Hack List 2017: Why the New Yorker Sucks, in One Annotated Story


[Note: I’m not rolling out Hack List 2017 in any special order. We’ll rank the Top Ten after posting stories about all the finalists, and then I’ll milk all this for another easy post where I rank them. I’m not sure how long this process will take but it will surely be done by the end of the year. You can read the prior installments, on Dean Baquet and the New York Times here, “The Drones of The Intercept” here and on Vox here.]

I wasn’t initially going to include the New Yorker on Hack List 2017, not because it doesn’t belong here but because technically it doesn’t totally suck. The magazine periodically publishes great work — inevitably, given its piles of cash and the fact that so many journalists desperately want to write for it, no matter how degrading that experience ultimately proves to be — by people like Dexter Filkins, Jane Mayer and Adrien Chen.

But the New Yorker does mostly suck — and especially given its piles of cash and the fact that so many journalists desperately want to write for it. Let’s put aside that the magazine’s “humor” — typified by the chronically cringe-inducing Andy Borowitz, the Andy Rooney of print media — is so painfully unfunny. Let’s even let bygones by bygones and forget its epic “Sonny Rollins Hates Jazz” screwup, a failed piece of “satire” which nobody got and which the dumb fucks responded to — arrogance personified — by adding, at the bottom, not the top, ensuring that almost no one saw it, that everyone should’ve known it was satire to begin with. (See this story for the racist component of the whole sad affair.)

But just scroll through its weekly table of contents and you’ll find surprisingly few articles worth reading. Meanwhile, it prints reams of mediocre garbage. The worst part is that the New Yorker frequently publishes stories that merely rehash what other outlets have already done, but padded with 10,000 additional words, and then its work gets praised as groundbreaking and literary by the media elite. It’s like a shitty Italian restaurant that gets a positive review or mention by the New Yorker and so hordes of insecure people with no idea what good Italian food is go there and rave about the overcooked, lifeless pasta because if the New Yorker likes it, it must be great.

Politically, the magazine is dull and predictable. It’s reflexively anti-Trump — fine, but join the crowd of dimwitted liberal bubble-dwellers who didn’t see him coming — and espouses a middle-of-the-road Democratic Party vision that’s about as fresh and lively as an Al-Gore-Nancy Pelosi debate, and which has limited appeal beyond the 70+ crowd on New York’s Upper West Side.

The primary person responsible for this is New Yorker editor David Remnick, a veritable weathervane of conventional wisdom and another old white guy that thinks it’s hip to write a biography of Bruce Springsteen. Remnick’s worldview is just as uninteresting as you’d expect given that he “has been a Visiting Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and has taught at Princeton, where he received his B.A., in 1981, and at Columbia,” and that he completely marginalized Sy Hersh, one of the greatest journalists in U.S. history.

But what I want to focus on today is the vital role that the New Yorker plays in enforcing ideological conformity and setting the boundary for acceptable liberal opinion, i.e. by making Hersh more or less verboten in polite liberal society. This was also seen in the New Yorker‘s horrifying role in promoting the 2003 Iraq War by foisting upon the world the entirely dishonest work of Jeffrey Goldberg.

I’ll have more to say about the latter when I write the Hack List 2017 finalist application for The Atlantic, which Goldberg, having failed upward, now edits. For now, just recall that Dick Cheney and the George W. Bush White House hailed Goldberg’s pre-invasion work and said that if even the liberal New Yorker wanted to take out Saddam Hussein, no one could possibly oppose the war. 

Remnick and the magazine are currently among the most zealous promotors of the “Russiagate” affair, which proposes that Vladimir Putin “meddled” in the 2016 presidential election in order to elect his man, Donald Trump. For the record, I do believe that Russia successfully curried favor with Trump — as it did with Hillary — and I’ll be writing about that very soon.

But I can’t take much of the Russiagate narrative seriously, for example, that Trump was effectively a tool of Putin’s and a traitor to the United States. Give me a break. No matter what else you think of him, Trump is far too Alpha Male to be run by Putin or anyone else, and whatever you think of his policies he’s clearly not consciously seeking to promote Russian interests over American interests.

