There were so many false reports circulated by the dominant corporate wing of the U.S. media as part of the five-year-long Russiagate hysteria that in January, 2019, I compiled what I called “The 10 Worst, Most Embarrassing U.S. Media Failures on the Trump-Russia Story.” The only difficult part of that article was choosing which among the many dozens of retractions, corrections and still-uncorrected factual falsehoods merited inclusion in the worst-ten list. So stiff was the competition that I was forced to omit many huge media Russiagate humiliations, and thus, to be fair to those who missed the cut, had to append a large “Dishonorable Mention” category at the end.
That the entire Russiagate storyline itself was a fraud and a farce is conclusively demonstrated by one decisive fact that can never be memory-holed: namely, the impetus for the scandal and subsequent investigation was the conspiracy theory that the Trump campaign had secretly and criminally conspired with the Russian government to interfere in the 2016 election, primarily hacking into the email inboxes of the DNC and Clinton campaign chief John Podesta. And a grand total of zero Americans were accused (let alone convicted) of participating in that animating conspiracy.
When I created my top ten list of media Russiagate debacles, choosing the top ten was difficult but choosing the top spot was not. It is worth briefly revisiting that particular journalistic humiliation because of what it reveals about ongoing media behavior.
On the morning of December 8, 2017, CNN went on the air with one of the most cataclysmic and breathless scoops of the entire Russiagate saga. The network hauled out all of its most melodramatic graphics, music and host voice-tones to signify that this was it: the smoking gun, the ultimate bombshell, the final nail in the coffin, inescapable proof for their conspiracy theory. The big huge scoop notably came from its Congressional reporter Manu Raju (one of the favorite dumping grounds for false leaks by leading House Democrat Russiagate fanatics such as Rep. Adam Schiff and Eric Swalwell (D-CA)).
According to this historic CNN revelation, a stunning and incriminating email had been obtained by “congressional investigators,” and “multiple sources” conveyed its contents to CNN. This email proved, said CNN, that Donald Trump Jr. was given advance access to the archive of DNC and Podesta emails ultimately published by WikiLeaks on September 14, 2016. This earth-shattering email to Trump, Jr. was dated September 4 — ten days before WikiLeaks began publishing — and this, in the minds of CNN, proved somehow that the Trump campaign was in on the plot from the start.
Now, even if Trump had been shown the archive in advance by WikiLeaks or someone else, it would not have remotely proven that the Trump campaign was a participant in the plot, but let us not get detained on that hypothetical. The CNN story was treated by the entire liberal sector of the press as the most devastating and incriminating evidence yet produced to prove the truth of the Russiagate conspiracy theory, with one particularly loyal Democratic partisan-writer using an image of a nuclear explosion to convey its significance…
As it turns out, there was one small problem with the CNN story: it was completely and utterly false. The email to Trump, Jr. on which the entire bombshell was based was sent after WikiLeaks began publishing the archive, not before. And it was sent not by some super-secret inside source with the Kremlin or WikiLeaks, but by a random member of the public who, having read about the WikiLeaks publications in the newspaper, emailed Trump, Jr. to encourage him to take a look.
How “multiple sources” all got the date on the email wrong — mis-reading it as September 4 rather than the real date of the email: September 14 — was never explained by CNN. That is because corporate media outlets believe they owe the public no explanation or accountability for the massive errors they commit.
But what was most notable about this episode is that it was not just CNN which reported this fraudulent story. An hour or so after the network shook the political world with its graphics-and-music-shaped bombshell, other news networks — including MSNBC and CBS News — claimed that they had obtained what they called “independent confirmation” that the story was true.
All of these media outlets, reading Orwell as if it is an instruction manual, have now scrubbed most of the humiliating videos where they did this from the internet. But one can still watch here as NBC News’ national security reporter and long-time de facto CIA spokesman Ken Dilanian breathlessly tells an MSNBC host, who herself can barely maintain her composure, that he has spoken with “sources” who have provided independent confirmation of the CNN story, thus adding NBC News’ imprimatur to it. Shortly thereafter, CBS News did the same.
All of this prompted the obvious question: how could MSNBC and CBS News have both purported to “independently confirm” a CNN bombshell that was completely false? The reason this matters is because the term “independently confirm” significantly bolsters the credibility of the initial report because it makes it appear that other credible-to-some news organizations have conducted their own investigation and found more evidence that proves it is true. That is the purpose of the exercise: to bolster the credibility of the story in the minds of the public.
But what actually happens is as deceitful as it is obvious. When a news outlet such as NBC News claims to have “independently corroborated” a report from another corporate outlet, they often do not mean that they searched for and acquired corroborating evidence for it. What they mean is much more tawdry: they called, or were called by, the same anonymous sources that fed CNN the false story in the first place, and were fed the same false story. And just as CNN did — repeated what they were told (almost certainly by Democratic Congressional members and/or their staff) without independently investigating it, because they knew any anti-Trump story would please their partisan audience — NBC News pretended they had obtained “independent confirmation” when all they had done was speak to the same sources that fed CNN.
(Emphasis added. That’s what I was wondering. If they’re “anonymous sources”, how do the news agencies know the sources aren’t all the same person?) (Or maybe they do know, but don’t care.)