Thursday, July 28, 2016

Media Have a ‘Cry Wolf’ Problem with Trump

By Jonah Goldberg
Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Dear Mainstream Media and Democrats: It’s your turn. Now that Donald Trump has been formally nominated, the formal responsibility to stop him passes from the Right to the Left, from Republicans to Democrats and the journalists who amplify their values.

You’re going to find it a very tough slog. And it’s your own damn fault.

During the primaries, the task of exposing the true nature of the Trump takeover fell disproportionately to a few conservative magazines, columnists, renegade radio hosts, and behind-the-scenes activists. We all failed. There will be plenty of time for recriminations and “we happy few” speeches later. (If you detect a note of bitterness on my part, I’m not being clear enough: I contain symphonies of bitterness.)

We failed in part because the mainstream media were having too good of a time to help. Last spring, Stop Trump operatives told me they brought damning stories to mainstream outlets. The response was usually: “We’re not interested in covering that — right now.”

By May, Trump had already received roughly $3 billion worth of free media, thanks to ratings-hungry TV networks. CBS chief Les Moonves summarized it well at an investor conference in February: Trump’s rise “may not be good for America, but it’s damn good for CBS.”

Many in the media were so willing to put clicks and ratings before country because the conventional wisdom was that Trump would fade or implode eventually. Why not gawk at the spectacle? And if Trump did get the nomination, many journalists calculated, all the better. What fun it will be to watch Hillary Clinton destroy Trump and Trump destroy the GOP.

Only slowly have the media come around to the realization that Trump is an actual threat, but now it may be too late because they have a serious “cry wolf” problem. Millions of Americans firmly believe that journalists are water carriers for the Democrats and will tune out much of what they have to say about Trump now that he’s the nominee.

You can start the timeline as far back as the World War II era. In 1944, Franklin Roosevelt told the country that if Republicans were returned to power, “even though we shall have conquered our enemies on the battlefields abroad, we shall have yielded to the spirit of fascism here at home.” The press nodded along.

In 1964, CBS News’s Daniel Schorr claimed that Barry Goldwater’s planned post-convention vacation in Europe was really an effort to coordinate with “right-wing Germans” in “Hitler’s one-time stomping ground.”

In recent years, as the distinctions between news and opinion, analysis and advocacy, reporting and click-baiting has blurred, the problem has only gotten worse.

Every election cycle, the GOP nominee is smeared as a racist by the Democrats or the press — or both. Representative John Lewis of Georgia trades in a bit more of his hard-earned moral authority each time he insinuates that the GOP nominee is like George Wallace or wants to bring back Jim Crow, and political columnists relinquish a bit more of their claim to objectivity each time they let his comments pass without condemnation or criticism.

George W. Bush revived for the Left the paranoid style in American politics, and if you google “John McCain, racist, 2008” you’ll see he was lazily demonized too.

In 2012, pundits said Paul Ryan wanted to throw old ladies over cliffs because he wanted to reform Social Security. When Mitt Romney spoke to the NAACP, the response from many in the media was, per usual, “Racist!” (It’s ironic that many of the notable Republicans rebuking Trump this year are the ones pundits were only too happy to paint as racist not long ago.)

I have no doubt many journalists would defend their smears and professional failures, but that doesn’t change the fact that many Americans outside the mainstream media/Democratic bubble find it all indefensible. More important, they find it all ignorable — because the race card and the demagogue card have been played and replayed so often they’re little more than scraps of lint.

Already, editorial boards are preparing their indictments of what they believe to be Donald Trump’s incompetence, bigotry, and authoritarianism. Trump operatives will undoubtedly respond: “That’s what they always say about Republicans.” And they’ll be right.

The Black Hole

By Kevin D. Williamson
Tuesday, July 26, 2016

When a famous politician dies, what generally follows is not so much a paean to the fallen man but to the enterprise of politics itself, the highness and seriousness and nobility of it. Somebody will quote Teddy Roosevelt on the man “in the arena” (Pete Hegseth has a book out on that speech and its theme), and they’ll dig up some dusty old rival from the opposite party to talk about what a worthy opponent he was.

