Retribution has been quick in coming for the mass media since Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz released his report on December 9 blasting the dossier prepared for the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton in 2016 by Christopher Steele (Steele Dossier) for the purposes of digging up dirt on then Presidential candidate Donald Trump.
The Steele Dossier was used as the basis of four applications to the highly secretive FISA Court to surveil an American citizen Carter Page between October 2016 and October 2017. In the course of so doing an unknown number of e mails and other communications between members of the Donald J Trump for President Campaign and Page – a former member of that Committee - concerning campaign related matters were collected by the FBI. Their number and contents remain under wraps. Page has never been charged with any offence following his extensive surveillance.
Horowitz stated that the FBI had concluded in January 2017 that much of the material in the Steele Dossier:
...including allegations about Donald Trump and members of the Trump campaign relied upon in the Carter Page FISA applications, could not be corroborated,that certain allegations were inaccurate or inconsistent with information gathered by the Crossfire Hurricane team; and that the limited information that was corroborated related to time, location, and title information, much of which was publicly available.
Yet Page continued to be surveilled.
Erik Wemple – media critic at the Washington Post – has now written a devastating eight part (so far) expose on the way the media treated this unverified and uncorroborated dossier.
Three media giants alleged by Trump to have purveyed fake news based on the dossier – The New York Times, MSNBC and CNN – are among the many scrutinized by Wemple.
Adam Goldman of the New York Times tells Wemple in an interview:
Did you guys ever chase the pee tape?
Yeah, I briefly chased the pee tape.
What happened there?
I don't want to get into it, but it just didn't … [Editor's note: At this point, Goldman's voice trailed off.]
Wemple unmercifully targeted MSNBC host - Rachel Maddow:
When small bits of news arose in favor of the dossier, the franchise MSNBC host pumped air into them. At least some of her many fans surely came away from her broadcasts thinking the dossier was a serious piece of investigative research, not the flimflam, quick-twitch game of telephone outlined in the Horowitz report. She seemed to be rooting for the document.
And when large bits of news arose against the dossier, Maddow found other topics more compelling.
She was there for the bunkings, absent for the debunkings - a pattern of misleading and dishonest asymmetry.
Wemple writes of CNN – one of Trump's principal targets for fake news allegations:
CNN's prism for viewing the dossier emerges from a story by CNN's Jim Sciutto and Evan Perez on Feb. 10, 2017. It was titled, "US investigators corroborate some aspects of the Russia dossier." So what "aspects" had CNN corroborated? Michael Cohen's alleged trip to Prague? Those Trumpian "moles" inside the DNC? The wide-ranging and mutually backscratching alliance between the Trump campaign and Russia?
No, the "aspects" were "conversations between foreign nationals," reported Sciutto and Perez. The story continued: "The dossier details about a dozen conversations between senior Russian officials and other Russian individuals. Sources would not confirm which specific conversations were intercepted or the content of those discussions due to the classified nature of US intelligence collection programs." Though the story was silent on which particular allegations in the dossier drew strength from these findings, CNN indicated that the intercepted communications fostered "greater confidence" in the dossier among the authorities.
At the time, White House press secretary Sean Spicer said, "We continue to be disgusted by CNN's fake news reporting."
Wemple is then forced however to admit his own mea culpa:
It is here that some hindsight-assisted dossier accountability falls on the Erik Wemple Blog. After Spicer's blast, we wrote a post criticizing the White House for its "authoritarian" response to the CNN story. Though the White House's conduct was typically bush-league and anti-democratic, the Erik Wemple Blog should have spread some of the skepticism to CNN for its vague story. We did not - a pathetic media-criticism failure.
Neither did anyone else in the mass media – except Fox News. Fake News stories continued to be published based on what has now been established to be a thoroughly discredited political hit job not worth the paper it was written on.
The suspicion the Trump campaign and Trump White House could have been spied on remains a distinct possibility.
Public confidence in the mass media to not disseminate fake news has now well and truly flown out the window. Trusted sources need to be found elsewhere.
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