Peter Baker Discovers that Russia Sows Partisan Antagonism and Then Helps Them Do So!

I laughed yesterday when Peter Baker tweeted about how “striking” it is that Vladimir Putin is adopting Trump’s perceived enemies as his own.

But then Baker wrote up his laughably naive observation into a NYT story.

Baker, you’ll recall, is one of NYT’s crack journalists who buried Trump’s admission that he had spoken to Putin about adoptions before writing a false explanation about the June 9, 2016 Trump Tower meeting emphasizing adoptions. Baker and Maggie Haberman chose instead to emphasize Trump’s scripted attack on Jeff Sessions. The Mueller Report showed that NYT’s willingness to dumbly repeat Trump’s script proved even more useful to Trump’s efforts to undermine the Rule of Law than his covert effort to get Corey Lewandowski to ferry orders to Jeff Sessions.

And here we are, almost five years later, and Baker still naively plays into obvious Russian efforts to sow division in the US, in significant part by playing to Trump’s narcissism and the feral loyalty of Trump’s supporters, to say nothing of playing up racial division. Baker picks out three names from among 500 newly added to Russian sanctions: Tish James, Brad Raffensperger, and Michael Byrd, the Black cop who prevented Ashli Babbitt from breaching the hallway through which Members of Congress were fleeing by shooting her.

Among the 500 people singled out for travel and financial restrictions on Friday were Americans seen as adversaries by Mr. Trump, including Letitia James, the state attorney general of New York who has investigated and sued him. Brad Raffensperger, the secretary of state of Georgia who rebuffed Mr. Trump’s pressure to reverse the outcome of the 2020 election, also made the list. And Lt. Michael Byrd, the Capitol Police officer who shot the pro-Trump rioter Ashli Babbitt on Jan. 6, 2021, was another notable name.

Reviewed more broadly, however, the sanctions were an attack on US Rule of Law generally, or certainly the notion that Trump’s people should be subject to it. They include the current or former Attorneys General of California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Maryland, Minnesota, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, New York, Oklahoma, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, Washington, DC, Wisconsin. Aside from former Oklahoma AG John O’Connor, which may be a mistake, it almost seems like they worked from an outdated membership list from the Democratic Attorneys General Association. Though for some reason, Putin missed Michigan’s Attorney General Dana Nessel, maybe because she’s a badass lesbian who makes Putin afraid.

The sanctions list does include every US Attorney who has presided over the January 6 investigation.

  • Michael Sherwin (who as Acting US Attorney in DC oversaw the beginning of the January 6 investigation)
  • Channing Phillips (who, as Acting US Attorney for DC in 2021 oversaw the early parts of the January 6 investigation)
  • Michael Graves (currently US Attorney for DC overseeing the January 6 investigation)
  • Jack Smith (Special Counsel)

But it also includes other senior legal officials, some of whom have gotten more attention for investigating Russia than Trump.

The inclusion of Kohler, who played a key role in the Trump stolen documents case but who also presided over the Charles McGonigal and other Oleg Deripaska cases that came through SDNY, is particularly notable. This is, in significant part, an attempt to suggest that if either Russia or Trump is held accountable legally, it will harm Russia. It is a transparent effort — no different than dozens of similar efforts going back to 2016, and to the extent that this plays to racism, goes back a half century — to lead Trump supporters to believe their interests are more aligned with Putin’s than those of the United States, or at least the United States when led by Joe Biden.

In addition to Brad Raffensperger, Putin also included Mark Esper, who got fired as Defense Secretary because he undercut Trump’s authority to attack the US government by invoking the insurrection act.

A broad swathe of the list includes members of NGOs, particularly those NGOs that fascists are attempting to discredit with claims that attempts to combat disinformation equate to censorship. Nina Jankewicz got sanctioned in her own right.

Of two members of the Open Society Fund, Leonard Benardo is included; his name may become prominent if John Durham’s abusive attempt to investigate Benardo, which may be detailed in the classified section of the Durham Report, begins to leak.

Along with all those defenders of truth and justice, Putin included Stephen Colbert and Heather Cox Richardson.

