Imagine this movie-script: a former KGB spy, angry at the collapse of his motherland, plots a course for revenge... narrates the ominous sounding voice of Morgan Freeman.
The hysteria continues, and this time Hollywood has been enlisted. No this is not The Onion, but yet another serious committee for serious people. Meet the "Committee to Investigate Russia" which launched on Tuesday and immediately garnered broad coverage in pop-culture and entertainment news sites for its release of a short Morgan Freeman narrated video which aims to "tell us the truth" about Russian meddling in the US election. “We have been attacked,” Freeman says in his familiarly reassuring voice while gazing into the camera. “We are at war.”
Not only did the video burn up social media on Tuesday, but the founders of the lobbying group behind the production, barely one day old, were given substantial air time on cable news from CNN to MSNBC. Of course, it helps that actor, director, and lifelong Democrat Rob Reiner is behind it - he's teamed up with neocons David Frum, Max Boot, and national security insiders like James Clapper.
Similar to other recently launched 'Russiagate' campaigns and organizations we've profiled, the initiative is enjoying fawning mainstream media coverage from the very start. And apparently the historical irony is completely lost on Hollywood, a town which itself fell victim to the original McCarthyite witch hunt and its celebrity 'blacklist'.
Meanwhile, it appears the "Committee to Investigate Russia" is designed to appeal especially to the popular masses and consumers of pop media and celebrity culture magazines. For example, the following gushing roll out coverage from entertainment news site PopSugar reads like the "famed" Max Boot himself is on a hollywoodesque mission to save the world from an 'EVIL' cabal bent on total world domination:
The group's advisory board is a who's who of the most outspoken individuals in America today: former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, award-winning actor and director Rob Reiner, former George W. Bush aide and current Atlantic editor David Frum, AEI scholar Norm Ornstein, famed military historian Max Boot, and popular conservative pundit Charlie Sykes. And their mission? To educate the public on the threat that we face from Russia and to serve as a central location for updates, news, and information on all things related to the issue.
But like most commentary on the so-called 'Russian connection' there is one important caveat which appropriately skeptical readers will be sure to notice:
While we still don't have definitive answers on much of what elapsed during the lead-up to the election — or, frankly, have a plan for what we can do to prevent this sort of thing going forward — what we do have is an issue that individuals on both sides of the aisle are desperate to get to the bottom of.
This of course translates to "well we know there's a lot of smoke and no answers, umm... evidence" - but hey, Morgan Freeman's noble and venerable wisdom-from-the-heavens-sounding voice will make it all true. Reiner told the Daily Beast that Morgan Freeman was chosen as spokesman due to the “weight and gravitas” of his voice. Reiner further explained the purpose as, “We’re trying to break through and explain to people why this is important and that there is a serious problem here that people don’t seem to really grasp.”
While the public has been assured the committee is stacked with bipartisan experts, it would help if there were any actual... Russian experts. As one Al Jazeera journalist who covers Russian affairs pointed out, the advisory board is made up of the following "experts" (in their respective order):
- a neocon blogger
- a perjurer
- wonk with no Russia background
- the director of When Harry Met Sally
- right-wing talk radio guy
In spite of all the immediate positive media coverage the Committee to Investigate Russia ran into some embarrassing problems the moment its website went live. Actual Russian experts identified a glaring error. According to the independent Russian language news site Meduza:
The committee even ran into trouble when trying to identify General Valery Gerasimov, the author of an alleged hybrid military doctrine that some analysts treat as the blueprint for Russia's “information warfare” against enemies like the U.S. and Ukraine. When the committee first launched its website, it accidentally posted a photo of Gerasimov's predecessor, General Nikolay Makarov. The group eventually corrected its mistake, but not before Russian media expert Alexey Kovalev called them out, highlighting the rather obvious dangers of taking on “Russia” without Russian expertise.
This is not Valery Gerasimov. pic.twitter.com/102BecI8r2— Alexey Kovalev (@Alexey__Kovalev) September 19, 2017
As with Hamilton68 before it, this new project will likely become a go-to source of information for mainstream media which similarly lacks in real expertise. Apparently the two-minute Morgan Freeman video is now being roundly mocked in Russian state media, presumably for its ultra-simplistic reading of the fall of the Soviet Union and Putin's rise to power (Morgan Freeman assures us it was all about "revenge"). Perhaps one of many lessons here is this: you'd better divert some funds toward consulting real Russian experts and journalists before hiring a big-moneyed celebrity to "educate" the masses.