I cannot think of an article that has frustrated me as much the latest from Kurt Eichenwald in Newsweek, “The Myths Democrats Swallowed That Cost Them the Presidential Election.” In a condescending and long-winded rant, the columnist makes several outrageous statements and surprising allegations in a failed attempt to make sense of the election of President Donald Trump. So absurd is his assessment, and so widely read is Newsweek, that it’s clear a swift rebuttal is in order. With that in mind, my readers will forgive me for the length of this piece.
The myth: Jill Stein voters made a difference in this election.
In his blistering (and revealing) introduction, Eichenwald channels Commander Lewis Prothero of Alan Moore’s graphic novel, V for Vendetta, painting himself as a strongman figure whose patriotism and commitment to his country runs deep—so much so that he sacrificed family time to do his job—to the risk of those lesser men around him.
Reading his latest piece, it is impossible not to hear Roger Allam’s monologue: “ I’ll tell you what I wish. I wish I had been there! I wish I had the chance for a face-to-face. Just one chance, that’s all I’d need!”
Behold, Eichenald the Tough Guy:
On Friday, I almost assaulted a fan of my work. I was in the Philadelphia International Airport, and a man who recognized me from one of my appearances on a television news show approached. He thanked me for the investigative reporting I had done about Donald Trump before the election, expressed his outrage that the Republican nominee had won and then told me quite gruffly, “Get back to work.”
Something about his arrogance struck me, so I asked, “Who did you vote for?”
He replied, “Well, Stein, but—” I interrupted him and said, “You’re lucky it’s illegal for me to punch you in the face.” Then, after telling him to have sex with himself—but with a much cruder term—I turned and walked away.
A certain kind of liberal makes me sick. These people traffic in false equivalencies, always pretending that both nominees are the same, justifying their apathy and not voting or preening about their narcissistic purity as they cast their ballot for a person they know cannot win. I have no problem with anyone who voted for Trump, because they wanted a Trump presidency. I have an enormous problem with anyone who voted for Trump or Stein or Johnson—or who didn’t vote at all—and who now expresses horror about the outcome of this election. If you don’t like the consequences of your own actions, shut the hell up.
A real savior of the republic, this guy…
The reality: Despite Eichenwald’s puffery, third party voters did not put Donald Trump in the White House. Hillary Clinton and people like Eichenwald did—but we’ll get to that later.
The two notable states where progressive Stein voters could have made a difference had they gone for Clinton instead, were Michigan and Wisconsin, and even if she had won both, it wouldn’t have tipped the balance of the election. It turns out, Eichenwald’s problem with truth isn’t limited to words…he’s no good with numbers, either. He should buy a calculator—the numbers don’t add up.
But there is something else fundamentally wrong with Eichenwald’s indignant analysis: Hillary Clinton was not entitled to anyone’s vote. Like any candidate, she has to earn support, and she failed in historic fashion, to the arguably the least qualified candidate in history.
That should be an indication that the problem was her own, and not the voters’.
The myth: The DNC is incapable of ‘rigging’ a primary because it is a powerless organization..oh, and Richard Nixon did not order the Watergate break-in.
The DNC, just like the Republican National Committee, is an impotent organization with very little power. It is composed of the chair and vice chair of the Democratic parties of each state, along with over 200 members elected by Democrats. What it does is fundraise, organize the Democratic National Convention and put together the party platform. It handles some organizational activity but tries to hold down its expenditures during the primaries; it has no authority to coordinate spending with any candidate until the party’s nominee is selected. This was why then-President Richard Nixon reacted with incredulity when he heard that some of his people had ordered a break-in at the DNC offices at the Watergate; he couldn’t figure out what information anyone would want out of such a toothless organization.
The reality: The DNC is anything but powerless as it organizes the primary season from start to finish, scheduling the debates, and determining who can participate; it conducts opposition research, strategizes with the winning campaign, and helps manage the media throughout.
