If this were fiction, if the Trump campaign had been merely an author's wild imagination, I would have found it too implausible to maintain my suspension of disbelief. That's how crazy things have gotten in America these days.
And it just gets worse and worse. Did you think that Trump bragging about how he could freely commit sexual assault, as a rich celebrity, was as bad as it could get? (And note, that is the problem with 'Pussygate'. It wasn't the language. It wasn't the "locker room banter." Donald Trump bragged about how he could force himself on women, with no consequences.)
To my mind, the latest news is even more alarming, though it probably won't have the same political impact. There's clear evidence that Donald Trump is getting his propaganda - his false propaganda - from Vladimir Putin's propaganda machine:
At a rally in Wilkes Barre, Pennsylvania, Trump spoke while holding a document in his hand. He told the assembled crowd that it was an email from Blumenthal, whom he called “sleazy Sidney.”
“This just came out a little while ago,’’ Trump said. “I have to tell you this.” And then he read the words from my article.
“He’s now admitting they could have done something about Benghazi,’’ Trump said, dropping the document to the floor. “This just came out a little while ago.”
The crowd booed and chanted, “Lock her up!”
The problem is, that wasn't true. And it was false in at least two ways, ways which clearly identify the source of the claim. The entire article at Newsweek is fascinating, but I'll try to present the gist of it in excerpts here:
An email from Blumenthal—a confidant of Hillary Clinton and a man, second only to George Soros, at the center of conservative conspiracy theories—turned up in the recent document dump by WikiLeaks. At a time when American intelligence believes Russian hackers are trying to interfere with the presidential election, records have been fed recently to WikiLeaks out of multiple organizations of the Democratic Party, raising concerns that the self-proclaimed whistleblower group has become a tool of Putin’s government. ...
The evidence emerged thanks to the incompetence of Sputnik, the Russian online news and radio service established by the government-controlled news agency, Rossiya Segodnya.
The documents that WikiLeaks has unloaded recently have been emails out of the account of John Podesta, the chairman of Clinton’s election campaign. Almost as soon as the pilfered documents emerged, Sputnik was all over them and rapidly found (or probably already knew about before the WikiLeaks dump) a purportedly incriminating email from Blumenthal. ...
The Russians were quoting two sentences from a 10,000-word piece I wrote for Newsweek, which Blumenthal had emailed to Podesta. There was no mistaking that Blumenthal was citing Newsweek—the magazine’s name and citations for photographs appeared throughout the attached article. The Russians had carefully selected the “of course” paragraph, which mentions there were legitimate points of criticism regarding Clinton and Benghazi, all of which had been acknowledged in nine reports about the attack and by the former secretary of state herself. But that was hardly the point of the story, “Benghazi Biopsy: A Comprehensive Guide to One of America’s Worst Political Outrages.” The piece is about the obscene politicization of the assault that killed four Americans, and the article slammed the Republican Benghazi committee, which was engaged in a political show trial disguised as a congressional investigation—the 10th inquiry into the tragedy. ...
Of course, this might be seen as just an opportunity to laugh at the incompetence of the Russian hackers and government press—once they realized their error, Sputnik took the article down. But then things got even more bizarre.
This false story was reported only by the Russian-controlled agency (a reference appeared in a Turkish publication, but it was nothing but a link to the Sputnik article). So how did Donald Trump end up advancing the same falsehood put out by Putin’s mouthpiece? ...
This is not funny. It is terrifying. The Russians engage in a sloppy disinformation effort and, before the day is out, the Republican nominee for president is standing on a stage reciting the manufactured story as truth. How did this happen? Who in the Trump campaign was feeding him falsehoods straight from the Kremlin? (The Trump campaign did not respond to a request for comment.)
The Russians have been obtaining American emails and now are presenting complete misrepresentations of them—falsifying them—in hopes of setting off a cascade of events that might change the outcome of the presidential election. The big question, of course, is why are the Russians working so hard to damage Clinton and, in the process, aid Donald Trump? That is a topic for another time.
For now, though, Americans should be outraged. This totalitarian regime, engaged in what are arguably war crimes in Syria to protect its government puppet, is working to upend a democracy to the benefit of an American candidate who uttered positive comments just Sunday about the Kremlin's campaign on behalf of Bashar al-Assad.
