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Durham Analysis: Media Lies and Political Bias

Published: May 19, 2023 | Print Friendly and PDF

They lied.

They deceived the public for years, alleging collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia. President Trump and his advisors, the agents of Russia, were guilty of treason. The FBI investigation was above reproach, led by career agents and civil servants, and insulated from politics or influence from FBI leadership.

Their sources, anonymous to the public and known to only them, were from within the US intelligence and law enforcement communities. These were the originators of the falsehoods; the journalists were merely vessels. In return for this cynical tradecraft, the media protected – and continues to protect – high ranking current and former US government officials. Anything to keep the information flowing.

The list of publications and “journalists” (for purposes of this exercise, any of these other terms might apply: stenographers or adulators or parasitic hosts) who put out the now-discredit claims of the Trump-Russia hoax is long and distinguished. They were nearly all guilty; the skeptics were few. The volume of lies, spread in print and on TV and on social media, would take months, if not years, to compile. The Columbia Journalism Review’s “The press versus the president”, a thorough analysis of some of the worst Trump-Russia era reporting (including stories from The New York Times and The Washington Post), was a four-part series that only touched the surface.

Jim Sciutto and Evan Perez of CNN, citing “multiple current and former US law enforcement and intelligence officials,” said US investigators “corroborated some of the communications.” Jake Tapper, the face of CNN, was more than happy to use his primetime slot to spread these lies and others involving allegations of “collusion”. Marshall Cohen and Jeremy Herb of CNN made similar claims: “many of the allegations that form the bulk of the [Steele] intelligence memos have held up over time, or have proven to be at least partially true.” Durham would disagree: “not a single substantive allegation pulled from the Steele Reports and used in the initial Page FISA application had been corroborated at the time of the FISA submission -or indeed, to our knowledge, has ever been corroborated by the FBI.”

1 Natasha Bertrand was perhaps the most notoriously wrong reporter during the Trump-Russia hysteria. She spread the lies of the US intelligence community through various national platforms (Business Insider, The Atlantic, Politico, etc.): that the Steele Dossier had been corroborated, that the Horowitz probe would be of questionable quality, that it was “much more plausible that Trump did go to Russia and he did have these kinds of sexual escapades with prostitutes.”

By reporting these falsehoods as truth, Bertrand gave legitimacy to an improper and unlawful investigation. She also served the purposes of her sources - to slice through the hamstring of the Trump Administration, to put it on the defensive, to help influence elections. Her reward was professional advancement from near obscurity to her current position as National Security Reporter for CNN. No doubt her anonymous sources, which probably continue to enjoy their quid pro quo with Bertrand, are pleased with their investment.

Numerous reporters from The New York Times were guilty of similar offenses. The day before Trump’s 2017 inauguration, for example, The Times reported this bombshell from current and former senior American officials: “American law enforcement and intelligence agencies are examining intercepted communications and financial transactions as part of a broad investigation into possible links between Russian officials and associates of President-elect Donald J. Trump.” This was followed by The New York Times’ articles in February and March of 2017 pushing allegations of Trump-Russian Intelligence connections.

What we didn’t know at the time was that high ranking FBI officials disagreed with The Times’ reporting. Internal FBI communications from Peter Strzok himself said of The Times’ articles: “no substance and largely wrong.” Durham puts the FBI’s discussions of The Times reporting into context:

based on declassified documents from early 2017, the FBI's own records show that reports published by The New York Times in February and March 2017 concerning what four unnamed current and former U.S. intelligence officials claimed about Trump campaign personnel being in touch with any Russian intelligence officers was untrue.

2 While the reporting itself is part of the story, there’s something else here: the identity of the sources.

Those sources from within the US intelligence and law enforcement communities, known to the media but anonymous to the public. Those were the originators of the falsehoods; the journalists were merely vessels. In return for this cynical tradecraft, the media protected – and continues to protect – high ranking current and former US government officials. Anything to keep the information flowing.

If only these reporters had a smidgen of courage. Then we could see the names. Then we could see whether the off-the-record gossip provided by the current and former US officials matched their private, closely held beliefs. What a story that would be.

But we’ll never hear it.

The Reactionary is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.

We have another thought: who is to say these anonymous sources actually existed?

think they existed. I know there are US officials who will gladly lie. I know there are reporters who will publish those lies without hesitation. I know that the journalistic standards of even the purported top publications have proven to be inadequate.

I only ask that question because reporters and journalists and media figures invented facts in furtherance of the Trump-Russia allegations.

