22 November 2017

The Real Winner in America's Russia Crisis Is China

Leon Hadar

When thinking about male-pattern baldness, what comes immediately to mind? Genetics? Thanks for this, grandad. But then I conducted my own scientific research and discovered the following: I started losing hair at the temples or the crown of the head when Vladimir Putin first held the position of president from 2000 to 2008, and my hairline receded big time after the Russian leader took office again in 2008. Coincidence? Or is it possible that the balding Putin, resenting the hairy Dmitry Medvedev, not to mention those American presidents with their incredible full heads of hair, decided to do something about that? Isn’t that what you would expect from the Kremlin’s notorious alpha male, who was probably envious of my Fabio-like flawless hair in the late 1990s?

So did my hair loss have anything to do with the RT programs I started watching in the beginning of the new century? Or with the news reports on pravda.ru I was devouring daily? Or perhaps my bald spot was expanding as a result of paying more attention to the sexy Russian ads on Facebook? Or should I blame those Russian trolls on the social media who wanted to become my virtual friends and were posting videos of cats playing the piano on YouTube?

Well, after an extensive research of the topic, I am now more inclined to blame my late grandpa, not Putin, for my receding hairline.

But then surely we can still all agree that the Kremlin has been responsible for much the problems plaguing the world today, like the rising protectionist tide and the emergence of right-wing nationalist political parties in Europe. And of course, Putin was behind the election of President Donald Trump and the Brexit vote.

In fact, according to a study issued last week, one of the many research projects conducted these days about alleged Russian intervention in the electoral process of this or other country, more than 150,000 Russian-language Twitter accounts posted tens of thousands of messages in English urging Britain to leave the European Union in the days leading to last year’s referendum on the issue.

Similarly, the Spanish media have been accusing Russia of playing a major role in the Catalan independence crisis by employing its state-controlled media outlets, like RT and Sputnik, and its legions of trolls on Facebook and Twitter, as part of a strategy to encourage Catalan separatism. Much like the case of Brexit, Russia has been accused of trying to weaken the EU and NATO and devastate the West.

Many of these “the Russians did it” accounts assume that supporters of Brexit in England’s East and West Midlands and the pro-Trump voters in Ohio, Michigan and Pennsylvania, as well the backers of independence in Catalonia, were driven to the polls by a sophisticated propaganda campaign directed from Moscow, which is believed to have coordinated with candidate Trump and his aides.

Indeed, according to a report on the Russian electoral interference, released by America’s intelligence agencies on January 6, the coordinated activities of RT and the online-media properties and social-media accounts that make up “Russia’s state-run propaganda machine” have been utilized by Moscow to “undermine the U.S.-led liberal democratic order.”

Yep. Forget about the impact the German chancellor Angela Merkel’s immigration policy had on the British public, or the impact of presidential candidate Hillary Clinton’s bashing of the “deplorables,” or the rise of secessionist movements in Catalonia—not to mention the deep structural economic and political changes sweeping the West in response to the effects of unrestrained globalization and mass migration, and the backlash against the political and business elites. It’s the Russians, stupid!

We are supposed to buy into the notion that white blue-collar workers in deindustrializing areas of the Rust Belts of the United States and the UK spent the last days of the 2016 Brexit campaign and the American presidential race getting their news from RT and Sputnik while exchanging tweets with Russia-friendly trolls. We are supposed to believe that they just couldn’t get enough of those ads on Facebook, which induced them to switch their support from Hillary to Trump.

If Russian propaganda is to be blamed for Trump’s electoral victory, we might as well take seriously serial killer Ted Bundy’s explanation for raping and murdering women in the 1970s. Pornography drove his behavior, he insisted during an interview a day before his execution. Penthouse made him commit all those horrific crimes!

But contrary to communication scholar Marshall McLuhan’s quip, the medium is not the message or the massage. The same news story or political or commercial advertising would have different effects on different audiences of perhaps have no effect at all.

You probably won’t be able to convince an Eskimo to spend his or her vacation in Antarctica or to sell sand to Bedouins in the Arabian Peninsula. Nor would a billionaire financing an expansive campaign in support of polygamy have a major impact on the views of the large majority of Americans.

This explains why the extensive Soviet propaganda machine had almost no effect on American public opinion during the Cold War, and why it was mocked by those who were exposed to it.

That RT, which, according to a 2015 survey of the top ninety-four cable channels in America by Nielsen, a research firm, captured at one point just 0.04 percent of American viewers, suggests that today’s Russian global-propaganda apparatus, isn’t much more effective. It certainly has not had much impact when it comes to reaching British voters in the country’s rural areas who spend more time drinking in pubs than watching RT.

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