In Attempted Hit Piece, NYT Makes Putin Hero of Defeating TPP

In an remarkable hit piece NYT spent over 5,000 words yesterday trying to prove that all of WikiLeaks’ leaks are motivated from a desire to benefit Russia.

That of course took some doing. It required ignoring the evidence of the other potential source of motivation for Julian Assange — such as that Hillary participated in an aggressive, and potentially illegal, prosecution of Assange for being a publisher and Chelsea Manning for being his source — even as it repeatedly presented evidence that that was Assange’s motivation.

Putin, who clashed repeatedly with Mrs. Clinton when she was secretary of state,


In late November 2010, United States officials announced an investigation of WikiLeaks; Mrs. Clinton, whose State Department was scrambled by what became known as “Cablegate,” vowed to take “aggressive” steps to hold those responsible to account.


Another person who collaborated with WikiLeaks in the past added: “He views everything through the prism of how he’s treated. America and Hillary Clinton have caused him trouble, and Russia never has.”

It also required dismissing some of the most interesting counterexamples to the NYT’s thesis.

Sunshine Press, the group’s public relations voice, pointed out that in 2012 WikiLeaks also published an archive it called the Syria files — more than two million emails from and about the government of President Bashar al-Assad, whom Russia is supporting in Syria’s civil war.

Yet at the time of the release, Mr. Assange’s associate, Ms. Harrison, characterized the material as “embarrassing to Syria, but it is also embarrassing to Syria’s opponents.” Since then, Mr. Assange has accused the United States of deliberately destabilizing Syria, but has not publicly criticized human rights abuses by Mr. Assad and Russian forces fighting there.

As I have noted, there is a significant likelihood that the Syria files came via Sabu and Anonymous from the FBI — that is, that it was actually an American spy operation. Even aside from how important a counterexample the Syrian files are (because they went directly contrary to Putin’s interests in protecting Assad, no matter how bad they made Assad’s western trade partners look), the provenance of these files and Assange’s current understanding of them deserve some attention if NYT is going to spend 5,000 words on this story.

But the most remarkable stunt in this 5,000 screed is taking Wikileaks’ efforts to show policies a great many people believe are counterproductive — most importantly, passing trade deals that benefit corporations while hurting real people, but also weakening other strong hands in climate change negotiations — and insinuating they might be a Putinesque plot. This bit requires editorial notes in line:

From November 2013 to May 2016, WikiLeaks published documents describing internal deliberations on two trade pacts: the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which would liberalize trade [ed: no, it would protect IP, the opposite of liberalizing trade] between the United States, Japan and 10 other Pacific Rim countries, and the Trade in Services Agreement, an accord between the United States, 21 other countries and the European Union.

Russia, which was excluded, has been the most vocal opponent of the pacts [this is presented with no evidence, nor even a standard of evidence. I and all of America’s TPP opponents as well as TPP opponents from around the world must redouble our very loud effort], with Mr. Putin portraying them as an effort to give the United States an unfair leg up in the global economy.

The drafts released by WikiLeaks stirred controversy among environmentalists, advocates of internet freedom and privacy, labor leaders and corporate governance watchdogs, among others. They also stoked populist resentment against free trade that has become an important factor in American and European politics. [Here, rather than admitting that this broad opposition to these trade deals shows that Putin is not the most vocal opponent of these pacts — contrary to their foundational assumption in this section — they instead portray a wide spectrum of well-considered activism as unthinking response to Putinesque manipulation. And note, here, a news outlet is complaining that ordinary citizens get access to critically important news, without even blushing? Also note the NYT makes no mention of the members of Congress who were also begging for this information, which makes it easier to ignore the profoundly anti-democratic nature of these trade agreements.]

The material was released at critical moments, with the apparent aim of thwarting negotiations, American trade officials said. [In a piece obscuring the unpopular and anti-democratic nature of these trade deals, the NYT gives these sources anonymity.]

WikiLeaks highlighted the domestic and international discord on its Twitter accounts.

American negotiators assumed that the leaks had come from a party at the table seeking leverage. [That anonymity again: NYT is protecting some bitter trade negotiators who’ve invented a paranoid conspiracy here. On what grounds?]

