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Media’s Russiagate Self-Mutilation

Reporting on Donald Trump means never having to say you're sorry -- or answer Jeff Gerth's questions
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A former newspaper colleague of mine, now retired from daily journalism, sends me this eye-popping piece in Columbia Journalism Review, written by Pulitzer Prize-winning former New York Times investigative reporter Jeff Gerth. Gerth is a legend among investigative journalists. It's a monumental takedown of the way the media covered President Donald Trump. My old colleague writes, "It's going to cause a shitstorm in the world of journalism.  Exploring this topic is like lancing a boil. Painful, but necessary."

Gerth spent two years interviewing everybody he could on the Russiagate story, trying to figure out what the media did right, and what it did wrong. One thing indisputable: Russiagate hurt the media badly. Gerth writes:


Before the 2016 election, most Americans trusted the traditional media and the trend was positive, according to the Edelman Trust Barometer. The phrase “fake news” was limited to a few reporters and a newly organized social media watchdog. The idea that the media were “enemies of the American people” was voiced only once, just before the election on an obscure podcast, and not by Trump, according to a Nexis search.

Today, the US media has the lowest credibility—26 percent—among forty-six nations, according to a 2022 study by the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism. In 2021, 83 percent of Americans saw “fake news” as a “problem,” and 56 percent—mostly Republicans and independents—agreed that the media were “truly the enemy of the American people,” according to Rasmussen Reports.

He goes on:

Over the past two years, I put questions to, and received answers from, Trump, as well as his enemies. The latter include Christopher Steele, the author of the so-called dossier, financed by Hillary Clinton’s campaign, that claimed Trump was in service of the Kremlin, and Peter Strzok, the FBI official who opened and led the inquiry into possible collusion between Russia and Trump’s campaign before he was fired. I also sought interviews, often unsuccessfully, with scores of journalists—print, broadcast, and online—hoping they would cooperate with the same scrutiny they applied to Trump. And I pored through countless official documents, court records, books, and articles, a daunting task given that, over Mueller’s tenure, there were more than half a million news stories concerning Trump and Russia or Mueller.

On the eve of a new era of intense political coverage, this is a look back at what the press got right, and what it got wrong, about the man who once again wants to be president. So far, few news organizations have reckoned seriously with what transpired between the press and the presidency during this period. That failure will almost certainly shape the coverage of what lies ahead.

The Clinton campaign and the Democratic Party hired private investigators to dredge for Trump-Russia stuff. As you read, names of prominent journalists who pop up as having taken Russiagate bait early on, or having contributed groundlessly to the emerging narrative. Many of these people refused to talk to Gerth when he called to talk to them about it. Isn't that interesting? Gerth writes:

Matt Taibbi, who spent time as a journalist in Russia, also grew uneasy about the Trump-Russia coverage. Eventually, he would compare the media’s performance to its failures during the run-up to the Iraq War. “It was a career-changing moment for me,” he said in an interview. The “more neutral approach” to reporting “went completely out the window once Trump got elected. Saying anything publicly about the story that did not align with the narrative—the repercussions were huge for any of us that did not go there. That is crazy.”

It seems to me that most of what Gerth has in this piece -- it's only part one of his series -- has previously been reported, but it's been a long time since I've thought about any of the Russiagate stuff. In any case, I haven't seen it laid out so clearly and economically as it is here. It's something else to read how the Fusion GPS firm, hired by the Clinton campaign and the Democratic Party, was at the center of peddling all these lies -- and how far they got in injecting it into the media narrative, no doubt because so many in the national press corps wanted to believe it.

Here's a link once again to the piece. I really look forward to the next installment. I'm telling you, it matters a lot that Jeff Gerth is the author here, and not some conservative scribe. His name might not mean anything to you, but it carries a lot of weight within the national media. For the US media, the fact that they were writing about Donald Trump means never having to say they're sorry.


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Peter Pratt
Peter Pratt
Too many people have such intense feelings about Trump that they 1) believe anything negative about him and 2) can't think rationally about him. Likewise, there are too many people so emotionally connected to him that they treat him as an unfailing god.

A lot of people were able to see through all of the RussiaGate lies from the very beginning. I suspect everyone at the FBI and a lot of media knew it was all lies, but they picked a side and decided to violate our norms, rules, and laws to stop him.

I don't want Trump around anymore because of his many flaws and limitations. He picks personnel so badly, which is so ironic given his TV show. He lets his family have too much away. He doesn't follow through and complete his promises. He is so insecure and thin-skinned that he can't stop himself from reacting to any perceived or real slight. Etc.

But the real source of the opposition to Trump was always policy. The oligarchy didn't want to lose power. It didn't want to retreat from American imperialism. It hates anyone who helps normie America, as that undermines its ability to rule and manipulate the people.

Trump showed emperor had no clothes on and the American empire was built on a grand illusion that hurt most Americans and the world. And for that they decided to destroy his presidency.
schedule 1 year ago
Fran Macadam
Fran Macadam
I recall when you wrote that Russiagate really could be true. Was it because of your belief in the NYT? I found the unfounded accusations not credible from the start.

Additionally, Trump alone of possible Presidential candidates is calling for an immediate stop to the Ukraine war, and to the escalation, which he believes is leading to a nuclear exchange if not stopped. He says the conflict will immediately stop if the United States wants, and immediate negotiations.

I suppose if he were elected again, the Deep State would consider it treasonous and grounds for impeachment.

It has now been noted by prominent critics that Ron DeSantis has been heretofore a backer of American wars of choice, as almost all politicians are. I applaud the resistance to Woke, but whether or not the current foreign adventurism is Woke War III or just World War III makes no difference to nuclear missile exchanges. Trump observed on his Rumble channel that WWIII will be like no other, but will result in annihilation.

Once again, whatever you think about Trump's personality, the neocon and neoliberal warmongers may consider him a loose cannon in regards to their aims, but in reality they are the loose cannons about to set off a terminal conflict that has no good cause, provoked as it has been by fantasies of taking over the planet no matter the cost or risk.
schedule 1 year ago