By Rich Lowry
Why do the Russians need to bother spreading disinformation when our own domestic sources do a much better job at it?
We just went through a four-year national obsession with Kremlin disinformation. It supposedly swayed the 2016 presidential election. It was “sowing divisions” in American society. It accounted for the discovery of Hunter Biden’s laptop during the 2020 election.
Social media companies were excoriated for allegedly letting Russian disinfo poison their networks, and the American mind.
There was nothing that some Russian operators — spending a pittance — couldn’t do. The former Time magazine managing editor and Obama state department official Richard Stengel wrote a book called “Information Wars: How We Lost the Global Battle Against Disinformation and What We Can Do About It.” According to Stengel, the Russians had mounted “an unprecedented attack against the very foundation of our democracy.”
The Russians were amateurs, though. If they really knew what they were doing, they’d spread rank lies about election reforms passed by an American state, make the deceptions so pervasive that the president of the United States would casually repeat them, unjustifiably dredge up memories of a terrible period of repression in America, relentlessly racialize the debate, and intimidate corporate America into thoughtlessly entering the partisan fight and discrediting itself with a significant segment of the population.
No, Russian trolls operating somewhere in St. Petersburg didn’t undertake this highly successful information operation against the Georgia election law — Stacey Abrams and her allies in media and politics did.
If the Russians had the requisite skill, they’d spread the false story that a talented American governor had sold out his citizens by letting a campaign contribution distort his distribution of COVID-19 vaccines, suppressing all facts to the contrary and stoking yet more conspiratorial thinking about the governor among his political opponents.
The Russians couldn’t pull this off — yet “60 Minutes” did, in a laughably dishonest report about Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis using the most popular grocery store chain in the state to get the vaccine in the arms of Floridians.
If the Russians were devious enough, they’d take a god-awful mass shooting, ignore all of the evidence about the perpetrator’s motives to define it as a crime driven by racial hatred, and undermine faith in the local police and FBI when they presented the facts.
The Russians couldn’t manage this, either — but a veritable army of media commentators and progressive politicians could. They insisted against the available evidence that the Atlanta spa shooter must have been driven by hatred of Asians, while Democratic senators openly dissented from the FBI director’s statement that the shooting wasn’t a hate crime.
If the Russians had the power or know-how, they’d spin a story of American law enforcement as a racist occupying force that should be resisted in “largely peaceful” protests all over the country, putting the cops on their back foot and creating an environment of spiraling disorder and violence in some of the most iconic U.S. cities.
Of course, the Russians also had nothing to do with this — Black Lives Matter and the media did all of the hard work and have largely managed to ignore the rising tide of crime that is undoing one of the signal America domestic accomplishments of the past several decades.
None of this is to dismiss the pernicious influence of Russian information operations and cyber strikes, especially overseas, or to minimize the hideousness of the Putin regime. But it is galling to see the same people who sounded the klaxons about Russians undermining faith in the American system for years themselves spread — or at least casually accept — progressive narratives based on poisonous lies about our own country.
The Russians are never going to stop running their information campaigns against the West, which date back to the Soviet Union. But they must occasionally be tempted to stand back in envy and awe at all that the U.S. promoters of woke narratives have been able to accomplish without them.
Rich Lowry is editor of the National Review.(c) 2021 by King Features Synd., Inc.