Intellectual fraud has been the hallmark of Russiagate since Hillary Clinton first blamed Russia for her loss to Donald Trump. Wild claims are frequently (and quietly) walked back, while the next cycle of wild claims demands our attention.
What started out as a salacious tale of Russian spies stealing an election and then running the White House via a Manchurian Candidate, has been whittled down to “it appears as if some guy who is maybe Russian might have given Wikileaks some stuff, but we’re not sure if it was ever published.” Corporate news obviously has a vested interest in keeping the original fiction alive, but the truth has been managing a comeback.
Well, that was before July 9 when Michael Isikoff published his “EXCLUSIVE! The true origins of the Seth Rich conspiracy theory. A Yahoo News investigation.” Prominent Bernie Sanders critic Amanda Marcotte quickly jumped on the “blame Seth Rich” bandwagon with her discursive contribution: “How The Seth Rich Conspiracy Put Trump In The White House.”
Michael Isikoff is the same Yahoo News reporter who first published the now-debunked claims in the Steele Dossier, and then modified his position saying many of his claims were “likely false” and media should have been more skeptical. Amanda Marcotte spends most of her time imagining that she’s the world’s foremost feminist and attacking Bernie Sanders and his supporters. She’s mostly forgettable, but this Isikoff ride-along article is so vile I’m mentioning it as a public service.
These articles are remarkable for the sheer desperation implied by their furious spinning. But they’re also notable for another reason: they’ve elevated one of the internet’s most disreputable hoaxers to the level of offical Russian state political operative.
OOPS ISIKOFF DID IT AGAIN
Isikoff wastes no time stating exactly what his central claims will be in the first paragraph of his story: “In the summer of 2016, Russian intelligence agents secretly planted a fake report claiming that Democratic National Committee staffer Seth Rich was gunned down by a squad of assassins working for Hillary Clinton, giving rise to a notorious conspiracy theory that captivated conservative activists and was later promoted from inside President Trump’s White House.”
There are five primary claims laid out here:
- Russian intelligence planted,
- a fake report,
- which became a ‘notorious conspiracy theory,’
- claiming that Seth Rich was gunned down by a squad of assassins working for Hillary Clinton.
- This fake Russian conspiracy theory was promoted “from inside President Trump’s White House.”
To support these claims Isikoff presents two pieces of information that drive the Yahoo News Exclusive Investigative Report.
ITEM #1 — THE “RUSSIAN REPORT”
The first item is that a former assistant U.S. attorney (D.C homicide prosecutor), Deborah Sines, used her security clearance to “access copies of two SVR intelligence reports about Seth Rich that were intercepted by U.S. intelligence officials.”
This content of these reports appeared on the cataclysm/UFO hoax website whatdoesitmean.com, which seemingly first appeared in 2004 and is run by an entity known as Sorcha Faal who may or may not be a woman, a group of women, a man named David Booth selling books about Planet X and the return of the Anunnaki, or an escaped mental patient who learned HTML in the 90s.
Falling far short of presenting a threat to democracy, the whatdoesitmean.com website is an object of ridicule even on UFO websites such as Above Top Secret, and ZetaTalk—a site whose content is channeled from aliens originating from Zeta Reticuli. Links provided refer to pages specifically devoted to Sorcha Faal.
As an aside, while the name Sorcha Faal might sound menacingly Russian, it’s actually Gaelic.
When Sorcha Faal isn’t mesmerizing the former assistant U.S. attorney who was supposed to prosecute Seth Rich’s murderer, she’s posting articles like “Mysterious Planet Ejected From Black Hole At Center Of Galaxy Warned Could Soon Impact Earth,” and “Jade Helm war exercise linked to Nordic Alien UFOs invading Texas.”
Isikoff alleges that Sorcha Faal provided “the first known instance of Rich’s murder being publicly linked to a political conspiracy.” Philip Bump refutes this notion in the Washington Post. It definitely wasn’t the first instance of linkage to a political conspiracy. As Bump points out political murder conspiracies around the Clintons have a name: Clinton Body Count, and they go back as far as the 90s when Bill Clinton was president.