Again, this is a transparent effort, one that continues past efforts that extend to sheltering members of the far right and stoking US racism, to supplant the allegiance of Trump’s supporters to the United States with an affiliation, through Trump, to Russia. Trump’s narcissism might lead him to magnify these sanctions. His campaign advisors likely will try to prevent that.

But Putin won’t need to rely on Trump to magnify this statement of a shared allegiance.

He has Peter Baker for that.

Baker somehow could not distinguish language as transparent truth from language as an attempt to manipulate, and so stated as fact that “Trump’s perceived enemies” are Putin’s own. Aside from the law enforcement officials who’ve targeted both Russian hackers and Trump, they’re not. Rather, this is an attempt — an utterly transparent one!! — to make Trump’s followers believe that, and so regard Russia more favorably.

Because Baker thought his banal observation about these sanctions was worth a story in the NYT, he called up the Russian Foreign Ministry for comment. That’s how the claim that the people who attacked democracy on January 6 are simply dissidents got inserted into the NYT.

None of those three has anything to do with Russia policy and the only reason they would have come to Moscow’s attention is because Mr. Trump has publicly assailed them. The Russian Foreign Ministry offered no specific explanation for why they would be included on the list but did say that among its targets were “those in government and law enforcement agencies who are directly involved in the persecution of dissidents in the wake of the so-called storming of the Capitol.”

You got played, Peter Baker, into serving as a mouthpiece for Russian propaganda.

You got played into contributing to Russia’s efforts to undermine US democracy.

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30 replies
  1. Spank Flaps says:

    “Jan 6th dissidents”? Give me a break!

    You aren’t supposed to notice that Russia deals with their dissidents by defenestration, polonium, novichok, or live cremation.

    As for the NYT, if they don’t understand Russian propaganda by now, they never will.

    • Rugger_9 says:

      I think the NYT is aware of Russian propaganda and its effects. However, the top management, like CNN’s top management has evidently decided to go all in for clickbait and ratings. Baker (and Habs, and any of the other RWNM voices paid handsomely for their ‘content’) can only publish what the editors allow, so that part of the ‘journamalism’ problem has to be fixed as well.

      It’s not ‘bothsides’ stenography that is covered by the First Amendment, but actual factual reporting.

      I just started working with a new laptop and have been running an experiment on what YouTube videos are suggested by the algorithm if I do not select one, and it’s all RWNM dreck, mostly anti-Biden claims and how libs got ‘schooled’ in House hearings. A symptom / observation, but I’m not concluding anything yet.

      • earlofhuntingdon says:

        It’s not only about the money and clickbait. Like CNN, NYT’s owners and managers may simply agree with the hard right wing politics their journos cover as if they were normal politics.

        • BobBobCon says:

          I think the most charitable case is that CNN’s plan is about finishing in fourth place in the ratings while spending like a fifth place network.

          Although Chris Licht’s leadership argues against that — you can degrade your product to cut costs without trashing your core audience. He’s been on a long campaign now saying the loyalty of his viewers was wrong and they were watching a bad product.

          Colgate never says its old toothpaste was bad, just that its new one is improved. Licht is going ideological where he doesn’t need to go for financial reasons.

        • earlofhuntingdon says:

          Elmo’s mismanagement seems pervasive and not remotely benign. But he appears to do many things because his personal priorities demand it, not because he wants the money.

        • Rayne says:

          I’ll argue what Elmo’s doing is NOT mismanagement. It’s exactly what his investors expect.

        • Doctor My Eyes says:

          He’s been on a long campaign now saying the loyalty of his viewers was wrong and they were watching a bad product.

          Contrast the story Fox News tells: they say their viewers deserve what they are demanding, even if what they are demanding is lies and fantasy. Funny how it always works out somehow that the DFH’s are retards and don’t deserve what they want, even if what they want is a better life for everyone, while the rw always MUST be provided with what they demand or the world will come to an end. Almost makes me think they aren’t being completely honest in the reasons they give for choosing content.

  2. Estragon says:

    Wonderful stuff as always EW. Small nit, the paragraph about Esper should end with “act” not “attack” I think?

  3. Ebenezer Scrooge says:

    I’m old enough to remember when the Soviet Union was playing to US anti-racism as a means of dividing US society. “If we want everything to stay as it is, everything has to change.”

