The Dangers of Either/Or Experts
HOW TO BE A RUSSIAN EXPERT 101: Take any new revelation about Bots and Russia as a green light to translate a wider than socially acceptable definition of "evidence"; meanwhile claiming anyone who has the slightest differing opinion is a Russian agent of influence.
I should note, that I am not a Russian Expert, on Twitter or in real life. I have about a fourth grade understanding of the Russian language. I took Russian courses in college because the professor was a famous Soviet poet and I was always interested in Russian culture and history but it's a hobby, not a profession.
There is a portion of Twitter that believes I am a Kremlin Troll. I was placed on a block-list that was compiled by one of the "I am not a Russian expert but I play one on Twitter" accounts. How did I get added to this list? I corrected said "Russian Expert" that the proper shortening of Vladimir was not Vlad but instead Vova. Right? Putin pays me for that.
It is not a new trend to throwout empty allegations that someone is a Kremlin Troll but now the people who are taking advantage of Russian meddling have the ears of the U.S. government.
These opportunistic charlatans pawn off some artificial voodoo expertise and they're never going to clean up after themselves. To be clear this is only directed to the Either/Or Experts, the ones with little understanding of Russia or it's language, who simultaneously give themselves credentials as an expert while defending themselves from all criticism by claiming doubters are part of the "disinformation machine."
There are countless examples over the past year but this behavior reached a climax this last week with one writer's visit to Capital Hill.
Molly McKew is not one of these charlatans with little understanding of Russia, that I just mentioned. She is a former consultant to former Georgian president Mikheil Saakashvili and has an undergraduate and graduate degrees that focuses on Russian relations and culture.
On September 7, 2017, Politico published McKew's article about "The Gerasimov Doctrine" where she alleges this is a new Russian hybrid warfare model coined by Russian General Valery Gerasimov that ran in a Russian military periodical in February of 2013.
McKew received endless applause from around the Twitter-verse for this piece but there are legitimate criticisms about The Gerasimov Doctrine that should be addressed. Just one simple critique; it was covered 4 years ago when it first came out. It's OLD NEWS. The sub header to McKew's piece says "It’s Russia’s new chaos theory of political warfare. And it’s probably being used on you." Yet the second paragraph of the article explains that the theory came out in 2013, which might lead some to ask "Why after a year of consistent Russian coverage, the annexation of Crimea and war in Donbas; why is this doctrine just now bringing brought to our attention?" I am unsure what McKew's motives are and I am not one to throw around blind accusations, maybe she really believes in The Gerasimov Doctrine or maybe she ran out of new info and was in need of some of those sweet clicks. It could be either one.
However, the Gerasimov Doctrine has technically been debunked by one of the most respected Russian experts and the guy who originally coined the term, Mark Galeotti. This is what Galeotti wrote on July 6, 2014:
"When using the term ‘Gerasimov Doctrine,’ I was just going for a snappy title. I really didn’t expect (or want) it to become a more generally used term. Why? (a) Gerasimov didn’t invent this; if any CoGS deserves the ‘credit’ it would be his predecessor Makarov, but even so it is really an evolutionary, not revolutionary process; and (b) it’s not a doctrine, which is in the Russian lexicon a truly foundational set of beliefs as to what kinds of war the country will be fighting in the future and how it will win them — this is more an observation about a particular aspect of particular kinds of wars in the 21st Century, there is certainly no expectation that this is the Russian way of war. So stop it, please!"
Let me reiterate that I am not a Russian expert; I alone am not mentally armed well enough to discredit The Gerasimov Doctrine article that McKew wrote. However, I am armed with years of reporting troublesome observations - so that's what I will do.
As I stated earlier, I'm unsure what McKew's motives were and maybe she really believes in The Gerasimov Doctrine, the issue in believing that for me is any criticism McKew's received about her take on The Gerasimov Doctrine article was promptly attributed to the large Russian disinformation machine.
An example of this would be Russia Without BS's comment, which was not directed to McKew, either she came across the tweet or went looking for it and publicly claimed Russia Without BS was Russia disinformation.
Sadly since this is the world we live in, I will clarify that Russia Without BS is a very popular blog ran by Jim Kovpak who is critical of the Kremlin and quite popular among journalist and people just interested in the "happenings". Here's a link of him satirizing Russian State Ran Media. I do highly recommend his blog but when it comes to social media influence, Russia Without BS's 10K followers don't stand a chance against a Politico writer with 35K followers.
Writer's expect criticism of their work, I expect some critiques from this blog post (I am prepared you maniacs!) but McKew's article was either pristine, or you work for Vladimir Putin. Isn't there some levity missing with an "old is now the new doctrine" if there isn't some respectful discussion about why? Instead we get either/or, which only builds a fictionalized reality around the Russian Meddling claims; making it more difficult to get a full honest understanding of what did happen.
