Gene Lyons: My email exchanges with Russian stooges

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Characters Boris and Natasha (on the right) in the old “Rocky & Bullwinkle” cartoon show.

Let’s see now: One presidential candidate’s campaign director resigns after being outed as a Russian stooge, allegedly accepting millions in cash under the table. The other candidate meets with a Nobel Prize-winning economist who once donated to her husband’s charity — dedicated to providing HIV/AIDS medication to millions of Third World victims.

Quick now, which of these two situations registers higher on the news media’s scandal meter? Which candidate has portentous “questions” to answer about troubling appearances?


Look, it’s all about the horse race and the ratings. But things are getting ridiculous. Trump’s right: He could say he’d been an All-Star third baseman for the Yankees or shoot somebody dead on national TV, and the next item on the evening news would involve Hillary Clinton’s damn emails. Has the press ever given such scrutiny to any other politician’s communications?

Wouldn’t you love to see Gen. Colin Powell’s emails from the time of his infamous 2003 United Nations speech about Saddam Hussein’s phantom “weapons of mass destruction”?

Oops! All deleted. Sorry.

On TV in particular, the concept of “balance” requires solemnly equating the truly consequential with the utterly absurd.

Paul Manafort has essentially vanished from media radar screens. OK, so Trump’s campaign manager appears to have been a covert lobbyist for Vladimir Putin. Old news. Ho-hum.

Meanwhile, this just in! Huma Abedin’s crazy husband has been texting dirty pictures again. Try to believe the New York Times published this sentence: “Mr. Weiner’s extramarital behavior also threatens to remind voters about the troubles in the Clintons’ own marriage over the decades, including Mrs. Clinton’s much-debated decision to remain with then-President Bill Clinton after revelations of his relationship with Monica Lewinsky.”

Much debated by the voices in the New York Times’ columnist head, perhaps. Most rationally consequent adults long ago decided that other people’s marriages are a foreign country where they don’t speak the language and got on with their lives. Weiner’s clearly mentally ill; journalists compulsively focused on Bill Clinton’s zipper 20 years after the fact appear similarly deranged.

Meanwhile, Manafort may have exited stage right, but Boris and Natasha remain. Those are my pet names for the Russian emailers who began sending me unintentionally funny messages a while back. They’re named for the bungling Soviet spies in the old “Rocky and Bullwinkle” cartoons (“Must capture moose and squirrel”).

Hiding behind the pseudonyms “Jason” and “Karyn,” they pretended to be angry Americans disgusted by my pointing out that candidate Trump had adopted an oddly pro-Putin foreign policy agenda — conceding that Russia had stolen Crimea fair and square, and hinting that NATO should basically be a protection racket, defending only nations whose “premiums” are paid up.

Being outed as Russians (via their I.P. addresses) really annoyed them. Calling themselves “Natasha Nabokov” and “Ilya Tchaikowsky” this time, they reacted with scatological insults and implied threats.

Addressing me as “Jeanie” — that’s “Evgeni” to you, sweetheart — Natasha wanted to know “How are things at the Market & Grill in the one horse town of Houston? (Arkansas) Maybe we’ll bump into you there sometime. The owner told us that you might stop by to celebrate your birthday in September. You are one old degenerate ********** that’s for sure. You are described by everyone as being a long time leftist. A massive understatement to be sure.”

Nice try, Natasha, but I’ve never been there. Boris (aka “Ilya”) asked after my wife by name, and wondered “who radicalized who in the ways of leftism in the marriage.” The same joker claimed to have been to Louisiana, observing “23 semi-trucks loaded with food and supplies that were delivered by President Trump.” He then added an unprintable description of President Obama supposedly engaging in public sex on a golf course.

In short, Russian operatives are even more witless and coarse than their American counterparts. Does “Ilya” actually believe that Trump delivered relief supplies? Or does he imagine I’d believe it? Both, probably. Russian “news” reports are even more assiduously pro-Trump than Sean Hannity.

In reality, Trump spent a reported 49 seconds unloading children’s toys for the TV cameras.

Anyway, Putin’s definitely not getting his money’s worth. I’m not real scared. Boris and Natasha resemble minor characters from Dostoyevsky’s prophetic novel “The Possessed” — all buffoonery and half-baked ideology. They could have gleaned more accurate information from my Facebook page, and have no clue how rural America works. Anybody who came sniffing around the country store where I do trade would result in my being tipped off at once.

But nobody’s coming. What would be the point? Even in a gangster state like Russia, journalists get murdered for knowing specific secrets, not for being smart-alecks. The larger question of Russian covert influence in European and American politics, however, isn’t so easily laughed off.

However, I do think I’ll postpone that trip on the Trans-Siberian Railway.

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