eventually included many behind the Iron Curtain — an unsparing view of the last days of Communism: student protesters staring down tanks in Tiananmen Square, protests and strikes in Poland, East Germans exulting on the ruins of the Berlin Wall. When Mikhail Gorbachev signed his resignation, ceding power to the new presidency of Boris Yeltsin in the last official act of Soviet Communism, he invited CNN to capture the moment in his Kremlin office suite. Finding his own pen out of ink, Gorbachev turned to the CNN president at the time, Tom Johnson, who lent Gorbachev the Mont Blanc he had in his breast pocket. After making sure the pen wasn’t American-made, the last Soviet leader used it to sign one of the most important documents in Russian history. “You have built your empire better than I built mine,” he told Johnson.

Mikhail Lesin, too, wanted to build an empire. Around the time of the Soviet Union’s dissolution, he was in his mid-30s, running Video International, an early big Russian ad firm, of which he was a founder. Video International was credited with bringing modern, American-style techniques to Yeltsin’s 1996 re-election campaign, and after Yeltsin’s victory, the president rewarded Lesin by placing him in charge of his presidential communications operation.

Lesin was a sharp-witted hard drinker who was concerned about Russia’s image in the world. He had a vision for an international network that would familiarize Russia in the same way that CNN familiarized America. But the chaos of the later Yeltsin years, in which the ruble collapsed and Yeltsin’s government foundered, made such a thing impossible.

Lesin found a more receptive patron in Putin, who succeeded Yeltsin in 1999. Putin — who, as a deputy in the St. Petersburg mayor’s office half a decade earlier, once chauffeured Ted Turner around the city — was an attentive student of the power of television. At times, he could not contain his frustration with the way the foreign media covered Russia. “All they can talk about is crisis and breakdown,” he complained to a nationalist youth group in 2005.

That year, with the Russian economy rebounding thanks to strong oil prices, Lesin and Alexei Gromov, Putin’s press strategist, secured the approval and financing to start the network, which they called Russia Today. To run the new operation, they hired a 25-year-old TV reporter named Margarita Simonyan.

When she heard she got the job, “I almost fainted,” Simonyan told me recently. We were sitting on plush couches on an exclusive, dimly lit floor of Voronezh, a fashionable restaurant in the Khamovniki district in central Moscow. “Dr. No,” the James Bond film about a plan to disrupt the American space program, was on a TV screen opposite us. Before us was a spread of venison, oysters and shrimp, themselves an unsubtle statement: They were imported from Russia’s far east, a menu adjustment in response to the sanctions and countersanctions that had cut off Western food imports.

Simonyan, who is now 37, is petite with a wide face, dark hair and green eyes. Her name appears more times in the declassified US intelligence assessment than anyone’s besides Putin’s, but she seems a somewhat unlikely candidate for an American national-security threat. When the report dropped, she wrote on Twitter: “They are kidding, right?” At the restaurant, she told me: “I never planned to be a part of a weapon. I have two children, and I’m very, very peaceful. I don’t like wars. Any wars.”

Simonyan grew up poor in Krasnodar, a southern Russia river town, and was 11 when the Soviet Union collapsed. “We adored the fact that we are now going to be like America and taught like America and to be even patronized by America and be America’s little brother,” she told me. “It didn’t feel in any way humiliating or contradictory to the Russian pride.” Her infatuation with the United States led her to apply for a slot in a new State Department “future leaders” exchange program, which placed top students from the former Soviet Union in United States high schools to “ensure long-lasting peace and understanding between the U.S. and the countries of Eurasia.”

For one academic year, she attended a public high school in Bristol, NH. “She was fascinated with news,” Patricia Albert, whose parents hosted Simonyan, and who remains close with her, told me. “Maggie,” as the family still calls her, would sit transfixed every night when she joined them on the couch to watch the local news, “60 Minutes” and “CBS Evening News With Dan Rather.” But she also came to resent some of her American classmates for what she viewed as their sheltered naïveté. “ ‘Do you have dogs?’ I remember that,” she told me. “I still have a letter I wrote to my parents saying, ‘I can’t believe they are seriously asking me whether we have dogs.’ They were grown-ups — 18-year-olds — in a normal high school in New Hampshire, which is supposed to be a sophisticated place.”

