In terms of content, the Weisses of this world are a dime a dozen. So why “expose” yet another neocon propagandist?
Because he is also very nasty, and very dangerous – as Richard Silverstein’s comprehensive profile of Michael D. Weiss, just published at The Unz Review, convincingly argues.
So far as (functional) psychopathy goes, he really is one of a kind in the world of journalism.
And if pushing kompromat up the Google rankings makes at least a few people think twice before associating with him too closely, then the effort will be worth it.
Weiss in his element.
I. The Making of a Neocon
The first thing one notices about Weiss is that he is a neocon propagandist.
Yes, to be sure, in 90%+ of cases, the two things are tautological. But Weiss really knows how to take it to the n-th level.
Despite knowing neither Russian nor Arabic nor Farsi, he has somehow – by somehow, I mean sponsorship by such doyens of the Pozocracy such as #NeverTrumper PNAC neocon Bill Kristol, exiled Russian crook Khodorkovsky, and Bill Browder – become an authoritative MSM voice on Russia, Syria, Iran, the war in Donbass, and many other geopolitical topics.
Here is a primer on Weiss from Mark Ames’ Pando profile of Peter Pomerantsev, a close associate of his:
During the late Bush years, Weiss worked for the neocon organ of Bill Kristol, the Weekly Standard; afterwards, Weiss headed up a neocon PR project, “Just Journalism,” which policed the English-language press for any journalism critical of Israel in the wake of its brutal war on Gaza in 2008-9. Then, as Syria descended into civil war, Weiss became one of the leading neocon warmongers pushing for America to invade Syria. Perhaps most troubling of all when it comes to Pomerantsev’s credibility — Weiss played a lead role in promoting the career of one of the most notorious academic frauds of our time, Elizabeth O’Bagy, the fake Syria “expert” whom Weiss teamed up with to argue for war in Syria. Apparently after O’Bagy was exposed as a fraud with no Syria credentials, Weiss skulked away, only to reappear with a new co-author—Peter Pomeranstev—and a new beat: Putin’s Russia. [The War Nerd wrote this excellent article on Elizabeth O'Bagy's strange & sleazy story.]
When he isn’t appearing on the Clinton News Network as an “expert” to tell everyone about Putin joining ISIS before appearing at academic conferences to wax lyrical about how Russia is a “post-modern dictatorship” where there is “no truth,” Weiss somehow finds the time to serve as editor of both The Daily Beast and The Interpreter.
The Interpreter is a blog dedicated to translating articles from the Russian media (read: Novaya Gazeta, Echo of Moscow, and other almost exclusively anti-Putin outlets), which has recently come under the auspices of the US state-controlled media organization the BBG (Broadcasting Board of Governors), whose main project remains that Cold War era mastadon, RFERL (Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty). The RFERL is an organization so dedicated to Western values of free speech that they fired a strongly anti-Putin journalist, Andrey Babitsky, for having the temerity to report on Ukrainian war crimes.
It is in this context, in his capacity as editor of The Interpreter, that I had my first run-in with Michael Weiss.
II. The Russian Spectrum
At the time, I had set up and was trying to find financing for The Russian Spectrum (TRS), a project that aimed to make translations from the Russian press available to the Anglosphere (in other words, a kind of English-language Inosmi, a RIA project to make “free” Western media available for the delectation of information-deprived and Kremlin-brainwashed Russians (if one that has had rather unintended consequences).
If you look at the TRS archives, you will see translations from a variety of sources both pro- and anti-Putin, with the latter including Latynina, Kashin, Lev Gudkov, Yavlinsky, etc: http://akarlin.com/qualia/translation/
Though my skepticism of the Russian liberal movement is hardly a secret, my aim was to keep TRS broadly ideologically neutral by representing all points of view.
At the time I was interested in exploring avenues of cooperation with other projects that were interested in doing stuff similar to what I was doing, and as yet unaware of the extent to which Michael Weiss was… special, I wrote him the following email:
Dear Michael Weiss/Interpreter Staff,
It is great to see you making translations of the Russian press available for a wider audience. Regardless of one’s political views, that is an unquestionably positive and effective means of fostering more informed views and dialog on Russian politics and society.
