In part one of our roundtable, The Real News Network’s Paul Jay, Kim Brown, and Aaron Mate discuss the response to Mate’s critique of Rachel Maddow’s Russia coverage.
KIM BROWN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Kim Brown in Baltimore. Russia, Rachel Maddow and the Democratic Unity Tour, these are some of the stories that have made our docket for today’s round table discussion with Real News editors and reporters. As you know, here at The Real News, we do not accept any government or corporate sponsorship. So, that means we are only accountable to one person, or one group of people; that is you our audience, our viewers and our listeners. And there are a handful of stories that have gotten some serious attention, not only on our website TheRealNews.com but on our YouTube page as well. And joining me in studio to discuss this is our Senior Editor, Paul Jay, and today we’re also joined by our host, and producer, Aaron Maté. Gentlemen, welcome. Thank you for being here. PAUL JAY: Thank you. KIM BROWN: So, one of the big stories that has gotten a lot of attention on our website this week, Aaron, is your story that you wrote about Rachel Maddow, and her Russia coverage for the Intercept. The name of your piece was titled, “MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow sees Russia Connection Lurking around Every Corner,” and we got a lot of response, both positive and negative, on our website and on the YouTube comments, etc. about this. What was the response that you got? AARON MATÉ: Yes. So, just to recap, I looked at six weeks of Maddow’s coverage, and found that she covered Russia more than every single other issue combined. And my main critique is that, (a) the sidelines attention to Trump’s actual policies; and it fuels a dangerous Russia hysteria, at a time when tensions are high between these two nuclear-armed powers. It also helps Democrats evade responsibility, and introspection, for their huge loss in 2016, by blaming Russian hacking into emails and spreading fake news, if they did indeed do that, which I would humbly suggest is not the primary reason why Clinton lost. So, a lot of people have pushed back and said, you know, “Why are you critiquing this great journalist, investigative reporting? I mean she’s focused on the biggest political scandal of our generation.” And you know, because a lot of people are hoping that uncovering Trump-Russia collusion will lead to Trump’s downfall. And my point was partly based on the fact that there’s not very much evidence of this yet. And so, this constant focus on Russia, is leading people to do journalism in an irresponsible way that spreads conspiracy theories, and is based on a lot of innuendo. And I provided many examples that I think exemplify that in Maddow’s coverage. So, people are saying, you know, “You’re going after Maddow for doing her job. And why are you also attacking someone’s reporting? Just focus on your own reporting.” But I thought it was important to try to hold the top-rated progressive news host on cable television accountable for what she’s doing, because I saw many examples where she’s pushing hawkish conspiracies. KIM BROWN: I saw there was a number of pieces written about your piece. AARON MATÉ: Yes. KIM BROWN: And you were attacked quite a bit. Someone characterized you as being a part of the green-wad left, trying to not only malign Rachel Maddow, but maybe blind women, and women speaking out on these particular issues. So, talk to me about your experience with this. AARON MATÉ: Yes. I have to say, one downside of writing this piece, is that seeing bigoted trolls on line take satisfaction from it, because I was critiquing Rachel Maddow. That’s not a positive outcome. And right wing sites like, the Blaze, and Fox News, they also seized on this too. And you know Fox News especially, having pushed birtherism for years, obviously has no right to be critiquing someone else for engaging in conspiracy theories. So, that part was an unfortunate downside. But you know, it was interesting to see Democratic partisans react to this so harshly. The Daily Banter, which is a very Democratic Party alliance site, they published two attack pieces against this. And one of them was called something like, “The Intercept goes to War against Rachel Maddow’s Investigative Reporting.” I thought the term ‘war’ was so funny because Rachel Maddow — part of what I critiqued about her, is her language, because she calls Russian hacking and fake news “international warfare”. RACHEL MADDOW: This is not part of American politics, this is not partisan warfare between Republicans and Democrats. This is international warfare against our country. AARON MATÉ: And then, now, for me to critique that, just to offer a critique of that, now I’m going to war against her. I’m not going to war. I mean, you know, my argument was not that Russia should not be covered. It was that it shouldn’t be covered to the degree where it vastly overshadows things, like people losing their healthcare. And it shouldn’t be covered in a way that pushes hawkish conspiracies like Vladimir Putin picked Rex Tillerson, picked Paul Manafort — is getting Trump to weaken the State Department. That Vladimir Putin might get Trump to withdraw U.S. forces from Europe, because he has a compromising sex tape on Donald Trump. This is all stuff that was on Rachel Maddow’s show, and that’s why I talked about it. So, all those pieces just totally ignored that, and they made it seem as if I was arguing that Russia is not a big deal, and it shouldn’t be covered at all. But really, no, what I was saying was that, you know, we should be looking at what Trump is actually doing. And if we’re going to look at Russia, we need to look at it in a sober way, not fill it with innuendo, and not do it in a way that is saber rattling for war. Because that’s what a lot of, unfortunately, Rachel Maddow has been doing. PAUL JAY: And I’d like to add to that, and not only is she being more hawkish than thou on Russia, she’s also doing it on Iran. She did a report again, it begins as an anti-Trump report, where she’s critiquing Trump for having some wheeling-dealings with Azerbaijan, and there’s money coming in this financial deal. And Azerbaijan, according to Rachel Maddow — and I have no reason to think she’s wrong — but the money is coming, she says, from the Iranian Revolutionary Guard. And then several times in this piece