Back home in Krasnodar, her view of the United States, like many Russians’, started to curdle after the 1999 NATO bombing campaign against the regime of Slobodan Milosevic in the former Yugoslavia, with which Russian had strong ethnic, cultural and political ties: “Our Slavic brothers and sisters,” she told me, leaning forward for emphasis. “You bombed them with no permission, with no reason,” she said, “and in one day you lost Russia.”

As a journalism major at Kuban State University, Simonyan landed an internship and, quickly thereafter, a correspondent position at a local TV station. Her patriotism and feel for the American-style production techniques she had seen on TV in New Hampshire — which had not yet come to Russia — helped her rise quickly through the ranks of state journalism. She covered the brutal Chechen military campaign in 1999 and 2000 that helped solidify Putin’s political standing as he ascended to the presidency, and the 2004 Beslan school siege, which earned her the government’s “Strengthening the Military Commonwealth” medal.

When she took the helm of Russia Today the following year, Simonyan modeled the new network on CNN and the BBC, and she hired TV consultants from Britain to help give Russia Today a modern cable-news look and feel. (The RT studios in Moscow, when I visited them this spring, were as state-of-the-art as any I’d seen in the United States.) “Nobody in Russia had experience of that kind,” Simonyan told me. “Twenty-four-hour news had not been established yet.” One of her employees, Andrey Kiyashko, who started at RT in his late teens, told me: “CNN, BBC — we were watching it and taking notes on how to be broadcast journalists.”

At the beginning, the network’s mission was to reverse the global view of Russians “as bears that roam the streets and growl,” as Lesin put it in an interview in 2001. (Lesin was found dead in a Washington hotel room in 2015. The city’s medical examiner attributed his death to blunt trauma to the head. While the incident remains the subject of much speculation, federal investigators have said they believe Lesin’s death followed a prolonged bout of heavy drinking.) An early BBC content analysis found nothing all that remarkable in the network’s Russia-centric coverage and noted that it even included criticism of the Russian bureaucracy.

Russia Today — incorporated as an independent company with state financing — was getting into hotels and even American cable systems. But three years into its existence, the network still had not gained much notice or had much discernible impact abroad. Simonyan says she concluded that the network’s mission of solely focusing on Russia needed revising. “We had basically too much Russian news,” she told me.

So in 2008, Russia Today began to reposition itself. The network was reintroduced with a new name, RT, and hired McCann — the same American advertising firm that once helped the United States sell the Marshall Plan. It soon debuted a new satellite channel in the United States, RT America. Instead of celebrating Russia, Simonyan’s network would turn a critical eye to the rest of the world, particularly the United States. As Peskov sees it, the idea was: “Why are you criticizing us in Chechnya and all this stuff? Look at what you are doing there in the United States with your relationship with white and black.” He went on: “RT said: ‘Stop. Don’t criticize us. We’ll tell you about yourself.’ ”

With that, he said, “all of the sudden, Anglo-Saxons saw that there is an army from the opposite side.” RT’s new slogan, dreamed up by McCann, was “Question More.”

RT America set up shop in a glass-fronted office building in Washington a block and a half east of the White House. The new network promised to feature stories that “have not been reported” or were “hugely underreported” in the mainstream media, Simonyan told The Times in 2010. In line with the Marshall Plan dictum that natives have more credibility than foreigners, it was staffed by American hosts: an incongruous mix of telegenic, ambitious but inexperienced broadcast journalists like Liz Wahl, whom RT recruited from the local television station in the Mariana Islands, and later-career itinerant expats like Peter Lavelle, a banker-turned-reporter who previously worked as a stringer for United Press International’s Moscow bureau and contributed to Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.

