Rolling Stone has had its ups and downs. It’s still reeling from its trainwreck “A Rape On Campus” story by Sabrina Rubin Erdely that embroiled the magazine in controversy over a gang rape that allegedly happened at the University of Virginia. It didn’t. The Washington Post’s T. Rees Shapiromostly did the work that should’ve been done by the music magazine, which could have saved Erdely and the magazine a lot of pain. She was recently found guilty of defamation with actual malice against one of the administrators featured in the piece. Yet, out of the ashes, there’s Matt Taibbi, who while he’s probably no fan of Donald Trump, finds that the Left (and some on the anti-Trump Right) has gone insane over the Russia-Trump collusion narrative that has yet to produce any solid shred of evidence suggesting such coordination occurred during the 2016 election. It’s taken a life of its own to the point where writers who either question or hang back on this subject are accused of being Putin plants. The speculation game has devolved into mass hysteria, which could have an impact on future discourse in elections.
One way we recognize a mass hysteria movement is that everyone who doesn't believe is accused of being in on the plot. This has been going on virtually unrestrained in both political and media circles in recent weeks.
The aforementioned Mensch, a noted loon who thinks Putin murdered Andrew Breitbart but has somehow been put front and center by The Times and HBO's Real Time, has denounced an extraordinary list of Kremlin plants.
She's tabbed everyone from Jeff Sessions ("a Russian partisan") to Rudy Giuliani and former Assistant FBI Director James Kallstrom ("agents of influence") to Glenn Greenwald ("Russian shill") to ProPublica and Democracy Now! (also "Russian shills"), tothe 15-year-old girl with whom Anthony Weiner sexted (really, she says, a Russian hacker group called "Crackas With Attitudes") to an unnamed number of FBI agents in the New York field office ("moles"). And that's just for starters.
Eric Boehlert of Media Matters, upon seeing the strange behavior of Republican Intel Committee chair Devin Nunes, asked "what kind of dossier" the Kremlin has on Nunes.
Dem-friendly pollster Matt McDermott wondered why reporters Michael Tracey and Zaid Jilani aren't on board with the conspiracy stories (they might be "unwitting" agents!) and noted, without irony, that Russian bots mysteriously appear every time he tweets negatively about them.
Think about that last one. Does McDermott think Tracey and Jilani call their handlers at the sight of a scary Matt McDermott tweet and have the FSB send waves of Russian bots at him on command? Or does he think it's an automated process? What goes through the heads of such people?
I've written a few articles on the Russia subject that have been very tame, basically arguing that it might be a good idea to wait for evidence of collusion before those of us in the media jump in the story with both feet. But even I've gotten the treatment.
I've been "outed" as a possible paid Putin plant by the infamous "PropOrNot" group, which is supposedly dedicated to rooting out Russian "agents of influence." You might remember PropOrNot as the illustrious research team the Washington Post once relied on for a report that accused 200 alternative websites of being "routine peddlers of Russian propaganda during the election season."
Taibbi further takes us down into wackoland, where Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA) says that he’s brushed up on his Tolstoy and Nabakov, while reading a book about the Romanov family as the Senate Intelligence Committee starts its probe into the possible ties between the Trump campaign and Russian intelligence; Warner is the vice chairman of the committee. That’s nuts—and Taibbi makes a note of that.
He also notes how outlets, like Salon, now have a new theory on the “Bernie bros,” and how they were in on the Russian plot to foil Hillary Clinton’s presidential ambitions. Taibbi noted that 13.2 million people voted for Bernie Sanders. They were all in on it?
“If the party's leaders really believe that Russian intervention is anywhere in the top 100 list of reasons why some 155 million eligible voters (out of 231 million) chose not to pull a lever for Hillary Clinton last year, they're farther along down the Purity of Essence nut-hole than Mark Warner,” wrote Taibbi.
Here’s why he thinks this mass hysteria is also dangerous:
Moreover, even those who detest Trump with every fiber of their being must see the dangerous endgame implicit in this entire line of thinking. If the Democrats succeed in spreading the idea that straying from the DNC-approved candidate – in either the past or the future – is/was an act of "unwitting" cooperation with the evil Putin regime, then the entire idea of legitimate dissent is going to be in trouble.
Imagine it's four years from now (if indeed that's when we have our next election). A Democratic candidate stands before the stump, and announces that a consortium of intelligence experts has concluded that Putin is backing the hippie/anti-war/anti-corporate opposition candidate.
Or, even better: that same candidate reminds us "what happened last time" when people decided to vote their consciences during primary season. It will be argued, in seriousness, that true Americans will owe their votes to the non-Putin candidate. It would be a shock if some version of this didn't become an effective political trope going forward.
And yet, we have Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA), the ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee, saying that there’s circumstantial evidence of collusion and direct evidence of deception. Now, he says there’s still no definitive proof of collusion. Senate Democrats on the Intelligence Committee have also made similar admissions: that they doubt they will find a smoking gun to link the two camps. Still, the news media jumps on every new meeting Trump surrogates and officials have with the Russians. The ring of fire encircled Jeff Sessions without the liberal media even stopping to think (I know -- a rare occasion) that the now-attorney general served on the Senate Armed Services Committee. Meeting with foreign officials was common, as it is with most members of Congress. Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak was doing his job reaching out to Trump’s team during the 2016 election, as it was possible he could be the next president of the United States. There was nothing wrong with any meeting that took place between Trump officials and the Russians during the 2016 cycle. None. It was just a vanilla aspect of government relations that was never reported on because the news media thought that Trump would lose. When he won in arguably the greatest upset in American political history, it was a mad dash to discredit Trump. Even mere run-ins at a Starbucks between a Trump official and a Russian foreign staffer could be viewed as an act of treason in the eyes of the Left and the liberal media.
Katrina Vanden Heuvel, the editor and publisher of the left wing Nation magazine—a person with whom I disagree on everything—was right when she wrote that the Democrats are engaged in a “neo-McCarthyite furor” over Russia.
“The Times editorial board and others suggest that mere contact with Russian officials is somehow nefarious, if not criminal — and that to suggest better relations are in the offing with a new president is virtual treason,” she wrote.
And now you have Matt Taibbi, who is no friend of Trump or the Right, saying that this road the Left is traveling on with these Trump-Russia allegations is nothing short of a clown car trip into delirium. Folks, Clinton lost the election. Russia didn’t cause it. It was Clinton’s own incompetence than sunk her. She sucked and the fact you can’t admit that I feel contributed to this acid trip ride you decided to take in an effort to discredit the president.