What ails the US press?

The question of “What ails the US press?” is too big for one column or one case study. Holman Jenkins takes it up in his Wall Street Journal Business World column this morning in the matter of the Steele Dossier.

Whence the allegations of the dossier? We still don’t know. The subhead to the column puts it this way: “The media’s lack of interest in the Steele dossier amounts to collusion in a coverup.”

The lack of journalistic interest calls for an explanation. Laziness, stupidity, herd mentality, and partisanship all seem to have something to do with the utter lack of interest in what it’s all about, although any one of these factors all by itself may be enough to explain it.

Jenkins applies the question to the Mueller Report:

It needs to be understood whether the Mueller report, and the Mueller investigation itself, was essentially a product of disinformation (and whose disinformation). Did the Steele dossier’s lies really originate with Russian sources, and to what purpose? Was the dossier embraced by members of the U.S. government because they believed it or because it was useful against a presidential candidate they disapproved of? (Pretending to believe false intelligence may not be an actionable dereliction, but the question needs to be asked.)

The column is accompanied online by the video below.

On a closely related note, RCP’s Aaron Maté writes in “Here are five big holes in Mueller’s work”:

In the absence of evidence tying the Trump campaign to the Kremlin – and a preponderance of leads involving key figures actually tied to the West – U.S. intelligence officials helped cast a pall of suspicion through misleading, and sometimes false, media leaks. In January 2017, then-FBI Director James Comey briefed President-elect Trump on the Steele Dossier’s most explosive allegation: that the Russians had a tape of him with prostitutes in a Moscow Ritz-Carlton hotel room. Comey’s briefing to Trump was leaked to the press, leading to the dossier’s publication by BuzzFeed and cementing the story the atop the news cycle for the more than two years since.

Less than two weeks after the dossier’s publication, someone from U.S. intelligence leaked classified details of an intercepted phone call between Michael Flynn and then-Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak. The leak fueled baseless speculation that Flynn and Kislyak had discussed sanctions relief in exchange for Russia’s help in the 2016 election, and ultimately led to Flynn’s resignation. Weeks later, the New York Times reported that the U.S. investigators had obtained “phone records and intercepted calls” showing that members of Trump’s campaign and other associates “had repeated contacts with senior Russian intelligence officials in the year before the election.” Four months later, FBI Jim Comey testified that the story was “not true.” The Times has never retracted it.

Nunes also tried to question Mueller about U.S. government leaks, asking if he agreed that the leak of a phone call involving Flynn, the then-national security adviser, was a “major scandal.” Mueller responded: “I can’t adopt that hypothesis.”

Mueller could very well have a plausible explanation for his inability to account for the investigation’s core flaws. Or, as his awkward testimony suggested, perhaps he was not the hard-nosed investigator that the media portrayed him to be; perhaps he was only a figurehead who did not make the key decisions in the office of the Special Counsel.

What is clear is that neither his report nor testimony provide the answer. After determining that there never was a Trump-Russia conspiracy, Mueller showed no interest in investigating why so many high-placed officials said they believed there had been. His report told us what didn’t happen during the 2016 election, but shed little light on what did happen, and why.

In Maté’s reckoning, this is hole 5, and that is one big hole.

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