Stephen Cohen schooled prominent 'Never Trump' neocon and Council on Foreign Relations member Max Boot on CNN's Anderson Cooper this week on the Trump-Putin Helsinki summit and general charges related to 'Russiagate'.
It's worth watching especially as it underscores why recognized academic experts are rarely given airtime on the mainstream networks if their perspective lies outside the accepted media group-think on Russia.
“I‘ve been studying Russia for 45 years,” Professor Stephen Cohen said as the debate got heated. “I‘ve lived in Russia, and I’ve lived here.”
But predictably Boot cut him off, leveling the standard ad hominem that's become the standard fallback retort to any 'contrarian' analysis, saying Cohen has been “consistently an apologist for Russia those 45 years.”
“I don’t do defamation of people, I do serious analysis of serious national security problems,” Professor Cohen responded. “When people like you call people like me, and not only me, but people more eminent than me, apologists for Russia because we don’t agree with your analysis, you are criminalizing diplomacy and detente and you are the threat to American national security, end of story.”
“Why do you have to defame somebody you don’t agree with?” Cohen continued. “They used to do that in the old Soviet Union.”
Cohen's credentials as professor emeritus at Princeton and New York University, author of numerous books on Russian history, and among the world's most recognized analysts on modern Russia are without parallel when compared to the usual neocon 'experts' like Boot, who regularly appear on the network panels and in the op-ed columns.
Cohen said he doesn't find anything "unusual" about the Helsinki summit — especially nothing worth the level of broad 24/7 media push back that Trump's private meeting with Putin received. Cohen and Boot sparred over what exactly the two leaders may have discussed, including possibly a resolution related to Russia's annexation of the Crimea.
Anderson Cooper posed the following question with an incredulous look on his face: "You're believing Vladimir Putin on this?"
Cohen responded, “You have to take Putin’s word this is what they talked about,” and added, “I don’t want to shock you, but I believe Vladimir Putin on several things.”
Of course this was too much for the Cooper and Boot — the latter which promptly charged Cohen with being a "Putin apologist".
Boot said elsewhere in the interview that “a lot of intelligence officials think that there is something highly suspect in the relationship between Putin and Trump” based merely on the supposed unwillingness of Trump to level personal criticism against the Russian leader the he does others.
Cohen responded, “I have no idea what Mr. Boot is talking about... He wants Trump to threaten Russia? Why would we threaten Russia?”
Boot followed with, “Because they’re attacking us, Professor Cohen. Russia is attacking us right now according to Trump’s own director of national intelligence.”
After an intense back-and-forth in which Boot again lazily accused the scholar of being a Putin apologist, Cohen concluded, "I think that Mr Boot would have been happy if Trump had waterboarded Putin at the summit and made him confess." He said, "Trump carried out an act of diplomacy fully consistent with the history of American presidency. Let us see what comes out of it, then judge."
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Professor Cohen has a history of challenging powerful media figures, which is why his appearances on networks like CNN or MSNBC are very infrequent, despite his status as a world authority.
For example at the height of the 2014 Ukraine crisis he made Christiane Amanpour so frazzled that she began yelling antagonistically for show host Wolf Blitzer "to be very careful" in allowing what she called "pro-Russian" views to be expressed across CNN airwaves.
Christiane Amanpour in 2014: We cannot allow "pro-Russian" perspectives on CNN! (begins at 2:25 mark)