What Our Media and the Russians Have in Common
St. Petersburg, Russia, July 11 -- Visiting here in the extraordinary city of Peter the Great and Dostoevsky, it occurred to me that our media, ironically, has a distinctly Russian world view, unconscious of that view as they may be.
The commonality I refer to is a tendency to believe in conspiracy theories or, failing that, to manufacture them.
This magical thinking -- as the shrinks call it -- has long been observed regarding the Russians. After centuries of living under the czars -- Lenin, Stalin, Khrushchev, Brezhnev, and now Putin -- the most bizarre conjectures abound in Russian society. Forget Occam's Razor. The truth can never be what it seems, especially when the information comes from a source that smacks of the authorities. Somebody, some powerful force, must be tricking them.
And in the past, they have often been right -- but it became a habit.
Speaking with one of our extremely intelligent and well-educated guides here -- a mathematician expert in early 20th century architecture -- I found he doubted the April 3, 2017 attack in the St. Petersburg metro that left 15 dead and 45 wounded was Islamist terrorism, despite it having all the earmarks (Uzbek perpetrator claimed by an ISIS affiliate). Instead, he implied Putin was involved. How and why, he could not explain. Similarly, this same bright, multi-lingual guide expressed the kind of skepticism about what happened on 9/11 you hear from nut cases on call-in radio shows. It couldn't be what it seemed, Mohamed Atta and Osama bin Laden notwithstanding.
Of course, given their tragic history, the Russians do have an excuse for believing in these outlandish theories. Our media has no such thing.
And yet they, too, engage in near-constant magical thinking -- anything to explain the election of Donald Trump but the obvious reality. The simple Occam's Razor analysis of the election was and is that Hillary Clinton was a terrible candidate who offered the public no reason to vote for her (other than her sex) and that Trump quite obviously did.
This could not be accepted by the media for cognitive-disorder reasons not dissimilar to those held by Russians over many unfortunate decades. What is disliked, even abhorred, must be explained away at all costs, magically if necessary. Thus you have a clinging to the "Russian collusion" theory by our media way beyond the bounds of rationality. It must be, even if it isn't. This week they think they have found the key in Donald Trump, Jr. Next week it will be something else. None of it, in the final analysis, has anything to do with actual collusion.
Disconnecting from the truth in the pursuit of political wish fulfillment is as potentially dangerous for Americans as it has been for the Russians. Today we visited their Museum of Political History, a fascinating institution that has, needless to say, undergone many revisions over the years but has reached a rather remarkable point. The decline of their society both economically and personally was brilliantly illustrated. (A room showing the living conditions when three families were forced to live together in the 1930s was particularly powerful, as were adding posters showing the Politburo of the 1920s and 1030s. Besides Stalin, only two of the original group had survived.)