The Mueller report’s categorical statement that Donald Trump and his campaign did not collude with Russia ends one of the most shameful periods in modern American journalism, one that rivals the mindless cheerleading for the Iraq War by most of the press. It further erodes and may prove fatal to the credibility of a press that has steadfastly rendered most of the country invisible and functions as little more than an array of gossiping courtiers to the elites.
“ ‘[T]he investigation did not establish that members of the Trump Campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities,’ ” the report by special counsel Robert Mueller says, according to a direct quotation given in an official letter by U.S. Attorney General William Barr.
The charge that Russia stole the 2016 presidential election, that Vladimir Putin has secret “pee tapes” of Trump cavorting in a Moscow hotel with prostitutes or that Trump has been a longtime “Kremlin agent,” repeated by reporters whose work I admired in the past, is demagoguery as pernicious as the vile taunts and racist tropes that come out of the White House. The press endlessly repeated such allegations while ignoring the expanding social inequality and suffering of a country where half the population lives in poverty, as well as the collapse of our democratic institutions. These facts, not Russian manipulation, saw enraged American voters elect a demagogue who at least belittles the elites, including those in the press, who sold them out. The charge that Trump was a tool of Russia is entertaining. It attracts billions in advertising dollars. It allows the press to posture as a moral crusader. But over the past three years this obsession blotted out most of the real crimes committed by this administration and the reality most Americans endure.
The mainstream press, owned by the corporations that have extinguished the democratic state and are fleecing the public, as well as destroying the ecosystem on which we depend for life, does not hold its employers to account. The empty chatter about Russia, including in The New York Times, exposes the bankruptcy of the U.S. media. MSNBC and CNN, which long ago abandoned journalism for entertainment, have breathlessly clogged the airwaves with ridiculous conspiracy theories and fantasies and used them to justify a faux crusade.
Don’t expect any of this to change. Rachael Maddow, like Jack Tapper or any other fatuous news celebrity, will not be held to account for slogging through this fiction night after night. Maddow will still collect her $10-million-a-year salary. And the handful of reporters who exhibited journalistic integrity—Glenn Greenwald, Matt Taibbi, Aaron Maté, Robert Scheer, Max Blumenthal and Katrina vanden Heuvel—will continue to remain on the margins of the media landscape. The press is an arm of the corporate-funded burlesque that has replaced the country’s political life and turned civic debate into a vast reality show.
The more the big news outlets try to spin this report, arguing that they need to see the full report rather than the attorney general’s summary, or that Jared Kushner sought to use the communications systems of Russian diplomats, the more credibility they will lose. And they do not have much credibility left. The lurid details of the president’s alleged sexual relations with a porn star and a Playboy bunny, and of “Russiagate,” have replaced journalism. These stories have nothing to do with the lives of most Americans. This descent into the inane and the tawdry gives immunity to Trump. In attacking the press he attacks an institution most Americans loath. And with good reason. The press, unwittingly, enhances a president it seeks to destroy. And its decline, accelerated by its collaboration with liberal Democratic elites who scapegoat Russia to avoid confronting their responsibility for trashing the country in the service of corporate oligarchs, will get worse. Little the press says about Trump will now be believed.
There was, of course, massive interference in our election by a foreign power—Israel. But try saying this naked truth out loud and you will suffer the character assassination, chanted by the unified chorus in the press and the political hierarchy of both parties, that was unleashed on Rep. Ilhan Omar. The engine driving our animosity toward Russia comes from the arms industry, which with the expansion of NATO up to Russia’s border—despite assurances given upon the unification of Germany that this would not happen—is making billions of dollars selling weapons to countries in Eastern Europe. The situation is also exacerbating tensions between two of the world’s biggest nuclear powers. But this is just one more suppressed truth.
The Trump administration has carried out policies that, rather than serve Russian interests, have further antagonized our relationship with Moscow. It has imposed sanctions. It is openly attempting to overthrow the government of a country that Russia supports, Venezuela. It is attempting to block the sale of Russian natural gas to Europe. It has sold weapons to Ukraine, a foe of the Kremlin. It has armed insurgents in Syria and carried out airstrikes, even as Russian troops seek to prop up the Syrian regime. It has withdrawn from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty. But facts matter little to Russian-conspiracy theorists.
It is not only Trump who has obliterated the line between fact and fiction. It is the press. It hyped and reported allegations it never investigated or confirmed. And by doing this, repeating failures of the kind that appeared in its coverage of the invasion of Iraq, it has committed suicide. A nation that lacks a functioning press becomes a tyranny. This is not Trump’s fault, but our own.
Chris Hedges is a Truthdig columnist, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, a New York Times best-selling author, a professor in the college degree program offered to New Jersey state prisoners by Rutgers University, and an ordained Presbyterian minister. He has written 12 books, including the New York Times best-seller “Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt” (2012), which he co-authored with the cartoonist Joe Sacco. His other books include “Wages of Rebellion: The Moral Imperative of Revolt,” (2015) “Death of the Liberal Class” (2010), “Empire of Illusion: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle” (2009), “I Don’t Believe in Atheists” (2008) and the best-selling “American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America” (2008). His latest book is “America: The Farewell Tour” (2018). His book “War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning” (2003) was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award for Nonfiction and has sold over 400,000 copies. He writes a weekly column for the website Truthdig and hosts a show, “On Contact,” on RT America.