by Jeremy Fassler
This week, the Washington Post published a story revealing that the Steele Dossier was in part funded by the Clinton campaign as opposition research into Donald Trump. This revelation wasn't brand new, as we had some knowledge of the Democrats' involvement with the Dossier as far back as October 2016, when David Corn revealed its existence in Mother Jones. Where the Post's article differed was in naming Clinton lawyer Marc Elias as one of the key go-betweens in funding the dossier, taking over payments to Fusion GPS (who had commissioned ex-MI6 spy Christopher Steele to compile it) from an anonymous Republican who was the original source of funding.
That the dossier was created as opposition research isn't anything new - opposition research has been part of politics, and this story, from the beginning. But in reporting on this new development, the Post's rival newspaper, the New York Times, has been caught lying about its relevance. Worse, their lies could undermine the legitimacy of the Russia investigation in the minds of the American public and even further discredit their profession, which is what Donald Trump wants.
Briefly, when the story dropped on Tuesday, Times reporter Maggie Haberman tweeted this:
That's right, people lied...with sanctimony! Horrors! Haberman's adverbial dissent reminds me of the moment in A Few Good Men when Demi Moore says she "strenuously object[s]" in court, forgetting that you don't strenuously object, you just object, like you don't lie with sanctimony. But more on this later.
On Wednesday, Times reporter Kenneth P. Vogel published this article, which reads like a fair summarization of the Post's revelations, plus a couple of additional details concerning Elias, whom Vogel claimed denied answering "whether his firm was the client...whether he possessed it before the election and whether he was involved in efforts to encourage media outlets to write about its contents." Before he wrote the article, however, he said this:
So first you have Haberman calling Elias a liar, followed by Vogel insinuating the same thing. The problem is it's not true, as Business Insider's Natasha Bertrand was quick to point out:
Could the Times reporters be jealous that they didn't get to reveal Elias's involvement first? Possible, but unlikely since the Times, afflicted by Clinton Derangement Syndrome since Whitewater, will go to any extent to focus a story on the Clintons, no matter how marginal their involvement may be. Like Elias himself, Hillary did not know the contents of the Dossier until the Buzzfeed article, which begs the question - if the Clinton campaign had known about the dossier during the election, don't you think they'd have used it? But such questions don't matter to Times reporters, because they're trained to believe that the Clintons are liars, like op-ed columnist and climate change-denier Bret Stephens, who said yesterday on MSNBC that "every statement that comes out of the mouths of the Clintons is a calculation, and the truth is always optional."
Earth to anyone who covers politics: from time to time, politicians have to lie to hide what they know for legal reasons, or for national security reasons, or because they don't want to step on the toes of someone who has the right to reveal the truth more than they do. (Also, Santa and the Easter Bunny aren't real, and Soylent Green is people.) The difference, of course, is the degree to which they lie, and the Trump Administration lies with a frequency unheard of in our country's history.
But you know who's reluctant to use the word "lie" or "liars" when it comes to covering Trump? That's right, Maggie Haberman. Here she is last month, putting a euphemism to work rather than calling a spade a spade:
And here she is earlier this year, responding to criticism that she should have called Sean Spicer's lies about the inauguration crowd size what they were:
So Donald Trump's people aren't liars, but Hillary Clinton's people are? Thanks, New York Times!
Without any context to support her tweet against Elias, Haberman played straight to the right-wing machine that thrives on creating false equivalencies between the Democrats and the Republicans, and her paper has been among the worst offenders. They pushed the story of Clinton's emails to the point where the public was oversaturated with information on a scandal that, when investigated deeper, wasn't a scandal at all. That didn't stop Haberman from publishing several stories on it with her colleague, Glenn Thrush, and she has defended her actions:
What Haberman, Thrush, Vogel, Stephens and others fail to realize is that, by working at the Times, perhaps the most prestigious newspaper in the country, they bear a great responsibility to maintain accuracy and integrity. Like it or not, what you say in the Times carries more weight than it would in a rag like the Daily News or the New York Post. Those don't set the tone of the national conversation: the Times does. And by pushing false equivalencies, the Times finds itself in danger of setting the Russia investigation back in the public's mind as other news outlets like CNN refer to the Post's report as "good news" for Trump.
As Charles Pierce wrote in Esquire yesterday:
Uncle Ben said to Peter Parker, "with great power comes great responsibility," but as a friend of mine said to me, Ben should have added that with great power comes great humility. The Times is not great about issuing apologies when they are caught in lies - Judith Miller still has yet to fully atone for her lies about Saddam Hussein's supposed WMDs - but this can and should be a moment for them to think on what they have done and issue a formal apology not just to Marc Elias, and not just to the Clintons, but to their readers. In a time as fraught as this, we need great journalism to remind us what's right and wrong, and the Times can lead the way. Otherwise, they will continue to lose customers like these, who are as sick of its lies as I am: