The Times Is Putin Us On

I wrote yesterday that the New York Times was planning on smearing conservatives as mouthpieces for Vladimir Putin. We know this because a Times reporter emailed Candace Owens and said she was working on such an article, the centerpiece of which was the claim that commentators like Candace are echoing Putin’s line that Ukraine is a corrupt country. Candace replied by pointing out that everything she knew about corruption in Ukraine came from news stories and articles in the Times, to which she provided links. Speaking of corruption, it is fun to see a Times reporter exposed as a fool.

Today the promised article appeared, with the headline “How Russia and Right-Wing Americans Converged on War in Ukraine.” Notably the authors, Sheera Frenkel and Stuart Thompson, have dropped the corruption angle that was so prominent just yesterday. They do nevertheless include Candace among the targets of their smear.

The article is weak even by the low standards of the Times. It is long on conclusions and short on evidence. The conclusions are stated up front:

As war has raged, the Kremlin’s talking points and some right-wing discourse in the United States — fueled by those on the far right — have coalesced. On social media, podcasts and television, falsehoods about the invasion of Ukraine have flowed both ways, with Americans amplifying lies from Russians and the Kremlin spreading fabrications that festered in American forums online.

By reinforcing and feeding each other’s messaging, some right-wing Americans have given credibility to Russia’s assertions and vice versa. Together, they have created an alternate reality, recasting the Western bloc of allies as provokers, blunderers and liars, which has bolstered Mr. Putin.

The reporters support their theme by quoting a friendly professor and a left-wing activist. But even a casual reader will notice that the article, 34 paragraphs long, hardly quotes a single well-known conservative–a curious omission. If prominent conservatives are supporting Putin’s view of the conflict, you can’t prove it by anything they actually say.

Journalism this bad doesn’t deserve an extensive critique, but here are a few big-picture observations. The main topic on which the Times says conservatives echo Russian propaganda is the existence of biolabs in Ukraine that are partly financed by the U.S. government:

in recent days, several far-right commentators have again gravitated to narratives favorable to Mr. Putin’s cause. The main one has been the bioweapons conspiracy theory, which has provided a way to talk about the war while focusing criticism on President Biden and the U.S. government instead of Mr. Putin and the Kremlin.

Note that the Times says “bioweapons,” while prominent conservatives have pointed out that there are “biolabs” in Ukraine that house potentially dangerous biological agents. This claim is, indeed, true, and it is also true that these labs are financed in part by our government. Indeed, if you read far enough, the Times acknowledges that the “main one”–the “bioweapons [sic] conspiracy theory”–is correct:

When Victoria Nuland, an under secretary of state, was questioned in the Senate this month over whether Ukraine had biological weapons, she said laboratories in the country had materials that could be dangerous if they fell into Russian hands.

The Times links to, but does not quote, an extensive discussion of this issue by Tucker Carlson. The Times writes, “Mr. Carlson later aired the Russian statement [on biolabs] on his show.” Actually, the lengthy piece by Tucker that the Times links to is exceptionally informative, and 1,000 times as intelligent as the Times article. You should read it.

Beyond those follies, the Times reporters use the time-honored trick of smearing genuinely prominent conservatives–Tucker Carlson, Candace Owens, Charlie Kirk–by quoting people no one has ever heard of, i.e., “Joe Oltmann, a far-right podcaster,” and “Joseph Jordan, a white nationalist podcaster who goes by the pseudonym Eric Striker.” Nice try, but it isn’t going to fool anyone.

Some prominent conservatives think there is merit to the idea that Russia understandably perceives the expansion of NATO onto its Western frontier as a national security threat, and that U.S. foreign policy therefore bears some responsibility for the current conflict. This isn’t how I read the situation, but it is hardly a fringe view, having been articulated by such establishment figures as George Kennan and Henry Kissinger.

I’m not sure when it was that criticism of U.S. foreign policy became disreputable and even treasonous. But I’m guessing the relevant date is January 20, 2021.

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