The particular version of the Seth Rich conspiracy cited on the Sorcha Faal site is UNLIKE any speculation on the unsolved murder of Seth Rich. So the claim that it drove internet conspiracy theories is a straw man. Isikoff uses this straw man to claim that the speculation floated on the Sorcha Faal website is an “example of how fake news infects the internet.” But in order for Isikoff’s claim to be true he’d need to provide examples of this particular idea being repeated in serious or at least semi-serious media—and that simply doesn’t exist. Sure, there were plenty of people speculating on the unsolved murder of Seth Rich, but literally no one (except Sorcha Faal) thought he was on his way to the FBI to turn Hillary Clinton in for rigging the presidential primary.
Isikoff warns in serious tones that the Sorcha Faal website “is a frequent vehicle for Russian intelligence.” But he doesn’t clarify which way the ‘phony’ Russian intelligence report went. Did U.S. intelligence intercept a Russian intelligence report on what appeared on the Sorcha Faal website? Or did Russian intelligence find its way to Sorcha Faal’s website? Heck, maybe it’s latter, and Russian intelligence that Seth Rich was on his way to the FBI was correct. Until evidence emerges no one can say for sure.
What we can say with certainty is that the obvious flimflam artist, Sorcha Faal hardly deserves a moment of our attention, let alone that of Isikoff, Russian intelligence, and the prosecutor in the Seth Rich murder case. Faal is considered a credibility-killer among posters on UFO/alien abduction forums. The audience for this aggregator of utter nonsense is internet rubberneckers who ridicule the site for amusement.
What IS clear is that Sorcha Faal wants you to believe she’s a frequent vehicle for Russian propaganda. Most articles on the website claim that the information came from “Russian intelligence,” and are “circulating through the highest levels of the Kremlin.” Anyone can make that claim. I could say that what I’m writing here was faxed to me by time-traveling Russian hackers—the same ones responsible for Joy Ann Reid’s written history of homophobia.
ITEM #2 — WHITE HOUSE INVOLVEMENT
The second item was presented by Isikoff thusly: “the Yahoo News investigation uncovered new evidence that the false claim that Rich was the victim of a political assassination was advanced by one of the White House’s most senior officials at the time.” Isikoff’s tone belies the mild point that former White House strategist Steve Bannon sent a text to a 60 Minutes producer that said: “Huge story…he was a Bernie guy…it was a contract kill, obviously.” The producer was working on a profile of Bannon that aired in September 2017, and presumably the subject of Seth Rich was brought up by either Bannon or the recipient of his text. The text is dated March 17, 2017, so it seems safe to assume that the text was in the context of Bannon chatting up the producer.
Even if Bannon was pitching a story, this doesn’t support Isikoff’s claim that the version of the conspiracy theory peddled by Sorcha Faal (or Russians or space aliens) was promoted by the White House. There’s no mention that Seth Rich was “on his way to squeal to the FBI,” and there’s no mention of Hillary Clinton. Rather, Bannon is speculating on an unsolved murder in the same way millions of other Americans speculate on unsolved murders all the time. This unsolved murder just happen to serve Bannon’s political interest.
I’d like to suggest that the solution to politically motivated speculation about unsolved murders is to solve the murders. Invoking a treacherous Russian plot as clickbait is precisely the kind of fact-free fear mongering Sorcha Faal peddles on whatdoesitmean.com.
Isikoff doesn’t claim that 60 Minutes ran with the Seth Rich story, or even quoted Bannon on this. The “new evidence” uncovered by “the Yahoo News investigation” is simply that Bannon texted something stupid to a television producer. There was no demonstrable effect in the real world, and it’s certainly not breaking news that Steve Bannon is a dipshit.
This claim that the White House promoted the Seth Rich conspiracy referenced in the intercepted Russian intelligence report simply isn’t supported by evidence. Other than this text message, Isikoff provides no other evidence of the Trump White House boosting the Seth Rich conspiracy. He’s merely insinuating that where there is smoke there is fire. Innuendo is a favorite mechanism for conspiracy theorists because the author doesn’t have to make their claims actually work—they just throw them at the wall and hope they stick. When the innuendo hits a critical mass of repetition, it’s considered “common knowledge.” Mission Accomplished, Russiagate.
