If The President Is A Russian Propaganda Agent Maybe We Should Care

Today NPR's David Folkenflick published a story about a lawsuit by former FOX commentator Rod Wheeler. it alleges that Fox News conspired with the White House and wealthy Trump supporter Ed Butwowsky knowingly manufactured fake quotes in order to promote a news story. The story, allegedly pushed in order to take attention away from the Russia investigation, promoted a conspiracy theory alleging that DNC staffer Seth Rich was murdered by the DNC and/or Hillary Clinton in revenge for providing material to Wikileaks. The NPR piece is well worth reading in full, as is Philip Bump's timeline at the Washington post.

The NPR story includes the following:

On the evening of May 14, Butowsky leaves a voicemail for Wheeler raising the stakes by invoking the White House and saying, "Let's close this deal."

A bit later that night, at 9:10 p.m., Butowsky texts Wheeler, according to Wheeler's suit: "Not to add any more pressure but the president just read the article. He wants the article out immediately. It's now all up to you. But don't feel the pressure."

This is the president of the United States, reading and approving of an outright lie, and asking for it to be published immediately. But more than that, it's disinformation with Russian DNA.

As Snopes noted nearly a year ago, the story surfaced first on conspiracy outlet WhatDoesItMean, and was promptly promoted by Wikileaks itself, which offered a $20,000 reward for information connecting the DNC/Clinton to the murder. As it is becoming clearer and clearer that Wikileaks was doing the Kremlin's bidding in 2016, it's obvious that this is a lie the Kremlin likes very well.

It's one that the most extreme Bernie Sanders supporters jumped on; it's one that Sanders-endorsed Tim Canova, who ran to unseat Debbie Wasserman Schultz in 2016, has embraced. (Sanders is not endorsing him for 2018.) Jeff Guo at Vox has more on the origins and growth of the conspiracy theory, as well as the Fox story and the Rich family's attempts to prevent the further exploitation of their son's death for political gain.

Maybe it's just me, but the clear evidence that Trump is taking an active role in promoting Russian-approved disinformation, via an American media outlet, should be kind of a big deal. This is routine in the regime of brutal dictators like Putin, but it has no place in a democratic republic.

This is the vilest propaganda, grown out of ancient GOP slurs against Bill and Hillary Clinton, nurtured by the hatred of both far left and far right, actively propagated by the Kremlin, and wielded as a weapon to discredit an entire political party, its primary process and its presidential candidate. And it relies an incredibly cruel, indecent, and cynical exploitation of a tragic death.

It goes without saying that if it were a generic Democrat in the White House doing anything like this, the GOP would be screaming for impeachment. How long will they continue to enable a man who should be ineligible for the most basic security clearance? How long will they be content to let him do the bidding of his puppeteers?

Sadly, my guess is very long indeed.

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