This is at odds with the reality of politics. Right now in Philadelphia, there is under way a Democratic convention in which, in the words of Vice’s Michael C. Moynihan, “the arena seems to be filled with suicidal Marxists who work at TGI Friday’s.” The Democrats deride the GOP as the party of tired, old, out-of-touch white men living in the past . . . and then introduce Paul Simon for one last warbling and off-key rendering of “Bridge over Troubled Water.” (They probably could have gotten John Legend, who began his career in Philadelphia, at half the price.) Could have been worse, though: Last time around, it was James Taylor.

The more insufferable half of Simon and Garfunkel was introduced by Al Franken, a comedian turned senator, and by Sarah Silverman, a comedienne heralded by the Washington Post as a “powerful political force.” Perhaps she even is. The Democrats have an unruly insurgency on their hands after the WikiLeaks disclosure of documentation that the Democratic National Committee, almost certainly in conspiracy with the Hillary Clinton campaign, violated its purported status as neutral arbiter of primary elections to attempt to torpedo the Bernie Sanders campaign in favor of the more easily electable Mrs. Clinton, a centimillionaire and serviceable figurehead. The most effective way to placate an angry mob of that sort is to give it a nice big dose of celebrity, hence the triple shot. Jon Stewart must have been busy, or else someone left a couple of brown M&Ms in his brandy snifter.

The Republican convention was equally marked by a hunger for celebrity, though Republicans, with all due respect to our friend Pat Sajak, generally have slimmer pickings in the celebrity business. The GOP went full celebrity-worship this time around, forsaking 16 better presidential contenders to nominate a famous game-show host and tabloid grotesque in Donald Trump. Meanwhile, one of the little Trumps (Uday or Qusay, I forget which) already is talking about running for mayor of New York City, which, to be fair, has done relatively well sending billionaire megalomaniacs to Gracie Mansion.

But it would be a mistake to think of the Democrats’ elevation of Herself as less celebrity-driven than the GOP’s embrace of Trumpism. Mrs. Clinton is of course a celebrity. She is known to the general public only because she was married to a famous (and famously horrible) man, who happened to be the most gifted politician of his generation, who won permanent, lifelong esteem by making Republicans look like fools for eight years. You’ll remember that Clinton was so very popular on the Left that Nina Burleigh, a writer and self-proclaimed feminist, argued that American women should line up — on their knees — to fellate Bill Clinton in tribute for his good deeds. Instead, Democrats sent Mrs. Clinton to the Senate and onward to a subsidiary political career, which turned out to be equally distasteful.

Celebrity is a very strange and powerful thing. The great science-fiction writer William Gibson has considered it as an independent cultural and economic phenomenon in his novel Idoru and elsewhere, but we already are beyond the reach even of speculative fiction. Celebrity touches something deep in the lizard brain. It probably is an inevitable sensory response to encountering figures that we are used to seeing as literally larger-than-life (on cinema screens and billboards) or as omnipresent, like the Holy Spirit and Arby’s. New York City, being celebrity-ridden and geographically compact, has a fairly well-developed code of behavior for celebrity encounters (studiously ignoring them), which is fortified by the New Yorker’s default belief that he is the most important person in any room. Los Angeles has a similar though distinct code. The nation at large, however, does not have those tools, and most of us are easily gobsmacked by celebrity. Devin Friedman’s profile of Rob Gronkowski in the June issue of GQ contains a hilarious, and slightly sad, account of an encounter between the football star and an aggressive fan in a Florida steakhouse. His people run interference, and she goes away cursing him: “This is what brings Gronk low. He doesn’t understand it, really. This ownership people feel they have over him.” Presumably, he understands it a little more clearly when he cashes the checks. There is a reason jerseys and sports gear emblazoned with certain names command a premium.

Consider the strange hierarchy of status symbols. Insurance salesmen in Indianapolis believe that they can raise their social status by being associated with (through ownership) certain consumer goods, for instance sports cars or expensive wristwatches. The makers of these products, in turn, believe that they can raise the status of their goods by associating them with certain celebrities. The connection can be as transparent, shallow, and tenuous as you like, but that does not mean it isn’t effective: It may very well be the case that Fernando Alonso and Leonardo DiCaprio have very strong feelings about Tag Heuer watches, though I doubt very much that Tiger Woods, at the height of his career, drove a Buick. You can hang out in the makeup aisle of HEB all day and night, but you probably aren’t going to run into Eva Longoria. That everybody knows this, and that it does not matter, is the seeming paradox at the heart of our response to celebrity.

