Are the leaked documents purportedly linking Trump with Russian hackers real or fake?
The answer is, of course, is that we have no idea.
Well, I have no idea. Others seem quite certain, one way or the other – though on what criteria this certainty is based I couldn’t say.
Perhaps the American intelligence services know, though I wouldn’t count on it. Donald Trump doesn’t count on them, either, regarding his senior spooks as liberal mischief-makers or bumbling idiots, or both. Not to worry, though, because he’s going to have them out, replaced by men of his own choosing – more competent, less partisan figures, if you can believe that. I can’t. I find it far from comforting that the heads of the Central Intelligence Agency and the Federal Bureau of Investigation will soon be members of the Trump rat-pack as his ‘special buddies’ – Peter Lawford and Joey Bishop to his Sinatra.
In his bizarre press conference yesterday (is this absurd, strutting playground bully-boy really about to become president of the United States in ten days time) Trump asserted that the hacked material is phoney – the work of ‘sick’ people, he added. His political opponents half agree: the people who compiled the dossier may be sick but the contents are real. The rest of us poor suckers can only guess, with our views on the matter no more than a reflection of our political prejudices.
Why can’t the media sort it out?
What exactly is this singular, once plural, entity we call ‘the media’? It is getting to be hard to define, and will only become harder. The ‘media’ finds itself between a rock and a hard place: publish this unverified electronic material and be damned (and in Britain perhaps even sued, if Section 40 goes through). Or don’t publish and be ridiculed – or worse, ignored? The BuzzFeed website published the entire transcript of an ‘annex’ attached to the report sent to the FBI, and has duly been damned for doing so. The CNN television network declined to publish the material, on the grounds that it remains unverified, but did refer to it. This caused Trump at his news conference to shout down the CNN reporter as a peddler of fake news, in another unseemly display of presidential peek.
Was BuzzFeed right to publish unverified material? I would have said no, if it had not been known that Senator John McCain had handed the dossier to the intelligence services and that its existence was widely known in political circles. Under the circumstances, the public arguably had a right to know what was in it, but the point is debatable.
Evidently, this is how we are going to get our news from now on: not from accredited reporters and editors following an established ethical footpath, but from hackers and leakers and cyber-gossips – the kind of people who abide by no rules and would regard the concept of an ethical footpath as quaintly old-fashioned. The fruits of their sinister labours will be offered to governments or corporations through shadowy middle-men with questionable or unknowable motives. (The Russian material was allegedly put about by a former British intelligence officer, who has since been named, poor fellow.)
It’s all a bit Graham Greene-ish, or if you prefer, John le Carre-ish, with the plots reworked to fit the electronic age. Like ‘Q’ in the Bond films, who no longer comes up with clever gadgets to blow people up but dense programmes to find out what they might be eating for supper.
The print newspapers are fast becoming mere observers, not quite irrelevant yet but heading rapidly in that direction and going steadily broke in the process. Most of London’s existing ten titles will be gone within a few years, certainly in print form, and some in on-line form, too. They can take the beating they get from resentful politicians, as they always have, but now affronted ‘celebrities’, mystifyingly regarded by the public as serious figures, have joined in the hazing, and the idea of a free press is probably doomed Grievous injury is added to humiliating insult when a socially liberal British government seriously contemplates muzzling the press with a regulatory body sponsored and funded by an aggrieved celebrity ‘victim’ of press intrusion, a man with a vendetta that exposes his personality flaws far more than his frolics with ladies from the professional S&M industry ever did.
This is no time, I fear, to be in the news business, either here in Britain or in the United States. The politicians may hate journalists, as they always have, but they now seem to have persuaded the voters to join the campaign to pay back the despised media.
I have just one question: if we are all supposed to despise journalists, who are we now to rely on for the truth? Politicians, I suppose, and hackers, and anonymous news manufacturers in remote Moscow suburbs.
Back to Mr. Trump, the man of the hour, and that strange press conference.
It was ostensibly called to explain how he will separate his political and business interests. He covered that – pointing to a table piled high with documents that he’s signed to recuse himself from anything to do with his property empire. As for that ‘wall’ being erected around the Trump business empire, it entails handing over the organisation to his two sons. Some wall! If they screw up, he warns, he’ll fire them. Ha! Ha!
But the most offensive bits of the conference were the finger-pointing exercise reprises of his sneering, leering, triumphal campaign and debate appearances. He sees enemies everywhere. He is still pointlessly attacking his election opponent. Leave Hillary alone, Donald. You won. You’re about to be president.
He praised a number of his cabinet nominees, and other appointees, with the accolade ‘good man’, whatever that means. It can mean that he’s saintly or that he’s an amiable party guest who takes the trouble to help with the clearing up. As far as I’m concerned, most of them come across as smug bigots, at one with the kind of corporate bigwigs who happily retain memberships in country clubs that exclude blacks and Jews on the grounds that America is a ‘free’ country. But there I go again, airing my petty-fogging liberal resentments. Well, looking at Jeff Sessions, a putative attorney-general with distinctly, let’s say old-fashioned civil rights attitudes, I can’t help it.
The inauguration, Trump took the time to tell us, will be ‘beautiful’. What exactly that means he didn’t explain. He makes it sound like a promo for a Disney ice-show spectacular. I’ll be watching, whatever it is. But it’s not ‘beautiful’ we want, Donald, it’s ‘meaningful’.
I suppose it would be churlish, even as a post-script, to fault the man’s grammar, but, Donald, ‘criteria’ is a plural word. The singular is ‘criterion’. I just hope you’ve got someone looking over your inaugural address – and I don’t mean Melania or Ivanka.
What else can I criticise, some of you may well be asking. Well, plenty, if you must know.
But don’t get me started again, because after two hours of self-aggrandised Trumpeting I’m going to fix myself a stiff drink.