Before my recent Washington Post column ran discussing Hillary Clinton’s attack on presidential candidate Tulsi Gabbard as a “Russian asset”, I had to deal with an issue raised be a false narrative being put out by her flacks. While first taunting Gabbard, her spokesperson Nick Merrill and others started to suggest that the story was false and that Clinton spoke of “Republicans” not “Russians.” It was a masterful spin. Clinton flacks focused on the reference to “grooming” and got the New York Times and other media outlets to “correct” the story to say that it was a reference to Republicans. That suggested that people may have misheard the podcast interview. That interpretation is clearly false, but the Internet is now full of references to the “false story,” which is precisely what many wanted in putting out the “correction.” For those who continue to attack the use of “fake news” by the Russians, it seems that some disinformation is considered fair game when it is used for the right purpose.
Nick Merrill@NickMerrill and others said that the New York Times corrected its account to say that Clinton was not referring to the Russians but the Republicans.
Nick Merrill@NickMerrillOn Friday, the NYT did a piece about a podcast Secretary Clinton did with David Plouffe. They incorrectly quoted her saying that the “Russians” were “grooming” a candidate running in the Democratic primary. They rightfully fixed it to reflect that she was taking about the GOP.
Clinton did appear to be referring to the Republicans in the earlier part of her comments below, but clearly referred to Gabbard and Jill Stein as “Russian assets in the podcast with former Obama aide David Plouffe.
For many however the point was made by suggesting a confusion with “Republicans” for “Russians” in listening to the podcast. Media issues stories saying that “it turns out” Clinton was referring to Republicans not Russians. It was vintage Washington misdirection. Clinton has long loathed both Stein and Gabbard. Stein was viewed as taking votes away from Clinton who was opposed by many as an establishment figure with little authenticity. She holds a grudge against Gabbard was the first (and one of the few) members of Congress willing to buck the DNC and the establishment by endorsing Bernie Sanders in 2016.
When the story ran, the Clinton people relished the attack and taunted Gabbard. Merrill mocked Gabbard and, rather than denying the story, mocked that this is “Assad day for your candidacy” — a reference to Gabbard’s controversial 2017 meeting with the Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad. He added “If the nesting doll fits. This is not some outlandish claim. This is reality. If the Russian propaganda machine, both their state media and their bot and troll operations, is backing a candidate aligned with their interests, that is just a reality, it is not speculation.”
Then however condemnations grew over Clinton’s attack. Suddenly attacking an anti-war candidate was not as popular as Clinton assumed. That is when we saw the disinformation campaign.
Here is the interview and you can judge for yourself:
Clinton: “The thing we have to do is get enough people to turn out so that they can’t, you know, steal those votes through suppression in Wisconsin, or convince blacks not to vote in Michigan, all the stuff that they did this last time which was very effective and the Russians play a big role in.”
Plouffe: “Right, and they’ll double down on this time. Trump had those advantages but he was not an incumbent. So as we know, whether it’s Ronald Regan, your husband, Barack Obama, those first 18 months of the election cycle were as important as the last six months. …
“You know, Donald Trump, as you know better than anyone in the world, only got 46.1% of the vote nationally. You know he got 47.2 in Wisconsin, 47.7 in Michigan, and if you had said those before the election you would have said he’s going to lose in a landslide.”
Plouffe: “But one of the reasons he was able to win is the third party vote.”
Plouffe: “And what’s clear to me, you mentioned, you know, he’s going to just lie. … He’s going to say, whoever our nominee is, ‘will ban hamburgers and steaks and you can’t fly and infanticide’ and people believe this. So, how concerned are you about that? For me, so much of this does come down to the win number. If he has to get 49 or even 49.5 in a bunch of…”
Clinton: “He can’t do that.”
Plouffe: “…which I don’t think he can… So he’s going to try and drive the people not to vote for him but just to say, ‘you know, you can’t vote for them either.’ And that seems to be, I think, to the extent that I can define a strategy, their key strategy right now.”
Clinton: “Well, I think there’s going to be two parts and I think it’s going to be the same as 2016: ‘Don’t vote for the other guy. You don’t like me? Don’t vote for the other guy because the other guy is going to do X, Y and Z or the other guy did such terrible things and I’m going to show you in these, you know, flashing videos that appear and then disappear and they’re on the dark web, and nobody can find them, but you’re going to see them and you’re going to see that person doing these horrible things.’”
“They’re also going to do third party again. And I’m not making any predictions but I think they’ve got their eye on somebody who is currently in the Democratic primary and are grooming her to be the third party candidate. She’s the favorite of the Russians. They have a bunch of sites and bots and other ways of supporting her so far, and that’s assuming Jill Stein will give it up. Which she might not, ’cause she’s also a Russian asset.”
Clinton: “Yeah, she’s a Russian asset, I mean, totally.
“And so, they know they can’t win without a third party candidate and, so, I don’t know who it’s going to be it but I will guarantee you they’ll have a vigorous third party challenge in the key states that they most need it.”