Unless you religiously watch the Sunday news shows, then like me, you probably just read about them online. Highlights are clipped and headline making statements are written up by most media organizations. But every now and then, you hear about something down the line that slipped through the cracks. Last week’s episode of NBC’s Meet the Press was one of those cases.
Scrolling on my Facebook one day, I noticed that a Russian friend had posted a quote from the former Director of National Intelligence, James Clapper, discussing the latest news on the Russia scandal engulfing the White House. I did a double take when I read the statement. Clapper said that the intelligence community was concerned early on about communication between members of the Trump campaign and Russian bankers and officials, but then he added that, “If you put that in context with everything else we knew the Russians were doing to interfere with the election. And just the historical practices of the Russians, who typically, almost genetically driven to co-opt, penetrate, gain favor, whatever, which is a typical Russian technique. So we were concerned”.
I’m sorry what? Genetically driven to co-opt and penetrate? I had no idea that hidden somewhere in my DNA lie the secrets to spycraft. I also couldn’t believe that a statement like this could be made on one of the most prominent political shows on national television, by a former high ranking government official, and no one noticed. Then I realized that this portion of Clapper’s answer was included in block quotes in numerous articles, it’s just that no one cared.
Russophobia is an issue I’ve written on before, including speaking to other Soviet immigrants in the US about it. Every time I discuss my views with friends or in interviews for radio and television, I feel the need to preface the conversation with a few important points. No Russian-speaking immigrants who I know say they’ve felt any animosity directed towards them by coworkers, neighbors, friends, or anyone else encountered in their daily lives. Also, given the very real hate and violence faced by Muslims and communities of color in general, Russian-Americans have it easy.
Having said all that, when I see or hear something anti-Russian, I feel a responsibility to point it out. Especially when it’s people in positions of power and influence who are doing the talking. Most often the responses I get are are an acknowledgement that the statement in question is wrong, but not part of a broader trend. If anything, people see it as a small side effect of the larger questions swirling around Trump’s presidency.
For a media culture that’s made immense strides in calling out prejudice of any kind, negativity towards Russians is a blind spot. It’s embarrassing that there’s a lack of differentiation between the Russian government or its actions and the Russian people as a whole. This is not me whining about injustice, but simply asking for intellectual honesty. That this quote from Clapper was widely distributed and reported on without a mention of it’s ugly nature or ridiculousness is baffling to me. I hope I don’t need to write too many more articles on this topic, but if statements like this continue to be made and no one else pushes back or even blinks twice, then I feel I have an obligation.