That said, the fact that Eichenwald ignores the impact the party establishment can have on who wins the primary is only the second most surprising statement in the above paragraph.
Readers may note that the Newsweek columnist, in making his point, whitewashes President Richard Nixon. From his writing, it sounds as though Eichenald is actually denying Nixon was behind the Watergate break-in.
However, while it has never been proven that the former president ordered the infamous break-in—everyone is familiar with the infamous ‘missing tapes—his aides have come forward and asserted as much, and all evidence points to a top-down conspiracy. Nixon’s paranoia and political enemies lists are well documented—indeed, that is why the tapes existed in the first place. It is amazing, however, that this election produced a scenario in which Eichenwald defended Nixon. The two go together so perfectly.
Incidentally, Eichenwald is not entirely unlike Nixon in this respect. In my hour-and-twenty-minute-long phone call with him for an earlier piece, he confided in me his theories of machinations from Russian spies within our media and government, and sounded every bit as paranoid as Tricky Dick.
The myth: The DNC debate schedule was not ‘rigged.’
Eichenwald’s next point is that there was nothing unusual about the number of debates scheduled. He writes:
The first big criticism this year was that the DNC had sponsored “only” six debates between Clinton and Bernie Sanders in some sort of conspiracy to impede the Vermont senator. This rage was built on ignorance: The DNC at first announced it would sponsor six debates in 2016, just as it had in 2008 and 2004. (In 2012, Barack Obama was running for re-election. Plus, while the DNC announced it would sponsor six debates in 2008, only five took place.) Debates cost money, and the more spent on debates, the less available for the nominee in the general election. Plus, there is a reasonable belief among political experts that allowing the nominees to tear each other down over and over undermines their chances in the general election, which is exactly what happened with the Republicans in 2012.
The reality: While it is true that the DNC has roughly scheduled a similar number of debates for the past few elections, Eichenwald conveniently leaves out an important piece of information—one of his favorite tactics. Whereas in previous elections, the DNC was happy to allow its candidates to participate in unsanctioned debates, this year, it was vehemently opposed. In a historic move, DNC chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz threatened to bar candidates from the sanctioned debates if they were to take part in any unsanctioned debates. It was only after a huge backlash from Bernie Sanders and his movement that the DNC relented.
The myth: The debates were not scheduled to minimize viewership.
Eichenwald goes on to assert that there is no reason to be suspicious of the scheduling of the debates.
The next conspiracy theory embraced by Bernie-or-Busters was that the DNC-sponsored debates were all held on nights no one would watch. Two took place on a Saturday, two on Sunday, three on a Thursday, one on a Tuesday and one on a Wednesday. In 2008, the DNC scheduled two on a Monday (one was canceled), and one each on a Sunday, Wednesday, Tuesday and Thursday. Not including any of the 2016 forums, there were 72 million viewers for the DNC-sponsored debates, almost the same amount—75 million viewers—as there were for every debate in 2008, including those sponsored by other organizations. And those Saturday debates, which Sanders fans howled no one would watch, were the third- and fifth-most watched debates (one of them was 3 percent away from being the fourth-most watched).
In other words, the argument that the DNC rigged the debates is, by any rational analysis, garbage. For those who still believe it, hats made of tin foil are available on Amazon.
The reality: The debates were scheduled to insulate Hillary Clinton, as we now know from the Wikileaks release of the Clinton campaign emails.
As I pointed out in a piece last month:
An email marked April 27, 2015 revealed that the campaign had determined it is was in their best interest to, among other things, limit the number of debates, start them late as possible, not have them between February 1 and February 27, and allow the later ones to be cancelled “if the race were, for practical purposes over,”and have a format that allowed equal time to all candidates.
Before Wikileaks exposed that email, several outlets including Politifact had called attention to the implausibility of the DNC’s claims that it did not schedule the debates to insulate Hillary Clinton. The National Review noted back in November of 2015, the debates conflicted with major sporting events in swing states like Iowa, and was so problematic that even Democratic insiders felt that it was done in an effort to insulate Hillary Clinton.