  4. Peterr says:

    “Though for some reason, Putin missed Michigan’s Attorney General Dana Nessel, maybe because she’s a badass lesbian who makes Putin afraid.”

    Don’t mess with badass lesbians.

  5. SAO says:

    In 2014, Russia invaded Ukraine and stole Crimea. Obama imposed sanctions on Russia, mostly against members of Putin’s inner circle. In retaliation for those sanctions, Russia did a number on things, including ending American adoptions of (desirable white) Russian babies. Before then, it was common to see lots of adopted babies and toddlers on flights, particularly Christmas flights from Moscow to NYC.

    So, the “adoptions” talk was really about lifting sanctions for the invasion of Ukraine. Letting Russia get away with it with zero consequences. Did that Trump tower meeting encourage Putin to go forward with his plans for a brutal war of conquest?

    I’m not sure the banning matters. How many of these pe

    [Welcome back to emptywheel. Please use the same username each time you comment so that community members get to know you. You changed your name to “SAOmadeLonger” comply with the 8-letter minimum last month. Thanks. /~Rayne]

    • Konny_2022 says:

      The Russian retaliation of ending US citizens adopting Russian babies occured even prior to Crimea, namely as a response to the Magnitsky Act in 2012 (see Wikipedia on “Magnitsky Act” and “Dima Yakovlev Law”). However, I agree with you that “adoptions” was a code word for US sanctions on Russia that Putin wanted to be lifted by Trump.

  6. Rayne says:

    It’s not just Peter Baker, though he’s working his way toward a level of utility as a tool only a few other NYT journos have achieved on behalf of Putin+Trump.

    It’s his managing editor and other editorial staff who’ve signed off on this Putin propaganda. Have we heard anything to indicate NYT’s editorial team have ever spiked any reporting or opinion which serves pro-Russian interests?

    There’s not one whiff of editorial skepticism let along journalistic skepticism in this bit:

    …The Russian Foreign Ministry offered no specific explanation for why they would be included on the list but did say that among its targets were “those in government and law enforcement agencies who are directly involved in the persecution of dissidents in the wake of the so-called storming of the Capitol.”

    Just reported straight, as if wholly legitimate.

    But then this is how most of the mainstream media handle reporting about the GOP, too. They handle U.S. politics with forced both-sidesing so frequently that the American public has no idea the GOP is no longer a legitimate political party but an anti-democracy, pro-authoritarian organization which has not yet been fully unmasked by the media as a pro-Russia entity, one seriously flirting with violations of FARA.

    If there had been a genuine effort on Baker’s part (or his editors), he might have pointed out that counter to the Dem state AGs, the Republican Attorneys General Association was up to its neck in the January 6 insurrection by way of its funding for robocalls to encourage so-called “dissidents” to participate in DC, and that this was not merely First Amendment dissent by MAGAs but support for domestic terrorism. Nor did Baker (or his editors) note that RAGA wasn’t a target of Russian sanctions.

    Funny how this particularly opportunity to both-sides is mere vaporware.

    • BobBobCon says:

      To be specific, Carolyn Ryan is the editor who has long backed the hack squad. Maggie Haberman called out Ryan for raising her up at the Times when Haberman spoke at the Mount Holyoke graduation a few years ago. Ryan was in charge of the 2016 election coverage, and has only gotten more powerful since then.

      The best evidence so far is that Joe Kahn is fully onboard, and it’s all gotten even worse since AG Sulzberger took over as publisher a few years ago.

      • Ginevra diBenci says:

        Yes, Ryan has long seemed determined to send NYT down the same toilet where CNN is disappearing its credibility–albeit, in the Times’ case, with more “prestige.”

        It’s a shame, given the quality of their investigative reporters, who continue to do ground-breaking work.

      • Rayne says:

        Ryan was a deputy managing editor at NYT until April 2022 shortly after Kahn was appointed executive editor the same month, replacing Dean Baquet.

        Whatever the source of the toxicity at NYT, it predates Kahn and Ryan’s current roles since Haberman was doing her enabling throughout all of Trump’s term, Ken Vogel was doing stenography for Giuliani during that period, and Baquet was the executive editor when NYT ran the October surprise POS headlined, “Investigating Donald Trump, F.B.I. Sees No Clear Link to Russia.”

