The Russia hoax comes full circle

Nov. 15, 2021

This week: The Briefing, Vol. IX, Issue 45

  • The Russia hoax comes full circle
  • N.H. Republicans need a candidate
  • Redistricting gives House Republicans just a slight edge over last time


Russia hoax: After an entire presidency’s worth of manic, almost pathological journalistic behavior surrounding the story of President Donald Trump’s campaign supposedly colluding with Russia, the media have finally come to some sort of reckoning with the fact that the entire thing was a hoax and they fell for it. 

Not that they will be held publicly accountable — nobody is explicitly committing ritual suicide over this incredible debacle. But Brian Williams’ retirement and Rachel Maddow’s potential sidelining at MSNBC could be a hint that someone in charge has noticed the media’s credibility crisis.

Unfortunately, the word “hoax” doesn’t quite do justice to the story about the Steele Dossier. A “hoax” is merely a deception. This was actually a crime, and a political dirty trick worthy of Nixon’s worst operatives. But it got legs because it came from one of the media’s favorite people, Hillary Clinton.

It is increasingly evident now, and even the media outlets that once peddled the story are admitting, that this was a Clinton campaign dirty trick. The Washington Post has now amended or corrected dozens of stories

A failure of expertise: It is a sign of something much worse about today’s journalistic class that both publications were awarded Pulitzers for credulously reporting a fake story.

Journalists are supposed to be skeptical, especially of outlandish claims, but a bunch of credulous and therefore useless journalists were willing to believe whatever garbage the Clinton machine fed them just because they were in the pocket of Clinton and loathed Trump. This began when BuzzFeed published the Steele dossier, as its then-editor Ben Smith admitted, not knowing whether its contents were true or false.

Maybe Trump wasn’t so far off the mark when he ridiculously called them “enemies of the people.”

To come up with an adequate word to describe happened here is difficult, but “roundtabled” sees like a possibility. Clinton operatives planted their own allegations with their own hired intelligence agent, who in turn furnished them back to the Clinton campaign dressed up and laundered as an intelligence document. This document was furnished to the FBI, whose agents also should have recognized the bogus claims for what they were, but that’s another story. Suffice it to say here that operatives attached to the Clinton machine made up the rumors contained within the Steele Dossier, and then they employed the media to spread them.

It is one thing for the Clintons or House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff or other partisan Democrats to spread political rumors. But what on Earth are journalists doing helping them?

This was never a legitimate story. It had no news value. And people did warn at the time that it sounded a lot like a hoax, given the especially lurid allegations involved about Trump cavorting with prostitutes. Yet the New York Times, The Washington Post, and other major publications — apparently out of sheer hatred for Donald Trump and nothing else — made this into the big story of its era. Almost every night, every single MSNBC and CNN host went on about this story without any caution or concern for the truth. They made everything of it they could, and acted as if it was really going to end the Trump administration — at least until the Mueller Report came back empty and they realized they had nothing.

One could discuss how unfair this is or something along those lines, but that’s not really the point here. The point is that these are the brightest lights in our journalistic firmament. These are the people who shape public opinion and go on television to tell you how to perceive events in the life of our nation and even how to vote. Right now, unless you vote straight Democrat, they are telling you that you are a white supremacist.

Yet this incident proves that they know absolutely nothing about anything. They have no special insights into politics. What’s worse, they have been exposed for behaving exactly like the anti-vax conspiracy theorists at whom they look at down their noses. 

These journalistic bright lights are probably more clueless than you are, if all you do is browse the Internet for news and maintain a healthy but not absolute skepticism about whatever is reported. 

These pundits and journalists proved themselves willing to fall for any crazy conspiracy theory, so long as it reinforced their political prejudices. If Rachel Maddow knows absolutely nothing about what’s going on in government or politics, as she demonstrated by falling so hard for the Russia hoax, then how much could she possibly know about anything else she talks about on her show? 

If CNN news writers and anchors all think that the walls are closing in on President Trump (as they repeatedly said throughout his presidency) because of this Russia hoax, how can they be trusted when they talk about what’s in a bill in Congress or when they frame the issues of a political discussion? 

It is hard to avoid the conclusion that these people are ignorant at best, and maliciously negligent about the truth at worst. They deliberately suppressed stories about Hunter Biden that were true, while trumpeting stories about Trump that were lies. It’s enough to make you want to cancel all your subscriptions.

Senate 2022

New Hampshire: This is a minor disaster for Republicans: Gov. Chris Sununu, who appeared to be on pace to defeat Democratic Sen. Maggie Hassan, has decided he will instead run for governor once again. To make matters worse, the other top Republican contenders — former Sens. Kelly Ayotte and Scott Brown — are also bowing out.

Hassan is not out of the woods yet. Her numbers remain awful for an incumbent. But Republicans need to find a credible candidate, because you cannot beat someone with no one. 

House 2022

Redistricting: The effects of redistricting are persistently overestimated. This month’s election in Virginia demonstrated as much, as Republicans took a majority of the House of Delegates on a map Democrats drew.

However, the ability to draw a favorable map can, on aggregate, confer a slight advantage to one party or the other. All indications this year are that Republicans will come out slightly ahead.

Predictably, the New York Times view of redistricting is very one-sided — Republicans become the bad guys for undoing Democratic gerrymanders. But it is still accurate, as that paper reports, that Republicans are poised to gain a slightly better map than they started with in 2012 through the redistricting process. 

One reason for this, believe it or not, is a result delivered this month by New York voters.

Democrats suffered a setback when voters in New York State rejected a ballot proposition that would have given Democrats in the state legislature free rein to override the nonpartisan redistricting process they had previously established with much fanfare. 

This makes it harder (although not impossible) for them to go super-aggressive and make a Republican seat disappear. Most Republican-held seats were deliberately packed by Democrats after the 2010 Census in order to minimize their number and maximize Democrats’ strength elsewhere. 

Most states are still drawing their congressional maps for 2022, but some important ones have already finished. 

In North Carolina, Republicans have produced and passed a map that draws Greensboro into a Republican district, eliminating one Democrat, and turns another Democratic district into a competitive seat by making it six points more Republican. 

In Texas, legislative Republicans drew more Democratic seats so as to strengthen their own members. However, they are also counting on longer-term gains in one and possibly two heavily Hispanic South Texas seats. This traces a path into the future for the expected Republican movement of the state’s Hispanic vote — a noteworthy trend that originated in the Trump era and confounds most liberal punditry.

In Iowa’s new map, all four seats will still lean Republican, but two of them (instead of just one) will be reliably Republican. This is less the result of clever mapping than of the state’s rightward drift in recent elections.

In Indiana, Republicans shored up their own members rather than grabbing for new seats, packing far more Democrats into the Indianapolis-based 7th district.

In Utah, Republicans have opted to fortify all four of their members — the least Republican seat in the state will be 23 points more Republican than the national median, up from 15 points. They could have formed a Salt Lake district friendlier to a Democrat, but they had no reason to do so.

The map approved in Montana includes a new district — Republicans should be able to win both of the state’s seats in all but the most Democratic years.

In Oregon, Democrats shored up Rep. Peter DeFazio by shifting Republican areas into the state’s only solidly Republican district. It is worth noting that Republicans never succeeded in competing for his closely-drawn seat.

And in Colorado, which gains one seat, the map drawn by an independent commission and approved added a competitive seat near Denver.