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Marc Steiner and Paul Jay discuss corporate news’ coverage of the Mueller investigation and what motivates the rhetoric about Russia’s threat to American democracy

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MARC STEINER: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Marc Steiner. Great to have you all with us.

The mainstream media reports that Trump’s back is against the wall; that he knew all about the alleged Russian dealings. And collusion by Trump is the operative phrase of the moment. But what is the real significance of all this, this alleged Russian experience and intervention in American elections? What are we missing in all of this? My friend and colleague here at Real News, the editor in chief himself, Paul Jay, joins us to delve into that right now. Paul, good to have you here.

PAUL JAY: Thank you.

MARC STEINER: So let’s get into this. I mean, let’s talk a bit about–the mainstream media focuses almost entirely on did Trump collude with the Russians? All these people around him are being indicted and questioned by Mueller. So is it real? And did it throw the election to the Republicans, or didn’t throw the election to the Republicans? From our conversations we’ve had before, clearly you think something is missing the mark here in terms of what we should be covering.

PAUL JAY: I think you got to parse–there’s many different issues here, and you have to parse them out of it. There is did the Russians interfere in the US elections in order to elect Trump? If so, did it have any effect? The second thing is is there a kind of corruption alleged–the corruption that’s alleged, whether it’s money laundering and such, a second bucket of things that needs to be looked at.

But I think the most important thing that the corporate media is doing, and they’re doing because it drives ratings, and the Democratic Party corporate leadership are doing–I wouldn’t say the whole Democratic Party is doing it, because there’s, especially some of these new progressive members of Congress are not doing this–but they’re dredging up the demons, the ghosts of the Cold War for partisan political advantage. That’s the Democratic Party. The military-industrial complex, they have their, at least the narrative from the Second World War, which has as an existential threat first the Soviet Union, then the Russian Federation. It actually really goes back right to 1919. So we’re talking a hundred years of deep culture, of using the communist spectre and now the Russian spectre as a rationale and justification for a massive military budget.

So it doesn’t mean there isn’t real contention and real competition. But the–you need to parse what the real effect on the elections was from this issue of the narrative of, essentially, a Russia that wants world domination, which is a continuation of the idea the Soviet Union wanted domination, which justifies aircraft carriers that cost $13 billion apiece. It justifies a trillion dollars being spent on upgrading the American nuclear arsenal, and so on.

So I think–I don’t pretend to be an expert on the minutia of the Mueller investigation. But from what I know–take bucket number one, did the Russians try to interfere in the American elections? Well, there seems to have been a meeting in Trump Tower. Trump Jr. seems to have admitted to it. It seems that he’s admitted to the fact he was trying to get, see if Russians and Russian intelligence had some dirt that could be used on the Clintons. OK. For the sake of argument let’s assume that’s true. There seems to be enough smoke and confessions so far such a meeting took place. Is this rise to the level of daily corporate news coverage, that’s more important that we have a climate denier that’s president? Is it more important that they are deregulating Wall Street? Is it more important that the geopolitical rivalries that gave rise to world wars in the 20th century are starting to boil again? Is it more important–for those of you watch The Real News and just saw this series of interviews I did with Daniel Ellsberg–that we’re still sitting on a doomsday machine, both the Russian and American Doomsday Machine.

The big issues that really matter–and of course healthcare, and the immigration issues–like, critical, burning issues. So why is the media so focused on this? Well, because there’s some blood in the water. And they love covering partisan rivalry, because it’s like a football game, it drives ratings. And clearly there’s some real schisms in the American state. Sections Of the state, one, are worried that Trump’s kind of a loose cannon. And two, there’s sections, I think, of the deep state military-industrial complex that don’t want any kind of reconciliation, or I should say, normalization with Russia. It doesn’t help the narrative that you–you don’t need Ford class aircraft carriers to fight ISIS.

