The New York Times’ Insidious Ongoing Disinformation Campaign on Russia & Elections

A series of stories loudly proclaim the Russian election meddling narrative but offer no real facts supporting the most sensational claims, writes Gareth Porter. 

By Gareth Porter
Special to Consortium News

For the past three years the new narrative of Russian interference in U.S. elections has bound corporate news media more tightly than ever to the interests of the national security state. And no outlet has pushed that narrative more aggressively – and with more violence to the relevant facts — than The New York Times.

Times reporters have produced a series of stories that loudly proclaim the Russian election meddling narrative but offer no real facts in the body of the story supporting its most sensational claims. 

The Times service to the narrative was introduced by its February 2017 story  headlined, “Trump Campaign Aides Had Repeated Contacts with Russian Intelligence.” We now know from Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz’s report on the FBI investigation of the Trump campaign that the only campaign aide who had contacts with Russian intelligence officials was Carter Page, and those had taken place years before in the context of Page’s reporting them to the CIA. The Horowitz report revealed that FBI officials had hidden that fact from the FISA Court to justify its request for surveillance of Page. 

But the Times coverage of the Horowitz report in December 2019 failed to acknowledge that the calumny about Page’s Russian intelligence contacts, which it had published without question in 2017, had been an FBI deception.

Two more Times Russiagate stories in 2018 and 2019 featured spectacular claims that proved on closer examination to be grotesque distortions of fact.  In September 2018 a 10,000-word story by Scott Shane and Mark Mazzetti sought to convince readers that the Russian Internet Research Agency (IRA) had successfully swayed U.S. opinion during the 2016 election with 80,000 Facebook posts that they said had reached 126 million Americans. 

But that turned to be an outrageously deceptive claim, because Shane and Mazzetti failed to mention the fact that those 80,000 IRA posts (from early 2015 through 2017), had been engulfed in a vast ocean of more than 33 trillion Facebook posts in people’s news feeds – 413 million times more than the IRA posts.

In December 2019, senior national security correspondent David Sanger wrote a story headlined, “Russia Targeted Election Systems in All 50 States, Report Finds,”and Sanger’s lede said the Senate Intelligence Committee had “concluded” that all 50 states had been targeted.  But the Committee report actually reaches no such conclusion.  It quoted President Barack Obama’s cyber-security adviser Michael Daniel as recalling that he had “personally” reached that conclusion, but shows the only basis for his conclusion was remarkably lame: the “randomness of the attempts” and his conviction that Russian intelligence was “thorough.”

The Committee reported that some intelligence “developed” in 2018 had “bolstered” the subjective judgment by Daniel.  But all but one of the eight paragraphs in the report describing that intelligence were redacted, and the one unredacted paragraph suggests that the redacted paragraphs provided no conclusive evidence that Russian intelligence had scanned any state election websites, much less those of all 50 states.  The paragraph said, “However, IP addresses associated with the August 16, 2016 FLASH provided some indicators the activity might be attributableto the Russian government….[emphasis added].” 

The Committee report also contained summary statements from six states that the Department of Homeland Security has continued to include among the 21 states it insists were hacked by the Russians in 2016, denying any cyber threat to their systems.  Another 13 states reported only that there was “scanning and probing” by inconclusive IP addresses the FBI and DHS had sent them.  Sanger did not report any of those troublesome details.

In January 2020 the Times began its coverage of the theme of Russian interference in the 2020 election with a story headlined, “Chaos is the Point: Russian Hackers and Trolls Grow Stealthier in 2020.”  The story, written by Sanger, Matthew Rosenberg and Nicole Perlroth, sought to heighten the existing U.S. climate of paranoia about a Russian attack in regard to the 2020 elections.  Once again, however, nothing in the story supports the sinister tone of the headline.

It reported Department of Homeland Security officials’ anxiety about the ransom-ware attacks on 100 American towns, cities and federal offices during 2019, which are clearly criminal operations aimed at large-scale payoffs by cities.  The story informed readers that DHS was investigating “whether Russian intelligence was involved in any of the attacks,” on the apparent theory that the criminals were being used by the Russians.

