Lee Smith: CNN & the Steele Dossier

Lee Smith is the author of The Plot Against the President: The True Story of How Congressman Devin Nunes Uncovered the Biggest Political Scandal in US History. Lee’s book is an invaluable companion to Andrew McCarthy’s Ball of Collusion: The Plot to Rig an Election and Destroy a Presidency; it adds to and amplifies the case McCarthy makes.

One of Lee’s principal themes is the role played by the media peddling the Russia hoax. The passage below from pages 119-121 is illustrative of the theme. In this passage Lee discusses the January 10, 2017 CNN story “Intel chiefs presented Trump with claims of Russian efforts to compromise him.” Running under the byline of Evan Perez, Jim Sciutto, Jake Tapper and Carl Bernstein, the story peddled the Russia hoax based on the patently absurd Steele Dossier, which had not yet been made public. Lee notes that the story referred to the dossier’s most serious charge, “allegations that there was a continuing exchange of information during the campaign between Trump surrogates and intermediaries for the Russian government.” He then recounts (emphasis in original):

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Hours after the CNN story broke, BuzzFeed published what appears to be the full text of the Steele Dossier. Tapper emailed BuzzFeed editor Ben Smith to complain. “I think your move makes the story less serious and credible,” he wrote. “I think you damaged its impact.”

Another media outfit had taken the air out of the CNN investigative team’s big breaking news story. Because of BuzzFeed, American news audiences could judge the credibility of the dossier–with its lurid tales of golden showers and outlandish allegations of Trump-Russia conspiracies–for themselves rather than take it on CNN’s authority.

Publication of the document undermined the story’s credibility. CNN had not published an account of prostitutes precisely because it wanted to avoid appearing like a tabloid, because it wanted its serious and credible report to have an impact.

With news consumers now given a wider context in which to judge the CNN report, Tapper was angry. “Collegiality wise, Tapper wrote, “it was you stepping on my dick.”

Tapper thought BuzzFeed was unprofessional. “Your guys unlike us don’t even seem to know who the former agent i[s],” he wrote.

Tapper was boasting. The CNN team was on the inside. It wasn’t until the next day, January 11, it was reported that Steele had authored the memos. CNN had been briefed by Steele himself. Steele’s boss, Glenn Simpson, had worked with CNN’s Evan Perez at the Wall Street Journal. After he had left the Journal, Perez still socialized with the former journalists who founded Fusion GPS.

CNN did not disclose that Perez was friends with the political operatives who had produced and distributed the Clinton-funded dossier that Clapper discussed with the CNN anchorman and that Comey had briefed the president-elect as a news hook for CNN to break the story. It was a tightly wrapped package, like a bomb designed to blow up on Trump.

“No one verified this stuff,” Tapper wrote to Smith regarding the dossier.

That was true. Months before the election, media organizations had sent reporters as far as Moscow to try to verify the dossier. No one had been able to, which was why CNN needed Comey’s briefing [to Trump] to report on it.

The CNN anchor was caught in a contradiction. It was unverified, but CNN ran with it anyway. CNN published a story about intelligence officials briefing a president on national security issues based on information it knew might not be true.

I worked with Tapper nearly twenty years ago at a magazine called Talk. He was a very good journalist. And yet he missed the real story here–four US intelligence chiefs had briefed unverified information to the president and president-elect.

No one in the press reported it because they couldn’t–they were themselves part of it. But the CNN story found a way around the traditional measures designed to keep disinformation out of the press; it didn’t report the allegations of the dossier directly but rather on the fact that it was briefed to the president-elect.

The dossier was now out in the open. And under the guise of “news,” the press would unleash half a million fictions engendered by a conspiracy theory. After CNN’s January 10 story, there was no going back to traditional, fact-based journalism. Reporters had transformed into outright political operatives.

Copyright © 2019 by Lee Smith. All rights reserved. Reprinted with the kind permission of Lee Smith.

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