Former Trump strategist Steve Bannon infelicitously said a few years ago that the goal of the MAGA movement was “to flood the zone with s–t.” In other words, to disinform citizens – disorient them – to the point where they no longer can distinguish fact from fiction.
That’s happening again right now, with the long-awaited release of the Durham Report. Actually, I doubt that you, as a sane discerning citizen, have been long-awaiting it. But the propagandists in the MAGA echo chamber certainly have.
You may dimly remember what this probe was supposed to be about. John Durham, a right-wing prosecutor, was tasked by the Trump regime with proving that the FBI’s Trump-Russia probe was a hoax conspiracy concocted by Hillary Clinton and the “deep state,” or something like that. Durham became a special counsel and was given free rein by Merrick Garland to chase down and confirm Trump’s fantasy that he’d been framed during the 2016 campaign.
Well, the Durham Report was finally released earlier this week, and after four years of cooking, Durham has served up a dish with all the heft of a collapsed soufflé.
Trump has long insisted that he was victimized by a far-flung conspiracy, “the crime of the century.” Durham found no evidence of any such crime – or any crimes, for that matter. In his 300-page report, he charged a grand total of nobody – no top FBI officials, no intelligence officials, no Hillary aides, nada.
His most momentous accusation (we’re grading on a curve here) is strictly a procedural thing. He thinks the FBI in 2016 should’ve launched a “preliminary” probe of Russia’s activities on Trump’s behalf, based on what the agency knew at the time, instead of launching its “full” probe. And even that so-called revelation comes with a qualifier; in his words, there was “no question the FBI had an affirmative obligation to closely examine” Trump-Russia ties, based on the initial tips it had received.
None of these findings are surprising. Durham’s probe was always destined to fail, because the facts of what happened in 2016 have long been established: Russia helped the Trump campaign, and top Trumpists were not only fine with it, they lied about it. These facts were detailed three years ago in a 1,000-page report by the Republican-led Senate Intelligence Committee, which found “a direct tie between senior Trump campaign officials and the Russian intelligence services,” replete with “opportunities for Russian intelligence services to exert influence over, and acquire confidential information on the Trump campaign...a grave counterintelligence threat.”
But, as we sadly know, MAGA-world is impervious to facts. The Durham Report may be a dud when measured against the rigors of reality, but it’s still grist for MAGA weaponization, with fresh opportunities (quoting Bannon) to “flood the zone” with you know what. Such as, ‘The FBI was too zealous!’ and ‘Defund the FBI!’ And even though Durham didn’t come close to unearthing the so-called “crime of the century,” just chant it anyway. That’s what Jim “Gym” Jordan and other Trumpists are doing.
And when there’s a “crime of the century,” surely some people need to be jailed, right? House Republican Dan Crenshaw says “this Durham Report is a lock ’em up moment.” But what about the fact that Durham charged nobody, and cited no statutes that would justify charging anybody? Crenshaw tweeted an answer to that one: “If they (statutes) don’t exist, it’s time we created them.”
But the prize goes to Senator Tommy Tuberville, the ex-pigskin coach and denizen of the disinformation zone: “If people don’t go to jail for this, the American people should just stand up and say, ‘Listen, enough’s enough. Let’s don’t have elections anymore.’”
There you have it, the quintessence of fascism, articulated by someone who’s too stupid to grasp the import of his words.
So the Durham Report is the new ButWhatAbout, it’s handy ammo for the false equivalence crowd. And the only way we can defeat those people is to relentlessly flood the zone with facts. In an address at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism, CNN international anchor Christiane Amanpour, a vocal critic of last week’s CNN-certified Trump rally, offered this wisdom:
“Be truthful, but not neutral. Bothsidesism is not always objectivity. It does not get you to the truth. Drawing false moral or factual equivalence is neither objective or truthful...I refuse any more to say or to concede that we live in a post-truth world, because that is lazy and it is ultimately a self-fulfilling prophecy. We need to seek to provide and defend the truth.”
You don’t need to be an aspiring journalist to heed that advice.
Dick Polman, a veteran national political columnist based in Philadelphia and a Writer in Residence at the University of Pennsylvania, writes at DickPolman.net. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org