So in short, what I’m saying–to attack Trump, to expose either criminality of Trump on the corruption side, or even on the elections side, we should not buy into feeding the chauvinist hysteria against Russia, which feels, you know, as I say, bringing up the ghosts of the Cold War. Russia is a mid-sized capitalist country; has an autocratic government that mostly came into being because the Soviet economy after 1990 was demolished, and to a large extent facilitated by the United States, that loved the idea of the rise of these oligarchs. So it’s a state that the Americans had a hand in creating. And yeah, it’s a competitor on the global stage. But it’s not an existential threat. And who is it a competitor with? It’s a competitor with the American oligarchy. It’s not a competitor with the American people.

MARC STEINER: So there’s a lot here. Let me try to unpack some of this in the time we have. I mean, so one question, well, why is the media, most of the media, covering this with the intensity it is? And part of that, though, I think, has to do with the fact that this could be the downfall of a US president.


MARC STEINER: Which is why they’re covering it.

PAUL JAY: It’s a good political story.

MARC STEINER: Right? This could be the unraveling of the Trump presidency. That’s a huge story for anybody to cover. And so I think the headlines are probably warranted. He probably stepped into a bag of manure, knowingly or unknowingly, because sometimes he knows what he’s doing, and he just steps in this bag of manure, and it’s spread all over him, and he doesn’t know what to do about it. So he’s stuck. And they smell blood. They’re going to go after him, and they’re going to try to take him down this way.

PAUL JAY: And I wish them well.

MARC STEINER: I do, too.

PAUL JAY: What I mean by that is if you, if you don’t feed the chauvinism, if you don’t feed the Russiaphobia, then sure, go get him. And I like the fact that that the Trump administration, and the fact–I’ve always for years praised what they call gridlock in DC. I love when these guys can’t come to an agreement on something, because most of the agreements that they come to are not good for the American people. So the fact that they are distracted, that there’s blood in the water, they’re fighting, that the–good on them. Because I don’t think–if the Trump administration could have a more consolidated, less distracted agenda, I’d be afraid, more afraid of what would happen both domestically and internationally.

But we cannot buy in to the chauvinist hysteria which can lead to war, which can– you know, watch this Ellsberg thing I did. Don’t underestimate how easy it is for this nuclear arsenal to be unleashed by error. And the atmosphere is brewing for this. So like I said, when this thing first broke out, I said we should not side with either oligarchy. I don’t side with the Russian oligarchy and I don’t side with the American oligarchy. We the people here, we’ve got to deal with the American oligarchy, and I hope the Russian people deal with the Russian oligarchy.

MARC STEINER: OK. So the–I hear what you’re saying. I don’t disagree with a lot of what you said. At all. Though I think that–I mean, the United States has a long history of interfering in elections. Long history. And of overthrowing governments, from Arbenz in Guatemala, and of all the other–Iran.

PAUL JAY: Diefenbaker in Canada.

PAUL JAY: You love that one.

PAUL JAY: I love that one, because nobody ever heard of that one.

MARC STEINER: So, right. Yeah, right. In 1961, something like that.

PAUL JAY: We’ll tell that story another time.

MARC STEINER: Another time. But for America not to want a certain Canadian to win really was absurd. But anyway, so the United States has done this for a long time. But I would also say that the Soviet Union and Russia have–both have done, and both formations have done the same things, undermining elections.

PAUL JAY: Like the Germans–the Germans engineered the downfall of the Albanian government. I mean, all of these capitalist powers extend their power as much as they can. The Soviet Union essentially became a kind of state capitalism, and even before. They all do the game. But here’s the difference, if you’re going to compare. No state has committed the crimes on the global scale since World War II the United States has. There’s nothing in comparison. The Vietnam War to the Iraq war. I mean, you go on with it. There is no comparison on a global scale of war crimes.

So whatever the Russian state is guilty of, from the rise of Putin on–and they’ve committed lots of crimes, as far as I can make out–it’s nothing compared to what the United States has done.