Top Democrats think it’s no accident the Democratic National Committee scheduled the debate on the night of the big game in Iowa, at a time when fewer voters nationwide will see it. They see collusion between DNC chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz and Hillary Clinton’s campaign to insulate the Democratic front-runner from the potential challenges and embarrassments of a vibrant debate in front of a healthy audience.
“Do I think that the DNC almost certainly knew that the Iowa game was scheduled for 8 p.m., and now the debate is scheduled for [the same time]? Yes,” says Shrum. “If you want to diminish the audience for the debate, and if you want to protect the front-runner, you would do that.”
However, Eichenwald clearly ignored the Wikileaks releases after the DNC emails, a point made clear by his next claim.
The myth: Wikileaks did not prove favoritism for Clinton because the controversial emails from the DNC were from a point when Sanders could not possibly have won.
Next, the infamous hack of DNC emails that “proved” the organization had its thumb on the scale for Clinton. Perhaps nothing has been more frustrating for people in the politics business to address, because the conspiracy is based on ignorance.
Almost every email that set off the “rigged” accusations was from May 2016. (One was in late April; I’ll address that below.) Even in the most ridiculous of dream worlds, Sanders could not have possibly won the nomination after May 3—at that point, he needed 984 more pledged delegates, but there were only 933 available in the remaining contests. And political pros could tell by the delegate math that the race was over on April 19, since a victory would require him to win almost every single delegate after that, something no rational person could believe.
The reality: The emails Eichenwald cites are not the only emails to come out, as I noted above, although, to know that, the Newsweek columnist would have had to read the subsequent releases. It is worth pointing out that the DNC emails he does cite reveal a culture of bias against Senator Sanders, and there is no reason to believe it sprung up in May. DNC staffers felt comfortable to email hostile statements about him and his campaign.
The myth: The Russians tricked Sanders supporters by spreading disinformation to influence the election for Donald Trump.
This is important because it shows Sanders supporters were tricked into believing a false narrative…
According to a Western European intelligence source, Russian hackers, using a series of go-betweens, transmitted the DNC emails to WikiLeaks with the intent of having them released on the verge of the Democratic Convention in hopes of sowing chaos. And that’s what happened—just a couple of days before Democrats gathered in Philadelphia, the emails came out, and suddenly the media was loaded with stories about trauma in the party. Crews of Russian propagandists—working through an array of Twitter accounts and websites, started spreading the story that the DNC had stolen the election from Sanders…
Bottom line: The “scandalous” DNC emails were hacked by people working with the Kremlin, then misrepresented online by Russian propagandists to gullible fools who never checked the dates of the documents. And the media, which in the flurry of breathless stories about the emails would occasionally mention that they were all dated after any rational person knew the nomination was Clinton’s, fed into the misinformation.
In the real world, here is what happened: Clinton got 16.9 million votes in the primaries, compared with 13.2 million for Sanders. The rules were never changed to stop him, even though Sanders supporters started calling for them to be changed as his losses piled up.
The reality: While it is certainly possible that the Russian government was behind the hacking of the DNC and Clinton campaign, thus far this claim remains unproven.
Reuters recently published a damning piece by renowned intelligence journalist, James Bamford, titled, “Commentary: Don’t be so sure Russia hacked the Clinton emails,” which seriously calls into question the narrative that Russia is behind the hacking of the DNC and Clinton campaign. In his article, Bamford points out that there are a number of red flags including the speed with which Russia was blamed as well as the U.S. government’s response.
The problem with attempting to draw a straight line from the Kremlin to the Clinton campaign is the number of variables that get in the way. For one, there is little doubt about Russian cyber fingerprints in various U.S. campaign activities. Moscow, like Washington, has long spied on such matters. The United States, for example, inserted malware in the recent Mexican election campaign. The question isn’t whether Russia spied on the U.S. presidential election, it’s whether it released the election emails…
CrowdStrike took just a month or so before it conclusively determined that Russia’s FSB, the successor to the KGB, and the Russian military intelligence organization, GRU, were behind it. Most of the other major cybersecurity firms quickly fell in line and agreed. By October, the intelligence community made it unanimous.