From early on, the channel’s interviews highlighted September 11 “truthers,” who believed the September 11 attacks were an inside job, including Alex Jones, whose segments, ranging freely across the broader spectrum of conspiracy theories — from Osama bin Laden’s staged death to the all-powerful machinations of the Bilderberg Group — became regular occurrences on the network. When I asked Simonyan about the September 11 conspiracy theories, she replied: “Some guy in the states who worked for us — he doesn’t have that position anymore — was a bit into that. I didn’t pay any attention to that. When I did, I almost killed everybody.” But, she said, it went with the territory. “We do have our mistakes sometimes, like The New York Times does, like everything does,” she said. “We correct them.”

To the extent that RT had any clear ideological bent, it was a sort of all-purpose anti-establishment stance that drew from both the anti-globalization left (the network hosted a Green Party debate) and the libertarian right (it lavished attention on the Rand Paul movement). Its news coverage emphasized poverty and racial injustice, and it found its breakthrough story in the Occupy Wall Street protests. As Wahl, who quit RT in 2014, wrote later in Politico magazine, “Video of outraged protesters, heavy-handed police and tents pitched in parks portrayed America as a country in the midst of a popular uprising — it was the beginning of the inevitable decline of a capitalistic world power.” The coverage, which earned RT one of its International Emmy nominations, brought the network into alignment with Julian Assange, whom Simonyan brought on to host an interview show that ran for a dozen episodes in 2012.

At the time, state journalism back in Russia was enjoying a kind of renaissance under Dmitri Medvedev, who was elected president in 2008. (Russian presidents are limited to two consecutive terms; Putin endorsed Medvedev as his successor and served as his prime minister before returning to the presidency.) The main Russian international news service, RIA Novosti, hired journalists from The Moscow Times, Agence France-Presse and Reuters, following the philosophy that Russia served its interests best by providing traditional warts-and-all news, with a Russian voice and perspective. “There was no talk about censorship,” Nabi Abdullaev, a former Moscow Times deputy chief editor who oversaw RIA Novosti’s foreign-language news service, told me. “All they wanted from me was quality professional standards in reporting; that was it.”

But that all changed shortly after Putin’s presidential re-election in 2012. The following year, with no warning, Putin signed a decree effectively bringing together RIA Novosti and Voice of Russia, the broadcast service previously called Radio Moscow, under the umbrella of a new organization called Rossiya Segodnya. The Kremlin appointed as its manager Dmitry Kiselyov, state television’s most popular host, known for homophobic rants and his taste for conspiracy theories. Kiselyov went to greet the shocked staff a few days later, delivering a speech that one staff member surreptitiously recorded and posted to YouTube.

“Objectivity is a myth,” Kiselyov said. “Just imagine a young man who puts an arm around the shoulder of a girl,” he went on, “and tells the girl, ‘You know, I’ve wanted to tell you for a long time that I treat you objectively.’ Is this what she’s waiting for? Probably not. So in the same way, our country, Russia, needs our love. If we speak about the editorial policy, of course, I would certainly want it to be associated with love for Russia.” Journalism, he said, was an instrument of the country.

Three weeks later, Kiselyov announced that Margarita Simonyan would serve as the new organization’s editor in chief. Simonyan renamed RIA Novosti’s international branch Sputnik — “because I thought that’s the only Russian word that has a positive connotation, and the whole world knows it,” she told me. Kiselyov presented it as a defensive weapon, saying it was for people “tired of aggressive propaganda promoting a unipolar world” from the West. Meanwhile, Simonyan made new plans for RT that included expansions in Britain and Germany. Together, RT and Sputnik would be the nucleus of an assertively pro-Russian, frequently anti-West information network, RT in the mold of a more traditional cable network and Sputnik as its more outspoken, flashy younger sibling.

