CNN introduces new definition of suspicious activity: Dating Russians

Bryan MacDonald
Bryan MacDonald is an Irish journalist based in Russia.
CNN introduces new definition of suspicious activity: Dating Russians
Every traveler knows CNN and dodgy shower curtains in small hotels are certainties that can't be avoided, like death and taxes. If you can endure a few minutes of US cable news since Donald Trump became President, you may notice the network now boasts an in-house Russia-basher.

His name is Michael Weiss. And, on a channel notable for its well-groomed hosts, his apparent aversion to barber shops makes him immediately stand out, as does a tendency to frequently drop two particular words of supposed Russian origin into his analysis. Those are 'kompromat' and 'dezinformatsiya.' Terms which - like ‘czar’ and ‘intelligentsia’ - you will encounter far more often in English-language media than on the streets of Moscow or Vladivostok.

Of course, Weiss is most likely ignorant of this. For two reasons. Firstly, because he can’t speak Russian and thus would be oblivious to which adjectives and nouns pepper speech in the language. And secondly, because, by all accounts, he has never actually been to Russia and hence wouldn’t know what is being discussed on the ulitsas and prospekts of the country’s cities (if you are reading Michael, those words mean streets and avenues, respectively).

For some time, genuine experts on this beat have been appalled by how Weiss has carved a mainstream punditry and writing career on Russia while having no practical experience of the country. And zero specialist academic qualifications or linguistic skills to even remotely compensate. As one long-time Moscow hack puts it, “imagine some dude who’d never been to a football game or studied the rule book, calling the Super Bowl on CBS?”

Of course, that would never happen. But, despite Russia having been America’s chief external rival for most of the past 100 years, standards governing coverage of the country are significantly slacker than those imposed on commentators scrutinizing the New England Patriots or the Denver Broncos. Thus, it’s a case of tell porkies about Tom Brady and get the bullet, but spout bunk and baloney on Vladimir Putin and receive even more air time. Because, for CNN and its ilk, contributors are chosen not for their expertise but for their ability to parrot the party line.

Dripping With Venom

Nevertheless, Weiss’ hatred of all things Russian goes beyond the usual call of duty. And it often descends into outright racism. Something which happened this week on Twitter when he augmented an offensive tweet from an anonymous troll account with his own amplification. And the exchange went like this.

Weiss:“How good and elaborate are Russian operatives at cultivating foreigners? This is old but 100% true.”

Troll:“Unsurprisingly, quite a few alt-right figures and other pro-Russian Western actors have Russian-/Soviet-born wives or girlfriends.”

Weiss:“Unsurprisingly, so do a few alt-left types whom RT has on speed dial.”

Immediately, Twitter users asked for evidence. Including Natalia Luckyanova, who co-created the famous Temple Run video game series.

Naturally, Weiss was unable to back up his absurd claim, which rings especially hollow when you consider the number of ex-USSR citizens who dislike Russia, particularly in places like Ukraine and Georgia.

Meanwhile, the well-known Russian-American journalist Yasha Levine tweeted: “Michael Weiss—CNN contributor and creep—implies that having a Russian wife is suspect. I have a Russian wife. I was born the USSR.” And his erstwhile colleague at Moscow’s late and lamented Exile magazine, Mark Ames added, “shame on CNN for hiring a creep who makes xenophobic attacks (on) journalist’s wives. Weiss made some very weird comments about my wife in the past. A real shitbag, (with) the creepy instincts of a snitch”.

At the same time, Guardian contributor Jason Wilson noted how “apart from being grubby, that particular comment seems to be pretty racist on the face of it.”

State of Mind

Then, the New Yorker’s Joshua Yaffa intervened. “Am I to make from this thread that having Russian girlfriend/wife/partner is considered somehow….suspicious?” he asked. Perhaps mindful of the magazine’s influence in the US, Weiss threw a few passive aggressive tweets at Yaffa, who stood his ground. And eventually, Yaffa dismissed the pundit with “Ah, I too like to tweet about random coincidences about which I am making no further or darker insinuation. You know, question more!”

If Weiss were a random chancer, none of this would be noteworthy. But while he’s certainly a phony when it comes to Russia proficiency, he is far from being a harmless stray, aimlessly flinging out his prejudiced muck. Because the CNN hack has somehow convinced a lot of people that he has special insights into Russia and built a career off it.

In reality, he’s a babbling bigot and a dinky bellicose pygmy playing mountebank with the network’s viewers. Something completely evident from his failure to ever engage an authentic specialist, who fathoms the nuances at play, in a debate on Russia. Instead he smears them, as the distinguished Sovietologist and Russia scholar Steve Cohen can testify.

That said, insinuating how dating a Russian compromises a Westerner is a particularly contemptible, crass and undignified smear. As Yaffa observed, “(I’m) not sure where this logic leaves the many American journalists, academics, NGO workers, and others with Russian spouses and partners." Plus, this kind of defamation is also grossly unhelpful to the millions of Russian-Americans in the US. Indeed, had Weiss made a similar remark about black, Jewish or Hispanic people, he’d probably be already out on his ear.

But Russians are fair game. By virtue of how they are mostly white and mainly, at least nominally, Christian. Or because animosity, loathing, suspicion and phobia of all things Russian has long been embedded in American discourse. Something Nobel Laureate Bob Dylan observed over fifty years ago when he wrote: “I've learned to hate the Russians all through my whole life/If another war comes, it’s them we must fight/To hate them and fear them, To run and to hide/And accept it all bravely, with God on my side.”

Imposters like Weiss exploit this enmity to build renown. And the likes of CNN hire them because they are chiefly looking for negative angles on Russia, and have no interest in reporting on the country fairly. What's more, in the internet age, Russians are aware of, and have become accustomed to, this sort of casual racism being directed at them. Which, of course, has served to reverse the post-Soviet enthusiasm for all things Western and encouraged the Kremlin to gravitate toward more respectful partners, mainly in Asia. Something which has numerous future implications, many of them potentially profound, for the world order.

Somewhat ironically, if Weiss had gotten over his fears and dated a few Russians in his youth, he might have learned some of the language and maybe even had a reason to visit the country. But that would probably have disqualified him from CNN because it's clear how its editors don't want those sort of "Russia experts.” You know those types, real ones, who have deep knowledge and first-hand experience of the country they comment on. Perish the thought.

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.