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Seth Abramson @SethAbramson
, 51 tweets, 9 min read Read on Twitter
(THREAD) As the Trump-Russia investigation moves into its next stage, America must change the way we think about and talk about the investigation. This *isn't* just a news story anymore, and that means media and non-media alike need a paradigm shift. I hope you'll read and share.
1/ I teach journalism at University of New Hampshire, and one of the things we discuss is how—while many newsworthy stories are bounded in time, audience, relevance, and the expertise needed to cover them—others are far more expansive and require a different kind of journalism.
2/ Earlier this week, I gave a lecture at The Pratt Institute titled "The Trump-Russia Affair As Generational Event." It framed the Affair as a historical episode rather than a bounded news story—more analagous to the Great Depression than a single federal criminal investigation.
3/ A story whose scope, duration, and influence is bounded can be covered conventionally: it often requires no expert analysis, and even when it does require such analysis, it requires it only within a single discipline. Media outlets locate their experts and they're good to go.
4/ The Trump-Russia Affair is different—it'd take 50+ scholars with 50+ doctorates in 50+ disciplines to become expert in each of its 50+ facets. Anyone claiming to be a "Trump-Russia expert"—and despite all the grousing, I don't know anyone who does—is kidding themselves or you.
5/ That's one reason calling someone a "self-proclaimed Trump-Russia expert" is so damning—and why media uses phrases like that to discredit anyone it wants discredited. It signals that such a person is claiming a subject-area expertise that no one person—or 50 people—could have.
6/ There's a whole sector of the Trump-Russia Affair that demands cybersecurity expertise to expertly analyze. Another sector requires expertise in international finance. Another counter-intelligence. Federal criminal procedure. Government ethics. Russian politics. And on and on.
7/ After you get through listing all the disciplines in which expertise is needed—those I've said, plus constitutional law, law enforcement tactics, organized crime, tax law, international banking, and *much* more—there's another type of expertise that's *near-impossible* to get.
8/ I call this last sort of expertise—which can't be learned in any school or academy—"timeline mastery." The Trump-Russia Affair is so expansive that not just being a subject-area expert but a *subject-area expert with mastery of the Trump-Russia timeline* is almost impossible.
9/ There are at least 400 individuals involved in some way in the Trump-Russia Affair. It extends across 5 continents and more than 20 years. It not only touches 50+ disciplines but will have profound effects on other nations, America's future and things we can't contemplate yet.
10/ The problem we're having in discussing Trump-Russia is that we haven't figured any of this out yet. So media outlets are bringing in (say) a Trump biographer or presidential historian or white-collar prosecutor to discuss the "Trump-Russia case" writ large. That's *nonsense*.
11/ I don't care if you're a Watergate prosecutor, the world's greatest authority on international banking loopholes or an election security expert—if you don't know the Trump-Russia timeline backwards and forwards you're going to be of gravely limited use on television or radio.
12/ There's only one thing—besides knowledge of the Trump-Russia timeline—that provides a sort of "foundation" for discussion of the Trump-Russia Affair: the fact that it's the subject of a single (legitimate) investigation—that being the Special Counsel's federal criminal probe.
13/ But even though Mueller has 40+ of the nation's top lawyers and investigators, and the full resources of the FBI and DOJ, and 2 years of work already done—if you count Comey's work—he *still* couldn't speak to the long-term domestic and international implications of all this.
14/ It's become the habit of not just media but freelancers to try to "police" or "gatekeep" the Trump-Russia conversation, when—as everything I've said so far substantiates—what we need now is *exactly* the opposite approach to discourse on this internationally critical topic.
15/ Not only *can* we not, but we *must* not treat the Trump-Russia Affair as a topic a cadre of experts in one discipline or—if some had their way—experts on subtopics in one discipline can speak to. Unfortunately, people want to fight turf wars and make their careers off this.
