If we take the spy scandal seriously, we give ourselves a chance to heal
Absolutely vital that it's taken seriously.
The NYT has a deep aversion to self-reflection, sadly.
But beyond that, there seems to be a deafening silence from DC on the implications of the McGonigal arrest. There should be a full inquiry, presumably held some of it within Senate Intelligence. Will there be one? This was at least as serious a vulnerability as 9/11. How much of Mueller - weak though he was - would need to be re-done if that team had known of McGonigal's loyalties? How does the FBI reassure us they're identifying and rooting out any McGonigal cronies and others on the take from foreign powers?
Your crystal clear analysis of the Times reporting here is of course applicable to so much of what is written today. It feels as though we have traded watch dogs for lap dogs who want a quote more than they want the truth. What can we do? It was well known among those of us with DOJ contacts that Comey’s hand was forced by the New York Office of the FBI, but it was chalked up to MAGA FBI agents. With this new disclosure, every paper should be re-reporting at least from this point forward so that the DNC hack, Manafort’s (a puzzling selection by Trump at the time) role, and even Barr’s utter dismissal of Mueller’s work can be re-contextualized. But it is difficult even to find reporting on McGonigle. Who in the media is even looking now, let alone willing to look backward? Thank you for persevering on this topic and for writing so cogently about that which drives me crazy every time it’s clear that the reporter and source are too intertwined or the editor is too intent on ‘balance.’
The subject of your article has greatly disconcerted me since 2015. Watching the 2015 Republican "debates" was horrifying for me. Trump was allowed to get by, no questions asked, with the most outrageous statements -- and no moderator called him on it. I remember sitting in our living room, screaming at the moderators. Well-informed, unbiased reporting appears to be one of the most serious casualties since Trump appeared on the scene. Probably before, but I was unaware. As a non-journalist, I haven't been able to articulate for myself what, exactly, is going wrong. Finding your detailed analysis is so helpful. I am grateful to have found "Thinking about..." Thank you.
Absolutely critical information that needs to be widely shared. Thank you Tim Synder for all of your continued efforts.
If we heal, then we could be able to handle other issues that confront us. The Russian invasion of Ukraine needs good reporting and analysis coming from solid information and experience. Right now, the 2016 factors are continuing as noted in this paragraph:
"I want to start with a brief statement that figures late in the article: an aside, a minor element of a narrative pile-on designed to convince the reader that even the most obvious connections between Trump and Russia have not panned out. The article offers a reassurance that Trump's campaign manager, Paul Manafort, is not being investigated in connection with Russia, but instead for his work for a "kleptocratic government in Ukraine." The reader might understandably conclude that nothing connected Manafort and Russia. And that would be entirely incorrect. (By the way, this rhetorical strategy -- "it's not Russia, it's Ukraine! And Ukraine is corrupt!" -- is now very familiar, brought to us constantly by Russian war propaganda, Donald Trump, Donald Trump Jr., Rudolph Giuliani, Tucker Carlson, and other Americans who worked alongside, endorsed, or helped cover up the Russian operation of 2016. The people who went along the Russian operation then tend to go along with the Russian invasion now)."
This is one of your best, Professor Snyder.
1,) "On Comey's account, his hand was forced in October 2016 by FBI New York, which otherwise would have leaked the same information."
I've always found Comey's account telling. For if this had been true, he was admitting that he had no control over the NY FBI field office. But that makes no sense because, after all, he was the FBI director. I'd read somewhere that he was concerned about sullying the FBI's reputation. But if that had been the case, he would have quietly done something about the NY office. It is impossible for me to believe that Comey was not aware of the goings-on in that office, and for a very long time. He might have chosen to act long before the 2016 election. The operative word in that sentence is "chosen."
But I think it's reasonable to assume that the problem existed long before Comey's time, which speaks of deep and long-term corruption. Craig Unger's book is helpful here. That police forces and intelligence agencies the world over have long had connections to crime and criminality shouldn't surprise us. That is part of the job, and there is no way of getting around it. So that in itself is not the problem. The problem is the refusal of those within the system to address corruption when it arises.
2.) "The problem is the shoehorning of the variety of perspective and the abundance of fact into two (always two!) 'sides,' and then confusing that method with the story itself, or with reality itself."
