Katrina Vanden Heuvel: Media Rhetoric "Disproportionate To What We Saw," They "Lost Their Bearings"

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Katrina Vanden Heuvel called for "robust debate" in reporting on Russia, not "suffocating consensus" in an interview on Wednesday's Democracy Now! with host Amy Goodman. She said the media reaction to the Trump-Putin joint press conference was "disproportionate to what we saw" and said many in the press "lost their bearings.

Vanden Heuvel said the vilification of dissenting and alternative views on Russia is the "degradation of our political media culture."

AMY GOODMAN, DEMOCRACY NOW: And, folks, by the way, you can go to democracynow.org to see the debate, both on the air and after the air, between Joe Cirincione, who is president of Ploughshares Fund, very much for pushing—has been a longtime anti-nuclear activist, but did not feel this summit should take place, that Trump made the wrong decision, and Glenn Greenwald, who felt exactly the opposite, the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist. Go to democracynow.org. But the summit and what happened—



KATRINA VANDEN HEUVEL, THE NATION: Yeah.

AMY GOODMAN: —and the news conference, the outcry across the United States? It’s not just CNN and MSNBC.

KATRINA VANDEN HEUVEL: But not across the—it’s not across the United States, it’s across the media universe of the United States.

AMY GOODMAN: Right, not just CNN and MSNBC, but Fox, as well.

KATRINA VANDEN HEUVEL: Yeah.

AMY GOODMAN: And the bipartisan, between the Democrats and Republicans, attack on what just took place, on President Trump saying he believed President Putin’s denial of Russian interference in the 2016 elections over his own intelligence agencies, specifically calling out Dan Coats.

KATRINA VANDEN HEUVEL: You know, there’s a kind of maniacal defensiveness on the part of Trump to defend the legitimacy of his election, which leads to this—what we saw at the press conference, which was kind of bizarre and surreal. Was it treasonous? Did it rise to high crimes and misdemeanors? Was it surrender? Was it akin to 9/11 or Pearl Harbor, as some have called? I think the rhetoric was disproportionate to what we saw. We saw a Trump, who we’ve already seen bully his way across Europe, who can very well look unhinged, and it was not America’s—it was kind of ugly and shameful to watch, but I think that people kind of lost their bearings.

To me, there were three points that I come out of. One is that the investigation into Russian interference in our election must continue, must be protected, that our electoral system must be strengthened so that it is free and fair. That’s going to be a lot of work. And number three is that we don’t isolate Russia, we engage. And that does not mean legitimizing an authoritarian leader. We have an American authoritarian, they’ve got a Russian authoritarian. But it does mean understanding the context of two countries holding 90 percent of the nuclear weapons, that The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists moved the Doomsday Clock a minute or so ahead. Midnight is doomsday. We’re a more perilous situation than we have been in since the Cuban missile crisis. So, I think we need to step back.

And I think it’s worth asking, in the context of media, Amy, which you raised in the treatment of Sam Husseini: Where were other alternative voices? There are alternative voices in this country, which could have touched a different note, one of more—that Sam was raising: discussions of a nuclear weapon ban treaty, or what do we do about to truly resolve the conflict in Syria, and not just let Putin and Trump issue talking points about what they were going to do. How do we resolve Ukraine? These were issues that came up, but it was partly because it was a summit of such low expectations, under siege from the beginning, but also loose planning, that the press conference became talk. And how it moves forward is hard to see, considering the assault on the idea of a U.S.-Russian engagement process moving forward...

AMY GOODMAN: And the delegitimizing of views that question, for example, well, Rand Paul, who may actually—The Intercept just reported this morning, may be one of those who votes against the new Supreme Court nominee because of his concerns around issues of privacy and surveillance.

KATRINA VANDEN HEUVEL: Yes.

AMY GOODMAN: But even on the issue of Russia and comparing Russia and the United States.

KATRINA VANDEN HEUVEL: The vilification of alternative, dissenting views or linking those views to a foreign power—in many people’s views, an implacably hostile foreign power—is the degradation of our political media culture. When Rand Paul, who is interesting on foreign policy, reminds, as The New York Times has over the last—you know, that America has meddled in other countries’ elections, has interfered, has overthrown countries’ governments, and MSNBC contributors tweet “traitor”? And I would also mention Glenn Greenwald. We talked of him earlier. Malcolm Nance, a very ubiquitous commentator on MSNBC on intelligence and other issues, said Glenn was—I’m going to read it, because it’s so outrageous—”an agent of Trump & Moscow … deep in the Kremlin’s pocket.” This is—we’ve seen this in our history before. And I think it is—it’s dangerous when you have a suffocating consensus instead of a full, robust debate.

And it should be about issues. Juan is right. When we fix so much on personalities, we’re feeding the beast, we’ve seen, of media malpractice, this obliteration of the line between news and entertainment, the conglomeratization, the decimation of local news. These are issues which collide with an administration which does want to delegitimize public accountability, if they know public accountability journalism, delegitimize any check on abuses. And we, as representatives of a media which seek to speak to the issues, seek debate, to foster, not police, debate, need to stand up and continue to do our work despite these fake news and—people are despairing about the issue of news, about facts, about—anyway. But I think what—the tweeting, to call someone a traitor because they have a point of you don’t agree with, we’re in a dangerous territory.

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