As it happens, I have a similar project at The Russian Spectrum (though it is more narrowly focused just on the translation activity)….
Since we share a common interest in presenting “English Inosmi” services, I would like to propose a partnership or cooperation agreement to avoid needlessly duplicating work and expanding the range of translated pieces we both offer. …
Thank you for your consideration. I look forwards to hearing from you on what you think of this.
He refused, as I suspected he would, as was of course his complete right, and I treated the matter as done – until I got involved in a Twitter spat with him several months later.
During this “argument,” Weiss claimed that I was running around “begging favors” from him and threatened to publish my letter, gloating in the prospect of mr being discredited amongst my “Putinist chums.” So I was like, LOL, go ahead. Apparently, the idea that not all people operate by Bolshevik principles – of which neoconservatism is an outgrowth – must have been quite foreign to him.
The banal reality is that my inroads into “Putinist” circles are in fact rather modest, so the harm he could have done by divulging these private communications was in any case negligible. And that was on the mistaken assumption that Weiss’ projections were correct – which they weren’t. The reality is that many “Putinist” institutions are in fact quite pluralist; RIA during its existence was an outright bednest of liberalism, and even “KGB TV” (aka RT) once took the decidedly unwise step of inviting Weiss to participate in one of their shows:
However, as would soon become clear, my experience with Weiss was not an isolated one. Doxxing, blackmail, and character assassination are central tools in his “journalistic” repertoire.
And those tools are not limited to big people like Putin and Trump, and big organizations like RT, that can roll with the punches and strike back.
III. Conservative Friends of Russia
In 2012, there was an effort by elements of the UK Conservative Party to improve relations with Russia under the umbrella of the short-lived Conservative Friends of Russia (CFoR) organization.
According to an acquaintance who was involved with CFoR at the time, Weiss sent an email to CFoR’s office posing as an investigative “journalist” – but essentially demanding that they either come out in support of the Magnitsky Act, or get destroyed in the media.
The guy who was allegedly financing Weiss’ Russia project at the Henry Jackson Society at that time? None other than Bill Browder – the main sponsor of the Magnitsky Act.
Incidentally, since then, it’s become increasingly clear that Browder’s motives were far murkier – and more mercenary – than implied by the simple morality tale of justice for Magnitsky pushed by the Act’s sponsors. And he has expended a lot of effort – mostly successful – to gag a documentary film by (the anti-Putin liberal) Andrey Nekrasov, which made Browder out to be a liar:
Browder has thwarted Nekrasov’s previous attempts to show the film with threats of legal action. The first time, he intervened at the last minute to stop Nekrasov, with Blu-ray disc in hand, from showing it to an audience of European Union parliamentarians at the their headquarters in Brussels… Nekrasov told that his experience dealing with Browder “has been a bit depressing, to be frank.”
“What I discovered is how easy it is — if you have a lot of money — to basically gag somebody,” Nekrasov said.
In any case, CFoR apparently refused to accede to Weiss’ offer that could not be refused, and a defamation campaign by him and others in his circle, such as Sergey Cristo – the guy behind the Guardian plagiarist hack Luke Harding’s attack piece on CFoR – ensued. The specific allegations raised by Weiss were rather comprehensively rebutted by CFoR’s head Richard Royal; most amusingly, the “glowing biographies of Vladimir Putin” that were supposedly distributed at a CFoR event were, according to my source, actually copies of Richard Sakwa’s The Crisis of Russian Democracy – one of the most diligently researched and densely footnoted academic works on the Russian political system in the English language. In no conceivable universe could it be considered a Putin hagiography.
“[Weiss] lies and lies and is very aggressive,” concluded my source.
Unfortunately, as Patrick Armstrong pointed out, there are far more questions than can be answered – or to quote the famous Internet meme, “the amount of energy necessary to refute bullshit is an order of magnitude bigger than to produce it” – and so the CFoR came under immense political pressure and had to Shut Down (though it later reappeared as the Westminster Russia Forum, and played a key role in the campaign to reward medals to British veterans who participated in the Arctic Convoy missions in World War 2).