That speed and certainty contrasts sharply with a previous suspected Russian hack in 2010, when the target was the Nasdaq stock market. According to an extensive investigation by Bloomberg Businessweek in 2014, the NSA and FBI made numerous mistakes over many months that stretched to nearly a year.
“After months of work,” the article said, “there were still basic disagreements in different parts of government over who was behind the incident and why.” There was no consensus, with just a 70 percent certainty that the hack was a cybercrime. Months later, this determination was revised again: It was just a Russian attempt to spy on the exchange in order to design its own.
It is important to note that Bamford’s article is a commentary, but the questions it raises certainly caution against the certitude which Eichenwald and Newsweek have been espousing for month.
Eichenwald has repeatedly made the assertion that Russia was conspiring with Donald Trump’s campaign in order to humiliate Hillary Clinton and get the latter elected President of the United States. His only real piece of evidence is an incident that Paste wrote about months ago involving a young American journalist named William (Bill Moran).
For the unindoctrinated, a brief recap is in order.
Moran, while working alone at Sputnik’s DC bureau, hastily published an article misattributing a quote about Benghazi from a Kurt Eichenwald article to Clinton ally Sidney Blumenthal, based on a tweet from a random Twitter account which claimed to be citing Wikileaks. What had actually happened was Blumenthal had pasted the article in an email to Clinton campaign chair John Podesta, and it had been leaked. Before long (roughly 20 minutes, by Moran’s estimate) he took the article down upon realizing his error. However, by then the damage had been done, and it has been tweeted out by none other than Donald Trump.
Seizing on the incident as evidence of Russia using propaganda to elect Trump, Eichenwald wrote an article titled, “Dear Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin, I am not Sidney Blumenthal.”
The problem is, the story was a nothingburger. Unfortunately, rather than accept the reality of a simple mistake when it was called to his attention by Moran, Eichenwald attempted to coerce the young journalist into silence.
As Paste reported, Moran had reached out on Twitter to inform the Eichenwald of the facts, he was ‘unintentionally’ blocked, and was only contacted after sending a cease-and-desist letter to Newsweek, indicating an intent to go public with a correction. At that point, the lawyers had gotten involved. Eichenwald reached out to Moran with two options, which, as we noted, resembled a carrot-and-stick play.
Option one was that Eichenwald would publish the following paragraph in his article:
William Moran, the writer for Sputnik, said he based his article not on directives from the Russian government but on an anonymous tweet that used a clip of the image of the document. He said he accepted the anonymous tweeter’s description that this was from Blumenthal, and did so because he was rushed. However, as the government official with knowledge of the intelligence inquiry said, the original altered document that was tweeted onto the internet came from a location that has been identified as being connected to the Russian disinformation campaigns, and only the news outlet controlled by the Russian government published an article based on it.
This he claimed would kill Moran’s career. The Newsweek journalist insisted that the government already had a file on him, and that no news outlets would hire him after working at Sputnik. Moran claims to have been intimidated by Eichenwald who made it sound as though he had inside knowledge from U.S. intelligence sources.
You need to ask yourself — how does someone like me who is deeply wired into the intelligence community know so fast that you had posted this? It’s not like I was sitting around reading Sputnik. Others are though, and they are not reading it 24-hours a day in real time for the purpose of keeping abreast of the news.
Option two, however, was much more gentle. He would help Moran find employment. As incentive or a down payment, the Newsweek journalist reached out to New Republic on his behalf, as a political reporter job had opened up.
The way Eichenwald tells it, these actions were motivated by genuine sympathy. He felt bad for blocking Moran on Twitter, and after reaching out to him, was given a “sob story” which he then believed. At that point, he claimed he saw Moran as an unwitting part of a large Russian conspiracy to manipulate the 2016 election. After the young writer went public, however, his mind changed, believing instead that Moran is an active member in the Russian conspiracy, defending Sputnik at all personal cost to his career.
