Matt Taibbi (Rolling Stone) and Glenn Greenwald (The Intercept) have produced mountains of top-flight journalism on national and international issues. So I've struggled to grasp why they have been averse to any notion that Russians meddled in the 2016 election -- and Trump officials might have helped them. It seems Taibbi and Greenwald have such a deep distrust of the U.S. intelligence community that they believe reporters inevitably were fed bogus information on the Russia story, much the way falsehoods drove the weapons-of-mass destruction (WMD) story during the lead up to the Iraq War under George W. Bush.
Perhaps most alarming is the level of vitriol and disdain Taibbi and Greenwald show toward journalists who might not share their views. One such journalist is Nancy LeTourneau, of Washington Monthly. In an article titled "Why Taibbi and Greenwald Shouldn't Feel Vindicated," LeTourneau suggests the duo's end-zone dances in the wake of Barr's letter are both unseemly and unwise.
That seems particularly true given that Taibbi and Greenwald, in the vernacular of TV talking heads, have "moved the goal posts" on the Russia story. Writes LeTourneau:
It is not surprising that Donald Trump and his enablers are doing a happy dance in response to Attorney General Barr’s letter summarizing the findings of the Mueller report. Barr has given the president what some have called “the best day of his presidency,” which is exactly what he was hired to do.
But there are at least two other people who’ve been busy patting themselves on the back over the last couple of days: Matt Taibbi and Glenn Greenwald. Taibbi has written two articles taking a victory lap, while Greenwald has been busy with television appearances, including one with his buddy Tucker Carlson.
The reason these two are feeling so vindicated is because they’ve been skeptics of almost everything related to the Trump-Russia story from the beginning. Donald Trump isn’t the only person in the country who still hasn’t admitted that Russia attempted to interfere in the 2016 election. As late as February 2018, after Mueller released his indictments against dozens of Russians for their social media campaigns, Greenwald was still in denial. Here’s what Taibbi wrote about that this week:
"I didn’t really address the case that Russia hacked the DNC, content to stipulate it for now. I was told early on that this piece of the story seemed “solid,” but even that assertion has remained un-bolstered since then, still based on an 'assessment' by those same intelligence services that always had issues…The government didn’t even examine the DNC’s server, the kind of detail that used to make reporters nervous."
No rational person, at this point, can deny that Vladimir Putin and Russia meddled in the 2016 election. Even William Barr admits that. Consider these words from his letter to Congress:
The Special Counsel's report is divided into two parts. The first describes the results of the Special Counsel's investigation into Russia's interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. The report outlines the Russian effort to influence the election and documents crimes committed by persons associated with the Russian government in connection with those efforts.
Barr's words confirm there was a story of momentous importance there all along. So why do Taibbi and Greenwald seemingly shrug their shoulders and say, in essence, "There never was anything worth investigating"? Here is LeTourneau's take:
There are those who would suggest that Taibbi buying Trump’s line about the government not examining the DNC’s server suggests that he is unqualified to comment on this issue at all. But the main message from both he and Greenwald is that we can’t trust what U.S. intelligence services tell us, so we must see all of the evidence related to Trump and Russia with our own eyes.
Of course, the fact that something is awry has been obvious to anyone who has been watching Trump in action over these last three years. But what is most astounding to me is that both of these guys have gone all-in on feeling vindicated about their skepticism based on a four-page letter from the attorney general. Neither of them is holding back judgement until we get the chance to see the results of Mueller’s investigation with our own eyes. Where did all that skepticism go?
Indeed. Why would two guys who don't trust intelligence officials buy every word coming from William Barr, long known as a fixer for the Republican Party? Both Taibbi and Greenwald have described themselves as dogged, lawyer-like investigators. So, LeTourneau wonders, understandably, what happened to that approach:
And yet, all of the sudden Greenwald and Taibbi believe that what Attorney General Barr has written about the Mueller report represents the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. One can only assume that being on team DOJ is just fine.
It is human nature to be more attuned to information that reinforces your view of the world. So it probably shouldn’t surprise us that Greenwald and Taibbi have jumped on Barr’s bandwagon. But they are the ones who have been holding themselves above the rest of us as journalists who question those in power and demand evidence.
In terms of "moving the goal posts," let's consider Taibbi's original approach to the Russia story, from a Legal Schnauzer post in January 2017:
Taibbi seems nonplussed that the whole thing hasn't been wrapped up with a colorful bow by now. And oh, there is that Iraq-WMD thing:
"The problem with this story is that, like the Iraq-WMD mess, it takes place in the middle of a highly politicized environment during which the motives of all the relevant actors are suspect. Nothing quite adds up.
"If the American security agencies had smoking-gun evidence that the Russians had an organized campaign to derail the U.S. presidential election and deliver the White House to Trump, then expelling a few dozen diplomats after the election seems like an oddly weak and ill-timed response. Voices in both parties are saying this now."
Taibbi's analysis began with doubts that Russia interfered with the U.S. election. Now that such interference has been proven -- even to William Barr's satisfaction -- Taibbi has switched gears to: "Well, it's just silly to think Trump officials worked in cahoots with Russians."
Greenwald's tone has changed, too. Here is how he explained his position in an April 2018 interview with Jacobin Radio's The Dig program:
What I have said from the very beginning was exactly the same as what I say now, which is that of course it’s possible, and even plausible, that Russia engaged in disinformation campaigns or hacked with the intention of undermining or destabilizing the US, because this is something that the Russians and the US have done to one another and to everybody else for many decades. Nobody would ever say, “Oh, this isn’t something that Vladimir Putin would do, he’s too ethical, he’s too cautious.” This is minor in the scope of what the Russians and the Americans do to one another, and have long done to one another.
So, Greenwald has admitted all along the claims of Russian interference could be true? And we know now they were true. How does that square with his tone in a joint interview this week with journalist David Cay Johnston on Democracy Now!, with host Amy Goodman?
Greenwald called the Trump-Russia story "a scam and fraud from the beginning." He uses words like "moronic," "joke," and "fairy tale" to describe reporting on the matter -- all on a story he admitted at the outset could be true. That's not the only sign of Greenwald being disingenuous. Writes LeTourneau:
Greenwald claims to know what Mueller found during his investigation. But the truth is, all he knows is what Barr wrote about it, which included one quote from Mueller related to this point: “The investigation did not establish that members of the Trump campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities.”
Greenwald is a lawyer, so he should know that the specific words another lawyer uses in a situation like this matter a lot. Rather than saying they “found no evidence” for collusion or coordination, Mueller wrote that he “did not establish” that the Trump campaign conspired or coordinated with Russians. In other words, they might have found evidence, but not enough to prove it in a court of law. That is precisely why we need to see Mueller’s entire report in order to know what kind of evidence he did or did not find.
Taibbi and Greenwald have taken stances on the Russia story that are so peculiar some have suggested they are Russian agents. LeTourneau refuses to go that far, but she makes clear the story has not represented their finest hours:
I agree with Greenwald and Taibbi that accusing them of being Russian agents smacks of McCarthyism. So I reject that notion wholeheartedly. But in their quest to highlight the failings of U.S. policy, they too often fail to acknowledge the shortcomings of any country that presents itself as an adversary. That is especially true of Russia. It blinds them not only to the possibility that the current president might be compromised, but to the fact that, as Franklin Foer wrote, “Russian-Style Kleptocracy Is Infiltrating America.” That is a failing for anyone who claims to be a liberal.