Dominic Raab Plays the Media on Labour, Russia and Leaked Trade Documents

From the Daily Telegraph:

Russians ‘played Jeremy Corbyn as a useful idiot’ to publicise classified documents

The former Labour Party leader presented the trade documents during an election rally last year

Jeremy Corbyn was unwittingly used as a “useful idiot”, a leading international affairs think tank has claimed after the Government said it was “almost certain” Russians attempted to interfere in last year’s election.

The former Labour leader was facing a fresh backlash on Thursday night over his decision to promote classified UK-US trade documents as evidence that the Conservatives were seeking to “sell off” the NHS.

In a statement released on Thursday, Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab revealed that the Government had concluded that “Russian actors” had tried to “amplify” the papers after they were “illicitly acquired” and later posted on the website Reddit.

The headline references to “useful idiots” are sourced to “Keir Giles, a senior consulting fellow at Chatham House” (despite the lede, there’s no indication that he’s speaking here as a representative of the think tank) and Tom Tugendhat MP.

The implication appears to be that unless we are 100% sure that documents of public interest have not been leaked with the assistance of a foreign power then we should all pretend that that we don’t know they exist. However, that was certainly not the attitude of the Daily Telegraph when the paper ran a business story based on the same set of documents a year ago, headlined “Leaked documents expose lack of progress in US-UK trade talks”- months before Labour were even aware of their existence. This earlier story was noted by Scram News in December, just after the Telegraph ran a piece headlined “Labour told to ‘come clean’ about how it obtained leaked government documents after report links them to Russia”.

The “report” in the December Telegraph headline was issued by “online cartographers” Graphika; for some reason it is no longer available, but it mostly focused how the leaked documents were promoted on social media during October, still prior to Labour’s interest. Citing an article in Vice, Graphika also suggested that the documents most likely came to Labour’s attention via an anonymous email. The framing of the Graphika report as a sensational exposé of Labour was Conservative Party spin, amplified by compliant hacks who were themselves acting as “useful idiots”.

Given that the row was months ago, why then is it suddenly current again now? The obvious explanation is that Raab recycled the old story as a diversion from the imminent publication of the Intelligence and Security Committee report into”alleged Russian interference in the 2017 general election and the 2016 Brexit vote”. The report has long been suppressed by Boris Johnson, whose efforts have at last been scuppered by the unexpected failure of his preferred candidate Chris Grayling to secure the position of committee chair.

Raab’s strategy here was an insult to the intelligence, but that’s no bar to setting the media narrative and most outlets were more than happy to take his lead and rehash the story without much indication that it was warmed over. ITV even went so far as to doorstep Corbyn at his home, although the task was delegated to a junior journalist who has just recently completed the ITV training scheme. No other broadcaster apparently thought it was worth a similar effort.

This ITV journalist was recognised online as Fred Dimbleby of the journalistic Dimbleby dynasty; he started the nine-month placement in August, but despite there being no guarantee of a job at the end of the training period it appears that he has been allowed to stay on. The futile stunt was widely criticised on Twitter, especially after Corbyn’s wife Laura Alvarez objected to the intrusion – thus the Evening Standard obliged with an article headlined “David Dimbleby’s son Fred trolled online after Jeremy Corbyn quizzed on doorstep over Russian election interference.” However, the piece distinguished between “an onslaught of abuse” and alleged threats (not directly evidenced) on the one hand and “high profile Twitter users” (i.e. blue ticks) who “also commented, but did not attack the journalist directly”.

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