Former US Ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul penned a scathing piece in the Washington Post accusing the Kremlin of intervening in the American election, based solely on the evidence of a harsh article regarding Clinton published by Sputnik News. Boy, was he wrong! My name is Bill Moran. A native Arizonan, I’ve worked on dozens of Democratic Party campaigns, and am more recently a proud writer for Sputnik’s Washington DC bureau. It seems that as of Thursday morning that I’m a source of controversy between the USA and Russia… something that I never quite could’ve imagined… for writing an article that was critical of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, with a stinging headline, and a harsh hashtag.
So, what is this controversy all about? This weekend I published a piece with the headline, Secret File Confirms Trump Claim… Obama and Hillary “Founded ISIS” to Oust Assad. I also tweeted out this story from our platform with the hashtag #CrookedHillary. Guilty as charged. On Wednesday night, McFaul took to the Washington Post to opine that the article was part of a Kremlin-led conspiracy to subvert the American election, referring to the person running the Sputnik Twitter account (that particular day being me) as a “Russian official”, before warning (threatening) that we “might want to think about what we plan to do” if Clinton becomes president.
I feel it is necessary to pause, here, before having a substantive argument about the article’s merits and purpose within the public discourse, to address the severity of the accusation levelled against me and Sputnik’s staff (not by name until now), and its disturbing implications on freedom of speech, dissent, and American democracy… implications that I hope that Mr McFaul, other public proponents of the Hillary campaign, and the cadre of Russian critics consider. Pursuant to 18 US Code Chapter 115, I’d be writing this article to you from prison, if not awaiting a death sentence, if I were writing content ordered down to me by the Kremlin with a view towards subverting the American election. Instead, I’m writing this piece from my favourite coffeeshop in downtown DC. I’m not a Russian official. Our staff members aren’t Russian officials. We aren’t Kremlin controlled. We don’t speak with Vladimir Putin over our morning coffee.
Mr McFaul worked side-by-side with the former Secretary of State in the Obama Administration, and his routine accusations that Trump supporters are siding with Putin leaves me to imagine that he’s a Clinton insider if not a direct campaign surrogate. That such a public official would suggest reprisals against those with differing viewpoints in the event that she wins is disturbing. Our outlet doesn’t endorse or support any particular US presidential candidate, but rather reports news and views for the day in as diligent a manner as we possibly can. This is clear in our very harsh headlines on Trump, which Mr McFaul failed to review before making his attack.
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On Friday morning, in fact, the Atlantic Council’s Ben Nimmo issued a completely different view, calling our coverage “uncharacteristically balanced”, but arguing that, because we report generally negative stories on both candidates, our real target is American democracy itself. It may surprise Messrs McFaul and Nimmo to learn that, in my previous work on political campaigns, I actually helped fundraise for Hillary Clinton… the candidate whose inner circle is now labelling my colleagues and I as foreign saboteurs. It’s not my fault nor Sputnik’s fault that Secretary Clinton’s campaign has devolved into one predicated upon fear and conspiracy, where the two primary lines are “the Russians did it” and that she isn’t Trump.
Donald Trump has the lowest approval rating since presidential polling began. Until recently, Clinton had the second lowest approval rating since presidential polling began. Their numbers are worse than even Barry Goldwater and George Wallace, in fact. The fact that more than 50 percent of the country dislikes both presidential candidates isn’t a Kremlin conspiracy. Would it be appropriate for us to present to our readers an alternate universe à la MSNBC, which defended Clinton’s trustworthiness by saying she only perjured herself three times? Why have both presidential candidates received less than fawning coverage from our outlet? They haven’t done anything to warrant positive coverage. My colleagues, also Americans, like so many others in this country, wish they would. Let’s return to the substance of the article to which Mr McFaul took exception. We wrote this piece because it was newsworthy… it informed our readers and forced them to think. The provocative headline of the story came from a statement by Trump that’s a bit of a stretch (notice the air quotes on the title), but which highlighted a major policy decision made by this administration that wasn’t properly scrutinised by the mainstream media. In the article, for those who actually read it, I refer to the 2012 DNI report that correctly calculated that Obama’s policy in Syria would lead to the development of a Salafist entity controlling territory and that this outcome was “wanted”. Hence, the title.
Today, the Obama Administration grapples with a similar debate over whether to continue to support the “moderate rebels” in Syria, despite the fact that they’ve now melded with al-Nusra (an al-Qaeda affiliate until they rebranded), under the banner of the Army of Conquest in Syria. We don’t pretend that these decisions exist in a vacuüm with a clear right and wrong answer upon which no two intelligent people differ, but this is a matter worthy of public discourse. What about that hashtag? Why would I use #CrookedHillary? I mean, I could’ve put #Imwithher, but I wasn’t trying to be ironic. When you feature a hashtag at the end of a sentence, its purpose is for cataloguing. Some people, usually non-millennials, use hashtags as text to convey a particular opinion. I wasn’t doing that. I also used #NeverTrump in a separate article. However, Mr McFaul lazily cherry-picked, and then labelled (maybe unwittingly) Sputnik’s American writers traitors to this country. Personally, I expect an apology for that.
20 August 2016