Gak! I'm so glad you brought this up, because it has been driving me mad for decades. It goes back to Rush Limbaugh. Whenever I hear someone saying, "I always try to look at both sides," I know that person is so deeply entrenched in U.S. popular culture that s/he doesn't even know it. The answer to this awful problem is nuanced thinking, which means not just reading (a lot!), but exposure to other societies, perhaps by reading international newspapers, and also by learning other languages. I've long said that language is the receptacle of culture, meaning that learning a language will necessarily expose one to the culture of the native speakers of that language. Learning another language also exposes the monolingual speaker to major differences in grammar, syntax, and words and phrases that cannot be literally translated into one's own, thus giving the learner an appreciation of the difficulties in translating, especially literature and poetry, and that all too often only an approximation can be had. Learning a language forces one, in other words, to think differently, and as a bonus, offers insights into one's own language that otherwise would have been impossible. Native English speakers who've never been exposed to other languages have no idea how wonderfully absurd and illogical the English language is, and thus how lucky they are to have learned it as their native language. Polish is a phonetic language. English is all over the place, so that one must hear how every word is pronounced before knowing how to pronounce it. German commas are purely functional, but English may or may not use them to separate clauses, and also uses them for nonfunctional purposes.
While it may seem like I've gone way off the subject, in fact I have not. The cure for thinking that thinks in terms only of two sides is exposure to thinking that is more complex and nuanced.
Thank you. This is an excellent essay- worth reading again and reflecting upon. We ( some of us) rolled our eyes at what the New York Times in 2016 was "pushing" at us, joking about constant dwelling on Hillary's emails. We wondered how this was more important than what we were seeing and hearing from and about Trump and our gut feelings. I have read the NYTimes for many years and value it, but I must say in recent years I have been very disappointed at times, and this was one of them. I attributed it to a new generation at the paper, new editors, the switch to online and competition perhaps as a more national paper appealing to a larger "constituency" to meet the bottom line. How they treat Israel, for instance, has been smelling for years of fear of losing a certain readership. Thankfully now we get our information and news in many ways and globally. The news here has to have a global perspective as well, agreed.
I think Russia wanted Trump because he is manipulatable, transparent in his needs. We thought that then. Remember rumors about "Komprimat"(?) what Russia had on him. He was so openly pro Russia. The psychological game the Russians were playing worked; they knew Trump, they knew us, our vulnerabilities, our naiveté, our prejudices, fears; they knew the way the GOP was headed, what it wanted. I think of Hillary standing there on the stage in debate with Trump, outshining him in every way, warning us in plain language. People believe what they want to believe and call the rest conspiracy theory while they weave their own.
There is no excuse today for not checking what you are ingesting.
These two essays are profoundly helpful. There were so many questions I had after reading the Mueller Report, which read like a spy novel, and there didn't seem to be any place to go to look for answers. I knew there was more to this and I knew it would get even creepier the deeper we looked. I am hoping that this isn't swept under the rug because it not only affects the United States, but also the rest of the democratic world. I am particularly relieved to know that there are others out there who see a lot of the news more as gossip and rumor than clear headed, factual reporting. That has to change. Thank you.
Do you anticipate the NYT responding?
Thank you, Prof Snyder, for this information and your insights.
Among the many personally useful parts of your account of these events is:
"...there are better and worse ways of reporting, and we need the better ones. In the passages I pick out below, we encounter seven deadly sins of American-style journalism: (1) the implicit definition of reality as American official opinion; (2) the conflation of a specific American official's statement with a fact about the world; (3) the disinterest in facts that are bountifully and readily at hand (and contradict the official opinion or at least call it into question); (4) a provincial indifference to the rest of the world (in a story which purports to be about another country); (5) the reduction of events in American politics to a gossip game between two "sides"; (6) the concession of gossip-game space to whoever gives the best quotation (even when that person is known to lie and has a stake in lying, in this case Roger Stone); (7) and the pretense that refereeing a gossip game is objectivity."
The impacts of these cannot be minimized. They have also been noted and discussed in two histories written by American historian Bruce Cumings (his The Origins of the Korean War, and his Parallax Vision). The impacts of journalism on public opinion and choices of action and on government officials' and the US military officials' choices, public statements, and policy choices and policy implementation have been and are significant, either improving or confusing (even eliminating) public attention to and credibility of both
fact based alternative perspectives and choices
and the reporters and proponents of them.
Perhaps of interest: other examples which document and provide evidence of political and geopolitical significance of these tendencies of journalists and American media sources appear clearly in other events (e.g., during the Nixon-Kissinger era and the Vietnam War era). One hard to find study that provides some evidence is the less-known "THE POLITICS OF ESCALATION IN VIETNAM", by Schurmann, Franz, 1924-; Scott, Peter Dale; Zelnik, Reginald E (Boston, Beacon Press 1966).