Then in July 2015, on the day American and Japanese negotiators were working out the final details of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, came what WikiLeaks dubbed its “Target Tokyo” release.

Relying on top-secret N.S.A. documents, the release highlighted 35 American espionage targets in Japan, including cabinet members and trade negotiators, as well as companies like Mitsubishi. The trade accord was finally agreed on — though it has not been ratified by the United States Senate — but the document release threw a wrench into the talks.

“The lesson for Japan is this: Do not expect a global surveillance superpower to act with honor or respect,” Mr. Assange said in a news release at the time. “There is only one rule: There are no rules.” [That the US spies on trade negotiations was of course not news by this point. But it is, nevertheless, worthy to point out.]

Because of the files’ provenance, United States intelligence officials assumed that Mr. Assange had gotten his hands on some of the N.S.A. documents copied by Mr. Snowden.

But in an interview, Glenn Greenwald, one of the two journalists entrusted with the full Snowden archive, said that Mr. Snowden had not given his documents to WikiLeaks and that the “Target Tokyo” documents were not even among those Mr. Snowden had taken.

The next paragraph goes on to note that the same NSA documents focused on climate negotiations between Germany and the UN, which seems to suggest the NYT also believes it is in petro-state leader Putin’s interest for the US attempts to dominate climate change negotiations to be thwarted, even as Assange describes US actions as protection petroleum interests, which of course align with Putin’s own.

In other words, as a central piece of evidence, the NYT spent 11 paragraphs repackaging opposition to shitty trade deals — a widely held very American view (not to mention a prominent one is most other countries affected) — into something directed by Russia, as if the only reasons to oppose TPP are to keep Russia on an equal shitty neoliberal trade footing as the rest of us, as if opposing the deals don’t benefit a whole bunch of red-blooded Americans.

That’s not only logically disastrous, especially in something billed as “news,” but it is very dangerous. It makes legitimate opposition to bad (albeit widely accepted as good within beltway and I guess NYT conventional wisdom) policy something disloyal.

NYT’s argument that Putin was behind WikiLeaks’ NSA leaks doesn’t hold together for a lot of reasons (not least that those two topics are probably not what Putin would prioritize, or even close). But it also has the bizarre effect, in a hit piece targeting Assange and Putin, of making Putin the hero of the anti-TPP movement.

And yet, NYT’s three journalists don’t seem to understand how counterproductive to their “journalistic” endeavor that argument is.

Update: Oy. As Trevor Timm notes, NYT worked with WL on the TPP release.

19 replies
  1. tryggth says:

    Until Tom Friedman hears from a shoe-shine boy in Uzbekistan I doubt we will know what the NYTs was thinking.

  2. scribe says:

    “Never let facts get in the way of a good vendetta.”
    Nor, for that matter, of your newspaper’s editorial slant.
    Yet again, I give thanks for the work of my 4th grade teacher who, in addition to teaching us how to read a newspaper (for more than the sports scores and weather), taught us about “slant”. She’d bring in the three local dailys (three nearby cities – two with an evening paper each, one with a morning and evening paper) and have us look at the different papers’ coverage of the same stories.
    But in a world of testing, today’s teachers know nothing of such a thing nor do their bosses.

    • emptywheel says:

      Right: Even a good college comp instructor would have pointed out how much evidence they misread in this piece.

    • bell says:

      thanks for the article emptywheel..

      scribe – thanks for saying that.. the state of education concerning the media seems absent! i recall taking a sociology of the media course back in the late 70’s.. i got a lot out of that course, mostly to not take things at face value and to question more… you were lucky.. you got a head start on me thanks your grade 4 teacher!

  3. Trevanion says:

    The writing on trade is so over-the-top stupid it could not have been triggered by a US negotiator. Only Ms Becker, as has been her wont on trade in the past, could get so many things wrong (she’s always been adroit with misplacing cliches and shows it once again here).

    The fingerprints are obvious: someone oh-so-clever and Langley-ish stationed in London or Paris breathlessly dangled the outlines of the piece to Mr. Erlanger. He gobbled, and then it was up to Ms. Becker’s crayons and a little bit of Schmitt’s pen to do the rest.

