The sky may have been clear in Hawaii when Tulsi Gabbard read her speech promising to fight “greed and corruption,” but she enters her bid under a cloud of negative media coverage and accusations of being Russia’s darling.
At first glance Gabbard would seem almost too perfect for the Democratic candidate to face Trump in 2020: a 37-year-old part-Samoan woman, who previously broke off a promising career in local politics to volunteer for combat zone service in Iraq, and is unfailingly popular with voters on her home island.
“What our country needs now more than ever is the spirit of Aloha. That spirit of respect and love for one another and for our country,” she said in a launch speech that the 2008 Barack Obama, himself, might have found too idealistically bland.
Hours earlier, in a two-author NBC investigation an entirely different picture had been painted of the “controversial” Gabbard – the centerpoint of “the first stirrings of an upcoming Russian campaign” in which the Kremlin “propaganda machine” would seek to inject pro-Russian positions into the Democratic Party’s discussions and debates with help from “inauthentic accounts.”
The Kremlin already has a crush on Tulsi Gabbard https://t.co/bCpTdWG0Bo
— Ben Popken (@bpopken) February 2, 2019
I’m Not With Her
To understand why Gabbard is not treated as a customary feel-good story of a woman breaking multiple glass ceilings, but as a tool of the Kremlin, several pages of her biography need to be revisited.
The first, her resignation from the senior post of Vice President of the Democratic National Committee in protest at the lack of scheduled debates between frontrunner Hillary Clinton and the rising Bernie Sanders, whom she subsequently went on to endorse.
The second, a now-famous meeting with Bashar Assad in 2017, and Gabbard’s insistence that Washington should not engage in “regime change” or sponsorship of radical militant organizations in Syria or anywhere else.
Those two incidents alone have pitted Gabbard against two major establishment forces, and that is before one gets into the details of her socialist-tinged platform from healthcare for all to anti-Wall Street policy proposals. Or her support of stronger border control, which puts her at odds with her party’s official position.
None of Gabbard’s stances are beyond debate, but she may not even get as far as debating them in public with the other Democrat nominees, if her campaign is dead on arrival. And the media hasn’t been her friend.
Press coverage noticeably absent from Tulsi Gabbard event. CNN & MSNBCIA zero coverage on their websites. Only a few cameras on the platform.@stranahan@aaronjmate@jimmy_dore@MaxBlumenthal@nikoCSFBpic.twitter.com/TQDYmYBLAS
— Garland Nixon (@GarlandNixon) February 3, 2019
All candidates face scrutiny and an airing of their skeletons, but not only has she received less airtime than fellow relative novices Cory Booker and Kamala Harris, but the overall coverage of Gabbard has been uncharacteristically toxic, perhaps comparable only to the Democratic ostracism of Howard Schultz, following the former Starbucks CEO’s unbidden decision to enter the race.
The favored genre has been the expose.
In the past month alone: CNN has dug up Gabbard’s activism and comments, some dating back to the late 1990s, when she was a teenager, against same-sex marriage, for a campaign backed by her legislator father. The Intercept has accusedher of associating with Hindu Nationalists, while the Daily Beast has published an article under the title ‘Horseshoe theory: Why Conservative Media and the Far Right Love Tulsi Gabbard for President’, in which it was emphasized that the“enigmatic” Gabbard had “earned substantial praise” from, among others, white nationalist David Duke. Huffington Post accused her of hypocrisy for accepting money from arms manufacturers in the past, even though she never concealed that fact, and is in reality one of just several members of the House who explicitly refuse campaign donations.
Politico published a detailed dissection of her campaign being “in disarray” based on detailed unattributed revelations from the inside, while Daily Kos, the Democrat politics blog, has already endorsed her rival for the 2020 Congress run, which equates to the real election in a district where the Democrats have never lost against the GOP.
‘Defended’ her in an article – how dare they?
On Friday, came NBC’s coup de grace.
“An NBC News analysis of the main English-language news sites employed by Russia in its 2016 election meddling shows Rep. Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii, who is set to make her formal announcement Saturday, has become a favorite of the sites Moscow used when it interfered in 2016,” wrote the authors, one of whom Ben Popken, concluded that the Kremlin “has a crush” on Gabbard when he posted his article to Twitter.
