UPDATED: The paper of record is again laundering, without skepticism, U.S. intelligence meant to ratchet up tensions with China, just as it did with Russia, writes Joe Lauria.
By Joe Lauria
Special to Consortium News
Just as the Democratic Party attempted to shift the blame from its disastrous 2016 loss to Donald Trump onto Russia, the Trump administration is now trying to shift the blame from Trump’s disastrous handling of the Coronavirus crisis onto China.
And The New York Times is once again the vehicle.
In a front-page story on Wednesday, the Times reports as flat fact that “Chinese agents helped spread messages to millions of Americans about a fake lockdown last month, sowing virus panic in the U.S., officials said.”
One of the messages, which the Times said China did not create, but only amplified, was that Trump would lock down the entire nation. According to the Times, the message said: “They will announce this as soon as they have troops in place to help prevent looters and rioters.”
As in the Times‘ sordid history of numerous Russiagate stories, you have to read deep into Wednesday’s piece, in this case to paragraph seven, before you are told:
“The origin of the messages remains murky. American officials declined to reveal details of the intelligence linking Chinese agents to the dissemination of the disinformation, citing the need to protect their sources and methods for monitoring Beijing’s activities.”
Any reputable journalism school will teach its students that you hold off publishing until you see the evidence underlying an assertion. This is especially true when quoting anonymous sources. And it is doubly true when these sources are intelligence agents, who have a long history of deception. It is part of their job description.
Reporters should by now be wary and demand proof after they had allowed intelligence officials to misuse them in misleading the public about the reasons to invade Iraq, and indeed about the later proven lies about collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia.
The Times story on Wednesday rather shamelessly revives and links China’s alleged misdeeds to Russiagate.
“American officials said China, borrowing from Russia’s strategies, has been trying to widen political divisions in the United States. As public dissent simmers over lockdown policies in several states, officials worry it will be easy for China and Russia to amplify the partisan disagreements.”
Using the Times
Intelligence agencies using the credibility of The New York Times to launder its tales to the public comes as bellicose language against China escalates through pro-Trump media. Jeanine Pirro’s rant on Fox News the other night is just one example. The Times on Saturday reported that a key Republican strategy was to blame China to deflect from Trump’s gross mismanagement of the Corona crisis.
Desperate to up his poll numbers with November looming, as he daily flounders at the White House podium, Trump himself has turned up the heat on China. “If it was a mistake, a mistake is a mistake,” he said on Saturday. “But if they were knowingly responsible, yeah, then there should be consequences” for the Corona outbreak.
That a president for which the Times has no love is ramping up pressure on China should give the newspaper pause about anonymous assertions coming out of Trump administration security services. It is not as if the Times reporters aren’t aware of how they could be used. Wednesday’s story contains this astounding admission: “American officials in the past have selectively passed intelligence to reporters to shape the domestic political landscape; the most notable instance was under President George W. Bush in the run-up to the Iraq War.”
The Times says it spoke with six different anonymous intelligence sources for its story on Wednesday. But that is not difficult for intelligence chiefs to arrange. Times reporters should have at least suspected that.
Government officials know reporters live for scoops and that they are particularly susceptible to anything that smells like one.
But that puts the newspaper in the position of giving credibility to unproven allegations and of beating the drums of conflict.
Now is the time for nations to cooperate–and that includes the U.S. and China–in defeating this historic pandemic. There will be time later to investigate how this virus originated and how governments responded to it. The early view is that hardly any government responded with the urgency required.
The last thing needed is to help seriously raise tensions between nuclear powers all in the name of a very dodgy scoop.
Joe Lauria is editor-in-chief of Consortium News and a former correspondent for The Wall Street Journal, Boston Globe, Sunday Times of London and numerous other newspapers. He began his professional career as a stringer for The New York Times. He can be reached at email@example.com and followed on Twitter @unjoe .
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