The Star Democrat

No ‘reckoning’ over Steele dossier

- DAVID HARSANYI David Harsanyi is a senior writer at National Review and author of “Eurotrash:Why America Must Reject the Failed Ideas of a Dying Continent.”To read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonist­s, visit the Creators Syndicate

Axios says there’s a “reckoning” in the media over coverage of the Steele dossier after the partisan oppo document’s primary source was charged with lying to the FBI. “It’s one of the most egregious journalist­ic errors in modern history,” writes Sara Fischer, “and the media’s response to its own mistakes has so far been tepid.”

Tepid is a nice way of putting it. While the Washington Post “corrected” some of its discredite­d reporting on the dossier, removing portions of reporting connecting former Presi- dent Donald Trump to Russia, there has been virtually no other accountabi­lity. And, really, it’s become modus operandi for the news organizati­ons to “correct” stories in which the entire premise is false. Any sort of “reckoning” would mean a retraction, followed by investigat­ive deep dives, not only reporting the problems with the story themselves but outing the fraudulent sources who participat­ed in the deception. Perhaps that’s going on as we speak, but it’s highly doubtful.

Those who perpetuate­d the Russia collusion deception — and this means editors and pundits, not only reporters — still hold premier jobs in political media. Many, in fact, have been rewarded with better gigs. Is anyone at the Washington Post or New York Times going to return a Pulitzer? Is anyone going to explain how multiple alleged independen­t sources regularly buttressed the central fabulistic claim of the dossier? Journalism is ostensibly about transparen­cy and truth, yet not one of these sentinels of democracy has explained how they were supposedly fooled for years, exhibiting not a modicum of skepticism — one of the most vital components of good journalism. When asked by Axios about the Steele dossier, the two outlets that churned out some of the most sensationa­listic and conspirato­rial content of the Trump era, CNN and MSNBC, wouldn’t even comment.

The most charitable explanatio­n is that reporters had become such saps for Democrats that they were inclined to believe the most fantastica­l stories imaginable. The more plausible explanatio­n, considerin­g the lack of any genuine accountabi­lity and self-reflection, is that they were in on it.

There’s the argument out there that contends that Trump and his associates did and said things that made the dossier’s claims plausible. Well, Trump’s words could have been a big enough story on their own. The president made no secret of his personal admiration of Vladimir Putin before the election. The notion that a Russian asset (since 1987, even!) would need to go on TV and ask the Russians to ferret out Hillary Clinton’s lost emails seems a stretch. To excuse what came next from the media would be tantamount to excusing widespread coverage of birtherism simply because so many of former President Barack Obama’s abuses of executive power or inability to say America was exceptiona­l was antithetic­al to the Constituti­on he swore to protect. The press exists to avoid the proliferat­ion of faulty informatio­n and conspiraci­es, not to perpetuate them because of their partisan assumption­s.

Would Buzzfeed editor Ben Smith, now media reporter for the NewYork Times, have published an uncorrobor­ated “dossier” on birtherism or, for that matter, Biden’s dealing with his corrupt son, giving it undo attention and credibilit­y? The media and tech companies wouldn’t even allow a properly sourced New York Post story about Hunter Biden be shared in the run-up to the election. Just more proof of malfeasanc­e, not sloppiness. The chances of every single alleged mistake skewed in the same direction is, of course, infinitesi­mally small.

What difference, at this point, does it make? Well, for one thing, the full truth is opaque, and the historical record has yet to be corrected. It still says that “Russia Secretly Offered Afghan Militants Bounties to Kill U.S. Troops,” a story that spawned from the environmen­t created by the Steele dossier, on the New York Times website. This piece, like so many others, is incorrect. The “intelligen­ce officials” who spread that story were running what amounted to a shadow government using a partisan concoction, illegal Foreign Intelligen­ce Surveillan­ce Act requests and a pliant media to sink the foreign policy of the elected president. It’s one of the least democratic things I can think of.

It’s worth knowing how it happened — yet the public gets no explanatio­n.

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