16/ Some of you may know there's a small gang of Russian Studies doctorate-holders on Twitter who are doing their best to discredit anyone who wants to speak on this subject who isn't a Russian Studies doctorate-holder. I know that sounds like a joke—unfortunately, I'm *serious*.
17/ The sad truth is whole *disciplines* seek to bolster themselves through this international tragedy. If you're a Russian Studies doctorate-holder in a post-Cold War environment, you might feel pretty devalued. But wait! This new thing happened that'll make you feel important.
18/ Needless to say, Russian Studies experts are absolutely essential to discussion of the Trump-Russia Affair—but the claim I hear from some of them that *no one else is* is the sort of claim many disciplines are making and it's killing our ability to discuss all of this wisely.
19/ As I put it at Pratt, some topics are one-speaker/one-discipline topics. Others, multiple-speaker/one-discipline. Some require a one-day, single-discipline academic conference to discuss thoroughly. And some require the development of entire new interdisciplinary disciplines.
20/ The Trump-Russia Affair requires an international network of scholars, theorists, industry experts, law enforcement officials, political analysts (and on and on and on) to process—and those experts must, while speaking in their disciplines, speak *to* one another and *often*.
21/ When and as those experts can't dialogue with one another in the public view, they should engage in a form of meta-discourse—sharing with those in earshot of their voice the best possible wisdom they can find from people in other disciplines. Twitter is a great tool for this.
22/ One of the reasons I developed "metajournalism" as a persistent journalistic practice, and give interviews and lectures on the subject whenever I can, is that it's a complex way of covering "generational events" that can't be matched by single acts of conventional journalism.
23/ My goal, when I began to focus this feed on Trump-Russia in January 2017, was to gain as much timeline mastery as I possibly could; bring my several areas of expertise to bear as best I could; and to use metajournalism to give the fullest picture to readers I possibly could.
24/ I sometimes hear cranks say I do no original research. That's partly true, partly misguided. The tweets on this feed that are metajournalistic require some timeline mastery, significant awareness of what those in various disciplines are saying, and much open-records research.
25/ Suffice to say that doing metajournalism well requires a structured view of the whole "field" (in this case, timeline mastery); an awareness of which disciplines, authors, and outlets are critical to the research; and an ability to do one's own complex, open-records research.
26/ I tend to be a small-d "democrat" as well as a big-d "Democrat," so another thing I like about metajournalism is that almost anyone with time, energy, passion, commitment, focus, and a reasonably sharp intellect can do it. We're seeing metajournalists pop up all over Twitter.
27/ Trump-Russia metajournalism searches the Trump-Russia archive—two years of articles in major media on three continents, plus any open-records research the metajournalist can do themselves—to see if there are connections and metanarratives conventional journalists are missing.
28/ As conventional journalism—especially straight news reportage, though also some of the other major journalistic modes—is best suited to bounded news stories, it's *invariably* the case that journalists pressed for time and focused on narrow issues will miss big-picture items.
29/ A top reporter for The New York Times focused on, say, a Kushner business deal—or even an investigative reporter doing a feature on *multiple* deals—won't have the time, energy, or staff to read all articles on their subject written and published anywhere in the last 2 years.
30/ The result of that limitation is that conventional reporters may miss facts, connections, and metanarratives certain metajournalists pick up on—or that a typical Twitter user with expansive reading tastes may have come across. And that *seems* to hurt conventional journalism.
31/ Often, when people shout "bias!", "incompetence!" or "fake news!" at a reporter what they're picking up on *isn't* bad faith—but the fact that we live in a world in which *it's possible for us to gather facts that even good-faith, talented conventional reporters have missed*.
32/ That wasn't the case in the pre-digital age, but it is now. More media outlets, more independent journalism, less resources for investigative journalism, and the emergence of metajournalism have put media consumers on a much closer-to-even playing field with media producers.
