Have you ever wondered why mainstream media outlets, despite being so fond of dramatic panel debates on other hot-button issues, never have critics of the Russiagate narrative on to debate those who advance it? Well, in a recent Real News interview we received an extremely clear answer to that question, and it was so epic it deserves its own article.
Real News host and producer Aaron Maté has recently emerged as one of the most articulate critics of the establishment Russia narrative and the Trump-Russia conspiracy theory, and has published in The Nation some of the clearest arguments against both that I’ve yet seen. Luke Harding is a journalist for The Guardian where he has been writing prolifically in promotion of the Russiagate narrative, and is the author of New York Times bestseller Collusion: Secret Meetings, Dirty Money, and How Russia Helped Donald Trump Win.
In theory, it would be hard to find two journalists more qualified to debate each side of this important issue. In practice, it was a one-sided thrashing that The Intercept’s Jeremy Scahill accurately described as “brutal”.
The term Gish gallop, named after a Young Earth creationist who was notoriously fond of employing it, refers to a fallacious debate tactic in which a bunch of individually weak arguments are strung together in rapid-fire succession in order to create the illusion of a solid argument and overwhelm the opposition’s ability to refute them all in the time allotted. Throughout the discussion the Gish gallop appeared to be the only tool that Luke Harding brought to the table, firing out a deluge of feeble and unsubstantiated arguments only to be stopped over and over again by Maté who kept pointing out when Harding was making a false or fallacious claim.
In this part here, for example, the following exchange takes place while Harding is already against the ropes on the back of a previous failed argument. I’m going to type this up so you can clearly see what’s happening here:
Harding: Look, I’m a journalist. I’m a storyteller. I’m not a kind of head of the CIA or the NSA. But what I can tell you is that there have been similar operations in France, most recently when President Macron was elected? -
Maté: Well actually Luke that’s not true. That’s straight up not true. After that election the French cyber-intelligence agency came out and said it could have been virtually anybody.
Harding: Yeah. But, if you’ll let me finish, there’ve been attacks on the German parliament? -
Maté: Okay, but wait Luke, do you concede that the France hack that you just claimed didn’t happen?
Harding: [pause] What?—?that it didn’t happen? Sorry?
Maté: Do you concede that the Russian hacking of the French election that you just claimed actually is not true?
Harding: [pause] Well, I mean… that it’s not true? I mean, the French report was inconclusive, but you have to look at this kind of contextually. We’ve seen attacks on other European states as well from Russia, they have very kind of advanced cyber capabilities.
Maté: Where else?
Harding: Well, Estonia. Have you heard of Estonia? It’s a state in the Baltics which was crippled by a massive cyber attack in 2008, which certainly all kind of western European and former eastern European states think was carried out by Moscow. I mean I was in Moscow at the time, when relations between the two countries were extremely bad. This is a kind of ongoing thing. Now you might say, quite legitimately, well the US does the same thing, the UK does the same thing, and I think to a certain extent that is certainly right. I think what was different last year was the attempt to kind of dump this stuff out into kind of US public space and try and influence public opinion there. That’s unusual. And of course that’s a matter of congressional inquiry and something Mueller is looking at too.
Maté: Right. But again, my problem here is that the examples that are frequently presented to substantiate claims of this massive Russian hacking operation around the world prove out to be false. So France as I mentioned; you also mentioned Germany. There was a lot of worry about Russian hacking of the German elections, but it turned out?—?and there’s plenty of articles since then that have acknowledged this? - ?that actually there was no Russian hack in Germany.
In the above exchange, Maté derailed Harding’s Gish gallop, and Harding actually admonished him for doing so, telling him “let me finish” and attempting to go on listing more flimsy examples to bolster his case as though he hadn’t just begun his Gish gallop with a completely false example.
That’s really all Harding brought to the debate. A bunch of individually weak arguments, the fact that he speaks Russian and has lived in Moscow, and the occasional straw man where he tries to imply that Maté is claiming that Vladimir Putin is an innocent girl scout. Meanwhile Maté just kept patiently dragging the debate back on track over and over again in the most polite obliteration of a man that I have ever witnessed.
The entire interview followed this basic script. Harding makes an unfounded claim, Maté holds him to the fact that it’s unfounded, Harding sputters a bit and tries to zoom things out and point to a bigger-picture analysis of broader trends to distract from the fact that he’d just made an individual claim that was baseless, then winds up implying that Maté is only skeptical of the claims because he hasn’t lived in Russia as Harding has.
The interview ended when Harding once again implied that Maté was only skeptical of the collusion narrative because he’d never been to Russia and seen what a right-wing oppressive government it is, after which the following exchange took place:
Maté: I don’t think I’ve countered anything you’ve said about the state of Vladimir Putin’s Russia. The issue under discussion today has been whether there was collusion, the topic of your book.
Harding: Yeah, but you’re clearly a kind of collusion rejectionist, so I’m not sure what sort of evidence short of Trump and Putin in a sauna together would convince you. Clearly nothing would convince you. But anyway it’s been a pleasure.
At which point Harding abruptly logged off the video chat, leaving Maté to wrap up the show and promote Harding’s book on his own.
You should definitely watch this debate for yourself, and enjoy it, because I will be shocked if we ever see another like it. Harding’s fate will serve as a cautionary tale for the establishment hacks who’ve built their careers advancing the Russiagate conspiracy theory, and it’s highly unlikely that any of them will ever make the mistake of trying to debate anyone of Maté’s caliber again.
The reason Russiagaters speak so often in broad, sweeping terms? - saying there are too many suspicious things happening for there not to be a there there, that there’s too much smoke for there not to be fire? - ?is because when you zoom in and focus on any individual part of their conspiracy theory, it falls apart under the slightest amount of critical thinking (or as Harding calls it, “collusion rejectionism”). Russiagate only works if you allow it to remain zoomed out, where the individually weak arguments of this giant Gish gallop fallacy form the appearance of a legitimate argument.
Well, Harding did say he’s a storyteller.
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