  4. TarheelDem says:

    What are the histories of Jo Becker, Steven Erlanger, and Eric Schmitt in doing these sorts of lax reporting? Or did they just get the boss’s orders and obedience gave it the old college try?

    Name one good breaking story that any of them have done? Or other stenography?

  5. Asker says:

    the article in the Times could be read as a piece discrediting people opposing the international trade treaties as being ‘duped’ … like Bernie and Jill Stein…even, last I heard, Trump. It also brings to mind, because of its placement in the Times, an article I saw recently which gave a list of Democrat party operatives and their spouses who are sometimes in high places in the media. That is, besides being an irritant to the people named (like Assange) it moves in the subconcious against the candidates opposing Hillary.

    • P J Evans says:

      a list of Democrat party operatives and their spouses

      People who use “Democrat” as the name of the party tend to be anything but.

  6. rugger9 says:
    This is a link to some stuff on TPP and its alter ego TTIP. There is a series of Buzzfeed articles that showcase precisely what should be the principal reason to deep-six this: the loss of sovereignty and laws. I think it is also possible that there will be a sagebrush rebellion of some kind if the corporations try to enforce their pet rulings to come.
    Trump is on record as opposing TPP, but he’d be benefitting from it big time afterwards if it passes and will have no scruples about lining his pockets.
    So, what was the purpose, really, for the NYT to print this? Is it Putin worship or something else. I also saw another report that there were some double-secret concessions made to the Iranians, posted by a guy (David Albright) who is a lawyer who calls himself an arms expert. I sense the fine hand of Bibi in all of this, so America will fight wars for the current Israeli government. Keep in mind that Israel per se isn’t a problem, but the Bibi government is.

    • martin says:

      quote”I think it is also possible that there will be a sagebrush rebellion of some kind if the corporations try to enforce their pet rulings to come.”unquote

      Ya think? I would submit rebellion to the future of corporate, government dictates are inevitable. On a scale that would scare the ghosts of France’s revolution.

  7. Evangelista says:

    As I have not read the Toilet-Paper Partnership [TPP] (apparently named for the anticipated result that its implementation will reduce the 98.999% U.S. general population to the point they have to share even T-P), for me to comment would be Russian to judgment. I will therefore refrain from Putin in my O/R [Opinion/Response]. I will let Putin and the Russians (amazing ventriloquists, as may be seen by their usages of dummy proxies) do it for me.

    But to provide context for the NYT wits who put their best forward in the August 31, 2016 edition, here is a ural (if it works): that should take amyone interested to follow it to an August 28, 2016 NYT article titled “A Powerful Russian Weapon: The Spread of False Stories” that draws upon some journalistic endeavors by a couple of Swedish axe-grinders, who could maybe have inspired the NYT wits to emulation?

    I have to say, seriously, that this is an absolutely wonderful time in the history of the media. Students of propaganda and slant (the kind not in italics) and deliberate distortion in journalism for centuries into the future, provided our planet survives and copies of the NYT survive (are not cut into squares and traded as ‘T-P Dollars’ when the economy gets Really bad), will be studying the NYT and WaPo as students of the 1960s and ’70s once studied Orson Welles’ “War of the Worlds” broadcasts.

  8. H Lewis says:

    Has anyone noticed the amount of advertising in the daily New York Times. Yesterday on Thursday it had about 8 full columns of adv. in a 40 some page paper. That will not pay for the paper it is printed on. You find two main stories a day Trump and Putin. It past an obsession.
    It gives you a very large picture usually six columns and a story or two. Very long and boring stories on whatever. In my day in the news business that was call very simply “CRAPING out the PAGE. Every since they fired there very good woman executive editor and hire the current one from the LA Times it is steady downhill.
    He has a rep. of loving the government and following orders.

  9. jo6pac says:

    The nfl season starts and who the F cares about how the new in improved Amerikan govt. will try to keep the 99% in control. Oh right nfl and Beeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeer.

    Then again Thanks to EW and others keeping us that want to now with the Facts.


  10. Ray Don says:

    There will be no ‘grassroots’ or ‘sagebrush’ rebellions; The TTP stipulates that issues be dealt with by stakeholder committees behind closed doors, and the penalties are huge, but we will not even be allowed to hear that they even happened.

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