A few years ago, I was sent to review a Broadway production of Breakfast at Tiffany’s starring Emilia Clarke of Game of Thrones as Holly Golightly. (She looked bereft without her dragons.) The play’s producers cannily inserted a scene in which Holly appears naked, briefly, before sinking into a bathtub. Out came a thousand cameras to snap photographic evidence that the owner had been in a room with an undressed Emilia Clarke. The play momentarily came to a halt. That seemed to me strange: Emilia Clarke is the nakedest woman on television. If you want to see her naked, there are six seasons of Game of Thrones to choose from. You can see her in various sexual encounters, emerging naked from not one but two different fires, etc. It wasn’t prurience that caused those theatergoers to forsake their manners and their senses — what’s an iPhone snapshot from 200 feet in a world of wall-to-wall pornography? — but celebrity, the opportunity to say, “We shared this space in the world, and I am elevated by that experience.”

There are a dozen Democrats who would have been better choices for the presidency than Mrs. Clinton, and a dozen dozen Republicans who would have been better than Der Apfelstrudelführer. But none of them carries the semi-divine investment of celebrity.

The problem with celebrity culture, and with its new ubiquity in the political sphere, is that it does not throw up very good political leaders. The skill set required to become a reality-television star is indeed rare and valuable, but it simply is a different skill set from that required to deal with, e.g., Muslim fanatics sawing the heads off people in French churches.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

On Immigration, You Can Only Dismiss the Dissenters for So Long

By Charles C. W. Cooke
Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Once again, France has been terrorized. The BBC reports:

An 84-year-old priest was killed and four other people taken hostage by two armed men who stormed his church in a suburb of Rouen in northern France.

The two attackers, who said they were from the so-called Islamic State (IS), slit Fr Jacques Hamel’s throat during a morning Mass, officials say.

One of the hostages is in a critical condition in hospital.

President Francois Hollande, visiting the scene, said the attackers had committed a “cowardly assassination” and France would fight IS “by all means”.

Expressions of horror are all well and good, as are blanket vows to destroy one’s enemies. And yet Hollande’s words are beginning to sound a touch . . . hollow.

Clearly, terrorism is a extremely complex issue, and reasonable people can disagree as to how it can be prevented and fought. Moreover, as with any problem, there is no inherent virtue in one’s saying “do something, anything,” or in one’s pretending that twilight struggles can be overcome by bluster. But it would be enormously helpful if the West’s ostensibly resolute leaders would level with their voters as to the nature and source of the threat, rather than treat them as children who need to be kept in line.

When a country is attacked, the issue of immigration is inevitably going to come up. If it is homegrown, terrorism will raise legitimate questions about long-term immigration policy and the degree to which outsiders are assimilating. If it is imported, terrorism will raise questions about a country’s border control or its attitude toward refugees. And that’s fine. Indeed, that’s democracy. The primary function of any government is to keep the people it represents safe from outside threats. As such, if a polity sees those threats multiplying they will — and should — ask its representatives what can be done. A responsible government would welcome such inquiries, and then make the case for its policy as best it could, acknowledging in the process that any course of action carries with it a set of costs, and that immigration is no different. A responsible government would be a responsive government.

Are Western governments responsive? As far as I can see, they are not. Rather, their typical reaction is to pretend that there are no possible downsides to our existing systems, and to imply that anybody who thinks otherwise is a bigot. Time and time again, those who have proposed that immigration brings problems as well as benefits is accused of racism; of anti-Semitism; of xenophobia; and they are told — in brutal, mocking tones — that there is no chance at all that adopting a more open approach will cause trouble. In the United States, those who argued against the admission of more Syrian refuges were compared to anti-Semites. In Germany, which has taken more refugees than any other country in Europe, Angela Merkel’s first instinct has been to silence, rather than to heed the backlash. In Britain, the arrival of immigration as a hot-button electoral issue has yielded sighs of pain from the Left, coupled with the dismissal of anybody who dares dissent as a “little Englander.”

