A different perspective on Trump and Russia

It should be obvious to anyone who follows today’s so-called cable news shows – meaning watching all of them at times – that there is a dishonest and dangerous bias.  The most obvious by far is MSNBC.  Almost without exception, the anchors and panelists spin every report and analysis against President Trump, Republicans and conservatives.

The corporate mission is obvious.  They want President Trump impeached and Democrats to take over the Congress.  Their bias and distortion of facts is so extreme and so empirically provable that it is not unreasonable to question whether they are violating their obligation to fairness that is inherent in their license to broadcast.

MSNBC may be the worst, but they are not alone in abusing the much-honored ethics and traditions of a free press.  They have abdicated objectivity to be the captives of partisan interests.  That is why they are often seen more as prosecutors and propagandists than legitimate news outlets.  It is also the reason why more and more Americans are growing weary of their biased reporting.

To understand the extreme to which MSNBC will go to sell its mendacious narrative, you need to have seen Live with Stephanie Ruhle when William Cohan, Special Correspondent for the consistently anti-Trump Vanity Fair magazine appeared as a panelist.  He declared that the reason for Trump’s refusal to ever criticize Russia (a dubious supposition to begin with) is because Putin has something on Trump.  It is Cohan claimed, “there can be no other reason.”  Such an opinion paraded as a fact may be – just may be – excusable from some hyperventilating protestor on the streets of Boston but coming from a person bearing the credentials of journalist, the comment is beyond obscenity.  And the fact that Ruhle would wallow in such trash tabloid journalism says a lot about her integrity – but that is who they are.

Devoid of facts, the main narrative is that Trump is in cahoots with Russian President Vladimir Putin.  If you follow only MSNBC, you might be prone to believe the narrative.  After all, you are only getting one spin on the facts – and as we all know, there are always two sides.

If MSNBC and the cabal of media bubble dwellers represent the prosecutor in the court-of-public-opinion, perhaps it would be useful to hear what the defense might argue.

The first and foremost question to be answered is: Has the Trump administration been soft on Russia?

A case can be made that Trump has dealt with Russia more severely than his predecessors, Presidents Bush and Obama.  Bush thought he could trust Putin because he looked into his eyes and under Obama, then Secretary of State Clinton offered up the silly reset button to affirm a friendlier relationship.  Later on, Obama was caught in an open mic situation privately assuring Putin, through Dmitry Medvedev, that after the election he would have more “flexibility” in working with Russia.

We can look at the Obama record not as a means to simply dredge up the past for criticism, but to show the hypocrisy of today’s media in dealing with presidents they prefer over presidents they dislike.

It was under Obama that the uranium deal was made to put 20 percent of America’s critical resource under Russian control.  The Obama administration stood down as Russia expanded its military and political influence in the Middle East.  Obama obeyed Russia’s command to stay out of the airspace over Syria.  Obama allowed Russia to rescue the despotic regime of Bashir al Assad.  Under Obama, the United States entered into a deal that gave Iran money and prestige – and much greater influence in the Middle East.

The Obama administration took no action after it was determined that it was the Russian military that shot down a civilian airliner over Ukraine.  Obama took no action as Russia seized the Crimea.  Obama maintained a policy of refusing to allow the Ukraine government to purchase military weapons.

As early as 2014, when the U.S. first learned of Russian interference in our elections (according to then-Director of National Intelligence James Clapper) the White House took no action.  During the 2016 presidential campaign, when the scope of Russian interference accelerated, Obama took no immediate action. When he finally spoke of the interference publicly, there was again no action — just his statement that he had told Putin “to stop it.”  It was only in the last days of his administration that Obama applied sanctions, booted out Russian spies and seized a Russian facility.

On the question of the nuclearization of North Korea, the Obama administration did not aggressively confront Russia or China, both of which were supporting the Kim Jong Un regime at the time.  Throughout the Obama presidency, neither Secretary of State John Kerry nor UN Ambassadors Susan Rice and Samantha Powers made anything more than ineffective mild rebukes of Russia.

Despite all these facts, MSNBC (and others) remained uncritical of President Obama and Russia.  But, what is the Trump record regarding Russia?

Very early on, MSNBC & Co. engaged in a speculative narrative that Trump would undue the Obama sanctions and return the seized facilities back to the Russians.  They highlighted totally unrelated meetings with Russians by various administration officials to pad the narrative with specious substance.  Of course, the sanctions were never lifted, and the facilities never returned – a fact that never changed the reporting bias.

Trump changed the rules of military engagement in the Middle East – signaling Russia that the United States was no longer “leading from behind.”  This resulted in an attack on a Syrian airbase that was used by the Russians – and drew condemnation from Putin.  The Trump administration reclaimed the airspace that had been exclusively used by Russia.  Under the Trump rules of engagement, US forces killed dozens of Russian paramilitary soldiers in a skirmish in Syria.

Trump reversed the Obama policy in Ukraine to provide military equipment along with humanitarian aid.  In no uncertain terms, Trump warned Putin to cease his ambition to take over Ukraine.  Since then, Russia has been stymied to a standoff.

