I’ve pointed out the useful idiots of the American right before like David Keene of The Washington Times and others. But Putin uses people who are useful to him, regardless of political ideology, and there are useful idiots on the American left as well.
Two that come to mind are Katrina vanden Heuvel, editor of The Nation magazine, and her husband, Stephen F. Cohen, a professor emeritus of Russian studies at Princeton and NYU and a contributing editor to the magazine his wife edits.
On Aug. 9, The Nation published a lengthy “expose” that concluded that the Democratic National Committee wasn’t hacked by Russia or anyone else, as our intelligence communities tell us. The article, titled “A New Report Raises Big Questions About Last Year’s DNC Hack,” is dense, impenetrable, and ill-informed. It takes author Patrick Lawrence 4,000 words to say that the DNC emails were downloaded at speeds faster than the internet could handle. Before that we are doused with Lawrence’s rhetorical sewage:
Lost in a year that often appeared to veer into our peculiarly American kind of hysteria is the absence of any credible evidence of what happened last year and who was responsible for it. It is tiresome to note, but none has been made available.
“Absence of any credible evidence” — File that one away for later.
This article was quickly debunked. And it was ridiculed by Sam Biddle of the Intercept who found something interesting in Lawrence’s Twitter timeline:
Editor Katrina vanden Heuvel ordered a review of this article, which is the latest in a string of Russia-related embarrassments for The Nation, a still highly-regarded left-leaning publication that is in danger of disappearing into the loony fringe. Things have gotten so bad that journalists at the magazine complained about the magazine’s Russia coverage in a letter to vanden Heuvel in June. Here’s an excerpt from a longer version quoted in this column in The Washington Post:
As longtime associates of The Nation, we are deeply concerned that by making these editorial emphases and by likening calls for investigations into the Russia connection to “red baiting,” the magazine is not only playing into the hands of the Trump administration, but doing a dishonor to its best traditions. We have noted, too, with dismay, that Tucker Carlson, Ann Coulter and other far-right adversaries have taken comfort in the writings of other Nation writers on the current crisis.
Ouch. The Nation being cited by Ann Coulter. Other Nation articles suggest that leaks pose a greater danger to U.S. national security than Trump himself. Odd choice for a magazine that exhorts its readers to the barricades with slogans like “Resist. Organize. Defend Freedom.”
[Update: Here is the Nation’s DNC article being used as Russian propaganda]
I don’t know how it happened but somewhere along the way Vandel Heuvel and her husband Stephen F. Cohen became Putin’s useful idiots. And I mean that in the same sense as Lenin did when he used it to describe liberals and Social Democrats who helped advance the Communist cause outside the Soviet Union.
Recall that “absence of any credible evidence” phrase in the article I noted above? It’s is a frequent refrain of Stephen F. Cohen, who uses it to shoot down all criticism of Putin.
The U.S. community’s findings that Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered an influence campaign into the 2016 election aimed at undermining Hillary Clinton and helping Trump’s chances of winning? No evidence.
Cohen called the declassified summary released by the U.S intelligence community on Jan. 6 “embarrassing” and “worse than amateurish” on a podcast five days after the report’s release. The report contains “zero” evidence and Cohen says not incorrectly that U.S. intelligence has been dead wrong before. A summary of his podcast describes the report as “utterly bogus.”
You probably won’t be surprised to learn that this mirrors the Kremlin’s response to the intelligence summary as well. Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Maria Zakharova, said Jan. 12, “Accusations are usually based on facts, dates and figures. This report is based on claims. There is nothing new in it for anyone, nothing but yet another compilation of absurd stereotypes.”
Echoing Donald Trump, Cohen also says there’s no evidence that Putin is “a killer.” This ignores the chairman of a UK panel who concluded that Putin “probably” gave the order to kill Alexander Litvinenko, the former FSB agent poisoned with radioactive Polonium-210 in 2006 in a London hotel.
Similarly, Cohen argues there is no evidence that Putin kills journalists such as Anna Politkovskaya of Novaya Gazeta — gunned down on Putin’s birthday — or the 33 others killed since he took office in 2000. Once again, Donald Trump makes the same claim.
“Trump [like Cohen] is technically right but wrong in spirit,” says Mark Galeotti, a New York University professor who studies the Russian security state. “There is indeed no proof Putin has journalists killed. But he presides over a regime in which journalists are beaten, harassed and murdered, often with impunity.”
Cohen is arguing a legal technicality. Sure, there’s no evidence Putin ordered anyone’s death. But someone did order the murders Litvinenko, Politkovskaya, or Boris Nemtsov. Those killers aren’t punished in Putin’s Russia, even though Putin probably knows who they are.
Follow his line of thinking and one could make the logically-sound but completely absurd argument that there is no evidence that smoking causes lung cancer.
It goes like this: Not all smokers develop lung cancer, and not all lung cancer patients are smokers. And the link between cancer and smoking is purely statistical. No double-blind study has ever been conducted to prove that smoking and lung cancer. So, how do we know that smoking — and not, say, air pollution — causes lung cancer?
Silly, yes, but it’s the same argument employed used by tobacco makers in court. It’s also the logic of climate-change skeptics (“scientific consensus is not evidence”), and people who think the Earth is 5,000 years old (“Evolution is a theory, not proof.”)
No evidence. No proof.
It is the desperate logic of those unable to reevaluate a long held, but increasingly ridiculous position so as to avoid looking like a fool.