33/ In my case, I didn't want to *just* bring a metajournalistic practice to bear. So in an effort to help out during a national crisis, I asked myself—what skills do I have? Three I came up with were professional writing; training in investigations; experience with street crime.
34/ I mention my own part in all this in the event it helps anyone think about how more people can help in this time of national crisis than (as the Russian Studies scholars would have it) *only* Russian Studies scholars, *or* the same nonsense thinking from any other discipline.
35/ In my case, the thinking was this:

Professional writers: adept at distilling complex information into digestible form.
Criminal investigators: adept with investigative tactics, strategies, and protocols.
Public defenders: adept at seeing how justice is meted out to the poor.
36/ I could also add:

Experimental creative writer: adept at deconstructing and reconstructing systems.

Twitter is a constrained-writing platform that I have tried to re-imagine so that it achieves full utility during this national crisis. Threading was a part of that ambition.
37/ Information distillation—professional writing—is hopefully evident daily here. Public defenders have to do more of their own investigation than most defense lawyers, and I was in any case trained in criminal investigation in DC (pre-law school) and Boston (during law school).
38/ But I also want to say Trump acts and thinks like a street criminal, his pals act and think like street criminals, and many of the crimes they commit—perjury, witness tampering, obstruction—are fairly unsophisticated street crimes of the sort public defenders deal with daily.
39/ No prosecutor—federal or state—has access to the mind of a criminal with even 1% the regularity defense attorneys do. And state public defenders represent between 5 and 20 times as many defendants per year as federal public defenders. That matters. But so does something else.
40/ In America, we have *two* systems of justice. One is for the rich, powerful, and famous—the other is for the rest of us. If you want someone who understands the former, get a federal prosecutor. If you want someone who understands the latter, find yourself a public defender.
41/ Ever since I was a public defender, I've believed America should have *one* justice system for everyone. So I believed—and I believe—that being a public defender (who also belongs to a federal bar and used to investigate for a federal public defender) lets me talk about that.
42/ I can see, as any public defender can see, how we're talking about Donald Trump's criminal behavior—and that of his rich, powerful, and/or famous friends—in ways that we would never even *consider* in the context of an average American defendant. I see the mulligans they get.
43/ A white-collar prosecutor can tell you how a rich defendant gets treated in a white-collar case. What can they say about how white-collar criminals who commit blue-collar crimes—like Trump—will or should be treated? Or about how blue-collar criminals are treated *generally*?
44/ My point is this: we have to stop supporting the people who are trying to shame others out of the Trump-Russia conversation. This isn't an event for which we need Expert X in Discipline Y and then we can all go home. We need people with many, many, many different skill-sets.
45/ More than that, we need people to be *creative* and *invent* skill-sets that might not have existed before—because they weren't needed before we came to this fateful moment in our nation's history, when our democracy and our rule of law hangs in the balance on a daily basis.
46/ For me, that act of creation has been misusing Twitter on a daily basis to permit it to play host to a metajournalistic writing practice that I believe has been proven to make connections and bring to the fore metanarratives *before* conventional journalism in many instances.
47/ If you find someone online lying about past Trump-Russia reporting; or making up facts that don't exist; or pretending to have access to information they don't; feel free to call that person a "grifter"—though that word is inapt, as it's unclear what they really gain from it.
48/ But if you find someone with an area of expertise that can be relevant to our nation's attempt to process or discuss the Trump-Russia Affair, and if you then do what you can to discredit that person because they're not in your camp or discipline, you need to go fuck yourself.
49/ Normally I wouldn't use that sort of language. But the nation is in crisis—we're in very real risk. And people without the ability to appreciate that this crisis is more Great Depression than single-victim shooting on 7th and C Street are causing an enormous amount of damage.
50/ Trump-Russia is a generational event. It's interdisciplinary and cross-disciplinary. It has effects we can't imagine in places we haven't thought of yet. It calls for new skill-sets and creative as well as critical thinking. Every one of us must be at our very best, now. /end
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