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Why Did the Most Important Story of the Campaign Slip Under the Radar?

Lee Phillips
October 11th, 2016

The succession of grotesque and tawdry scandals that we’ve been treated to during the campaign raises the bar for pure shock. Yet, last night a bombshell exploded on the pages of Newsweek that cleared this bar with ease. Even in the surreal context of this race, the new information from Kurt Eichenwald is chilling and disturbing on a new and more ominous level.

Entitled “Dear Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin, I Am Not Sidney Blumenthal,” the article recites a few simple facts that, in combination, lead almost inescapably to the conclusion that someone high up in the Trump campaign is working directly with Putin’s government. This goes far beyond what we could already surmise: that Putin favors Trump and that the Kremlin is engaged in an array of operations to support his candidacy, including computer intrusion and feeding doctored documents to its enthusiastic partner, the fiercely anti-Clinton Wikileaks.

That’s old news. Now it seems that the Kremlin is handing information (or, in this case, fantasy) directly to the Trump campaign in real time. Is any Trump staffer registered as an agent of a foreign power?

The Newsweek story immediately raises another question: why isn’t this on the front pages of the New York Times and the Washington Post? Indeed, why has this story seemed to slip under the radar almost entirely?

The frantic nature of the news cycle means that timing and presentation can have an outsized effect, and that the mere import of a piece of information, no matter how seismic, is not enough to break through the scramble for attention. This bombshell will eventually be given the discussion that it deserves. Meanwhile, it waits in limbo, because of the circumstances of its birth: it was dropped shortly after 10 p.m. on the last day of a long weekend, and the initial version of the story did not contain the shocking bits, which were added later, as an update. This means that a reporter who looked over the first version of the story saw nothing Earth-shattering, and would have no particular reason to check it again, after the update.

In addition, to get to the crux of the story requires reading through several paragraphs; the headline provides no clue about the unexploded bomb buried within. Even if you get to it, you have to think, perhaps for 1.5 seconds, to understand why this revelation is more significant than any of the ugly and depressing stories about Trump and his campaign that you’ve been disgusted by so far.

That might not seem like a serious obstacle; but the easily grasped horror of “grab them by the pussy” has risen to the top of the scrabble for clicks that lately defines so much of our journalistic activities, and is drowning out something that has much wider implications.

Update, 10:14 p.m.: The article has been updated again to deal with the speculation that Trump may have copied the disinformation from an anonymous tweet.

Update, 12th October, 7:20 a.m.: This story is finally getting noticed. Eichenwald was interviewed on NPR this morning.

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