Take the Carter Page FISA applications, for example. Durham’s report concluded that the FBI’s FISA applications, based on the Steele reporting, “set forth the FBI’s basis for believing that [Carter] Page was knowingly engaged in clandestine intelligence activities on behalf of Russia.” (The FBI’s reliance on the Steele Reports for the Page FISA applications has been known at least since the IG Report in December 2019.)

Shane Harris of The Washington Post said “the dossier was not used as the basis for a FISA warrant on Carter Page.” He hadn’t seen the FISA warrant, but that didn’t stop him from making guarantees about its contents.

Jonah Goldberg, without knowledge of the Page applications or the evidence collected by the FBI, offered insight into the actions of “more than one FISA Court Judge” and the “intelligence collected from Page surveillance that had nothing to do with the Steel dossier.” In fact, as Durham’s report proves, the “Page surveillance” revealed no such intelligence. One FBI Agent told Durham’s team that they targeted Page “in the hope that the returns would ‘self-corroborate.’”

Ken Dilanian at NBC News would report in July 2018: “The so-called dossier formed only a smart part of the evidence used to meet the legal burden of establishing ‘probable cause’ that Page was an agent of Russia.” His NBC news comrade, Julia Ainsley, would also say that the Page FISAs “didn’t all hinge on the dossier.” She even stated “new evidence was found” against Page.

Reuters DC National Security Correspondent Jonathan Landay made a similar argument, saying the “Dossier played minor role in Page FISA warrant.”

Like the others, Dilanian and Ainsley and Landay were providing assurances and definitive statements on documents they had never thoroughly reviewed. Durham would address the probable cause issue in particular, stating the Steele Reports “were relied on by the FBI to support probable cause in the initial Page FISA application and three renewals of that application.”

3 And regarding the “new evidence” that Ainsley said was obtained against Page? Or the surveillance cited by Goldberg?

The Page surveillance was actually a “dry hole.”

4 Agents working the case thought it was a waste of their time
5 and concluded that “Page was not a witting agent of the Russian government.”
6 Unfortunately for the American public, many of these same reporters and newspapers and cable news channels are now interpreting the Durham Report. They focused on unreasonable expectations of the Durham investigation and said it didn’t meet expectations. At the Washington Post, Philip Bump downplayed the Clinton Campaign’s role in the Trump collusion hoax. Others said the report failed to show evidence of politically motivated decisions in the the FBI’s investigation of Trump and his associates.

In reality, the evidence of politically motivated decisions is there in abundance.

It’s there in the political motives and biases of the key players discussed by Durham. The texts of Peter Strzok and Lisa Page, those already in the public domain and said by Durham to “express a very clear prejudice against Trump.”

7 The “viva le resistance” statement of Kevin Clinesmith, who doctored an e-mail in furtherance of a Carter Page FISA renewal. The finding from Durham that these statements show “a predisposition to open an investigation into Trump”
8 and in Durham’s belief that “it appears likely that political or personal bias contributed at least to some extent to Clinesmith's conduct in this matter.”
9 (Logically, the political predisposition to open the investigation on Trump would also predispose certain investigative decisions.)

It’s there in the FBI’s disparate treatment of the Trump and Clinton investigations.

And it’s there in the comparison of the Carter Page FISA application to the other applications the FBI completed. Durham observed that an audit of 29 other FISA applications contained only 4 material errors. The Carter Page FISA applications contained “a total of 17 material errors and omissions.” To believe bias played no factor is to also ignore the uniqueness of what occurred during the Trump-Russia investigation by parties hostile to Trump.

Do not forget - these were otherwise careful and meticulous FBI agents and officials. Are we really to believe that their out-of-character mistakes were innocent?

1 Durham Report at p. 124.
2 Durham Report at p. 106.
3 “[F]our Steele Reports (2016/080, 2016/94, 2016/095 and 2016/102) were relied on by the FBI to support probable cause in the initial Page FISA application and three renewals of that application.” Durham Report at p. 123.
4 “Special Agent-I went as far to say that the surveillance on Page was a ‘dry hole.’” Durham Report at p. 104.
5 “Special Agent-1 also recalled that Supervisory Special Agent-3 would often rhetorically ask his investigators, “what are we even doing here.’” Durham Report at p. 104.
6 Durham Report at p. 104.
7 “Over a period of months prior to the opening of Crossfire Hurricane, Strzok and Page had exchanged numerous messages, which are already in the public domain and express a very clear prejudice against Trump.” Durham Report at p. 48.
8 “Although those involved in opening the Crossfire Hurricane investigation denied that bias against Trump was a factor in opening the investigation, the communications quoted above quite clearly show, at least on the part of certain personnel intimately involved in the matter, a predisposition to open an investigation into Trump.” Durham Report at 50-51.
9 Durham Report at 232.



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