Since those ransom-ware attacks had been going on for years, the obvious question would have been why DHS would have waited until 2020 to reveal that it was investigating Russian involvement.  Thus, the only fact underlying the story was the DHS desire to find evidence to support its accusations of Russian election hacking. 


Still at it in 2020

The Times continued its advocacy journalism in a Feb. 26 report that U.S. intelligence officials had “warned” in a briefing for the House Intelligence Committee on Feb. 13 that “Russia was interfering in the 2020 campaign to get President Trump elected,” citing five people “familiar with the matter.”

The Times’ team of four writers proceeded to declare, “The Russians have been preparing – and experimenting – for the 2020 election…aware that they needed a new playbook of as-yet undetectable methods, United States officials said.”  But instead of reporting actual evidence of any Russian action or decision for action, the Times writers again cited what their sources suspected could be done. 

“Some officials,” they wrote, “believe that foreign powers, possibly including Russia, could use ransom-ware attacks…to damage or interfere with voting systems or registration databases.”  The Times’ sources thus had no actual intelligence on the question and were merely speculating on what any foreign government might do to disrupt the election.

Three days after that report, moreover, the Times backed away from its previous lede after intelligence sources disputed its claim that Russia was intervening to reelect Trump, suggesting that the briefing officer, Shelby Pierson, had overstated the assessment. Sanger sought to limit the damage with a story labeling the problem one of “dueling narratives” in the intelligence community.

Then Sanger admitted, “It is probably too early for the Russians to begin any significant moves to bolster a specific candidate,” which obviously invalidated the Times’ previous speculation on the subject.  But after The Washington Post published a story that the FBI had informed Senator Bernie Sanders that Russia had sought to help his campaign, Sanger quickly returned to the same narrative of Russian interference to advance its favorite candidates. 

On the Times’ podcast “The Daily,” Sanger opined that the Russians were now supporting both Trump and Sanders – because Sanders, “like Donald Trump,” has “got a real aversion to interventions around the world.”

The most recent entry in the Times’ campaign to create anxiety about Russian interference in the election focused on race relations.  On March 10, the Times headlined its story, “Russia Trying to Stoke U.S. Racial Tension before Elections, Officials Say.”  In their lede Julian Barnes and Adam Goldman announced, “The Russian government has stepped up efforts to influence racial tensions in the United States as part of its bid to influence November’s presidential election, including trying to incite violence by white supremacist groups and stoke anger among Afro-Americans, according to seven American officials briefed on recent intelligence.”

But true to the modus operandi used routinely to push the Russian election threat narrative, the writers did not offer a single fact supporting such a story line. They even admitted that the officials who were making the claims provided “few details” about white supremacists and “did not detail how” blacks were being encouraged to use violence.

It turns out, in fact, that U.S. officials have found nothing indicating Russian support for violent white supremacists in America. The only fact that they could cite — based on a single source — was that the FBI is “scrutinizing any ties” between Russian intelligence and Rinaldo Nazzaro, the American founder of a “neo-Nazi group,” who lives with his Russian wife in St. Petersburg, Russia, but owns property in the United States. So, the Times’ single source had nothing but a suspicion for which the FBI was trying to find evidence.

The final touch in the piece was the accusation that RT had “fanned divisions” on race by running a story about a video of New York policemen attacking and detaining a young black man that Barnes and Goldman write “sparked outrage” and had also “posted tweets aimed at stirring white animosity.” But the RT article on the video merely reported accurately that the video depicted unprovoked police brutality and that it had already gone viral.  The Times itself had published a much more detailed Associated Press story on the same incident that went into a discussion of the history of police brutality in New York City.  By the Times’ own criterion, the AP was doing far more to stoke racial animosity than RT.

The opinion pieces that RT published attacking The New York Times for its coverage of a video at the University of Wisconsin that offended non-whites and for a Times opinion piece critical of the Apu character on “The Simpsons” echoed views on race and culture that most Americans find offensive. The idea that they were part of a Russian plot to generate racial animosity, however, is a very long stretch.

The descent of The New York Times into this unprecedented level of propagandizing for the narrative of Russia’s threat to U.S. democracy is dramatic evidence of a broader problem of abuses by corporate media of their socio-political power. Greater awareness of the dishonesty at the heart of the Times‘ coverage of that issue is a key to leveraging media reform and political change.