In any case, I’m now going to annotate one especially terrible New Yorker story on Russiagate which features not one but three bylines, including that of Remnick (a careful, cautious Washington Post correspondent reporting from Moscow many years ago). I’ll present a snippet from the story and then provide commentary following the snippet.

Let’s begin, shall we?



What lay behind Russia’s interference in the 2016 election—and what lies ahead?

Comment: Oh For God’s Sake, this has all the sophistication of a double feature of “Reefer Madness” and “Invasion of the Body Snatchers.”

Snippet: On April 12, 1982, Yuri Andropov, the chairman of the K.G.B., ordered foreign-intelligence operatives to carry out “active measures”—aktivniye meropriyatiya—against the reëlection campaign of President Ronald Reagan…The Soviet leadership considered Reagan an implacable militarist. According to extensive notes made by Vasili Mitrokhin, a high-ranking K.G.B. officer and archivist who later defected to Great Britain, Soviet intelligence tried to…discredit the President as a corrupt servant of the military-industrial complex. The effort had no evident effect. Reagan won forty-nine of fifty states.

Comment: Ooooh, aktivniye meropriyatiya, we speak Russian so you have to take us seriously! Reagan was “a corrupt servant of the military-industrial complex” — everybody knew that, it didn’t take the Russians to spread the word. And oh yeah, cool that you acknowledge that the KGB’s master plan had no impact. But never mind, it’s time for a new Cold War!

Snippet: The U.S. officials who administer the system that Putin sees as such an existential danger to his own reject his rhetoric as “whataboutism,” a strategy of false moral equivalences. Benjamin Rhodes, a deputy national-security adviser under President Obama, is among those who reject Putin’s logic, but he said, “Putin is not entirely wrong,” adding that, in the past, “we engaged in regime change around the world. There is just enough rope for him to hang us.”

Comment: The authors will cite foreign policy Hacketeer Rhodes regularly throughout this abysmal piece of state propaganda. “Just enough rope”? No, WAY WAY WAY more rope than needed. By any reasonable standard, U.S. foreign policy during the Cold War was just as evil and cynical as the Soviet Union’s, and produced far more suffering across a wider stretch of the planet. But opposing “moral equivalence” was to the Cold War what embracing “American exceptionalism” is today, namely an empty and offensive bromide that all must pay fealty to or be expelled from the community of acceptable opinion-formers. I remember back in the 1980s when liberal New York Times columnist Tom Wicker said he just couldn’t “take seriously” anyone who believed in moral equivalence. That’s just the way that ideological shaming and conformity enforcement work. Anyway, as journalists and intellectuals, why make bogus comparisons to another country unless you want to let your own country off the moral hook and justify not examining the Homeland? This is exactly how we ended up with a media and intellectual class that almost unanimously supported the Iraq War.

Snippet: After the collapse of the Soviet Union, in the early nineties, the C.I.A. asked Russia to abandon active measures to spread disinformation that could harm the U.S. Russia promised to do so. But when Sergey Tretyakov, the station chief for Russian intelligence in New York, defected, in 2000, he revealed that Moscow’s active measures had never subsided. “Nothing has changed,” he wrote, in 2008. “Russia is doing everything it can today to embarrass the U.S.”

Comment: Yep, nothing has changed, that’s what the Russiagate promotors want everyine to believe. KGB = FSB and the Soviet Union = Russia Today. Except that Russia today is a dysfunctional capitalist country and Communism pretty much died there two decades ago. And the U.S. wouldn’t be so easy to “embarrass” if it didn’t do so many “embarrassing” things.

Snippet: [Putin] considers nongovernmental agencies and civil-society groups like the National Endowment for Democracy, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, and the election-monitoring group Golos to be barely disguised instruments of regime change.

Comment: Putin is right.

Snippet: The 2016 Presidential campaign in the United States was of keen interest to Putin. He loathed Obama, who had applied economic sanctions against Putin’s cronies after the annexation of Crimea and the invasion of eastern Ukraine. (Russian state television derided Obama as “weak,” “uncivilized,” and a “eunuch.”)