At the time, Putin was angry about pro-democracy protests that had attended his re-election, which RIA Novosti had covered. But the Russian leadership was also thinking about information strategy in new ways. In early 2013, Valery Gerasimov, a top Russian general, published an article [PDF] in a Russian military journal called VPK. Gerasimov had observed Twitter and other social media helping spark the Arab Spring. “It would be easiest of all to say that the events of the ‘Arab Spring’ are not war and so there are no lessons for us — military men — to learn,” he wrote. “But maybe the opposite is true.” There were new means through which to wage war that were “political, economic, informational,” and they could be applied “with the involvement of the protest potential of the population.” Russia’s military doctrine changed its definition of modern military conflict: “a complex use of military force, political, economic, informational and other means of nonmilitary character, applied with a large use of the population’s protest potential.”

Military officials in America and Europe have come to refer to this idea alternatively as the “Gerasimov doctrine” and “hybrid war,” which they accuse Russia of engaging in now. When I asked Peskov about those charges, he shrugged. Everyone was doing it, he said. “If you call what’s going on now a hybrid war, let it be hybrid war,” he said. “It doesn’t matter: It’s war.”

In the weeks after the 2016 election, the American political debate was overtaken by suspicions that Russia had played a role in the election in a significant way. There were the hacks of the DNC servers, which intelligence agencies pinned on Russia well before Election Day. But there was also a sense that Russia’s media and social-media machinery had contributed to the informational chaos — the fake news and conspiracy theories that coursed through social-media feeds — that characterized the final stretch of the election, to, it turned out, Trump’s benefit.

In a handful of cases, picking through the tangles of information, true and otherwise, that shaped the election, it was possible to isolate a single strand that could be traced to Russian news sources. One of the most striking cases came in late July 2016, when Sputnik and RT reported that thousands of police officers had surrounded a NATO air base in Turkey amid rumors of a coup attempt — a report that turned out to be exaggerated (there was a planned, peaceful demonstration, and the police were there to secure the area in preparation for a visit the next day by the chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff). Three internet-security analysts, now working together at the Alliance for Securing Democracy at the German Marshall Fund, followed the story’s progress through the social-media landscape. Within the first 78 minutes, a large number of Twitter accounts — many of which they identified as pro-Russian bots — picked up the flawed story and blasted it out in some 4,000 tweets, one of the researchers, a former FBI agent named Clinton Watts, testified before the Senate ]PDF] last spring.

Some of the accounts added the hashtag “#Benghazi” and warned that thousands of Muslims were on the brink of acquiring the nuclear weapons held at the NATO base. Others included “#TrumpPence16” hashtags, along with words like “America,” “Constitution” and “conservative.” Large numbers of the tweets included accusations that the “MSM” — mainstream media — wasn’t covering the attack. The RT story racked up thousands of shares on Reddit and was picked up on David Duke’s webpage. About two weeks later, in an interview with Jake Tapper of CNN, Trump’s campaign manager at the time, Paul Manafort, said: “You had the NATO base in Turkey being under attack by terrorists.” He claimed the media had ignored it. Watts told me: “That’s when we were like, ‘Whoa, this is a whole new level.’ ”

But such clear-cut instances were rare. In other cases, the network simply nudged along existing or nascent conspiracy theories: about Hillary Clinton’s health, about a Google plan to rig the election for her, about stock conspiracists’ obsessions like the Rothschild family, the Bilderberg Group and the Illuminati. In general, the social-media matrix is so opaque, with anyone able to set up an account under any persona, that “you can only crack a piece of it,” Watts’s colleague J.M. Berger told me.

After the DNC staff member Seth Rich was, according to the police, murdered in a botched robbery attempt on July 10, one of the first inklings of the conspiracy theory that continues to swirl around his death — that he might have been behind the leaked DNC emails that WikiLeaks distributed that summer — was a video posted to YouTube on July 29 of the American RT host Lori Harfenist wondering aloud: “No one in the media is reporting that one of the DNC’s employees who had ready access to the email servers was just mysteriously murdered in the middle of the night?” But far-right media outlets, and the Republican presidential nominee, had spent the election trafficking in baseless conspiracy theories, too. As Simonyan pointed out to me, “Fox raised similar questions” about Rich’s death.