Let's be blunt here, claiming someone is secretly working for The Kremlin with no information to back up their claim is defined as disinformation.
A week before McKew was set to testify in a Senate hearing on Russian Information Warfare she was already laying the defensive ground work. She was setting up a "feelings makes facts" war by using sweeping declarations that anyone who criticizes her future testimony is a "Russia-firster."
My German grandfather taught me how to play poker when I was a young child and what McKew did her is what my grandfather would call "A Tell."
She's not pumping up her testimony as pristine, she is setting up the pieces around her as the villains. Even I can look wise when the backdrop is made up of people's fears.
So instead of dissecting her testimony line by line, I will barely dissect one portion from it.
McKew's Senate Testimony on Sept. 14th
"It's no longer the Marine Le Pen model, it's the soft-on-Russia model. You especially see it among this middle rank, these Western journalist soft of hanging our in Moscow and others who propagate this narrative of 'Okay Russia is bad, but America is worse, and America should know better, so it is much worse'. And anything you do to respond to Putin means 'you're a Russophobe, and just makes him stronger and proves his point'. This is very effective in integrating it's way into the American media environment, particularly in graduate students it turns out."
In a Senate hearing about Russian Informational Warfare, Molly McKew testified that she believed western journalist who worked for Bloomberg, NPR, Washington Post, Financial Times, New York Times, Reuters, AP, Buzzfeed, Foreign Policy, and The Economist were part of the Russian Disinformation problem.
Come on, we are like two steps away from actual McCarthyism; ain't that some bullshit.
And folks that's how you become a Russian expert; lay the "Either you are with me/Or you are with them" fallacy to shield yourself from any criticism all the way to Washington D.C.
Seriously, It's Walt Disney to believe you can write something and think you can avoid any form criticism; actually Walt Disney was criticized a lot so I will assume the position McKew has out fictionalized Walt Disney.
Cause and Effect of Either-Or Part II
This Either/Or attitude This situation does not directly involve McKew and it would be unfair of me to place all the blame on her for this. However, all of these new "Russian Experts" have one thing in common and McKew this past week exemplified this either-or mentality perfectly.
Russian journalist Alexey Kovalev (NOT THE HOCKEY PLAYER) had a quick respectful exchange on Twitter with the Michael McFaul, the former U.S. Ambassador to Russia, over the news that Facebook found ad money coming from Russia:
Disagree with Kovalev's comment? Does your gut want to tie him to the Kremlin or Putin?
Do you feel obligated to block him? Does his opinion make you believe he has some hidden agenda?
These commenters had some feelings
The take away; Kovalev's opinion and name made him the enemy.
Kovalev did not spend time to clear his name, he took a different strategy by retweeting some of these comments. This simple approach accomplished his goal by grabbing some attention in a rather shocking way. See the thing is when you know who THIS Alexey Kovalev is, claims that he's some soft of Kremlin Troll or Puppet of Putin is laughable, idiotic, ludicrous... list goes through half of the thesaurus.
Kovalev runs Noodlerremover, a website dedicated to debunking Russian State Ran Media. He has it linked on his Twitter bio. For years Kovalev took it upon himself to fight Russian propaganda which predictably has pissed off a lot of powerful people in Russia, not a position I wish to be on.
Not one of those commenters took the 60 seconds to Google “Alexey Kovalev Russian Journalist” to discover that he does quite admirable work. Instead people reacted to some preconceived notion of “the enemy."
Hello, a Russian who has experience in fighting Russian Propaganda seems pretty useful right about now. That said, I respect Alexey Kovalev but I disagree on many things, including the effect Russia’s meddling had on the election. That doesn't allow me to throw allegations around like “He works for the Kremlin." There is some grey area.
BTW; Kovalev's take on Denver after about a weeklong visit was so bad. The guy was off by a mile; Pun slightly intended.
Russia meddled in the 2016 election and yes we need an investigation to understand the scope of what they attempted, what was successful, and what was not. These Either/Or experts are hindering, not helping. Social media built these individuals, so it's on social media to put them in check.
The one thing I have learned from my experience on Twitter is thinking aloud is responsible for much of our own misery. Research takes little time, I understand sometimes it feels likes we are going through an American crisis but tossing out words that matter like they don't makes everything worse.
There are going to be differing opinions on the impact of Russian efforts in 2016, accepting this will be beneficial- if you're the type interested in getting a better understanding or what is going on. National Security relies on learning from the past and we can all agree we need an accurate past to learn from or it's meaningless.