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Vladimir Putin blinked. Or maybe this is just a head fake.
One day after Ukraine’s president said the Russian invasion would begin today–then said it was just sarcasm–the world is still trying to figure out what the hell is going on. Putin claims he is pulling back some of his military units on the border, but NATO is skeptical.
Ukraine is the Groundhog Day of wars–we are always on the brink, until the diplomats see some shadows. Then there is another Biden-Putin call, or the leader of France or Germany gets involved, the pendulum swings again between optimism and pessimism, and the media remain on a war footing.
The Ukraine standoff, which has been building for months, is like so many other media and political controversies these days that seem to drag on roughly forever. There are advances and setbacks, successes and failures, but in the end each issue metastasizes into an endless debate in the press and on social media.
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Perhaps there is no better example than the pandemic, now starting its third year of disrupting life around the globe. We’ve gone from lockdowns and widespread fear to confidence that vaccines would beat the virus to frustration with the omicron surge to hope that life will soon return to normal. Unless it doesn’t.
The debate over vaccine mandates seems to have taken center stage for the longest time. And the media and Democrats are finally changing their tune on mask mandates as the virus surge subsides (though still at 150,000 new daily cases), after a sustained battle with Republicans who were accused of not caring about protecting people.
The debate has gotten even more bitter about mask requirements in schools, some of which are starting to be lifted, with even angry parents who identify as Democrats saying they have had enough of students having to wear face coverings all day.
Protests over vaccination rules have now paralyzed Canada, where Justin Trudeau is invoking emergency powers to clear Ottawa and a bridge to Detroit of truckers who have shut down traffic. What began as an anti-vax mandate protest has now morphed into a more generalized rebellion against pandemic rules and the prime minister, who has been accused both of being too weak in confronting the chaos and too willing to crush free speech.
Strong emotions about vaccinations have crept into stories ranging from pressure to boot Joe Rogan from Spotify to Novak Djokovic being banished from the Australian Open. In fact, the tennis star said yesterday he is so determined not to get the shots that he’s willing to miss the French Open and Wimbledon as well.
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But the longest running drama has to be what’s become known as Russiagate. A legitimate story at the outset with Donald Trump’s own Justice Department naming a special counsel, it was so relentlessly hyped and oversold by the media that the probe was viewed to have fizzled.
Then came the investigation of the investigators, headed by federal prosecutor John Durham. He has secured an indictment of former Hillary Clinton campaign lawyer Michael Sussmann for lying to the FBI. In a court filing made public over the weekend, Durham said Sussmann worked with a tech executive who used access to servers at Trump Tower and the White House “for the purpose of gathering derogatory information about Donald Trump.”
This was a big story on Fox News and a handful of right-leaning sites and, in a fairly stunning development, it was totally ignored by the other networks and major newspapers, even though it was presented as evidence in court papers. As I said on the air, there’s a lot we don’t know, including what these online sweeps found and whether the Clinton camp knew about it.
A counterattack was launched yesterday, led by the New York Times but also including the Washington Post and MSNBC, saying the information was old and that it is being mischaracterized, and the whole thing was being whipped up by right-wing media. So now we have the 10,000th round of this media debate over Trump and Russia over some pretty dense material.
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Or we could tune out and turn back to something much simpler, like Ukraine.