AMANDA MARCOTTE: BAD TAKE QUEEN
Using Isikoff’s flawed article, Amanda Marcotte claims that Russians AND conservatives AND The Left used Sorcha Faal’s narrative to divide America and convince Bernie Sanders supporters not to vote for Hillary Clinton. I can’t decide which writer trades in the most absurdity, Marcotte or Faal. Here’s her most recent excuse for Hillary Clinton’s historic loss to her own handpicked pied-piper candidate Donald Trump. She states that the source of the DNC emails (to Wikileaks) was so critical in popular opinion that the Seth Rich narrative threw the election to Trump:
That’s where the Seth Rich conspiracy theory came in. It wasn’t just that it helped create an atmosphere of suspicion around Clinton. It also helped to bolster and protect the conspiracy theory that the primary was “rigged,” by giving true believers someone other than the Russians to credit for the anti-DNC conspiracy theories.
Marcotte’s fiction is that published emails from the DNC led to an outrage about the DNC rigging the primary—instead of superdelegates undermining voters, and news of a money laundering scheme via the Hillary Victory Fund, which had been discussed in national media for months. I wrote about the Hillary Victory Fund here.
According to Marcotte, it took Russians promulgating a conspiracy theory around the murder of Seth Rich to trigger a panic around the Democratic Presidential primary being rigged:
Most the campaign (sic) to sway Sanders supporters was centered around the Russian hacking of emails from DNC officials and the Clinton campaign, and their strategic release through WikiLeaks. The idea was to stoke the impression that Sanders would or should have have (sic) won the Democratic nomination, if only the DNC hadn’t “rigged” the race or sabotaged his campaign.
To bring this back down to earth, concern about rigging of the primary never hinged on the DNC emails. Debbie Wasserman Schultz didn’t resign her position as the head of the DNC because of the Seth Rich narrative. She resigned because she helped rig the primary—a fact that Donna Brazile as interim DNC chair admitted repeatedly, such as in this Vanity Fair piece entitled “Donna Brazile says she has ‘proof’ Clinton rigged the primary against Sanders.”
Democrats were rightly outraged that superdelegates decided the primary instead of voters. Party activists fought to reform the system because superdelegate rigging was so overt that it was a topic of outrage on mainstream media like The Morning Joe Show.
Marcotte warns “there’s every reason to believe that similar alliances between Russian propagandists and anti-democratic forces in the United States will try to pull similar stunts in 2020.” I think it’s far more likely that without taking responsibility for the failures of 2016, the Democratic Party and a lazy media establishment could lose again fair and square.
GETTING BACK IN SHAPE
But let’s be generous and say that both scenarios are equally possible. Doesn’t it seem more pragmatic to address the stuff you have power to fix? Why not reform the party, instead of wailing about loony conspiracy websites that claim to have Russian intelligence on speed dial?
If the Democratic Party were truly committed to winning in 2020 they’d attack their to-do list by acheiving the easy tasks first and letting the fanciful, neurotic stuff simmer until they’re tired of obsessing over it. It’s like when you’re serious about losing weight, you change your diet and exercise routine. You don’t instead obsess about building an addition to your house that will become your personal world class gym where you’ll finally be able to workout. You put on your shoes and walk (or run) it off.
One way gets you to your goal. The other becomes a perennial excuse.
Similarly, as long as we have the First Amendment, Americans will never have total control over what nefarious or ridiculous actors say. If it’s not Russian intelligence services “intruding” on our national discourse, it might be global terrorists. Maybe Sorcha Faal’s space faring Nordic aliens invading Texas seek to bend out national narrative. It doesn’t matter. We either clean up our own house or we don’t.
Isikoff and Marcotte have yet to write that column, and as long as they have Russiagate to blame, they never will.
Soon Robert Mueller will testify in Congress—publicly and behind closed doors (at least, that was the plan). I would love if this were to become the occasion to put Russiagate in proper perspective, and I have some reason to believe he’s compelled to do so. More on that in Part 2.