Gareth Porter is an independent investigative journalist and historian and winner of the 2012 Gellhorn Prize for Journalism. His latest book, with John Kiriakou, is “The CIA Insider’s Guide to the Iran Crisis: From CIA Coup to the Brink of War.”

The views expressed are solely those of the author and may or may not reflect those of Consortium News.

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34 comments for “The New York Times’ Insidious Ongoing Disinformation Campaign on Russia & Elections

  1. GMCasey
    March 22, 2020 at 13:48

    Why would anyone think that Russia is causing all of America’s problems? Everything negative that the US is finding to be negative is originating from its elected ones or its military industrial OEDIPAL complex —-which states that everything bad happened from someone else and therefore killing the fatherland liberates the motherland—-which explains why America is descending into chaos sooner than any of us thought possible .

  2. delia ruhe
    March 21, 2020 at 14:01

    O, how the mighty have fallen! Anyone old enough to remember when the Friday edition of NYT weighed 10 pounds and contained “all the news that’s fit to print”? Today, the NYT is a yellow-rag tabloid in a race to catch Murdoch.

  3. JWalters
    March 20, 2020 at 20:38

    The New York Times has been repeatedly documented lying for Israel’s benefit. For example,
    “‘NYT’ publishes Netanyahu’s ‘terror’ smear against Palestinian pols and doesn’t seek their response”

    Which raises the question – if the NYT is a tool of Israel, could lying about Russiagate benefit Israel? Robert Parry already explained how Israel benefited from torpedoing cooperation between Obama and Putin in Syria by fomenting a crisis in Ukraine. The benefit was to sabotage peace efforts in the Middle East.
    “What Neocons Want from Ukraine Crisis”

    The Russiagate story further drives a wedge between the U.S. and Russia. Russiagate began in the DNC as an explanation for Hillary’s loss to Trump. An honest post-mortem of Hillary’s loss could have led to a public awareness that Hillary’s war-mongering was largely financed by Zionist banking and war profiteering money. That was a main reason many progressives abandoned Hillary, and they certainly would have brought that up. A persistent, primary tactical goal of Israel has been to keep the American public’s attention away from Israel’s huge influence in American politics and press. So Israel’s “hidden” hand could easily explain the persistent focus by the DNC and MSM on the flimsy fantasy of Russiagate.

  4. bardamu
    March 20, 2020 at 20:09

    None of the news that’s fit to print.

  5. Fabrizio
    March 19, 2020 at 16:46

    Out of curiosity I checked the comments section in a few of these repetitive McCarthyst, russophobic articles to see whether the readers would call out the bs or at least try to dispel some of the outlandish claims often made by the writers.
    And then it all made sense. Commenters were even worse than the writers. Not only they buy everything but even call for more aggressive policies towards Russia and you get the feeling that they still believe that 2016 elections were hijacked by Vladimir Putin, that Trump is a russian asset and all that stuff.
    AS long as they sell and there are people who buy both the stories and the paper, they won’t stop. Prepare for this kind of narrative to outlast the next 4 years of Trump administration (which I take as granted at this point, given the horrible things that happened during this primaries)

    • Josep
      March 20, 2020 at 05:22

      Case in point, a New York Times article that discusses RT’s “disinformation campaign” against 5G. Some kept peddling the narrative of Trump being Putin’s puppet.

      This can also apply to the Washington Post as well. One article from 2015 discussed Russia’s attempt at removing Western laundry detergent brands from store shelves, and yet a YouTube video from 2019 shows some of these same Western brands still on store shelves.

      What is it about stupid articles like those two I mentioned, plus the McCarthyist articles you bring up, that attract such stupid comments?

    • JWalters
      March 20, 2020 at 20:43

      If Trump is anybody’s asset he is obviously an Israeli asset, going along with whatever crimes the Israelis want.

  6. Eric
    March 18, 2020 at 20:24

    Gareth doesn’t go this far, but I will speculate.

    The NYT was so committed to the Clinton/Wasserman/DNC branch of the establishment
    that, like nearly all Clintonites, it could stomach no explanation for the 2016 defeat of its star
    candidate other than outside interference — and what better villain than Russia?

