The infamous Christopher Steele dossier’s low credibility took another blow last week, but news organizations and pundits who routinely used it to push the narrative that Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign colluded with Russia don’t appear in a rush to correct the record or give back awards anytime soon.
Last week, Special Counsel John Durham, who was appointed by the Trump administration to investigate the origins of the Russia investigation, charged Steele sub-source Igor Danchenko with making false statements to the FBI. The indictment shed light on Danchenko’s ties to Democrats, casting doubt on the validity of the media’s past coverage of the dossier, which CNN, MSNBC, The New York Times, The Washington Post and so many others spent years salivating over.
“If these outlets had credibility to lose it would cause their credibility to go down, but because they have none it just cements they are not to be paid attention to in any way, shape, or form,” The Federalist senior editor Mollie Hemingway told Fox News Digital.
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Special Counsel John Durham was appointed by the Trump administration to investigate the origins of the Russia investigation that MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow regularly pushed. (Photo by: Charles Sykes/Bravo/NBCU Photo Bank/NBCUniversal via Getty Images))
Democratic operative and Clinton ally Charles Dolan, Jr., was one of Danchenko’s primary sources according to the indictment.
Media outlets that peddled the infamous Steele dossier and Russia collusion narrative – including the Washington Post – used it as the impetus for years of anti-Trump coverage and content, winning prestigious journalism awards in the process.
CNN’s Evan Perez, Jim Scuitto, Jake Tapper and Carl Bernstein won the 2018 WHCA Merriman Smith Award for a Jan. 2017 report that said then-President-elect Donald Trump was officially briefed on what came to be known as an unverified, Democratic Party-funded Russian dossier; the award’s website referred to it as “compromising information about Trump.” In addition, The New York Times and Washington Post shared the 2018 Pulitzer Prize for “deeply sourced, relentlessly reported coverage in the public interest that dramatically furthered the nation’s understanding of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election and its connections to the Trump campaign, the President-elect’s transition team and his eventual administration.
The Times once referred to Steele thusly: “Former C.I.A. officials described him as an expert on Russia who is well respected in the spy world.”
INDICTMENT OF STEELE DOSSIER SOURCE REMINDS MEDIA WATCHDOGS OF NEWS ORGANIZATIONS WHO HEAPED CREDIBILITY ON IT
Cornell Law School professor and media critic William A. Jacobson feels anyone with an award based on collusion and the debunked dossier needs to look in the mirror, but he doesn’t expect it to actually happen.
“We are fast approaching the point where news organizations and journalists who received awards for Russia collusion reporting are going to have to consider voluntarily surrendering those prizes. Since that is highly unlikely to happen, groups like Pulitzer will need to consider rescinding the awards to salvage their own reputations,” Jacobson told Fox News Digital.
The WHCA did not immediately respond when asked if it would address revelations from the Durham probe. The Pulitzer Board provided Fox News Digital with the following statement: “The Pulitzer Board has a standing process for reviewing questions about past awards, under the guidelines of which complaints are considered by an appointed committee.”
Washington Post media critic Erik Wemple scolded the press in a column headlined, “Indictment of Steele dossier source is more bad news for multiple media outlets,” which declared the outlets that “showered credibility upon the dossier without corroboration” need to be held accountable.
MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow helped pushed the discredited Russian collusion narrative.
Wemple specifically called out MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow, who he noted once heralded Steele’s “deep cover sources inside Russia,” for downplaying the findings in the Danchenko indictment and suggesting the purpose of the Durham probe is to “discredit the whole Russia investigation by arresting various sources for that investigation, to discredit the Steele dossier because so many people have been led to think that was the reason for the investigation.”
Wemple pointed out that Maddow’s “sources” weren’t exactly up to par, and the indictment proves sourcing for the infamous dossier embraced by so many members of the corporate media were “threadbare in the most charitable of depictions.” Maddow essentially hyped up the possibility of Russian collusion on a nightly basis for years.
