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Hollywood’s ‘Committee to Investigate Russia’ goes off-script

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Morgan Freeman wants us to know the U.S. is at war.

It’s not a war against cancer or poverty. It’s not a war against the remnants of the Taliban, or even against ISIS militants in Syria and Iraq.

This war, said Freeman earlier this week, is instead against another nation-state: Russia.

“We have been attacked,” said Freeman, addressing his audience with his distinct, renowned gravitas. “We are at war.” The clip turned to a close-up of a bald eagle, apparently emphasizing Freeman’s point.

Freeman’s video, already over 200,000 views, comes as part of the launch of a new organization dedicated to aggregating the myriad strands of what’s known, unknown, and guessed at in the numerous ongoing investigations into Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. election, and the Kremlin’s relationship with Donald Trump’s presidential campaign. Dubbed the Committee to Investigate Russia (CIR), the group says it’s a “nonprofit, non-partisan resource provided to help Americans recognize and understand the gravity of Russia’s continuing attacks on our democracy.”

The organization’s website offers histories of both Russian President Vladimir Putin and broader relations between Moscow and Washington, as well as a rogue’s gallery of Kremlin higher-ups. In addition to overviews of ongoing Congressional investigations looking into the Trump team’s ties with Russian actors, the Committee to Investigate Russia also says it would provide “expert analysis” for followers.

The group further boasts a handful of notable, bipartisan figures on its advisory board, from conservative commentator Charles Sykes to former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper. Likewise, alongside Freeman, the primary face of the organization appears to be another Hollywood stalwart: Rob Reiner, perhaps best known for directing The Princess Bride and When Harry Met Sally…. As Atlantic senior editor David Frum said during the group’s launch, Reiner was someone “with a great talent to reach the largest possible national audience with an understanding of what has happened and what more we need to know.”

Despite its name, the group doesn’t appear as if it will do any investigations of its own. As Reiner told MSNBC, the site is “more of a one-stop shopping, hopefully comprehensive, where people can come to the site and really try to understand the totality of what has been happening,” adding that it’s “essentially a news magazine with one article.”

The group’s broader purpose is more than necessary, in the sense that an education campaign aimed at highlighting Kremlin policy for the American public is only growing more necessary. At last check, barely half of Americans were concerned with the ongoing revelations circling Trump’s campaign and Kremlin-linked actors – connections that have already spurred multiple Congressional investigations, and that have only continued coming to light.

As such, in addition to the listed board members, Reiner said “a number of Russian experts … are helping us out” with the Committee to Investigate Russia.

One problem, though: No actual Russian experts have been identified as helping the group.

At Bloomberg, noted Russia watcher Leonid Bershidsky wrote that “[p]erhaps the most striking feature” of the Committee to Investigate Russia “is that no Russia experts are involved.” ThinkProgress’s questions to advisory board members, as well as to the organization itself, went unanswered.

However, a number of other additional Russian analysts pointed out that the Committee to Investigate Russia, while perhaps well-intentioned, has clearly favored narrative over factual analysis. Wrote Meduza, one of the few independent outlets focused on Russia, “the Committee to Investigate Russia has achieved a remarkable feat, making a mockery of the U.S. government’s legitimate investigation into Russian election interference.” It didn’t help matters that the CIR was unable to correctly identify Valery Gerasimov, the current head of Russia’s General Staff, or highlighted the work of Seth Abramson, who has been accused of peddling Russia-related conspiracy theories in the past.

The group further gives Moscow that much more fodder to claim rising hysteria in the U.S. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov even said that Freeman had “fall[en] prey to emotional stress.” And Reiner has promoted the work of Louise Mensch in the past.

There is ample room – and need – for a broader education campaign pertaining to Moscow’s designs, both recent and future. But the Committee to Investigate Russia, unfortunately, does not appear the group capable of leading such a campaign, no matter how many legendary actors it ropes into its efforts.

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