Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-2nd District) officially announced her run for the presidency last weekend, the same week Politico reported on the departure of her campaign manager and the campaign’s messy lead-up to the unplanned “unofficial” candidacy announcement on a Jan. 11 episode of CNN’s Van Jones Show. The launch event was held in Waikiki, and was followed by a Tulsi 2020 video that showcased her position as a candidate for peace opposed to US interventionism.
For a candidate off to a rocky start and needing to flip the script from playing defense (on past positions regarding LGBTQ rights, and support to and from nationalist groups), however, the campaign launch was marred by an NBC News report released the same morning, headlined “Russia’s propaganda machine discovers 2020 Democratic candidate Tulsi Gabbard.” As the title suggests, the report found that Gabbard “has become a favorite of the sites Moscow used when it interfered in 2016.” It based the assertion on a collection of “at least 20” stories following the candidate’s unofficial announcement that appeared on Moscow-based English-language websites including RT, Sputnik News, and Russia Insider. It’s noted that the CIA labels RT and Sputnik part of “Russia’s state-run propaganda machine.”
“All three sites celebrated Gabbard’s announcement, defended her positions on Russia and her 2017 meeting with Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad, and attacked those who have suggested she is a pawn for Moscow,” the article stated. NBC also found that coverage devoted to Gabbard exceeds that given to any of the declared or rumored candidates.
“Her promulgation of positions compatible with Russian geo strategic interests can help them mainstream such discussion in the [Democratic] party,” Alex Stamos, an NBC news analyst said for the article.
Journalist Glenn Greenwald of The Intercept was quick to publish a rebuttal of the NBC piece. A critic of the Democratic “establishment” and growing Russophobia, Greenwald wrote that “the whole story was a sham: The only ‘expert’ cited by NBC in support of its key claim was the firm New Knowledge, which just got caught by the New York Times fabricating Russian troll accounts on behalf of the Democratic Party in the Alabama Senate race to manufacture false accusations that the Kremlin was interfering in that election.”
But things are never that simple. Ben Popken, a co-author of the NBC report, took to Twitter to address “some blatant distortions around our NBC News story taking a snapshot of how candidate Gabbard has been promoted by Russian outlets since her announcement Jan 11.”
In the thread, Popken disputed Greenwald’s claim that they “relied” on the analysis by New Knowledge (or any third-party firm). The actual meat of the story, Popken said, was in their comparison of coverage by RT, Sputnik, and Russia Insider (quoted above).
That’s not stopping Gabbard from using it as ammunition, though. Shortly after Greenwald’s piece, Gabbard tweeted in keeping with her anti-establishment narrative: “[Glenn Greenwald] exposes that NBC used journalistic fraud to discredit our campaign. But more important is their motive: ‘to smear any adversary of the establishment wing of the Democratic Party – whether on the left or the right – as a stooge or asset of the Kremlin.’”
Yup, looks like more bumpy roads lie ahead.
Image courtesy Flickr/Lorie-Shaull