Aaron Maté slams MSNBC’s latest Russiagate dud, exposing how Lawrence O’Donnell’s embarrassing retraction is part of a pattern of bogus conspiracy theories that push the limits of political self-satire.
AARON MATÉ: When it comes to Russiagate, there have been too many embarrassing media stories to count. And somehow, after nearly three years of this, the most discredited journalists are finding new ways to discredit themselves. The latest is Lawrence O’Donnell of MSNBC. Speaking another prominent conspiracy theorist, Rachel Maddow, O’Donnell shared this bombshell claim.
LAWRENCE O’DONNELL: This single source close to Deutsche Bank has told me that the Trump – Donald Trump’s loan documents there show that he has co-signers. That’s how he was able to obtain those loans. And that the co-signers are Russian oligarchs.
RACHEL MADDOW: What? Really?
LAWRENCE O’DONNELL: That would explain, it seems to me, every kind word Donald Trump has ever said about Russia and Vladimir Putin, if true.
AARON MATÉ: Well it turns out, it’s not true, or at least, there’s no evidence for it. According to MSNBC, Lawrence O’Donnell’s “information came from a single source who has not seen the bank records.” And so, O’Donnell had to retract his story after less than 24 hours.
LAWRENCE O’DONNELL: I should not have said it on air or posted it on Twitter. I was wrong to do so. This afternoon, attorneys for the president sent us a letter asserting the story is false. They also demanded a retraction. Tonight, we are retracting the story.
AARON MATÉ: But in the process of walking back his story, O’Donnell also said this.
LAWRENCE O’DONNELL: Saying ‘if true’ as I discussed the information was simply not good enough. I did not go through the rigorous verification and standards process here at MSNBC before repeating what I heard from my source.
AARON MATÉ: That’s about as dubious a claim as Lawrence O’Donnell’s retracted one. When it comes to the Trump-Russia story, the idea of “a rigorous verification and standards process” at MSNBC is a joke. The bulk of this network’s output for more than two years has been innuendo and conspiracy theories about a non-existent Trump-Russia plot and a massive Russia interference campaign.
This also was not the first time that MSNBC has used the ‘if true’ caveat to put something on air. Take the time Lawrence O’Donnell himself speculated that Vladimir Putin orchestrated a chemical weapons attack in Syria to distract the media from his ties to Donald Trump.
LAWRENCE O’DONNELL: If Vladimir Putin, if, if, if Vladimir Putin masterminded the last week in Syria, he has gotten everything he could have asked for…. Go ahead. Do a small chemical attack. Nothing – nothing like the big ones you’ve done in the past. Just big enough to attract media attention so that my friend in the White House will see it on TV. And then Donald Trump can fire some missiles at Syria that will do no real damage, and then the American news media will change the subject from Russian influence in the Trump campaign and the Trump transition and the Trump White House. It’s perfect.
AARON MATÉ: By the way that was in April 2017 — more than two years ago. Fast forward to say, July 2018, when MSNBC’s Chris Hayes brought on liberal writer Jonathan Chait to ponder if Donald Trump has been a Russian military intelligence asset since 1987.
CHRIS HAYES: In a new cover story for New York Magazine, Writer Jonathan Chait argues we have not allowed ourselves to consider the full range of possibilities. Chait lays out what could be considered the worst-case scenario for Trump-Russia collusion, that Donald Trump has been a Russian intelligence asset since 1987.
AARON MATÉ: Then there’s Rachel Maddow. I don’t know, take your pick. How about, Putin may use the pee tape & other kompromat to force Trump into withdrawing US troops near Russia.
RACHEL MADDOW: And here’s the question. Is the new president going to take those troops out? After all the speculation, after all the worry, we are actually about to find out if Russia maybe has something on the new president? We’re about to find out if the new president of our country is going to do what Russia wants once he’s commander-in-chief of the U.S. military starting noon on Friday. What is he going to do with those deployments?
AARON MATÉ: Trump didn’t withdraw those troops. How about also, Vladimir Putin got Trump to hire Paul Manafort as his campaign manager.
RACHEL MADDOW: I mean, take the view from Moscow. If you know a guy who needs a presidential campaign manager, how about our friend Paul? Right? From the Russian’s point of view, who would be the better choice to run Donald Trump’s presidential campaign? From our perspective in the United States, Paul Manafort made no sense. Who’s he? From the Russian perspective, he’d be the obvious choice.
AARON MATÉ: Speaking of hiring decisions, there was also Vladimir Putin getting Trump to hire Rex Tillerson as Secretary of State.
RACHEL MADDOW: Rex Tillerson – who Donald Trump had never met, had never had anything to do with before, had never laid eyes on before. How did Rex Tillerson get that job? He must have come very highly recommended – by someone. [MSNBC screen shows Putin with Tillerson].
AARON MATÉ: By the way, when Trump later fired Rex Tillerson, Maddow blamed that on Putin as well. So you get the picture. Lawrence O’Donnell’s story was not MSNBC’s first glaring error. Before this one, there was just no accountability for them. But the biggest problem here is not that these stories are embarrassing the cable news hosts and pundits who promote them. The Trump- Russia conspiracy theory has degraded journalism, and seriously undermining the actual resistance to Donald Trump.
Think about what a gift it is for Trump that his media critics constantly validate his claims about fake news. And it’s an even bigger gift to Trump that his media and political foes have spent the bulk of their air time on a moronic conspiracy theory, instead of his actual policies, and the damage that they do.
So the Russiagate conspiracy theory has done serious damage. And it will continue to do so unless there is some minimal accountability for the people who promote it and profit from it. Because when you think about the fact that MSNBC hosts and others are still doing this – still promoting the Russiagate conspiracy theory, and still calling themselves journalists in the process – well, this is my response.
RACHEL MADDOW: What? Really?
Aaron Maté is a journalist and producer. He hosts Pushback with Aaron Maté on The Grayzone. He is also is contributor to The Nation magazine and former host/producer for The Real News and Democracy Now!. Aaron has also presented and produced for Vice, AJ+, and Al Jazeera.