MARC STEINER: But that says what? I mean, about-

PAUL JAY: It means let’s be honest about the situation. Because this idea that the Russians undermined American democracy … I mean, you know, my joke has been from the beginning of this thing was the only reason the American elites are upset that the Russians interfered in the US elections–assuming they did. I’m still not so sure, but let’s say they did. It because it’s the American elites’ job to rig American elections. What’s more rigging the Citizens United and unlimited funding? Gerrymandering? I mean, the undermining of American democracy is because American democracy always was a bit of a shell, and now it’s worse than a shell.

MARC STEINER: So, I mean, a couple things. Where we might disagree on this one level is I think there’s no doubt in my mind the Russians attempted to interfere in this election. I think that, to me, is crystal clear in everything I’ve been reading over the last couple of years. That notwithstanding, they didn’t win the election for Trump. Democrats lost the election to Trump for lots of reasons. We can get into it some other time. So all that to me is very real.

PAUL JAY: I just want to say I do not take American intelligence agencies on faith. And I think it’s a very important point we’ve been making at The Real News that the–just because the intelligence agency says something, without putting evidence in the public domain we shouldn’t believe it. So I don’t know what to believe about what the Russians did or didn’t do. Do I think there’s pretty good evidence that Trump had, or the Trump camp, at least, tried to get the Russians to give them dirt on Clinton? There seems to be a case there.

MARC STEINER: Yes, there does.

PAUL JAY: And maybe there’s more. But in the scheme of things the only reason it rises to the level of any importance is what you said. It’s become a way to bring down Trump. So as a political story, sure it’s a good story. But it’s a political story because of the partisan politics of it, and the split within the American state; the fact that the FBI and sections of the American state want to bring down Trump. But to feed the idea that Russia is this existential threat that wants to take over the world, that we’re defending the world, we’re defending democracy from this big bad enemy, that’s all BS, and we should say so. And then after that, sure, let’s cover the Mueller investigation.

MARC STEINER: I hear you. But I think that–I mean, the, Russia does not want to take over the world.

PAUL JAY: No, let me, let me back up. If they could they might want to. They can’t. And so you know, it’s not-

MARC STEINER: OK. The danger is, if people–the danger is-

PAUL JAY: They don’t even have an economy as big as Canada’s.

MARC STEINER: But the danger here, the danger of a critique like the one you’re positing, that could come out of a critique–could come out of what you’re positing–is that sometimes the left falls into this knee jerk “I’m going to defend Russia against these attacks,” which I think is a real mistake.

PAUL JAY: I agree. I agree. This is a global system. A capitalist global system, oligarchs in various countries, whose interests converge and diverge. Sometimes they diverge so much they go to war, and who pays the price? Working people with those countries. And then they converge again. So I mean, Germany, that was the great enemy for two great wars, is now the great ally. And who knows? Ten years of depression and the rise of a far-right nationalist government in Germany, it could happen again.

I mean, you know, the bottom line is us the people.s Can’t think we’re in the same boat of the oligarchs. That’s what happened before World War One. Whole sections of the left started to support their own oligarchs, their own capitalist class, and rooted on World War I. We can’t fall into that.

MARC STEINER: There’s a totally different conversation to have around that. I mean, I think that–because people have innately, for lots of complex reasons, deep feelings about who they are in terms of their nation, and their nation-state.

PAUL JAY: In kindergarten, you go to school here, you’re in grade–in kindergarten you have to put your hand on your chest and pledge allegiance to the flag.

MARC STEINER: I mean, have a-

PAUL JAY: The indoctrination starts very early here.

MARC STEINER: Everywhere.

PAUL JAY: No, not everywhere. I didn’t grow up in Canada putting my hand on my chest, here.

MARC STEINER: No, but you grew up in Canada being a Canadian, and-

PAUL JAY: Yeah, I rooted for a hockey team.

MARC STEINER: I rooted for a hockey team. Which one?

PAUL JAY: Maple Leafs, of course.

