You wouldn’t know it from the coverage in most of the media, but there were three main conclusions from the Justice Department’s indictment of 13 Russians for tampering with the 2016 president election.
1. There was no collusion with the Trump campaign or any other American.
2. Nothing the Russians attempted to do changed the outcome of the election.
3. Even though their efforts ended up being in support of Trump, after the election the Russians organized both pro and anti-Trump rallies, because their main goal is to sow distrust among Americans in our election process and outcomes.
Deputy U.S. Attorney General Rod Rosenstein made all of those points abundantly clear in a press conference Friday.
“There is no allegation in this indictment that any American was a knowing participant in this illegal activity,” Rosenstein said. He added, “There is no allegation in the indictment that the charged conduct altered the outcome of the 2016 election.”
Month after month, our major media outlets could talk of nothing but “collusion” between the Russians and the Trump campaign. That allegation dominated virtually every major newspaper, the cable news networks – especially CNN and MSNBC – along with the nightly network news shows and the Sunday morning programs.
The TV pundits and major newspapers are now trying to minimize or ignore the months they spent hyping their collusion theories. Since the indictments were announced, those outlets have now switched their focus to the fact that Russia tried to interfere with the elections, and that President Trump is not doing or saying enough to express outrage on the topic.
What would be nice is to hear them say, “We apparently were wrong about collusion, and we were wrong that the Russians stole the election.” Keep waiting. Instead, they’re insisting (hoping) that there might still be more to come.
Trump, like everyone else, is well aware that the collusion angle is what dominated the news. It is small wonder that his focus since the indictments were announced is on pointing out what the major media outlets are downplaying – no collusion, no impact on the election outcome.
Is it troubling that Russia attempted to influence U.S. elections, and is trying again in the upcoming midterms? Of course. But it was just as troubling when foreign powers tried to do the same thing in 2008 and 2012, with barely a whimper from most pundits, not to mention government officials.
In a May 2013 article, TIME magazine reported efforts by foreign powers to influence the 2012 elections, with China in particular attempting to hack emails and databases of both the Obama and Romney campaigns, along with various political organizations and media outlets like the New York Times and Washington Post.
The 2013 TIME article reported, “Less than a month after he joined the Obama campaign in August of 2011, Ben Hagen faced a challenge he wasn’t expecting — foreign nation-states were trying to gain access to the campaign’s databases and social media accounts with extraordinarily sophisticated means, Hagen tells TIME.”
“This is only a growing problem,” said Hagan, a security engineer recruited to combat the hacking attempts.
The article noted, “The same was true across the aisle, where the Romney campaign was ‘under constant attack,’ according to digital director Zac Moffatt, ‘four or five times a week.’ Neither campaign official would confirm which nation states were responsible, but one Obama campaign staffer said she was warned about the threat from China in particular.”
One might wonder: Where were the months and months of nightly media handwringing over foreign governments attempting to “hack” the 2012 elections? Where were the demands from Big Media for President Obama to do something about it?
The same TIME article reported that similar efforts were happening four years earlier: “In 2008 both the Obama and McCain campaigns were the victims of a sophisticated hack, believed by law enforcement to be tied to foreign governments… “
The story added, “The revelation in the days following Obama’s historic victory was largely overlooked, and it was just a taste of what was to follow.”
That last sentence sums it all up rather neatly, if unintentionally: Obama won, the media was happy. Foreign interference? Nothing to see here.
It wasn’t until Donald Trump won the presidency — in an upset that led most election night media reporters and commentators to behave as though they were on suicide watch — that attempts by foreign nationals to influence our elections suddenly became round-the-clock news, leading to FBI investigations, the appointment of a special prosecutor and the impaneling of a grand jury.
What was President Obama’s response in 2016 to the Russian election interference? He reportedly told Russian President Vladimir Putin to “cut it out.” That satisfied the media.
Friday’s indictments said the Russians’ main goal was to “sow discord” among Americans about the U.S. elections. Borrowing a description from the indictments in regard to Russian contacts with duped Americans, I’ll be kind to the major media outlets by saying their assistance in that regard has been “unwitting.”
Foreign entities working through social media or other means to influence U.S. elections is a growing problem that we should fight with every means available. Personally, I’m as concerned about it today as most of the media was in 2008 and 2012 — no more, no less.
Reach Gary Abernathy at 937-393-3456 or follow on Twitter @AbernathyGary.