IV. Sundry Other Episodes
I never bothered actively following Weiss, even back when I was on Twitter. That said, at least three additional episodes of his misadventures came to my attention (at the very least I found them on my timeline while researching this article).
(1) Doxxing the “pro-Assad” and “pro-Putin” troll @LibertyLynx.
The irony is that @LibertyLynx is absolutely nothing of the sort; she has, in fact, along with comrade-in-arms Craig Pirrong (aka Streetwise Professor) been consistently and in the past – virulently – anti-Putin. Moreover, she and I have something of a “history” and thus I can’t be said to have any particularly compelling reasons to take her side. That said, in the past 1-2 years she appears to have moderated in this regard, having come to be unnerved by rampant neocon warmongery and hypocrisy (including in Syria).
This appears to have upset Michael Weiss very much, inciting him and his Interpreter associate the mentally deranged Catherine Fitzpatrick (she literally believes using open-source software like WordPress is “technocommunism” and therefore theft) to advance the conspiracy theory that @LibertyLynx was in fact a sockpuppet of Craig Pirrong and/or Rachel Marsden (!). Conveniently, Weiss made sure to delete those allegations of his before posting the doxx of @LibertyLynx.
(2) Insinuating that Maram Susli, aka @Partisangirl – an Assad supporter, as is perfectly her right as an emigre Syrian woman, and by extension one of the foremost proponents of secularism in Syria on social media – was a terrorist suspect under surveillance by Australian intelligence.
This is coming from a guy who regularly pals about with moderate jihadists(TM):
(3) There is also an extensive account from Irish journalist Bryan MacDonald about his run-ins with Weiss and his Interpreter associate James Miller.
Later in 2014, I wrote a couple of op-eds for RT on and Ben Judah. Both centred on erroneous, factually deviant articles they had written. At no point did I cast aspersions on their private lives, the very thought would have been abhorrent. Around this time, Weiss, a close associate of that pair, began to make obnoxious tweets of a personal nature, directed at me. Miller then emailed me a list of questions, which essentially asked me to “prove you are not a spy” and tagged Weiss on the correspondence. I later sent Weiss a few similar posers so he’d see how ludicrous it was.
Then a “hit piece” appeared on the Interpreter blog, written by James Miller and the same Robert Schultz, making all kinds of wild allegations. The whole thing was so ludicrous that nobody with a brain could possibly have taken it seriously. It essentially alleged that I was a Russian spy who had lied about my background. It also slandered the same ex of mine, calling her a “porn star” and was obsessed with the fact that I changed the spelling of my name for work reasons.
It gets a lot worse:
Right on cue, the Twitter attacks resumed. Then the phone calls started up again. One ‘gentleman’ phoned the local newspaper in the town where I grew up looking for information about me. I last wrote for them in 1998. Someone then called my mother, at home, asking questions. This made me extremely angry because my mother was very sick at the time and it greatly distressed her. She, sadly, died a few months later. I’m not sure what these scumbags were hoping to achieve by harassing my poor mum.
These are the people whom American taxpayers effectively employ following The Interpreter’s partnership with RFERL.
V. We Have Yet to Hit Bottom
Go read Richard Silverstein’s profile of Michael Weiss.
All the above was just the tip of the iceberg.
There are good reasons to believe Weiss is substantially responsible for an American citizen wrongly ending up in an Iranian jail in his zeal to torpedo the US-Iranian nuclear deal.
Here are the most important bits:
Another puzzling, problematic author Weiss brought to the magazine was “Alex Shirazi” (a pseudonym). Until he published his first piece in July 2015 (a month after Weiss took on his new editorial role) under a joint byline with Weiss, there is no online record that “Shirazi” ever existed.
In preparation for his second [Daily Beast] article, “Shirazi” first approached Iranian-American oil executive Siamak Namazi, while the latter was visiting Iran in June 2015. At that time, the “journalist” did not reveal his real identity to his subject. He e-mailed a list of questions he wished Namazi to answer about the supposed financial benefits the Iranian regime offered his family.