MARC STEINER: I’m just checking. Just checking. But I think that, that the nationalistic feelings are not uncommon around the globe, and that it’s easy to kind of, kind of bring out.

PAUL JAY: Of course. Because it’s in the interest of the ruling circles of every country to tell the people of the country, oh, we’re all in the same boat because we’re all Russians, Americans, Israelis, Germans, Canadians. Sure, they want everyone to identify that the elite interest is the national interest. But it’s not. And we need to say it’s not.

MARC STEINER: So is that done by–the danger of kind of critiquing and pulling back from the, whatever is happening here with what they call Russiagate, cannot supplant a real strategy in terms of how you cover the news, a real strategy in what you fight for in this country, to be aware of what’s happening around you. I mean, right now they’re giving away all the lands around the West and opening them up for exploration; oil, and gas, and coal, and more. I mean, who’s covering that with any intensity? Who’s covering all the environmental regulations that Trump has just thrown aside, and will continue to throw aside? No one’s even focusing in on it.

PAUL JAY: But this is very specific. The military Budget in this country is over a trillion dollars in reality. They say $700-800 billion. But it’s really over a trillion when you look at the pockets of money that are squirreled away for nuclear and Secret Service stuff, and all the rest. That’s money that should be paying for a Green New Deal. That’s money that should be paying for public education. You can’t justify the pillaging of the public treasury for the sake of this kind of arms buildup without an enemy. So you got to–you know, it’s critical that the kind of chauvinism that’s being built around this issue is separate it from the political story, the corruption story, even the election meddling story. It’s the–it’s very, very important that we–especially people that consider themselves progressives–don’t allow the Russiaphobia to take over the story. Then sure, go to town.

MARC STEINER: So let’s talk, before we conclude this, talk a bit about, then, what you think about the way things should be covered. Whether it’s The Real News, whether it’s Democracy Now!, whether it’s any kind of-

PAUL JAY: I think what we’ve been trying to do is, first of all, what seems to be factually evident? So we’ve been going through–a lot of this stuff is allegations, a lot of it is take American intelligence agency assertions as true, and based on the experience with American intelligence agencies there’s no reason to take them on face value. So the number one thing at The Real News we’ve been trying to say is we won’t take assertions based on faith. If it comes into the public domain and it’s evidence that seems persuasive, then fine, we’ll say so. There’s some people cover this. There’s a bit of a tendency to say all of it’s BS, as if we know it’s BS. We don’t know that the Muellers stuff is going to turn out to BS. It may turn out that all the accusations are true. And I’ve been saying from the beginning, if they’re all true, it’s still small stuff. It’s minor stuff. In the scheme of what issues really face us as a people, this is such, such little stuff. They always interfere in each other’s elections. Everybody plays for their advantage. They all influence whatever they can. I mean, the Americans overtly trying to bring down governments in Venezuela and, and other parts of Latin America. It goes on and on.

This is normal, global capitalist system stuff. The Americans–the only reason it’s becoming this kind of issue, just to say it again, partisan advantage. It goes to the heart of the military-industrial complex narrative that we have an existential threat, and you’ve got to spend a trillion dollars a year.

MARC STEINER: We’ve been talking to the editor in chief here at The Real News, Paul Jay. It’s good to have this conversation with you. We should have these more in-depth and longer, I think. I’d enjoy that.

PAUL JAY: Thank you.

MARC STEINER: And I’m Marc Steiner here for The Real News Network. Stay with us. Take care.

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Paul Jay was the founder, CEO and senior editor of The Real News Network, where he oversaw the production of over 7,000 news stories. Previously, he was executive producer of CBC Newsworld's independent flagship debate show CounterSpin for its 10 years on air. He is an award-winning documentary filmmaker with over 20 films under his belt, including Hitman Hart: Wrestling with Shadows; Return to Kandahar; and Never-Endum-Referendum. He was the founding chair of Hot Docs!, the Canadian International Documentary Film Festival and now the largest such festival in North America.