Has this deliberate myopia worked? Of course it has not. And why not? Well, because people have eyes, that’s why. Bluntly put, when you tell people that there will be no problems at all as a result of a given policy and then the news reports a litany of problems as a result of that policy, the people you tried to dupe are liable to get rather cross.

Here’s the BBC again:

The governor of Bavaria has urged the German government to address public concerns about security and immigration after a spate of terror attacks.

Germans are “riled up” and “full of fear”, Horst Seehofer told a press conference, after four violent attacks in Germany in less than a week.

In the latest, on Sunday, a Syrian immigrant detonated a bomb, killing himself and injuring 15 people.

A gun attack in Munich was the deadliest – with nine people killed.

Quite what to do about this is not within my area of expertise, so I shall say no more now than that negative things tend to flow from both over- and under-reactions. What I do know, however, is that if Western governments do not start acknowledging that their immigration policies have serious downsides — and, for that matter, that it is not “racist” or “xenophobic” to say so – they are going to face a series of full-scale revolts, the likely beneficiaries of which will be political parties that do not take the “nuanced” view that the hushers and the name-callers believe themselves to be protecting.

Wikileaks Dismantling of DNC Is Clear Attack by Putin on Clinton

By John R. Schindler
Monday, July 25, 2016

The recent Wikileaks dump of 20,000 emails belonging to the Democratic National Committee has caused political sensation and scandal on a grand scale. These internal communications reveal nothing flattering about the DNC or Hillary Clinton, who is set to be anointed as the Democrats’ presidential nominee at their party convention in Philadelphia that gets underway with fanfare today.

Wikileaks has thrown an ugly wrench into Hillary’s coronation. DNC emails reveal a Clinton campaign that’s shady and dishonest, not to mention corrupt. Its secret dealings with Hillary’s opponents—whether Bernie Sanders or Donald Trump—have been distasteful and possibly illegal. To say this is an unflattering portrayal of Team Clinton is like saying the Titanic had issues with ice.

The ramifications of this massive leak are already serious. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the embattled DNC chair, has been forced to tender her resignation in advance of the party conclave in Philadelphia, while Senator Sanders, who’s been revealed as the target of much aggressive DNC attention during the Democratic primary campaign, stated he was “not shocked but I’m disappointed” by the Wikileaks revelations. The Democrats are anything but united now as they prepare to take on Donald Trump and the Republicans.

On the eve of the four-day Democratic convention extravaganza, this data-dump could not have been timed better to damage Hillary and her efforts to move back into the White House this November. Although it’s doubtful that leaked RNC internal emails would make any more pleasant a read for the public, Clinton will emerge from this tarred with the indelible brush of corruption and collusion with her party’s leadership to fix the Democratic presidential nomination.

Wikileaks has delivered as promised on its public threats of damaging Team Clinton with hacked emails. Although the DNC can’t deny that many of the leaked messages appear authentic—they wouldn’t have forced the chair’s resignation if they were fake, obviously—there remains the important question of how the vaunted “privacy organization” got its hands on them.

It turns out there’s hardly any mystery there. It’s no secret that the DNC was recently subject to a major hack, one which independent cybersecurity experts easily assessed as being the work of Russian intelligence through previously known cut-outs. One of them, called COZY BEAR or APT 29, has used spear-phishing to gain illegal access to many private networks in the West, as well as the White House, the State Department, and the Joint Chiefs of Staff last year. Another hacking group involved in the attack on the DNC, called FANCY BEAR or APT 28, is a well-known Russian front, as I’ve previously profiled.

These bears didn’t make much efforts to hide their DNC hack—in one case leaving behind a Russian name in Cyrillic as a signature—and Kremlin attribution has been confirmed by independent analysis by a second cybersecurity firm.

The answer then is simple: Russian hackers working for the Kremlin cyber-pilfered the DNC then passed the purloined data, including thousands of unflattering emails, to Wikileaks, which has shown them to the world.

