The Russians What? Fake News Claiming Invasion Ruined My Morning

Fake news Twitter cat cartoon by Mickey Paraskevas
Cartoon by Mickey Paraskevas

Like most people today, I read the news online. I have apps on my phone from The New York Times, the Associated Press, CNN, Fox News. When something important happens, one of these will send me a notification. I’ve gotten them when the Ethiopian airplane crashed. I’ve gotten them when a flood overwhelms a town on the banks of the Mississippi. If I’m interested and don’t want to wait for a time I can open these stories on my screen to read them at length, I will on the spot click through to them and at least get the gist of it.

This morning was one of the worst mornings of my life. I was writing in my car at Main Beach in East Hampton when I got an alert that read RUSSIA SENDS TROOPS TO VENEZUELA. I immediately clicked through. An anchor was giving the information from a newsroom. They were talking to an expert in London. He said the initial reaction from Washington was in and the U.S. wasn’t going to stand for it. He also said the Russians were responding to a request by Nicholas Maduro, the longtime President of Venezuela, who was invoking a treaty Venezuela had with Russia from 2003 that allowed this.

Jussie Smollet
Jussie Smollett, Photo: ©PATRICKMCMULLAN.COM

This particular morning, our President was still celebrating the Mueller Report for failing to claim Trump had committed treason by conspiring with the enemy and therefore would not be shot. But now Trump was announcing he wanted the FBI to investigate the behavior of gay, black TV star Jussie Smollett, who said he’d been threatened by racist, homophobic hit men in Chicago, which others claimed he had set up simply to get publicity. Trump was also damning Mueller, who had just saved his neck, insisting he should be immediately replaced. The usual.

I thought, considering all this, that the Russians now in Caracas, Venezuela was probably the worst thing that could possibly happen. This was like Castro in Cuba. Maduro was Russia’s man in Venezuela. Meanwhile, Juan Guaidó, who the Americans claimed had won the recent election fair and square, was on the outs, and Trump had said he would stop at nothing short of an invasion to make things right.

So let’s see. What were Trump’s options? A military attack to drive out the Russians? A declaration that Putin was his friend and he’d have a meeting? Kirsten Gillibrand, running for the Democratic nomination for President, had just called Trump a “coward.” I have sons in their 30s. Will they have to go to war?

I also considered that Trump, a TV personality and billionaire luxury properties builder, hadn’t done well with any foreign affairs so far.

North Korea had gone back to making nuclear weapons. Our European friends, stung by Trump’s treatment of them, have turned to China and signed pacts for their Silk Road project. They ignored Trump’s insistence that they not sign on with the Chinese firm Huawei, which offers the new 5G foundation for internet software. Trump’s trade war and tariffs were condemned almost everywhere. Meanwhile, the battle to fight global warming carries on without America since Trump pulled the plug on our being part of it. Trump may have done a few things I agree with. But foreign affairs is not one of them.

People are starving in Venezuela. This is not a small country like Panama or Grenada. This is a country with 60 million people. Invading there is going to be a very big problem. And by the way, some of the new missiles Putin has said he has developed are pretty scary.

I came home from the beach and asked my wife if she had heard the news about the Russian troops coming to Venezuela. She said she had not.

“I got it as an alert,” I said.

“This is bad,” she replied.

She was out most of the afternoon on errands, and late in the day she came home in a foul mood. I was in one, too. This was terrible, terrible news. We both were contemplating World War 3.

“But I haven’t seen or heard anything about this,” she said. “Are you sure?”

I had already decided we could not let this stand. One thing we could do is send troops to the Ukraine, which is still at war with Russia. That might get them to withdraw. But if not, there will be missiles in Venezuela, aimed across the Caribbean, toward America. And would that be unfair? We now have defensive missiles set up in Poland, which Russia has objected to.

Maybe Trump could say all the starvation down in Venezuela was now Russia’s problem. To hell with them. America first.

But why wasn’t this in the news? I looked deeper into the news apps on my cellphone. There was an item about Brexit. Parliament had, one after another, refused to approve nine different proposals from the Prime Minister. They wouldn’t approve a re-vote. They would not accept leaving the EU with no deal on April 12. They wouldn’t approve dropping the plan to leave the EU if no deal is reached by April 12. They wouldn’t approve a new referendum on whether they should leave the EU. They wouldn’t approve leaving the EU but staying in a customs union with the EU. And on and on. Nine negative votes altogether.

There was also an item about Justin Bieber. He posted an Instagram story explaining that police thought the $160 Off-White X Nike Air Max 90 sneakers he was wearing had a security tag on them, when it was just a white zip tie. The police held things up for a while, until they were satisfied that the zip tie was a sneaker fashion statement designed in a sold-out collaboration between the iconic sports label and designer Virgil Abloh. There were also reports about Bieber’s new clothing line, “Drew House,” and people saying that Bieber is seeking treatment for depression, although they say it has nothing to do with his marriage to wife Hailey Baldwin, who is 22. (She’s Alec Baldwin niece.)

And then I came upon the item about Russian troops coming to Venezuela, and I had a good hard look at it. It looked real enough. But the newsroom footage was from Press TV, whatever that is. At the top it said that “Press TV is partially funded in whole or part by the Iranian government Wikipedia,” which made me think Wikipedia was involved, but then I saw Wikipedia was in blue, so I clicked on it. Press TV is a fake news station funded by the Iranian government. What the hell.

A friend of mine, Steve Brill, co-founded a company called NewsGuard, which, when you subscribe to it, can flag fake news for you. It has a team of people—for fairness, the full range from Knuckle Dragging Conservatives to Flaming Left Wing Liberals—who look at everything that comes their way and make judgements. Red flag or no red flag. The company’s advisory board consists of, among others, retired General Michael Hayden and former Governor Tom Ridge.

Steve Brill has had a series of remarkable successes. He wrote a damning report about skyrocketing health costs and the greedy defilers, which definitely had an effect on pill prices. He started an executive level, for-profit airport security service, Clear, which was created to give better service than the government’s TSA. He introduced flexible internet platforms for newspapers and magazines. And now he is on a tear to mark fake news as fake news.

I am going to report Press TV to NewsGuard.

Maybe Trump would negotiate building a 60-story tower in Caracas with his name in gold letters on it.

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