Comment: Anyone who thought Russia would sit back and allow the U.S. to impose regime change in Ukraine is stupid enough to believe that the U.S. would sit back and watch Russia impose regime change in Canada. Except the U.S. really did seek to impose regime change in Ukraine, using a group of corrupt thugs that aren’t much different than the corrupt thugs they were trying to take out other than for being “pro-West.” Are journalists able to read history, or at lest Wikipedia? Ukraine was pretty much part of Russia for hundreds of years. Also, “On January 31, 1667, the Truce of Andrusovo was concluded, in which the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth ceded Smolensk, Severia and Chernigov, and, on paper only for a period of two years, the city of Kiev to the Tsardom of Russia. The Eternal Peace of 1686 acknowledged the status quo and put Kiev under the control of Russia for the centuries to come. Kiev slowly lost its autonomy, which was finally abolished in 1775 by the Empress Catherine the Great.”

Snippet: American trust in the mainstream media had fallen to a historic low. The fractured media environment seemed to spawn conspiracy theories about everything from Barack Obama’s place of birth (supposedly Kenya) to the origins of climate change (a Chinese hoax).

Comment: Americans have good reason, i.e. the New Yorker, to not trust the media. And as espoused by the magazine, and many others, Russiagate is another conspiracy theory that’s about as believable as the claims of Birtherism.

Snippet: Yevgenia Albats, the author of “The State Within a State,” a book about the K.G.B., said that Putin probably didn’t believe he could alter the results of the election, but, because of his antipathy toward Obama and Clinton, he did what he could to boost Trump’s cause and undermine America’s confidence in its political system. Putin was not interested in keeping the operation covert, Albats said. “He wanted to make it as public as possible. He wanted his presence to be known,” and to “show that, no matter what, we can enter your house and do what we want.”

Comment: Well, that settles it. PUTIN FUCKED US, BUT GOOD!

Snippet: By Inauguration Day, January 20th, the evidence of a wide-scale Russian operation had prompted the formation of a joint task force, including the C.I.A., the F.B.I., the N.S.A., and the financial-crimes unit of the Treasury Department. Three Senate committees, including the Intelligence Committee, have launched inquiries; some Democrats worry that the Trump Administration will try to stifle these investigations. Although senators on the Intelligence Committee cannot reveal classified information, they have ways of signaling concern.


Snippet: After viewing the classified materials, Mark Warner, of Virginia, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, said of the Russia investigation, “This may very well be the most important thing I do in my public life.”

Comment: Mark Warner has never done anything important in his public life, so this is a very low bar.

Snippet: Trump denounced the dossier as a fake. Putin’s spokesman called it “pulp fiction.” But, before the dossier became public, Senator John McCain passed it along to the F.B.I.; later, some of his colleagues said that it should be part of an investigation of Trump.

Comment: John McCain is a brain dead neocon. Who cares what he does or thinks?

Snippet: For many national-security officials, the e-mail hacks were part of a larger, and deeply troubling, picture: Putin’s desire to damage American confidence and to undermine the Western alliances—diplomatic, financial, and military—that have shaped the postwar world.

Comment: Not much comment, that is just too stupid. The Trump-Clinton election did more to damage American confidence than anything Putin could have cooked up.

Snippet: Not long before leaving the White House, Benjamin Rhodes said that the Obama Administration was convinced that Putin had gone into an “offensive mode beyond what he sees as his sphere of influence,” setting out to encourage the “breakup” of the European Union, destabilize NATO, and unnerve the object of his keenest resentment—the United States…Samantha Power offered a similar warning, shortly before leaving her post as United Nations Ambassador. Russia, she said, was “taking steps that are weakening the rules-based order that we have benefitted from for seven decades.”

Vlad the Destroyer. Image from New Yorker’s story.

Comment: Here we go with Rhodes again. And a dose of Samatha Power. This is scraping the bottom of the barrel. And “rules-based” — it benefited us, admittedly, but it must be good. Please.

