As we seek to call out the journalistic accomplices in what Lee Smith calls The Plot Against the President, I want to draw on the work of a columnist or two who are similarly interested in settling accounts in the aftermath of the Department of Justice Inspector General report on FISA abuse issued last week. Today I turn to Matt Taibbi’s Rolling Stone column “Five Questions Still Remaining After the Release of the Horowitz Report.” Taibbi’s fifth question indirectly takes up the question of media complicity: “Are media corrections forthcoming?” Taibbi provides this useful summary with links. In the excerpt from his column below, I identify in brackets the authors and publications to which Taibbi links (omitting only the links in the third paragraph):
The Horowitz report makes clear that multiple news cycles over the past few years were dominated by reports that were either incorrect or lacking factual foundation.
These included assertions by multiple outlets that the Steele dossier was not central [Ken Dilanian, NBC News] to the FBI’s efforts to secure a warrant on Page; that the FBI found Christopher Steele [Tom Hamburger and Rosalind S. Helderman, Washington Post] and his dossier “credible” [Cheat Sheet, Daily Beast]; that tales of FISA abuse were a conspiracy theory (one of many claims Mother Jones called “bullshit” [David Corn]); that the memo written by Devin Nunes on the subject was wrong and had been “debunked” [various, New Yorker]; that Russians “blocked” [Ben Riley-Smith, Telegraph] Trump from nominating Mitt Romney as secretary of state; that Trump lawyer Michael Cohen was in Prague [Erik Wemple, Washington Post] (presumably to meet Russian hackers); that a “pee tape” [Ari Melber, MSNBC] existed; that Russia’s Alfa Bank and the Trump campaign were communicating via a secret server [Eric Lichtblau, Time]; that the FISA warrant on Page must have been producing good intelligence in order to be renewed three times [James Hohmann, Washington Post]; and many other things.
The Washington Post is one of the few outlets to start the process of reassessing its coverage, noting in a fact check that a “fair amount” of the Nunes memo had been “vindicated” by Horowitz. [Ed.: This is pathetic.] Ari Melber of MSNBC also called out James Comey for being “over his skis” on the “pee tape.” [Ed.: That’s a little light on the critique and a poor choice of metaphor to boot.] These are first steps, but Horowitz’s findings suggest a much broader thematic media FUBAR that’s still being ignored. [Ed.: It has certainly been ignored, but FUBAR assumes an answer to the question of media complicity the evidence for which is slim at best. See Lee Smith’s book, cited at the top of the introduction.]
Horowitz makes clear that the dossier by Steele was the linchpin — if not the only foundation — for the FBI’s Trump-Russia conspiracy case. As one FBI agent says in the report, “The minute we put the [Steele election reporting] in there, it goes from what you’d expect the FBI to be collecting in a counterintelligence context to direct allegations about collusion with the Trump campaign.”
But the FBI had serious reasons to doubt this “election reporting” by January of 2017, when it learned Steele’s primary source disagreed with his findings, describing the most explosive claims as coming from a conversation “over beers” made in “jest.” Worse, the FBI knew this source was a “boaster” prone to embellishment. FBI teams were unable to corroborate Steele’s nonpublic findings.
Yet reporters kept taking the bait on the key idea that Steele was an in-the-know superspy whose conspiracy/blackmail claims were taken seriously by investigators. Credulous reports originating from this premise — about Comey’s “bombshell” delivery [Zach Beauchanp, Vox] of Steele’s compromise claims to Trump, or news that a court found “probable cause” [Ellen Nakashima, Devlin Barrett and Adam Entous, Washington Post] to believe Page was a foreign agent, or even in hagiographic portraits of Steele as a real-life George Smiley [Jane Mayer, New Yorker] — now look like fruit from a poisoned tree. Was it eaten knowingly or unknowingly?
If reporters were burned, they should be angry, and corrections should be forthcoming. If there isn’t an effort to reverse the wrong coverage, it will look like certain outlets (particularly cable channels) were complicit in knowingly giving oceans of airtime to shaky stories. It’s a bad look either way, but door number two is worse.