I don't know if it's clear from these excerpts (I didn't want to copy the entire article), but there were at least two separate errors in Sputnik's - and Trump's - claims. The first was simply misinterpreting a couple of lines from that earlier article for political advantage.
That was just propaganda, and it's possible that the Russian government and Donald Trump would both make that error deliberately, since both apparently want to damage the Clinton campaign. It's possible, in other words, that it was merely coincidence that both would use the same factually-incorrect propaganda, picking out the same lines from that article and making the same false claim about them.
But Sputnik was sloppy. They attributed that misleading excerpt to Sidney Blumenthal, but it was actually Kurt Eichenwald - the author of this latest Newsweek article setting the record straight - who actually wrote it. And Donald Trump made that error, too. He had to have gotten this from Sputnik.
PZ Myers shows why such "plagiarized errors" are so revealing:
The example often given is of how we can catch students cheating on a test: if two students turn in an exam with identical correct answers, it could just mean they both studied very hard and mastered the material well; if they have identical wrong answers, right down to the spelling mistakes, that tells you that someone has been slavishly copying someone else. For more examples of how the concept is actually used [in evolutionary biology], check out Plagiarized Errors and Molecular Genetics by Edward Max.
The nice thing about the plagiarized error concept is that it allows one to trace the history of the error. In the recent debate, Trump made an unusual error of attribution — he quoted Kurt Eichenwald (incorrectly, as it turns out, ignoring his conclusion) and claimed that it was a quote from Sydney Blumenthal. It was an odd combination of specific errors, and that makes one wonder where Trump could have gotten the same set of mistakes. It turns out that there is only one other media source that makes the same combination of errors, misattributing Eichenwald’s words to Blumenthal, and distorting the meaning of the piece in the same strange way, and that tells us exactly what source Trump plagiarized.
It came from “Sputnik, the Russian online news and radio service established by the government controlled news agency, Rossiya Segodnya“. Russian propaganda sources are feeding misinformation to the Trump campaign.
Incidentally, Josh Marshall at TPM has an interesting idea about this, though it certainly doesn't make Donald Trump look any better.
So how did a Russian propaganda goof or intentional error show up in the GOP nominee's speech?
But here's the thing. This isn't the first time this has happened. It's happened a number of times with Trump and his top level surrogates. Indeed, I examined the issue back in August.
We might speculate that there's some kind of mole in the Trump operation. Less conspiratorially, we might speculate that one of Trump's advisors with extensive ties to Russia is feeding Trump this stuff. The second option at least seems plausible. But there's actually a simpler explanation and it's one not based on speculation at all but things we know to be facts.
News from Russian propaganda sources are pervasive in the alt-right/neo-Nazi web. As a secondary matter we know from Adrian Chen's work that there are a decent number of faux 'pro-Trump' accounts on Twitter that are actually run from troll farms operated by Russian intelligence services. By whichever path, Russian propaganda is ubiquitous on the alt-right/racist web - particularly on Twitter, Reddit, 4chan and similar sites.
It happens that we know the Trump world is awash in the alt-right/neo-Nazi web. After all, that's where all the retweeting of #WhiteGenocide accounts and the like comes from. So anything is possible. Perhaps there's a more complex explanation. But the simplest one is that it's organic. Russian propaganda stories from outlets like RT, Sputniknews and other similar sites spread freely on the alt-right/white supremacist web. And that's where the Trump camp lives. So it's entirely plausible that that's why material that appears only on these Russian propaganda sites shows up so frequently in Trump's speeches.
In other words, don't worry. The Trump campaign isn't infiltrated by Russian intelligence (probably). They're just awash in neo-Nazi and white supremacist propaganda. See my piece from August for more details.
Yes, it's possible that the Trump campaign isn't being directed by Vladimir Putin (even though Putin is clearly doing everything he can to help Donald Trump). That's comforting, isn't it?
It's possible that Putin isn't even feeding Trump misinformation - not directly, at least. Maybe it's just that Donald Trump is getting his information from neo-Nazis and white supremacists who are getting their propaganda from Vladimir Putin. What a relief, huh? LOL
Oh, for the simpler times of yesterday, when I thought that the worst thing about the Republican candidate for President of the United States was his bragging about committing sexual assault.
Well, just wait until tomorrow, huh? I don't know how Donald Trump can go any lower, but I've thought that many times before and he always exceeds my expectations.