Snippet: Putin’s resentment of the West, and his corresponding ambition to establish an anti-Western conservatism, is rooted in his experience of decline and fall—not of Communist ideology, which was never a central concern of his generation, but, rather, of Russian power and pride…In speeches and interviews, Putin rarely mentions any sense of liberation after the fall of Communism and the Soviet Union; he recalls the nineteen-nineties as a period of unremitting chaos, in which Western partners tried to force their advantages, demanding that Russia swallow everything from the eastward expansion of nato to the invasion of its Slavic allies in the former Yugoslavia. This is a common narrative, but it ignores some stubborn facts.

Comment: It’s about 99 percent stubbornly true.

Snippet: When the 1996 election season began, Yeltsin was polling in the single digits. Much of the country held him responsible for economic measures that seemed to help only those close to Kremlin power. For millions, reform—including the “shock therapy” pushed by Western advisers and politicians—meant a collapse in basic services, hyperinflation, corruption, kleptocratic privatization, and an economic downturn as severe as the Great Depression. Most Russians blamed not the corrosion of the old system but, rather, the corruptions of the new. Demokratiya (democracy) was popularly referred to as dermokratiya (shit-ocracy). Yeltsin, benefitting from the support of both the oligarchs and the International Monetary Fund, managed to eke out a victory against his Communist opponent, but he continued to drink heavily, despite a history of heart attacks, and, in his final years in power, was often a sorry, inebriated spectacle.

Comment: Oohhhhh, more Russian words to make us look smart, nyet? Finally a little truth anyway, but please make sure to mention that the U.S. “meddled” in Russia for years on behalf of its toady Yelstin; it helped him steal an election and keep him in power, until his drunken antics required the hated, discredited leader to resign and hand over power to Putin.

Snippet: But, even in the Internet era, more than eighty per cent of Russians get their news from television. Manipulation of TV coverage is a crucial factor in Putin’s extraordinarily high popularity ratings, typically in excess of eighty per cent—ratings that Donald Trump both admires and envies.

Comment: There you go Davey et al, nice meaningless comparison of Trump and Putin. What political leader doesn’t want high ratings? Anyway, thank god America can rely on MSNBC, Fox News and the New Yorker for fair and balanced coverage

Snippet: Late one evening in the spring of 2007, President Toomas Hendrik Ilves of Estonia was at home using his laptop computer. He had trouble getting online. The news sites were down. The banks were down. Government sites were down…[A]fter a few calls, he realized that someone was attacking one of Estonia’s core assets.

Comment: Estonia? Seriously? You totally lost me.

Snippet: Gerasimov is sixty-one years old, and is always photographed in a stiff, forest-green military uniform and with a perpetually sagging frown.

Comment: This is what passes for color at the New Yorker. The words just leap off the page. And the “perpetually sagging frown” is what the experts call “tipping your hand.”

Snippet: Obama’s adviser Benjamin Rhodes said that Russia’s aggressiveness had accelerated since…

Comment: Rhodesy! You’re back! Bye!

Snippet: By March, 2016, the threat was unmistakable. Cybersecurity experts detected a second group of Russian hackers, known as Fancy Bear, who used “spear-phishing” messages to break into accounts belonging to John Podesta and other Democratic officials. Like Cozy Bear, Fancy Bear had left a trail around the globe, with its technical signature visible in cyberattacks against the German parliament, Ukrainian artillery systems, and the World Anti-Doping Agency.

Comment: This is better than an episode of Berenstain Bears!

Snippet: By mid-February, law-enforcement and intelligence agencies had accumulated multiple examples of contacts between Russians and Trump’s associates, according to three current and former U.S. officials.

Comment: It’s now late-October. It’s still not entirely clear if those contacts were inappropriate, a lot of the reporting on this has by now been discredited. But I guess we’ll find out soon.

Snippet: The working theory among intelligence officials involved in the case is that the Russian approach—including hacking, propaganda, and contacts with Trump associates—was an improvisation rather than a long-standing plan.

Comment: Oh. That sort of undermines a lot of what you said earlier in this story and there’s still a lot of entirely unverified assumptions being made here. Whatever, what’s good for the New Yorker must be good for the country.


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