Why won’t the prestige press come clean on its role in the Russia hoax? Crisis management consultant Eric Dezenhall sketches out the deterrents in his Wall Street Journal column “The media stonewalls on the Steele dossier.” Dezenhall frames the basic problem this way, in terms of incentives:
The crisis confronting the news media post-dossier is rooted in disinformation. In the crisis business, we often do detective work to uncover the sources of disinformation leveled at our clients. The first factor in a successful disinformation campaign is an audience that desperately wants to believe something. Then you find a plausible allegation that fits the marketplace. Next, you implant an outrageous allegation within the plausible one. Finally, you find a trustworthy person, someone simpatico with media organizations, to let it rip.
The merchandising of the Steele dossier fits this template. First, there was fertile ground for an anti-Trump narrative. Donald Trump’s rise was especially odious to journalistic and cultural elites. Then there was the shiniest object in the dossier, the infamous “pee tape” that no one credible has claimed to have seen. Finally, there were operatives with strong ties to the media, including Democratic Party consultants and former journalists billed as “marketplace intelligence” researchers who are, in reality, press agents [i.e., Glenn Simpson and Peter Fritsch of Fusion GPS].
When nonmedia companies make unforced errors, the fallout is punishing—lost sales, congressional hearings, lawsuits and management shakeups. When journalists fumble in the manner of the Steele dossier, however, the immediate reaction is rewarding—blockbuster stories, clicks, ratings and ad sales.
If the New York Times and the Washington Post et al. were judged by the standards applicable to a company like McDonald’s, they’d be long gone.
A bit further down Dezenahall adds this:
It is in the short-term interest of a media company to stand by its reporting—and behind the First Amendment—rather than say it was wrong and face the consequences.
In the Steele case, when the media would normally be screaming for an apology, only some, such as the Washington Post, have bothered to correct their stories. But the Post didn’t really examine why it got the story wrong in the first place.
The New York Times is in an even deeper credibility crisis: The newspaper would have to admit it was wrong; in addition, a Times reporter helped turn the collusion story in one direction. The rest of the media, including the Times, followed because the tale was too good to resist.
This doesn’t come close to getting to the bottom of the media wrongdoing in the Russia hoax. It doesn’t get at the Post’s limited, indeed Watergate style hangout. It doesn’t get at the media’s collusion (to borrow a term) with the law enforcement and intelligence apparatus that drove the story. Dezenhall’s analysis may nevertheless furnish an impetus to dig deeper.