This, of course, means that Wikileaks is doing Moscow’s bidding and has placed itself in bed with Vladimir Putin. In response to the data-dump, the DNC has said as much and the Clinton campaign has endorsed the view that Moscow prefers Donald Trump in this election, and it’s using Wikileaks to harm Hillary. This view, considered bizarre by most people as late as last week, is being taken seriously by the White House—as it should be.

In truth, to anyone versed in counterintelligence and Russian espionage tradecraft, Wikileaks has been an obvious Kremlin front for years, and it’s nice to see the Democrats and their allies in the mainstream media suddenly come around to this view—which I’ve stated publicly since 2013, based on my long experience working against Russian security agencies in the SpyWar.

Wikileaks came to international prominence in 2010 when it released online a quarter-million classified State Department cables that had been stolen by disgruntled Army Private Bradley (now Chelsea) Manning. This was a huge black mark for then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and unleashed a global scandal.

Wikileaks was founded in 2006, ostensibly as a “privacy organization” and in reality as a vanity project by the Australian hacktivist Julian Assange, who has been hiding in the Ecuadorian embassy in London since mid-2012, on the run from rape charges in Sweden. It’s unclear when the group’s ties to the Kremlin were forged, but it’s obvious they existed by the time Wikileaks took center stage in the Edward Snowden case in mid-2013.

The role of Wikileaks in the Snowden saga would be difficult to overstate, not least since Assange was the one who counseled the American IT contractor to seek sanctuary in Russia. Snowden left Hong Kong for Moscow in June 2013—where he remains—based on Assange’s advice and accompanied by Sarah Harrison, a top Wikileaks official and Assange intimate.

Why Assange recommended that the NSA contractor on the lam seek Putin’s protection is an important question. As I explained last year:

Only in Russia would Ed be safe, Julian counseled, because there he would be protected by Vladimir Putin and his secret services, notably the FSB. One might think that seeking the shelter of the FSB—one of the world’s nastiest secret police forces that spies on millions without warrant and murders opponents freely—might be an odd choice for a “privacy organization.” But Wikileaks is no ordinary NGO.

Why Assange knew Russia would take in Snowden—it could be a big political hassle for Moscow—is a key question that any counterintelligence officer would want answered. Was Julian speaking on behalf of the FSB or did he just “know” Ed could obtain the sanctuary plus protection he sought?

Then there’s the revealing fact that Assange has wanted FSB protection for himself too:

While holed up in London, Assange “requested that he be able to choose his own Security Service inside the embassy, suggesting the use of Russian operatives.” It is, to say the least, surpassingly strange that a Western “privacy advocate” wants Russian secret police protection while hiding out in a Western country.

There’s no doubt that Assange considers Putin’s highly unsavory secret services to be his friends. Why is a very good question that anybody who’s looking into Wikileaks ought to ask.

All the same, Assange’s affection for the Kremlin and its intelligence agencies is nothing new and was something I wrote about fully three years ago, as the Snowden story was breaking. This revolved around Israel Shamir, an anti-Semitic nutcase who’s been in the Wikileaks orbit for many years, serving as a close confidant to Assange and his go-to guy on Russian matters. As I elaborated back in July 2013:

So who is Israel Shamir? That’s not an easy question to answer with much certainty. His official biography states that he was born in the Soviet Union in 1947 and emigrated to Israel in 1969, but little of his curriculum vitae stands up to detailed scrutiny. He admits to having something like a half-dozen different identities, complete with aliases. Of greatest interest here is that, before he became famous for his Wikileaks links, he was best known as a neo-Nazi holocaust denier in European circles. Which is a pretty rare thing for a Jew and Israeli citizen to get mixed up in.

Shamir, operating under several names, is noted for his anti-Semitic vitriol and is fond of extolling the Protocols of the Elders of Zion and hanging out with Nordic neo-Nazis. His views are so strange and vehement that many have wondered if Shamir’s is actually an agent provocateur on behalf of some intelligence service. Jewish scholar Norman Finkelstein, known for his own pro-Palestinian views, who crossed paths with Shamir more than once, called him a “maniac,” adding, “He has invented his entire personal history. Nothing he says about himself is true.” In all, Shamir’s a pretty odd choice as Wikileaks’ go-to guy for Russia.