And RT’s coverage of Trump had not been wholly uncritical. Chris Hedges, the former Times correspondent, said Trump had “a penchant for lying and deception and manipulation,” and Ed Schultz pleaded with his guests: “Who’s going to stop Donald Trump?” Even the declassified intelligence assessment seemed to struggle to describe what, exactly, made the Russian outlets’ influence on the election so nefarious. It described RT and Sputnik as sitting at the center of a sprawling social-media network that included “third-party intermediaries and paid social-media users, or ‘trolls.’ ” But it provided no detail about how that might have worked.

The best illustration I was able to find came from John Kelly, the founder and chief executive of a social-media marketing and analytics firm called Graphika. Kelly has been studying the movement of information online since 2007, when, as a communications graduate student at Columbia University, he became interested in the social dynamics of political blogs: the ways in which different sites found and related to one another and amplified one another’s work. He taught himself how to code and developed a program to quantify and map the flow of information within the blogosphere. That led to work on State Department-financed projects at the Berkman Klein Center of Harvard University, mapping the blog networks of Iran [PDF] and, later, Russia. As the gravitational center of online conversation shifted from blogs to social-media platforms like Twitter and Facebook, he studied those too. Eventually he built a searchable database that captures millions of social-media interactions, stores them and analyzes them to determine social neighborhoods in which users share ideologies and interests, which he now mostly uses for private clients.

Shortly after the election, academic and corporate clients hired him to track the proliferation of “fake news” — that is, unequivocally false content. He confined his search to social accounts that shared fake news at least 10 times during the last month of the campaign. This September, in his airy, loft-style office suite on the West Side of Manhattan, he called up the results of the study on a laptop screen. They were visualized as a black sphere on which each of the 14,000 fake-news-spreading accounts appeared as a dot, grouped and color-coded according to ideological affiliation. The sphere was alive with bursts of purple (“US Conservative”), green (“US Far Left”), pink (“Pro-Russia/WikiLeaks”), orange (“International Right”) and blue (“Trump Core”).

Within the fake-news network, Kelly explained, RT was high on the list of most-followed accounts, but it was not the highest — it ranked No. 117 out of roughly 12,000 accounts he was tracking. Its website was the 12th-most-cited by the fake-news consumers and purveyors — ahead of The New York Times and The Washington Post but behind Breitbart and Infowars.

What was more interesting was who followed RT. It drew substantially from all quadrants of Kelly’s fake-news universe — Trump supporters and Bernie Sanders supporters, Occupy Wall Streeters and libertarians — which made it something of a rarity. “The Russians aren’t just pumping up the right wing in America,” Kelly said. “They’re also pumping up left-wing stuff — they’re basically trying to pump up the fringe at the expense of the middle.”

Nearly 20 percent of the fake-news-spreading accounts, Kelly’s analysis determined, were automated bot accounts, of the sort the American intelligence assessment claimed were working in tandem with RT and Sputnik. But who was operating them was unclear — and regardless, they were far outnumbered by accounts that appeared to belong to real human beings, reading and circulating content that appealed to them. In this paranoid, polarized and ill-informed subset of American news consumers, RT’s audience crossed all ideological boundaries.

In January, just a few days after the release of the declassified intelligence report, RT hosted a party in New York. The occasion was the United Nations’ decision to add RT to the internal television system in its Turtle Bay headquarters. For nearly any other broadcaster, this would have been a minor achievement, but in Moscow, it was considered a coup and a rebuke of US intelligence. There were 20 channels in the UN system, and as the network saw it, counting RT among them was a new testament to its influence: It was sharing a small dial with BBC World and CNN International, at the heart of the diplomatic world.

RT flew in several members of its leadership team from Moscow for a ceremony and held a cocktail party in the lobby of the General Assembly building, with hot plates and canapés of shrimp dumplings and meatballs and ham. Giant banners proclaimed “RT: Member Broadcaster of the United Nations In-House Network.”