We need better reporting with better reliance on first sources or on credible use of public information by other sources. We need and cannot do without our own direct involvement in fact- and sources-checking and our own willingness to act to directly alert journalists and those around us (friends, family, and so on) if and when we are aware of facts and credible narratives which cause us to question the reasonableness and the reality of public journalism, public statements, and so on. We are part of the makers-of-'character' in our community's public discourse and rhetoric.
Yes, the Russians absolutely drove Donald Trump. It's been obvious so many times. Thank you for explicitly putting it all together. Cowardly, senior white guy Mueller would not risk himself and step up to the plate for America. (Should have put a woman in charge of that investigation.)
The other nation that American lets get away with actual murder, every time, including 3000+ American deaths on 9/11, is Saudi Arabia. We beat up in Afghanistan for 20 years when the villains were and are not the Afghans. Of course the Taliban are poor, extreme and violent among their own people but they did not propel Al Qaeda to terrorize America.
We don't need healing. We need justice applied to the powerful, not just the rabble.
Excellent commentary (?Essay?).
I wonder what Peter Strzok, the senior FBI counter-terrorism agent who was fired shortly after TFG was sworn in, has to say about McGonigal et al. His book doesn't quite touch it.
Dear Doctor Snyder,
I subscribe to you here and have read all but a couple of your books. We corresponded last year about my book, “Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory: Religion and the Politics of Race in the Civil War Era and Beyond.” I sent you an electronic copy of the un-copy edited version, and with it now out, I would like to send you an inscribed copy as a thank you for taking the time last year. It was published by Potomac Books, an imprint of the University of Nebraska Press, on October 1st, 2022. Please let me know, I respect you so much. Ironically, had it not been for being assigned to the faculty of the Joint Forces Staff College and leading the Gettysburg Staff Ride, I would have probably been writing about the Holocaust, the Einsatzgrüppen, and the War Crimes trials as my major undergraduate history professor, Dr. Helmut Haeussler at California State University was a translator at the Nuremberg War Crimes trials from 1955-1948.
If those who follow you here are interested, the book is available at all the major online retailers including Amazon. To whet their interest here are some of critical reviews:
“A richly documented history of the ideology of racism that manifested itself in slavery, the Confederacy, the overthrow of Reconstruction, Jim Crow, and the myth of the Lost Cause that glorified the Old South and the Confederacy.”—James M. McPherson, author of the Pulitzer Prize–winning Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era
“Steven L. Dundas brings us a powerful history, not only of slavery but, and even more important, of the consequences of untruths and how twisted religious beliefs shaped America. All educators should read it and ensure that its message is delivered to their students.”—Joseph J. Levin Jr., cofounder and emeritus board member of the Southern Poverty Law Center
“Steven L. Dundas has written the definitive account of America’s onerous history with African Americans. A must-read to fully understand, teach, or discuss the institutions of slavery, racism, and religion and their current impacts. Every school library should have a copy.”—Lloyd V. Hackley, president and CEO of Hackley and Associates and former president of the North Carolina Community College system
“Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory is a book for our time. Steven L. Dundas has skillfully woven slavery, race, racism, politics, and religion into a single entity in telling this country’s complex story. Every American would profit from reading what he is telling us.”—Charles B. Dew, author of Apostles of Disunion: Southern Secession Commissioners and the Causes of the Civil War
“With no sugar coating of America’s history of slavery and racism, Steve Dundas adds to the story of the religious ideology used to justify slavery, not as a side note but as the significant factor that it was. A very timely read as we face the growing threat of today’s Christian nationalists and white supremacists.”—Chris Rodda, author of Liars for Jesus, The Religious Right’s Alternate Version of American History, volumes 1 and 2
“American slavery’s ghosts and the Civil War haunt this sweeping interpretation of how a toxic blend of white supremacy and tribal religion still shape American society. In this historical account Steve Dundas analyzes its significance for our current social and political divisions making it an especially timely study.”—Charles Reagan Wilson, author of Baptized in Blood, the Religion of the Lost Cause: 1865–1920
Thank you so much and please let me know how I can get the book to you.
The Russians hacked Republican computers as well, I believe. It seems likely they made good use of what they acquired there even if it didn’t include making it public I would think.
The NY FBI threatening to release information about the Clinton emails seems like something that’s been known for quite some time and that’s to include Rudy Guiliani’s involvement.
OMG Terrific analysis. But, please, where is the HOPE?
The fund raising for the Shahed Hunter Anti Drone system which Tim has sponsored as an Ambassador with United 24 is very close to nearing the goal