Although Wikileaks has semi-denied that Shamir is on their payroll, Shamir himself has been abundantly clear who he works for. The secret services had this oddball pegged as a KGB agent way back in the 1980s, and given Shamir’s pro-Moscow rants to the present day there seems no reason to doubt he’s still friendly with Russian special services.

Since Assange hasn’t exactly been shy about his pro-Moscow views—including having his own show on RT, the Kremlin agitprop network—why Western reporters haven’t been digging into this mess until about four days ago is an important question. Especially since Assange years ago dropped any pretense of objectivity, slavishly following the Moscow line on a wide array of issues such as Syria which have nothing to do with “privacy.”

That Assange and Wikileaks are surrogates for Putin is now obvious, and in truth has been for some time, as the media has been gradually noticing. Their operation to take down Hillary Clinton—about whom Assange, in an exclusive interview with the Observer in 2014, said: “it is pretty clear that we are witnessing the birth of a Google-military-surveillance complex”—is merely the final straw.

I counseled this a year ago: “Wikileaks should be treated as the front and cut-out for Russian intelligence that it has become, while those who get in bed with Wikileaks—many Western ‘privacy advocates’ are in that group—should be asked their feelings about their own at least indirect ties with Putin’s spy services.” It’s better to see the Western media get there late rather than never.

There’s nothing new about Wikileaks or its key role in the Kremlin’s international propaganda apparatus. Back in 1978 the magazine Covert Action Information Bulletin appeared to expose the secrets of Western intelligence. Its editor was Phil Agee, a disgruntled former CIA officer who had gotten into bed with Cuban and Soviet intelligence (his KGB covername was PONT). CAIB was in fact founded on the direction of the KGB and for years served as a conduit for Kremlin lies and disinformation that seriously harmed Western intelligence.

While CAIB presented itself to the public as a truth-telling group of “whistleblowers,” in actuality it was a KGB front, though few magazine staffers beyond Agee knew who was really calling the shots and paying the bills. It’s best to think of Wkilieaks as no more than CAIB updated for the Internet age. Since senior Kremlin security officials have recently admitted that Snowden is their agent, and has shared American secrets with them, Ed is merely today’s Phil Agee—though Phil at least had the sense to defect to sunny Havana rather than snowy Moscow.

The important part of this story is that Russian intelligence, using its Wikileaks cut-out, has intervened directly in an American presidential election. This was something even the KGB was sheepish about doing at the height of the Cold War, but Putin fears nothing in Obama’s Washington, as his increasingly brazen actions against Americans plainly illustrate.

The most damaging aspect to the DNC leak is the certainty that Moscow has placed disinformation—that is, false information hidden among facts—to harm the Democrats and the Clinton campaign. Disinformation is a venerable Russian spy trick that can be politically devastating to its target.

Disinformation is most effective when it plays upon essential truths. Since Hillary really is corrupt and less than honest, and the DNC actually has done her bidding in shady ways, lies that amplify those themes will be readily believed by many Americans. It’s obvious that Moscow prefers Trump over Clinton in this election, which ought not surprise given the important role of Putin-friendly advisors in the Trump campaign, and what better way to help is there than to discredit Team Clinton?

It’s apparent already that some of the most salacious emails in the DNC mega-dump are fake—as is to be expected. It’s normal Russian spycraft to place juicy fake messages among a lot of genuine ones. Here we need rigorous independent analysis of this latest Wikileaks operation to assess what’s real and what’s made up by somebody in Moscow.

I’m anything but a Hillary fan, as my extensive reporting on her crimes and lies in EmailGate can attest. However, I am far more troubled by the naked interference of the Kremlin and its spy agencies in American democracy, which is a threat to our freedoms beyond anything the Clintons might do. Every American should demand thorough investigation of the DNC leak and it’s well past time for the mainstream media to examine closely what Wikileaks really is—as I’ve been doing for years. It’s satisfying to see my reality-based counterintelligence analysis of Wikileaks finally being endorsed by the media, but I would have preferred if they had paid attention earlier and the current election-year disaster with DNC emails had been avoided.