However, that narrative never made sense, and try as he might, Eichenwald was unable to explain away the holes.
For example, when Paste asked why the only two options Eichenwald gave Moran were public castigation or silence with help in seeking employment; why he could not just update his original article to acknowledge Moran’s error without naming him, he insisted that one does not give the “cloak of anonymity” to “someone whose job it is to lie.” But then when we asked why he would then offer someone a job who he thought guilty of propagandizing for a foreign nation, he insisted that he believed Moran’s “sob story,” and wanted genuinely to help. Of course, that brought us right back to why he wouldn’t just correct his piece without naming the young journalist, or at the very least framing it in a sympathetic way.
Furthermore, when asked why he left the decision up to Moran, his answer was equally contradictory. “I don’t just destroy people for fun,” he insisted. When we reminded him that this was someone who he thought might have been a Russian agent, he insisted he did not know what the Sputnik journalist’s intentions were.
Nor did it make sense why he would reach out in the first place. The situation was, by his own admission, being handled by lawyers. Why would a nationally recognized journalist care what some random person on Twitter thinks, especially when that person might be a Russian agent?
Although Paste left it to our readers to decide for themselves what had transpired, we felt that Moran’s story had enough prima facie evidence to pass muster. After all, by going public he risked what the Newsweek writer dubbed “career suicide.”
Even after being presented with these facts, Newsweek’s editor in chief, Jim Impoco, has chosen to stand by Eichenwald, publishing piece after piece targeting Moran and doubling down on the original, discredited story.
The myth: Bernie Sanders, who only appealed to white male millennials, would not have been a strong candidate to face Donald Trump, a tough opponent, given the dossier the RNC had on him.
So what would have happened when Sanders hit a real opponent, someone who did not care about alienating the young college voters in his base? I have seen the opposition book assembled by Republicans for Sanders, and it was brutal. The Republicans would have torn him apart. And while Sanders supporters might delude themselves into believing that they could have defended him against all of this, there is a name for politicians who play defense all the time: losers…
Could Sanders still have won? Well, Trump won, so anything is possible. But Sanders supporters puffing up their chests as they arrogantly declare Trump would have definitely lost against their candidate deserve to be ignored.
The reality: The first thing to address is the myth that Sanders was only popular among young white males. Age, rather than race or gender, was what divided Sanders and Clinton voters. Young people of all races and genders embraced the former. Unlike the boomer generation, these voters had not had their expectations tempered living through the Reagan Revolution and experiencing the subsequent weakness of the Democratic Party.
Next, let’s discredit this notion that Sanders had not faced a true opponent—that Clinton played out the primary with kid gloves. Or as Eichenwald put it, “She was playing the long game—attacking Sanders strongly enough to win, but gently enough to avoid alienating his supporters.”
Sanders faced the most powerful political machine in Washington during the primary. Clinton’s campaign had the support of the entire political establishment, as even many Republicans abandoned Trump. With that came the favor of the media establishment because in our system, access is exchanged for favorable coverage. Incidentally, several of the leaked Podesta emails show that dynamic playing out.
ran a Nixonian law-and-order campaign against Sanders. Her surrogates and allies in the media sought to brand his movement as an unruly, naive, sexist mob of “Bernie Bros” in an effort to frighten older voters who remembered the chaos of the antiwar and hippie movements.
As for the dossier the GOP had on Sanders, nothing mentioned by Eichenwald sounds particularly damning—especially in the face of Donald Trump. In fact, everything the Newsweek columnist treats as potentially campaign-ending came up during the primary—from his controversial essay to the nuclear waste vote. As a reader was quick to point out to Paste in an email, it appears as though Eichenwald has simply lifted from other writers without credit. As an example, the reader writes, “the Sandinista story appears to be borrowed completely from Hunter Walker at Yahoo. You can tell because he uses the same abridged quotes and same exact information. If there was a video from the event as he says, I’d guess the GOP oppo book would have included additional quotes from it.”