Igor Danchenko, the primary sub-source for the Steele dossier, was indicted as part of Special Counsel John Durham’s investigations into the origins of the probe into whether the Trump campaign colluded with Russia to influence the 2016 presidential election. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta))
Substack journalist Matt Taibbi recently tore into Maddow, too, when she appeared to double down. The MSNBC star, who became arguably the most prominent TV host to push the Russia collusion narrative, addressed the latest developments in the Durham probe on Thursday, but seemed to dismiss the severity of the new revelations.
Taibbi on Friday offered a blistering response to Maddow’s “shocking new low,” writing, “With last night’s loony response to the indictment of Igor Danchenko, the MSNBC anchor takes a bold leap off the credibility cliff.”
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Cory Gnazzo, who is Maddow’s executive producer, did not immediately respond to a text message asking if he would speak or provide a statement about the show’s coverage of the dossier. Steve Benen, another one of Maddow’s producers who also edits her blog, didn’t respond, either.
MSNBC declined to comment or make Maddow herself available for comment.
But Maddow wasn’t alone when it came to pushing the narrative and downplaying Durham debunking it. The evening news programs on ABC, NBC and CBS spent 2,634 minutes covering the Steele dossier and sprawling Russia investigation from January 2017 through July 20, 2019 but didn’t bother to mention the Danchenko indictment through Nov. 8, according to the Media Research Center.
DePauw University professor and media critic Jeffrey McCall credits Wemple and other watchdogs for “taking on the establishment media and critiquing what is now known to be ineffective reporting” of the Steele dossier.
“This was a challenging story to cover, to be sure, but too many media outlets failed to provide sufficient verification and context to the dossier story… it needed more thorough vetting than it got, and the ramifications of the flimsy reporting were significant,” McCall told Fox News Digital.
“In retrospect, it appears some media outlets were too eager to buy concocted narratives that fit the story they wanted to report, rather than deliberately sort out verifiable details. News consumers should now rightly question the motives of those media outlets that ran with poorly sourced stories,” McCall added.
Journalist Drew Holden, who is known for lengthy Twitter threads documenting hypocrisy and bias in the media, marked Danchenko’s indictment with a trip down memory lane. He shared a variety of examples of pundits and news organizations who hyped up the dossier, starting with CNN which he wrote “made it a point to bring up the dossier early and often, and frequently led with the most explosive claims.”
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Fox News Digital reached out to a variety of reporters and pundits –many of whom Holden called out — seeking comment on their coverage of the Steele dossier now that the Durham probe has cast doubts on the validity of the way it was covered. New York Times reporter Michael Schmidt, New York Magazine’s Jonathan Chait, Newsweek’s Kurt Eichenwald and MSNBC’s Malcom Nance were among them, but they failed to respond.
New York Times reporter Adam Goldberg declined comment.
The New York Times shared the 2018 Pulitzer Prize for "deeply sourced, relentlessly reported coverage in the public interest that dramatically furthered the nation’s understanding of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election and its connections to the Trump campaign, the President-elect’s transition team and his eventual administration." (REUTERS/Lucas Jackson)
Meanwhile, McCall doesn’t expect any awards that were dished out over this reporting to be reeled in, but he thinks outlets should at least correct the record.
“The media industry could help its wobbly credibility by correcting old stories and reporting new developments with as much energy as they reported their original stories,” McCall said. “Frankly, it will be a surprise if that will happen.”
CNN, MSNBC, The New York Times, Washington Post, ABC News, CBS News and NBC News did not immediately respond when asked if any stories would be updated with an editor’s note, correction or retracted.
“They are so far gone,” Hemingway said of modern, corporate media outlets.
“I think it is important for people to realize that they need to be completely marginalized and removed from any positions of power. They do not get to set narratives or decide what is or is not news,” Hemingway continued. “They need to be rebuffed, and because a free and fair press is necessary for the preservation of the republic, other places that are interested in reporting true, fair, and accurate information need to be supported and need to be read and watched.”
Fox News’ Joseph A. Wulfsohn contributed to this report.
Brian Flood covers the media for Fox News. Follow him on Twitter at @briansflood.