The nature of the questions alarmed Namazi and members of his family Shirazi also contacted. As a result, they contacted Shirazi’s editor, Weiss, requesting that he review the questions himself, suggesting that they were unfair and even libelous. Weiss declined to intervene, so Namazi escalated his concerns to managing editor, John Avlon. He warned the Daily Beast executive that such an article was likely to harm both him and his family. All this was to no avail.
Within a week of receiving Shirazi’s inquiry, Namazi was stopped at the airport by Iranian security officials and refused permission to leave the country. Several months later, in September, DB published Shirazi’s profile, and within a month Namazi was in the notorious Evin Prison. This raises the strong probability that Iranian hardliners were monitoring either Shirazi or Namazi’s e-mail accounts, and that the questions and implicit accusations raised in the messages were exploited by Iranian intelligence officers to implicate Namazi.
Who is Siamak Namazi? His good friend, Reza Marashi, wrote this appreciation of him in Huffington Post:
He helped run a world-renowned consulting firm – staffed predominantly with Iranian-born citizens – that facilitated badly-needed foreign investment from blue-chip multinational corporations.
Neither money nor power was ever a driving force behind Siamak’s work. It was the indigenous development of his motherland that motivated him. Siamak wanted Iran to live up to its vast potential, and he was at the forefront of teaching international best practices and standards in business and management to scores of young Iranians. The pride on his face was always evident when his employees would move on to successful careers across a variety of fields in Iran.
…As U.S. sanctions were causing medical supply shortages in Iran, he independently researched and published what became the authoritative literature on the subject. I was in the audience when he presented his findings in Washington DC. As Siamak began to describe the disastrous impact of sanctions on innocent Iranians, he choked up, paused for a moment, composed himself, and then proceeded to finish his presentation. That’s how much he loves the country that is currently keeping him in prison.
To reinforce the ominousness of the charges against Namazi, the graphic art accompanying the DB article consisted of a series of shady-looking Arab militants sporting beards, long hair, a turban and sunglasses. The image is a cross between an Arab playboy and an ISIS fighter. No one in Iran dresses this way…
The main contention implicit in the headline was itself wrong on several counts. Neither Siamak nor his family are “behind” the so-called “Iran Lobby.” Nor is the Iranian-American NGO attacked in the article, the National Iranian-American Council (NIAC) “America’s Iran Lobby.”
A common smear tactic of DC Beltway neoconservatives and the Iranian cult group, Mujahadeen e Khalq (MEK) has been to label NIAC a stooge of the Iranian regime. In reality, NIAC is a completely independent, nonpartisan organization.
Ironically, Aipac, a group heartily supported by those like Eli Lake, Kenneth Timmerman and Weiss who’ve attacked NIAC, is far more of a slavish booster of the Israeli regime than NIAC is of the Iranian regime.
Among Iranian-Americans, there has been a great deal of speculation about “Shirazi’s” real identity. A number of them have noted that shortly before his DB article was published a very similar post appeared in a Farsi-language blog written by a former Iranian journalist and activist, Nikahang Kowsar.
Iranians I spoke with believe Kowsar hates the Iranian regime so much, he hopes the hardliners will come to power. Then, it will be that much easier to promote a western attack on Iran that would topple the regime. So in a terribly perverse way, his interests coincide with those of the hardliners.
In the course of interviewing Iranian sources for this profile, one told me that the author “Shirazi” approached him with questions about the Namazi family. In the course of the e mails that went back and forth, “Shirazi” slipped up and forgot to use his fake e mail address. Instead, he used his real email address and name: Nikahang Kowsar.
The most profound irony of the entire episode is that a group of neocon polemicists, in an attempt to defame NIAC, have used the Namazi family as a sacrificial goat. The parallel force on the Iranian side, the Iranian Revolutionary Guard and other hardliners, have exploited this struggle for their own purposes. …
It’s also ironic that both Kowsar and the Iranian hardliners detest NIAC, and for similar reasons. They each detest the nuclear agreement as they detest any rapprochement in relations between Iran and the west. Inside Iran, the extremists even call NIAC and figures like Siamak “infiltrators.”