        • earlofhuntingdon says:

          Absolutely. As you say, the rot predated Ryan and goes back at least as far as the beginning of Baquet’s tenure. But such people would not long be in their jobs if the owners weren’t getting what they wanted from them. Same for Chris Licht at CNN. It’s a team effort led, as in most institutions, by those at the top.

        • Ginevra diBenci says:

          Absolutely. Baquet was just as terrible, if more public in tending in his image. The Times has arguably contributed more than Fox to the erosion of shared truth today, for the simple reason that NYT continues to be the gold standard and Fox never pretended to be.

        • BobBobCon says:

          I totally agree that it is something that stretches to Whitewater and beyond, but Ryan has been in the thick of it for a long time.

          Ryan is a soulless force who saw that nobody at the Times ever saw their career suffer by putting their thumbs on the scale against liberals.

          She was the top political editor from 2013-17 and was the one who edited Michael Schmidt’s baseless article claiming Clinton was facing a criminal investigation for her server.
          Ryan herself blocked the inclusion of a denial from her campaign, and when the article fell apart, tried to surreptitiously redact the language online, and then blocked a retraction.

          Ryan is the one who somehow thought Glenn Greenwald was the guy to defend her handling of 2016:

          https://www.esquire.com/news-politics/politics/news/a48443/new-york-times-2016-election-coverage/

          I agree with your point that the rot goes further. Baquet was the one who edited the infamous No Russia Ties article right before the election, and like I said, there’s a clear throughline to the Sulzbergers.

          Her deputy Patrick Healy took over as Politics editor in 2017 when she was elevated, and he made sure to follow her legacy to a T.

          But Ryan is a willing executioner. From an operation standpoint, she has been running much of the show. She has taken hack reporters like Michael Powell out of the regular editing chain of command and edits them herself, then gives them placement on the front page under her authority as Managing Editor. She brought Glenn Thrush back despite his record as an abuser, as well as Jonathan Weisman after his bigotry was exposed.

          She’s been on the forefront of the Times crackdown on internal protest over their crusade against trans issues, directly confronting staff who raise legitimate issues of journalism.

          When all is said and done, of course, it’s a Sulzberger operation. If they didn’t have Ryan, or Kahn, or Healy, it would be people just like them.

    • LaMissy! says:

      The NYT has history with the Soviet Union / Russia going back to Walter Duranty and the suppression of Garth Jones’ reporting on the Ukrainian Holodomor.

  7. earlofhuntingdon says:

    Yes, the Russians played Peter Baker embarrassingly well. As a NYT journalist and New Yorker, he should have gagged at comparing Russian dissidents, like Sakharov and Solzhenitsyn, to January 6’ers. That it might generate clickbait or sell well to Trump and those who learn their history from Faux Noise is neither explanation nor excuse.

  8. PieIsDamnGood says:

    Putin is even attacking truthiness!

    How many times does Peter Baker have to get played before he graduates to useful-idiot or worse?

  9. Knowatall says:

    It seems that a pair of parenthesis and a sic would have eliminated the problem:
    …(so called) dissidents in the wake of the so-called (sic) storming of the Capitol.”

  10. Doctor My Eyes says:

    Sometimes I feel like the most paranoid one in the room. When I see things like this, I tend to assume it more likely that Baker is a knowing tool (either as a result of ideology or compromise) than that he is naive or being played. Same with Durham. It seems to me that few people in the US fail to grasp how present in the US are Russia’s tentacles and how many influential people are truly compromised, as in not free actors when making decisions that help Russia.

    In any case, disparate issues akin to this one come down in the end to the obscene maldistribution of wealth. A handful of people are rich enough to control the primary avenues through which we create our common reality and thus determine our common fate. For example, as a promoter of solidarity and a grass roots mode through which we stayed in touch with reality, Twitter had to go. It’s worth billions of dollars to some people to take it apart. The NYT is a quite effective at neutering liberal influence. It’s no accident, nor a result of naïveté. These decisions are not based on looking for success in the free market–who needs that when the game is rigged.

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