After some mingling, the crowd moved into an auditorium with long pressboard tables and the standard-issue UN headsets and digital clocks. A number of officials gave speeches, including Vitaly Churkin, Russia’s ambassador to the UN, who would die suddenly in the Russian Mission in New York the following month. (The cause of death was withheld according to diplomatic protocol, though the New York police told The Times they did not suspect foul play.) Alexey Nikolov, RT’s director general, also addressed the group. Nikolov is bald with a kindly face and a lilting voice. He began by explaining that he was reading from notes because he was emotional.

His speech was about his mother, who grew up under Stalin. She was orphaned at 3, “when she was thrown out of her apartment in the middle of Moscow winter together with her brother, when their parents were arrested by the NKVD, the Stalin secret police,” he said, speaking haltingly. “My grandfather, her father, as she only found out many years later, was tortured and executed. And my grandmother, her mother, died in a labor camp. And similar stories happened to millions of my compatriots back in the 1930s.”

He was building toward something. “What I see today is more and more frequently people produce the highfalutin talk about using the word ‘propaganda’ that eerily echoes those dark days of the Soviet era, when even thinking their own thoughts, not to mention speaking or printing them, was a crime.” People, he declared, “must have the right to know different news, coming from different sources, and then make their own judgment.”

It was an addendum to “Question More.” Yes, question more, but also consider more — more news sources, more versions of reality. It’s a point that you really can’t argue with: Of course everyone should be open to other perspectives and different takes on the news. In large part, this is why outlets like RT and Sputnik have proved so vexing to the West — and especially so in the United States. The far-right media, and even the president, have embraced what a couple of years earlier might have been the fringe of political discourse. Their financing aside, how exactly do you draw a line between RT and Sputnik and, say, Sean Hannity, the Fox News host and confidant of the president of the United States, who has also trafficked in conspiracy theories about Seth Rich and mysterious illnesses possibly afflicting Hillary Clinton? Or Infowars, Alex Jones’s paranoid media empire, to which Trump gave an interview during the campaign?

It’s hard to imagine Russia’s state-backed media getting any traction in the United States if there wasn’t already an audience for it. For some subset of Americans, the intelligence report singling out RT and Sputnik was just another attack from the supposed “deep state” that Breitbart, for instance, had been fuming about for months — and it was less than surprising when, this spring, Sputnik hired a former Breitbart reporter, Lee Stranahan, to start a radio show in Washington. As Stranahan told The Atlantic, though his paycheck might now come from the Russians, “Nothing about it really affects my position on stuff that I’ve had for years now.”

When I asked Simonyan recently what she made of the proliferating attempts to map RT’s influence in the Russian information network that United States intelligence agencies describe as a hybrid-war machine, she replied by email: “These projects simply blacklist all reporting, including by American media, as some pro-Russian campaign if any facts or views in them don’t support the right kind of narrative.” At the moment, she said, that narrative was: “All world problems are Putin’s fault.” In her view, “it’s the sad history of McCarthyism repeating itself.” (These were arguments that echoed Trump’s own.)

It also reflected the genius of “Question More”: Every attempt to contain or counteract the Russian state-backed media’s influence simply validated it. Churkin, the ambassador, acknowledged as much at RT’s UN ceremony. As he stood to speak, he seemed to be almost bouncing on the soles of his feet, delighted at RT’s newfound prominence. “Everybody watches them,” he said. “Diplomats do it, ambassadors do it, foreign ministers do it, heads of state and government do it.” In an oblique allusion to the recent American intelligence report, he noted that some people had been criticizing the network, but perhaps this was not such a bad thing. Grinning, he said: “They sound as if they are PR representatives of RT.” # # #

[Jim Rutenberg is The New York Times’s media columnist and writer at large for the magazine. After writing for the New York Daily News and New York Observer, Rutenberg joined the Times in 2000, where he covered media. He received a BA (journalism) from New York University.]

[Jaclyn Peiser also contributed reporting from New York. She received a BA (communications and media studies) from Goucher College (NY) and an MA (journalism) from Columbia University.]

[Alexandra Odynova contributed reporting from Moscow where she is deputy news editor and reporter with the Moscow Times. She received a BA (journalism, English, and French) from the Moscow State Linguistic University.]

Copyright © 2017 The New York Times Company



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