    Starting in late 2019, the Clintonite gang was spooked enough by Bernie’s early success
    that their only way to rally the party around the sleepwalking, stumbling neoliberal
    Biden was to once again raise the chimera — the Russians are coming! And the NYT,
    to save face and protect its precarious credibility, was happy to connive.

    (BTW, Canada’s Russophobic neoliberal foreign minister raised the same chimera
    before the Canadian election last fall — and survived in a minority government.)

    Aaron Mate, formerly of the Real News Network and now with the Grayzone,
    has also covered this topic with persistence and honesty (asking for evidence).

  7. witters
    March 18, 2020 at 18:54

    The craziest ever liberal claim: “We are the reality based community.”

  8. Rex Williams
    March 18, 2020 at 17:11

    If there ever was a single item that has impacted the people in the rest of the world as to their opinion of imperialistic USA, it is a decade of lies through this publication, owned as far as content is concerned and effectively controlled indirectly by Israel.

    So many people think that JFK’s assassination was a contrived failure to tell the truth, nuclear weapons in Israel being the motivation in that case. Then came the USS Liberty scandal. the real truth hidden again and the subservience to Israel that has followed. Then along came the lies of WMD in Iraq, then 9/11 and the lies, once again. Fabrications by the day. Now it is Russia and has been for a decade.

    The AIPAC mouthpiece.

    All of the above covered by the New York Times in the only way they do things…lies and exaggeration. Same again with Malaysian Flight MH 17, a Russian shootdown and on it goes. China and Russia, the targets, non-stop.

    The fact that the US public continues to buy this disgraceful publication is beyond understanding and reflects a level of apathy supported and equalled only by the public turnouts at the voting booths.

    This publication has contributed more to the internationally poor opinion of the USA than any other single factor, the considered opinion of so many people, worldwide.

    • Tony
      March 20, 2020 at 09:32

      It is certainly true that LBJ was much more pro-Israel than JFK but that does not prove Israeli involvement in his assassination.
      As for the bombing of the USS Liberty, the idea for that particular sordid episode originated with President Johnson. It did not originate with Israel.

      By keeping the USS Liberty afloat, the crew may well have prevented nuclear war. At the very least, we are looking at the nuclear destruction of Cairo. Fortunately, that was averted albeit very narrowly.

      We should all be very grateful to them.

    • JWalters
      March 20, 2020 at 20:48

      Spot on. The Zionist takeover of America’s mainstream media began in the early 1900’s.

    • John D. Ressler
      March 21, 2020 at 10:07

      “The fact that the US public continues to buy this disgraceful publication is beyond understanding and reflects a level of apathy supported and equalled only by the public turnouts at the voting booths.” This statement is so telling that I am calling even more attention to it – thanks for knowing and making this comment.

  9. March 18, 2020 at 12:09

    I do not personally believe it is necessary for Russia to support poor candidates or manipulate the delegate, convention, or election process. There are enough corrupt agenda-driven souls in the United States to do the job properly. It is amazing how many times our Nation accuses others of doing what we are actually doing to them. Calling Trump a non-interventionist is a stretch unless he is not pulling the strings against Venezuela, Syria, Yemen, Iraq, Iran, etc. If Harvard, Yale, Princeton, etc. are such bastions of intellectual superiority, how does one explain the many poor leaders (including well-paid but misinformed media) who historically have graduated from these venerable institutions? An excellent and informative article. Have we deteriorated to such a point that Sanders, Biden, and Trump are the best we can offer to a voting public.? If so I am opting out.

    • Thirdeye
      March 18, 2020 at 22:23

      I’ve also concluded that ivy league credentials have nothing to do with exceptional ability or expertise. Those schools are finishing schools for the ruling class, with students selected for 1) a plausible appearance of high ability, 2) money (that’s how Dumbo Bush and Jared Kushner got in despite their obvious mediocrity), 3) racial tokenism, and 4) receptiveness to the paradigms and ideologies that inform the ruling class. An ivy league degree should be a red flag.

