Guest post: Is it true? Is it normal?

Guest post by Stewart of Gnu Atheism.

It would be foolish to attempt to lay down the law about what is true regarding the Trump dossier attributed to Christopher Steele, who is reported to be in hiding. Nonetheless, one ought to exercise one’s critical faculties (and that is intended to mean one’s own critical faculties, not those belonging to any third party) in examining the evidence either jostling or not jostling for our attention.

Firstly, it seems that the media so disdained by Trump is racing, at breakneck speed, to normalise him and the story of Steele and the dossier is already being pushed down almost out of sight among other headlines regarding Trump and his incoming administration. It would seem there are enormous pressures pulling both ways in terms of how much to rock the boat before the inauguration, i.e. many are trying not to grapple at all with the question of whether a derailing of the inauguration is a possibility. From the moment he is inaugurated, Trump will be able to use excecutive powers to influence what is and is not said about him for public consumption; it only looks so uncomfortable for him right now because he is still a few days away from possessing them. He knows exactly what he means when he tweets about the intelligence agencies having “one last shot” at him; they are about to come under his thumb.

Nobody can read everything being written and doing so would not help much; discernment is required. Perhaps a brief comparison of one serious pro and one serious con piece could help highlight certain salient points.

Seth Abramson’s HuffPo piece is not above criticism. To start at the beginning, his assertion that the BBC is the gold standard in international journalism is still a subjective one – it’s more or less an argument from authority. Abramson, the BBC and all the sources used by both still have the potential to be flawed. Two points stand out here, though. One is Steele’s flight. If true, it does not lend weight to the idea that the dossier is some frivolous concoction. And nobody seems to be disputing a previous connection of Steele’s to Litvinenko. The other is the analysis of how Trump has been behaving. To take, for a moment, a tack quite different to Abramson’s dissection based on legal experience, why does Trump even bother rebutting these allegations? Didn’t he say he could shoot someone on 5th Avenue without losing votes? Why doesn’t he just say “Hell, I did it all – don’t you just love me for it?” Trump’s alarmingly radical switch of attitudes ought to be telling us something. After all, it’s not as if he’s suddenly become presidential. We’ve seen that he hasn’t and it really is faintly amusing to see the man who made the whole world look up the word “schlonging” get tough with CNN and threaten “Don’t be rude!”

While there’s a limited amount one can do to back up Abramson’s point of view, dismissing Paul Roderick Gregory’s take in the opposite direction in Forbes is actually pretty easy. Note, at the outset, that Gregory takes care most elaborately to credential himself; you can smell an argument from authority coming. But one doesn’t even have to get very far before closing the book on Gregory. He probably assumes, quite correctly, that most of his readers either cannot or will not do their own research, so he dares to write: “This story makes no sense. In 2011, when the courtship purportedly begins, Trump was a TV personality and beauty pageant impresario. Neither in the US or Russia would anyone of authority anticipate that Trump would one day become the presidential candidate of a major US political party, making him the target of Russian intelligence.” As far back as 1987, The New York Times had written that Trump was seriously considering a presidential run and variations of the story have been circulating ever since. So even back then, before Communism had even fallen, the Russians could know that Trump had both presidential ambitions and the money to indulge his whim. Here is a case with only two possibilities: Gregory either knows this and hopes his readers don’t, or he doesn’t know it, in which case, bye-bye argument from authority.

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