This seriously calls into question the validity of Eichenwald’s sourcing, and whether or not there is even an opposition research file.
(I should also point out that Mr. Eichenwald has a tendency to list unnamed sources to cover for his own opinions. This is what he did to Moran, and it could be what he is doing now. He also has a history of reporting as new things that turn out to be old news.)
None of this baggage was anywhere near as compromising as what the Republicans had on Clinton—like the documented pay-for-play relationship between the Clinton Foundation and the Clinton State Department or the paid Wall Street speeches which revealed that private Hillary believed different things than public Hillary.
None of Sanders’ baggage was as compromising as Donald Trump’s—from the rape accusations to his lack of concrete solutions, to his flip-flopping, to his documented bigotry, to his business bankruptcies, to his bribing of Florida’s Attorney General.
Although anything is possible, and Sanders could have ended up losing, he was the undeniably strongest Democratic candidate. Skeletons aside, the fundamental reason for this assertion comes down to vision. In the middle of a realignment, Bernie Sanders presented a vision for change; Clinton did not.
As Glenn Greenwald pointed out, across the western world, the working class has felt left behind by the rise of the ‘global economy’ and has been demanding change. No longer are these voters content to judge the economy by how friendly it is to foreign investment—a central pillar of neoliberalism and Milton Friedman’s ideology.
In the U.S., workers saw Wall Street crash the economy, and get away with it. Only one individual went to jail following the worst financial disaster since the Great Depression, which was caused by deregulation from the 90’s, institutional problems with the ratings agencies, and a culture of fraud that existed within America’s largest financial institutions. Moreover, most of the gains of the Obama recovery have gone to the top, while policy outcomes are determined by economic elites. Middle class spending power has only marginally improved.
Rather than address these concerns, the liberal establishment and its allies in the media (people like Kurt Eichenwald), castigated and dismissed Clinton critics as naive, immature, sexist, “deplorable,” racist, etc. The issues which Sanders had brought to the fore during the primary, faded from the discussion during the general election, as the Democrats sought to change the narrative of the election from political and economic inequality to making history. Not once during any of the presidential debates between Clinton and Trump, was the issue of campaign finance raised.
Put another way, Kurt Eichenwald and others like him in the political and media establishment who lost touch with the electorate, helped to reinforce in the minds of voters that Hillary Clinton’s Democratic Party did not care about them or their concerns.
As I wrote last week, the end result of was predictable, and preventable.
From the condescending tone of his article, which begins with the Newsweek columnist explaining how he wants to tell third party voters to “have sex” with themselves, it is abundantly clear that Eichenwald has learned nothing. Like so many inside the media establishment, he was insulated from the mood of working people, and made the wrong call. Now he is trying to assert that Donald Trump was a strong opponent. He wasn’t.
Rather than accept responsibility for that, Eichenwald lashed out—as he is prone to do. Just look at this Twitter rampage he went on against Bill Moran following the publication of our story on his attempt at coercion (click the image to open a full-size version in a new window):
And true to form, Newsweek has failed to control it, publishing a semi-coherent rant.
Closing thoughts: I would like to apologize to my readers for the length of this piece, but the claims Mr. Eichenwald presented—ranging from the most banal to the most outlandish—necessitated swift rebuttal. To close, I would like to address Mr. Eichenwald and Mr. Impoco, directly:
Gentlemen, you both need to stop. You are shredding the credibility of your publication, and you are doing your readers a disservice. Your loose commitment to the facts flies in the face of the lofty ideal that is your namesake. This cannot be the new standard for journalism.
Update: At the time this article is published, the vote counts in the pivotal states of Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania did not match Kurt Eichenwald’s claim that Stein’s total exceeded Trump’s margin. That has since changed, though the notion that this cost Clinton the election is as absurd as it was when he originally made his unfounded claim.
Follower Walker Bragman on Twitter