The “analysis” – which appears to have been a name search – found that 20 articles have been published on Gabbard by RT (is it 21 now?), Sputnik and Russia Insider, twice as many as Joe Biden or Bernie Sanders. And not just that, but in these articles Gabbard was not mentioned “perfunctorily” but “celebrated” and “defended” despite her “lack of voter recognition.”
Here is a picture of Joe Biden, just for balance. © REUTERS/YURI GRIPAS
Even supposing that all that is correct, does RT have to cover Joe Biden every time it mentions Tulsi Gabbard? Elizabeth Warren? Julian Castro? Should CNN stop putting Kamala Harris in almost every piece about the race? As a non-US news outlet is RT allowed to find her non-interventionist views more interesting for its international audience than those of a status quo Democratic runner? What about as an alternative media outlet? Should covering a candidate who “lacks voter recognition” be considered suspicious? How much of this is sufficient to justify accusations of meddling and being branded a “Russian troll” and presumably sanctioned? Does all of this apply when the US media writes about Juan Guaido in Venezuela?
But wait, there are also “experts who track inauthentic social media accounts” who back this up.
“A few of our analysts saw some chatter on 8chan saying she was a good ‘divider’ candidate to amplify,” New Knowledge’s director of research Renee DiResta told NBC. 8chan? Chatter? Also New Knowledge? The establishment Democrat tech outfit that has just been caught planting and creating fake Russian bots in the Alabama election as part of a false flag operation. They are your experts, NBC?
Even much of Dem-voting Twitter was appalled at such a ham-fisted smear job.
What you think of Tulsi Gabbard isn’t the point. What matters is we’re witnessing influential media outlet equating dissenting foreign policy thinking with the Kremlin, essentially stigmatizing anyone who thinks differently-/ https://t.co/1STvBFVpd9 via @nbcnews
— Katrina vandenHeuvel (@KatrinaNation) February 2, 2019
Also, the pitiful claim from NBC reporter @bpopken – “the Kremlin already has a crush on Tulsi Gabbard” – would be denounced as not just adolescent but sexist if used against a female Presidential candidate who the Democratic establishment likes. Bottom of the barrel trash: https://t.co/6uuRq6Ge0c
— Glenn Greenwald (@ggreenwald) February 3, 2019
Translation: the American propaganda machine that has tried to influence the public w/ Russia-baiting since 2016 is now targeting the presidential aspirations of 2020 candidate Tulsi Gabbard (who happens to challenge the imperial foreign policy that the establishment promotes): https://t.co/2By7sdiX8U
— Aaron Maté (@aaronjmate) February 2, 2019
Though not Bill Browder… or Ashton Kutcher.
The Russians have found their new favorite US candidate for president in 2020, Tulsi Gabbard, the only US member of congress who supports genocidal Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad. Check out the Russian troll explosion under the NBC news story reporting this. https://t.co/HPnhcftDCS
— Bill Browder (@Billbrowder) February 3, 2019
Now support the other side, reduce credibility even further and keep us fighting. This is a textbook attack on trust. https://t.co/NvXvK46nWT
— ashton kutcher (@aplusk) February 2, 2019
Incompetent, threat or victim of smear campaign?
The media are now fulfilling their own prophecies, as they publish pieces about the “rocky” or “chaotic” start to Gabbard’s campaign. As she keeps going on the defensive – apologizing for the gay marriage remarks, standing firm on Assad meeting – the Hawaiian representative may survive or wilt.
But two questions remain: Is Gabbard just a stumbling novice with odd views, or is the media trying to systematically bury her, as opposed to informing their readers, all because she presents a threat to accepted positions? And secondly, is it doing so at the behest of and with help from a network of influence, be it DNC operatives, or Washington insiders? If the answer to the first question is “the latter” or to the second is “yes,” perhaps instead of spending so much time on our website, investigative reporters should have a look at the provenance and motivations behind some of their own coverage.