In a direct affront to Putin, Trump called on NATO to expand its military capability and over Russian objections supported the admission of Montenegro to the alliance.

When Congress passed additional sanctions on Russia, Trump signed the bill into law.  He subsequently imposed the sanctions.  The best the left could claim is that he never wanted to sign the bill and delayed in imposing the sanctions – an example of media narrative trumping reality.

Trump’s Secretary of State and UN Ambassador have engaged in some of the harshest condemnation of Putin and his administration.  To maintain their narrative of Trump being a captive of Putin, the media suggests that such administration statements were contrary to the President’s beliefs.  This media spin flies in the face of a President who has never been reluctant to publicly criticize his own team when he disagrees. The claim that they did not speak for the President is a media concoction.

Then there is the matter of Trump’s personal statements.  Does Trump believe that Russia has meddled in our elections?  On numerous occasions he has said that he did – although such statements got almost no media attention.  When Trump calls the Special Counsel Robert Mueller investigation a “witch-hunt,” he has repeatedly stated that he is referring only to the unproven media accusations of campaign collusion.  In view of the utter lack of any evidence, officially presented or leaked, Trump’s criticism, if not his style, may have some justification.

Then there is the question as to why Trump does not personally use harsh language against Putin.  Why is Putin the exception?  Why doesn’t Trump verbally assault Putin like he does Kim Jong Un?

If you look at the big picture, Putin is not the exception.  Kim is.  Outside of the North Korean despot, Trump’s public statements about other heads-of-state are devoid of the pugnacity that often characterizes his comments about others.  Despite the many issues we have with China – trade imbalance, money manipulation, North Korea, the South China Sea and others – Trump keeps a friendly dialogue with President Xi Jinping.  Trump’s joke about Xi’s rise to lifetime autocracy and his congratulations of Putin’s less-than-democratic re-election seem to suggest a certain consistency. Trump has praised Turkey’s new dictator Recep Tayyip Erdoğan even as we offended him with our support of the Kurds.  Trump has praised President Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines.

But even as the press falsely claims that Putin is an exception, they float an inconsistent theory that reveals their obsessive hypocrisy — that he speaks softly to despots because he relates to them.  But even that is only a biased spin.  He tends to speak softly to ALL heads of state except Kim Jong Un – and now that Trump has pushed both Russia and China into a denuclearization policy, has South Korea leading the way to talks and has Kim putting the nuclear program on temporary hold and agreeing to talk – lo and behold, Trump is talking nice even about Kim.  The idea that Trump treats Putin differently is persuasive only if you ignore the larger facts.

One of the most recent attacks on Trump in terms of the Putin bromance narrative is the fact that he congratulated Putin when he was advised in writing not to do so.  He did not confront Putin on the phone with the gas attack in Britain.  There are two disturbing elements of that media-hyped story.  First, it is not at all sure that Trump was given that memo prepared by down the line staffers.

And how did that memo fall into the hands of the Washington Post? Such leaking is a serious crime.  It is also a crime that the media is quick to exempt from our vaunted “rule of law” and “no person is above the law.”  The story also violates the traditional rule of two sources – especially when they are anonymous.  Based on the evidence, one can conjecture that the President ignored the advice of his top advisors OR that the memo was an intentional scam to hurt the President.  So far, there is no evidence to discount either specious spin although the truth is probably somewhere in the middle.

Finally, what is it that Putin has on Trump that might give legitimacy to the media narrative and Vanity Fair Cohan’s flat out claim that they do?  This scurrilous suspicion is also advanced by former CIA Director John Brennan and several other never-Trump establishmentarians who are put forward as authorities.  But when asked what evidence there might be, he does not know.  Even Cohan admits that he does not know.  Maybe, they say – just maybe – it has to do with some business transaction in the past or maybe, just maybe, it has to do with some sexual activity like that described in the now discredited dossier.  It is all conjecture to the point of slander – and if Trump were not a public figure, he might well have a good case for slander.

Maybe Trump should get more involved in the verbal attacks on Russia and Putin.  Maybe he has to be clearer on what part of the Russian investigation he opposes.  Maybe he should stop using provocative language.  All that can be fairly argued.  But the idea that Trump rolls over for Putin, or that Trump is some sort of Manchurian candidate, does not comport with the bigger picture.

Perhaps the most telling corruption of so-called news outlets like MSNBC is that they almost never have a panelist who will give serious fact-based second opinions.  In their court-of-public-opinion, there is no room for the defense.

About Larry Horist

Larry Horist is a conservative activist with an extensive background in public policy and political issues. Clients of his consulting firm have included such conservative icons as Steve Forbes and Milton Friedman, and he has served as a consultant to the White House under Presidents Nixon and Reagan. He has testified as an expert witness before numerous legislative bodies, including the U. S. Congress and lectured at Harvard University, Northwestern University, Florida Atlantic University, Knox College and Hope College. An award winning debater, his insightful and sometimes controversial commentaries appear frequently on the editorial pages of newspapers across the nation. He can be reached at lph@thomasandjoyce.com.

One comment

  1. A great write Larry. Truly accurate
    Keep up the good work.

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