NY Times Asks How Media Got Trump ‘Dossier’ Wrong, Yet Employs the Instigator

Does the time finally arrive for media to account for Trump’s scandalous dossier? Bill Grueskin is a former Columbia Journalism School Academic Dean. New York Times: “How Did So Much of the Media Get the Steele Dossier So Wrong?”

The infamous “Steele dossier” began as a hit piece put together for the Democratic Party by former British spy Christopher Steele, full of dubious anecdotes about Trump and Russia, many of them proven false. Nonetheless it fueled thousands of hostile press stories and eventually impeachment proceedings against the media’s Enemy No. 1, Donald Trump.

However, it’s worth noting that BuzzFeed News editor Ben Smith, the person responsible for injecting the dubious dossier into the media mainstream, is now the media columnist for….The New York Times. Strangely, or perhaps not so strangely, Smith himself isn’t mentioned in Grueskin’s piece. After noting the document “would inspire a slew of juicy, and often thinly sourced, articles and commentaries about Mr. Trump and Russia,” Grueskin followed up:

It has now been discredited by federal investigations, and indictment against a key source. Journalists are left to wonder how in such a heat of competition so many were lured in because they believed the dossier confirmed what was already known.

Many of the dossier’s allegations have turned out to be fictitious or, at best, unprovable….

Grueskin even went after liberal favorite Rachel Maddow for assuming the truth of the allegations, then reminded us of how the document was discredited in December 2019 by an investigation by the Department of Justice that “raised doubts about the reliability of some of Steele’s reports” (click “expand”):

But the turning point seemed to be with an arrest of one of Steele’s primary sources.

Then, this month, a primary source of Mr. Steele’s was arrested and charged with lying to the F.B.I. How he obtained the data in his dossier. Prosecutors say that the source, Igor Danchenko, did not, as The Wall Street Journal first reported, get his information from a self-proclaimed real estate partner of Mr. Trump’s….

So what went wrong with much of the news media?

(….)

Mr. Trump’s choice of Paul Manafort to serve as his campaign chairman reinforced the idea that he was in the thrall of Russia. Those fears were borne out when a bipartisan Senate committee found Mr. Manafort to be a “grave counterintelligence threat” because of his ties to a Kremlin agent. So, given all those connections, it was easy to assume that the dossier’s allegations must also be true. It is not difficult to tell the difference between reality and fiction when journalists make assumptions.

Still he couldn’t help dishing on Trump.

The day after the dossier came out, Mr. Trump told reporters: “It’s all fake news. It’s phony stuff. It didn’t happen.” (Washington Post fact-checkers would eventually catalog more than 30,000 Trump falsehoodsDuring his time in the White House. It is natural to believe something if a well-known liar says it is false.

Yet Trump’s accurate descriptions of the dossier remain wrongly included in It Post’s vaunted database as “false and misleading statements” — a collection bolstered with mere predictions by Trump or Trump spin that Post liberals don’t agree with.  

He said that Trump loathing had been influenced by peers and was part of the wide-spread play on the accusations.

The situation also became complicated because some reporters simply didn’t like or trust Mr. Trump or didn’t want to appear to be on his side.

(….)

Like the former Times reporter Barry Meier writes in his book “Spooked,” “Plenty of reporters were skeptical of the dossier, but they hesitated to dismiss it, because they didn’t want to look like they were carrying water for Trump or his cronies.”

Yep.

Grueskin recommended news agencies admit to their failures and found examples of political history that could be used as examples. However, this article failed to mention Ben Smith.

Axios issued a terse summary of the “media’s epic fail on the Steeler dossier.” Smith, now a Times media columnist, told Axios, “My view on the logic of publishing hasn’t changed.” Smith was reluctant to speak about BuzzFeed’s time during this interview. Times column, citing his (controversial) continued holding of stock options from his former company. 

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