After Years of Constant Coverage, Media Mostly Mum on Dossier Disinformation
Apr 20, 2020
ICYMI: The Steele dossier just sustained another body blow. What do CNN and MSNBC have to say?
Washington Post Media Critic
Published April 18, 2020
NOTE: At the urging of U.S. Sens. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), federal agencies declassified footnotes from a December Justice Department inspector general report. The footnotes reveal that the FBI possessed intelligence reports that stated key portions of the anti-Trump dossier were tainted by Russian disinformation, yet it continued to rely on them to justify Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) warrants against Trump campaign aide Carter Page. As this Washington Post column notes (excerpts below), major media outlets quick to cover the dossier and the FBI’s reliance on it have offered muted coverage, if any, of news that it was tainted with Russian disinformation.
“Freshly declassified footnotes from a 2019 Justice Department report cast further doubt on one of the central documents of Russiagate — a collection of memos compiled by former British spy Christopher Steele and published by BuzzFeed in January 2017. The dossier contained extravagant allegations about presidential candidate Donald Trump and was treated to deference in some precincts of the mainstream media.”
“The FISA applications were powered in part by claims in Steele’s dossier, research funded by the Hillary Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee. As the FBI sought independent confirmation of the Steele claims, it found holes, according to the Horowitz report: ‘The FBI concluded, among other things, that although consistent with known efforts by Russia to interfere in the 2016 U.S. elections, much of the material in the Steele election reports, 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.’
“The declassified footnotes lend texture to that grim assessment. They have been unsheathed at the urging of Senate Finance Committee Chairman Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa) and Senate Homeland Security Committee Chairman Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), two critics of the investigation into Trump’s ties to Russia. Even a cursory look at the footnotes makes clear why they pushed for sunlight.”
“Remember the dossier’s famous allegations that the Russians had kompromat against Trump because of illicit alleged activities in a Russian hotel? A declassified footnote elaborates on the provenance of that story: According to an intelligence community report, a source who spanned Trump’s circles and Russia said that it was false and resulted from Russian intelligence ‘infiltrat[ing] a source into the network.’”
“…The declassified footnotes haven’t preoccupied the coronavirus-obsessed mainstream media, although there have been reports by the likes of CBS News, the Associated Press, the New York Times and CNN. Conservative media organs including Fox News, the Daily Caller and Washington Examiner have covered the developments.
“We’ll pause to consider the CNN account, which carries the headline, ‘GOP seizes on newly declassified material to raise further questions about Steele dossier.’ The article’s first sentence reads, ‘Senate Republicans are touting newly declassified information that suggests Russian disinformation, in two instances, may have been passed onto ex-British intelligence agent Christopher Steele when he compiled an opposition research dossier on Donald Trump and Russia in 2016.’
“Factual? Yes. Slanted? Yes, that too. 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.
“The Erik Wemple Blog asked CNN and MSNBC whether they have reviewed their coverage of the dossier. We will update with any response. Until then, we’ll continue to ‘tout’ the journalistic breakdowns surrounding the dossier.”
Read more of Erik Wemple’s coverage on the media’s breakdowns HERE.