  10. richard baker
    March 18, 2020 at 11:04

    It remains all but impossible to find any liberal democrats who don’t buy into the myth of Russkie interference in the 2016 election, including many if not most Sanders supporters. It is an unquestioned article of faith.

    • rosemerry
      March 18, 2020 at 15:23

      “Faith is believing what you know ain’t true”!!!!

      I just wonder why people waste so much time and effort on this topic. Unlike Trump (and the rest) Putin does not lie, and he clearly explained that the difference in the Parties had little effect on relations with Russia, so he accepts what the US public decides !(LOL he was being polite- the “elections” are a farce.) It is the arrogance of the USA to think their farcical carnivals of voting attract the serious input of the Russian state.

    • March 18, 2020 at 18:36

      There are significant Democratic/Bernie leaning platforms that don’t buy the myth – The Jimmy Dore Show, The Hill Rising, Rolling Stones’s “Useful Idiots” show, Caitlin Johnstone, the Grayzone, and of course right here.

  11. AnneR
    March 18, 2020 at 10:16

    Meanwhile, over in Europe, Russia (read the Kremlin, Putin et al) is being blamed for stoking fears about COVID-19 among their (EU) populations. There seems to be nothing bad happening that Europe and the Five Eyes nations do not blame on Russia, if not as the cause, then as the “meddler,” “fear-monger.” Of course, over here, China also comes in for constant bashing, though mainly for its oppression/repression of its population who all, it would seem, long to be westerners, live by “western values.”

    We in the west apparently don’t have enough backbone, strength of mind to admit to our own negligence, arrogance, stupidity, ignorance, lack of foresight.

    • March 21, 2020 at 00:17

      C’mon, how do you propose to explain the fears of COVID-19, is there any logical basis for such fears? Similarly, Americans “of color” would trust their police without Russian propaganda, Catalans would be happy to be the part of Spain, Crimeans would be happy to be citizens of Ukraine, only few French would vote for Marie Le Pen, and so on.

      I was somewhat surprised that few years ago, Anglo-Saxon countries were plagued by creepy clowns, which was explained without finding Russian involvement. Apparently, it became a fashion of middle schoolers to dress as clowns and frighten elementary schoolers, in some jurisdiction sales of clown costumes were outlawed (Australia?).

  12. Skip Scott
    March 18, 2020 at 08:55

    It is amazing to me that seemingly intelligent people continue to fall for this narrative. I believe it is because they are mostly casual consumers of the MSM, rather than critical thinkers. There are holes in the logic of Russiagate big enough to drive a semi through. And of course it is easy as pie to ensure the security of our election process, but paper ballots and other basic security measures remain “off the table”.

    Our so-called “Intelligence” community loves it. They have their boogeyman, and they continue to limit our choice to that of warmonger from column A or B. Hillary and her ilk love it because it leaves them off the hook for their failure to beat the Donald, and it distracts from her very real financial and war crimes. That fact that the whole narrative makes no sense matters not at all.

  13. geeyp
    March 18, 2020 at 07:06

    A good hacker ought to insert this piece onto/into the Times opinion page to counter the Times propaganda. It is the NYT that is stoking race issues judging what their editor said they were going to do several months ago. Anyone like the Times that did not cheer on President Trump when he stated he wanted to work towards repairing the damage caused during the previous administration and get along with Russia has a coward looking at them in the mirror.

  14. Donald Duck
    March 18, 2020 at 06:58

    The forthcoming US election is a staged event which only has propaganda significance. Putin and Russia correctly assessed the situation by noting that whomsoever was elected to office the policies will remain unchanged. Democrat and Republican Buffoons stand for office, the Deep-State doesn’t. The political farce of US elections is a travelling circus, a show, a carnival, the Deep States determines the real nitty-gritty, the destiny of America and ultimately the world.

    It doesn’t look good.

    • mary e
      March 19, 2020 at 16:46

      So true!!

    • March 21, 2020 at 00:23

      Being naive after all these years, I thought that the plague of creepy clowns went away after reaching high point ca. 2016, but now they took over the traveling circus you describe. Where are the lions, trapeze artists, fire breathers? Only clowns are left.