she keeps saying the phrase, in various ways, that the Iranian Revolutionary Guard is a big supporter of global terrorism. RACHEL MADDOW: But the Revolutionary Guard also wages war on behalf of Iranian interests and the Supreme Leader around the globe. The Iranian Revolutionary Guard is one of the world’s major supporters, financially and otherwise, of international terrorist movements. KIM BROWN: Does she offer any proof of the Iranian Guard participating or funding? PAUL JAY: No, there’s not a single example. KIM BROWN: She didn’t give you any examples? PAUL JAY: Not a single one. Now, what do we know of what they really mean and they, meaning the U.S. government, or John McCain, and others, who are constantly hammering on this, or Chuck Schumer, as I should add, this is a very bi-partisan effort, as you can see from Rachel Maddow’s participation. What it really means, is they don’t like that Iran supports Hezbollah in Lebanon, and they don’t like that Iran gives some support to Hamas in Gaza. I have not heard another example, maybe the Houthis in Yemen. But in terms of this idea of the biggest supporter of global terrorism, like, look around the world, where is this thing? And then when you dig into the specific issues of Hezbollah; Hezbollah is an organization that defends Lebanese sovereignty and integrity against Israel. You can have all kinds of critique of Hezbollah; you can slam them for coming to Assad’s support. And you know, you can debate it one way or the other, but this isn’t, you know, this global terrorism. This is not Al-Qaeda and all the rest. We know that if you want to single some country out for support for global terrorism, you start with Saudi Arabia. You don’t start with Iran. So, the fact that she also is jumping on the anti-Iran bandwagon — in fact, even though it’s part of a Trump critique, as she’s trying to show shady dealings and discredit Trump — Trump’s primary foreign policy objective, at least as articulated, is to go after Iran. So, she’s actually helping beat the drums of war, which actually converges with Trump’s foreign policy objectives. AARON MATÉ: Yeah, that clip there, if you compare that to what Rex Tillerson just said this week about — we have to confront Iran for its support for international terrorism — I mean, it’s the exact same position. And it’s striking that on arguably, you know, two of the biggest national security issues, or, “national security issues” when it comes to this administration, Russia and Iran. You have the leading liberal cable show presenting hawkish views that are in line with the far right neocons. PAUL JAY: What Aaron described as one of the leading progressive journalists, there needs to be a whole conversation of what progressive means, because I wouldn’t call her progressive. KIM BROWN: Well, what would we call Rachel Maddow? How would we characterize her? PAUL JAY: Well, I think maybe we should stop even using simplistic labels, because everybody calls themselves progressive these days. I know, and during the debates Bernie Sanders was asked, “Is President Obama progressive? Is Hillary progressive?” And he was kind of cornered and said, “Yes,” whether he believes that or not, I don’t know. Like, it’s all, you know, related to what? You know, is Obama progressive compared to Trump, or something? To me, progressive means — and it doesn’t matter what I think, because I think the word is almost empty now, it gets so overused — progressive used to mean that you wanted systemic change, where Liberals wanted systemic reform. So, what does systemic change mean? And this is going to in some way segue us into what’s coming, you know, the other topic we’re going to do. Systemic change, you have to change who owns stuff. You have to be in favor of increasing public ownership. That’s to me what progressive means, because that’s how you start systemically changing. If you’re just going to, you know, have like, $15 an hour — it’s a great demand. It’s an important demand. But it’s not systemic change. Even single payer healthcare. Canada has that. The system is still very exploitive. It’s a great reform. It’s an important reform. It’s not systemic change. So, to me Rachel Maddow is not progressive, because I don’t ever hear her advocating that kind of systemic change. But this was worse, what she was doing on the Russia thing is she was jumping on this bandwagon, which serves narrow Democratic Party partisanship, to make Russian interference in the election the big deal. You know, who’s the real villain of that piece? The DNC is the villain of the piece, because they’re the ones that interfered in Sanders’ campaign. If they didn’t release this WikiLeaks stuff, and the DNC hadn’t done terrible things, it wouldn’t have mattered. So, how about focus on the terrible things the DNC did? So, Rachel jumped on this bandwagon that distracts people from the real domestic issues, and feeds this war machine propaganda about Russia. So, I thought it was a very important story to do. AARON MATÉ: You know, I just wanted to say, I personally don’t want to impose the litmus test for being a progressive that Paul is suggesting. Rachel Maddow, I think, would call herself a progressive; she’s done progressive work. She’s the one who helped expose the Flint water crisis. So, you know, I don’t think we need to decide, or try to gage who is a progressive, based on whether or not they basically support revolution. PAUL JAY: I never said anything about revolution. AARON MATÉ: Well, it’s, you know… PAUL JAY: I’m talking about… No. Now you’re exaggerating and I disagree completely. AARON MATÉ: Okay. PAUL JAY: The issue of developing a vision of an economy, to start shifting ownership from totally private, to increasingly public, that’s, you know… Frankly, Bernie Sanders says he’s advocating a political revolution, and the Sanders movement openly advocated a political revolution. So, if you’re talking that, well then, yeah. If you’re progressive, yeah, I think that is a litmus test. But I don’t think it matters to debate whether she’s progressive or not. AARON MATÉ: I agree with that, and the fact that– PAUL JAY: It’s more important– AARON MATÉ: Her audience is progressive. KIM BROWN: Well, that wraps part one of our discussion. Stick around for part two, where we talk about the Democratic Unity Tour, between Tom Perez and Senator Bernie Sanders. You’re watching The Real News Network. ————————- END