Perhaps the ultimate irony of this affair is that Michael Weiss and his neocon comrades, in their desperation to sabotage U.S.-Iran relations have made common cause with the most hardline and vicious of Iran’s clerical regime. They make for very strange bedfellows.
Or maybe not so strange after all. Birds of a feather flock together, and the totalitarian sees another totalitarian from afar.
We are not merely dealing with an eloquent and well-connected ideologue. This is a psychopath who views the world through a Manichean prism, in which you are either with him or you are subhuman scum, to be smeared into oblivion even if your disagreements with him are ultimately quite modest, as with @LibertyLynx, or tricked and utilized for the Great Cause should the opportunity present itself (as with the hapless idealist Namazi).
As James Carden pointed out in an investigative essay in The Nation, his attitude towards the media is profoundly McCarthyite:
The authors call for the creation of an “internationally recognized ratings system for disinformation” that would furnish news organizations and bloggers with the “analytical tools with which to define forms of communication.” While they throw in an obligatory caveat that “top-down censorship should be avoided” (exactly how is left unexplained), they nonetheless endorse what amounts to a media blacklist. “Vigorous debate and disagreement is of course to be encouraged,” the authors write, “but media organizations that practice conscious deception should be excluded from the community.”
What qualifies as “conscious deception” is also left undefined, but it isn’t difficult to surmise. Organizations that do not share the authors’ enthusiasm for regime change in Syria or war with Russia over Ukraine would almost certainly be “excluded from the community.” Weiss, for instance, has asserted repeatedly that Russia is to blame for the July 2014 downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17. But would a news organization like, say, The Atlantic or Der Spiegel be “excluded from the community” for writing about a German intelligence report that indicated the missile in question did not come from Russia? Would journalists like Robert Parry be blacklisted for questioning the mainstream account of the tragedy? Would scholars like the University of Ottawa’s Paul Robinson be banned from appearing on op-ed pages and cable-news programs for challenging the notion that there is, in the words of Ukraine’s ambassador to the United States, “no civil war in Ukraine,” but rather a war “started and waged by Russia”?
Weiss and Pomerantsev accuse the Kremlin of “making deception equivalent to argumentation and the deliberate misuse of facts as legitimate as rational persuasion.” Maybe so. But these tactics are hardly unique to the Kremlin. In December, a group of Kiev parliamentarians presented photographs to the Senate Armed Services Committee purporting to show Russian troops and tanks invading eastern Ukraine. Subsequent reports revealed that the images had been taken during the Russian-Georgian war in 2008. Did the Interpreter denounce the Ukrainian delegation for trying to pass off doctored photos? No. Its warnings about disinformation cut only one way.
Incidentally, Pomeranstev, a close associate of Weiss and the rest of the yuppie neocon circle (Ben Judah, Ioffe, Applebaum, etc), in a recent report co-authored with Edward Lucas, argues for equating pro-Russian views with those of radical Islam:
A third proposal in this report is perhaps even more bizarre. Citing efforts to deradicalize Islamic militants, Lucas and Pomerantsev write that, ‘Similar initiatives should be undertaken with radicalized, pro-Kremlin supporters, those on the far left and the far right, and Russian speakers.’ Are they suggesting anti-brainwashing programs for people who watch RT or read Russia Insider? I really don’t know what to make of this.
You’ve made it this far down this article? Report to your nearest soma dispensation station immediately, citizen!
What are the ideological roots of Weiss’ totalitarian instincts?
Weiss lists as his special heroes Karl Marx, Irving Howe (a bit of a clash there between the founder of Communism and an ardent anti-Communist), and George Orwell. Among the surprising things this future neocon endorses is “socialized healthcare.”
The Soviet dissident Sergey Dovlatov’s aphorism is rarely more appropriate: “After communists, most of all I hate anti-communists.”