  15. OlyaPola
    March 18, 2020 at 05:31

    “A series of stories loudly proclaim the Russian election meddling narrative but offer no real facts supporting the most sensational claims, writes Gareth Porter. ”

    Those immersed in spectacles often react to perceived content and/or forms of spectacles.

    Others formulate analyses in order to transcend spectacles including by, but not restricted to, encouragement/reiteration of spectacles.

    Relevant entry portals include but are not limited to:

    In furtherance of what purposes do those resorting to spectacles resort to spectacles ?

    What significance if any do those resorting to spectacles assign to spectacles?

    What “audience” do those resorting to spectacles perceive to constitute “target audience” of spectacles ?


  16. T.J
    March 18, 2020 at 04:10

    It would appear that the news emanating from the NYTs, regarding Russia in particular, is no more than idle gossip. How does the rest of their news coverage fare against this backdrop and all this from the paper of record. They must have no shame.

  17. christina r garcia
    March 17, 2020 at 22:39

    Could you people who excuse Russia so easily give pause for one moment, please? Vladimir Putin was a 30 year old operative in the DDR Which is /was the East german Republic back in the 1980s. He personally witnessed the emasculation of his home country. Kind of like we don’t want to admit Jefferson was a bona fide slave owner. Putin was a young man and absolutely witnessed the humiliation of his country. Putin wants his country back, just like Trump. Only Putin is much more intelligent than trump. Maga, or Mrga, no difference. I have lived through this . Putin is for Mother Russia , as trump is for trump usa.The only differenc is , is that Putin actually loves his country, while Trump only loves himself.

    • rosemerry
      March 18, 2020 at 15:33

      I don’t agree with the “excuse Russia” bit or the suggestion that East Germany emasculated Russia- it was the “West” that did/does that if it can.
      Also of course, Putin has a brain, experience, great knowledge and understanding of history, real gut feeling of war (eg both parents were in the siege of Leningrad) and a knack for getting on with other leaders and trying to see other points of view. NONE of these traits apply to any recent POTUS and the arrogant assumption that the USA is always correct and should “lead” stops any cooperation.

  18. Antiwar7
    March 17, 2020 at 19:47

    The New York Times: evil morons writing for self-satisfied morons.

    Poor Gareth Porter, who had to carefully read their drivel.

  19. Eugenie Basile
    March 17, 2020 at 15:32

    The DOJ dropped its case against Concord management recently….lack of proof of Russian trolls meddling in 2026 elections.
    I hear that Concord is suing for billions for reputations and commercial damages.

    • Thirdeye
      March 18, 2020 at 22:06

      Yes, the DOJ wasn’t counting on Concord et al. calling their bluff and agreeing to stand trial. After hemming and hawing through discovery motions, the prosecution motioned for the case to be dismissed with prejudice, meaning that there is no option to re-file the case. Their excuse is that they needed to protect “sources and methods, but the finality of the motion suggests otherwise. They had an option to re-file the case with different information if the real concern was sources and methods, but instead they threw in the towel.



      I think Concord has an excellent chance of getting a major settlement if DOJ is so averse to defending their case that they took such a dive.

  20. Drew Hunkins
    March 17, 2020 at 15:12

    “But true to the modus operandi used routinely to push the Russian election threat narrative, the writers did not offer a single fact supporting such a story line.”

    This never mattered, ever! Ever! The liberals, Hillary-bots and other Russophobes ran with the ‘Bad Russia Bad Putin’ narrative like a cheetah chasing a gazelle.

    • OlyaPola
      March 19, 2020 at 08:15

      “like a cheetah chasing a gazelle.”

      Words are catalysts of connotations which can obfuscate as well as illuminate.

      A cheetah is a considered stalker and tends to act quickly on the products of its considerations.
      Is it your contention that “The New York Times” has similar attributes ?
      Is it your contention that “The liberals, Hillary-bots and other Russophobes” have similar attributes?

      A gazelle tends to rely on flight when faced with an “existential threat”.
      Is it your contention that “The New York Times” has similar attributes?
      Is it your contention that “The liberals, Hillary-bots and other Russophobes” have similar attributes?

      “This never mattered, ever! Ever!”
      To what and to whom do you contend that “This never mattered, ever! Ever!”

      Thank you for your cooperation.

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