Column: Manipulating Steele’s Dossier of Disinformation

News & Politics

Washington Post media blogger Erik Wemple recently issued the 13th article in a series on the partisan liberal media promoting the Hillary Clinton-funded “dossier” assembled by ex-British spy Christopher Steele from his Russian contacts. Newly declassified notes from the report of Justice Department inspector general Michael Horowitz reveal Steele’s “findings” – promoted all over D.C. by the Democrat-funded research firm Fusion GPS — were part of a Russian disinformation campaign.

“It’s ironic that the Russian collusion narrative was fatally flawed because of Russian disinformation,” quipped Senators Charles Grassley and Ron Johnson, who requested the declassified footnotes.

Wemple, as well as other journalists, found two lumps in Steele’s bubbling cauldron of unproven gossip were disinformation. Most obviously, the notion that the Russians possessed spicy “kompromat” on Donald Trump’s behavior in Moscow with prostitutes was Tom Arnold-level journalism. Then there’s the falsified claim that Trump’s personal lawyer Michael Cohen flew to Prague to meet with Russian colluders.

The Media Research Center found the ABC, CBS, and NBC evening newscasts devoted over 2,200 minutes over the first two and a half years of Trump’s presidency to the notion that Russian disinformation was used to elect Donald Trump, but they avoided revelations that made Democrats look bad. The “bombshells” always seem to land on one party.

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This “dossier” drew only 15 minutes of airtime in 2017, and another eight in 2018 when former FBI director James Comey’s book came out. The networks didn’t notice these new revelations. (CBS and CNN noted them online.)

So why is Wemple still writing about this? After all, other recent articles underline that Wemple is a fierce critic of President Trump’s “unhinged” coronavirus press briefings. He titled a recent article “Trump + Hannity = An exceptionally dumb Easter.”

Wemple is playing equal-opportunity media critic on this story, and has hammered CNN and MSNBC (especially their biggest star Rachel Maddow) for their journalistic breakdown. In other words, he’s the anti-Brian Stelter. A Nexis search of CNN for Stelter’s name and “dossier” or “Fusion GPS” or “Christopher Steele” finds very little, and nothing after December 2018.  

In April of 2017, then-BuzzFeed editor-in-chief Ben Smith – now, believe it or not, the media columnist for The New York Times – went on CNN’s The Axe Files and defended publishing the entire Steele dossier. “Our audiences are swimming in all kinds of information…I think there’s this impulse to be the gatekeeper…but you’re standing there at the gate and there’s just water flowing past on both sides.”

But is the water drinkable, or is it laced with sewage? Smith would give you both. It makes you laugh to re-read the Times touted its new employee Smith as “a relentless innovator who helped change the shape of modern journalism.”

CNN reported the new revelations as a partisan development. The headline was “GOP seizes on newly declassified material to raise further questions about Steele dossier.” The story began with the words “Senate Republicans are touting newly declassified information”.

Wemple pointed out “Republicans are ‘touting’ the footnotes in part because media outlets such as CNN, MSNBC and others ‘touted’ the dossier with flimsy corroboration in the early months of the Trump presidency.” CNN anchor Alisyn Camerota even claimed in December 2017 that our intelligence community had “corroborated all the details” of the dossier.

The Steele dossier is a great example of why the Republican half of America frowns at Facebook and Google and YouTube tilting their search results toward “authoritative news sources” like CNN, so the public is “less susceptible to manipulation.” At least Wemple wants these “authorities” to earn their place as the top media manipulators. 

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