Matt Taibbi has a sobering conclusion at the close of the Mueller Investigation

Matt Taibbi has a sobering conclusion at the close of the Mueller Investigation
Image via MSNBC

by Ezekiel in Exile 


Matt Taibbi has a sobering take today on the conclusion of the Mueller investigation:

Nothing Trump is accused of from now on by the press will be believed by huge chunks of the population, a group that (perhaps thanks to this story) is now larger than his original base. As Baker notes, a full 50.3% of respondents in a poll conducted this month said they agree with Trump the Mueller probe is a “witch hunt.”

There is a price to be paid by both Democrats and nearly all the MSM for pushing such a sensational story (The President is owned by a foreign country!) without real evidence.  Now that Mueller has included his investigation and still failed to indict a single individual on the basis of Trump-Russian collusion, everyone will pay a huge price in credibility with the public, especially with America’s largest political “party:” independents.

There was never real gray area here. Either Trump is a compromised foreign agent, or he isn’t. If he isn’t, news outlets once again swallowed a massive disinformation campaign, only this error is many orders of magnitude more stupid than any in the recent past, WMD included. Honest reporters like ABC’s Terry Moran understand: Mueller coming back empty-handed on collusion means a “reckoning for the media.”

Taibbi includes a helpful synopsis of the Russiagate timeline:

By June and July of 2016, bits of the dossier compiled by former British spy Christopher Steele, which had been funded by the Democratic National Committeethrough the law firm Perkins Coie (which in turn hired the opposition research firm Fusion GPS), were already in the ether.

The Steele report occupies the same role in #Russiagate the tales spun by Ahmed Chalabi occupied in the WMD screwup. Once again, a narrative became turbo-charged when Officials With Motives pulled the press corps by its nose to a swamp of unconfirmable private assertions.

The opposition “research” that Clinton bought then needed a “hook” to be leaked for public consumption:

Comey was right. We couldn’t have reported this story without a “hook.” Therefore the reports surrounding Steele technically weren’t about the allegations themselves, but rather the journey of those allegations, from one set of official hands to another. Handing the report to Trump created a perfect pretext.

This trick has been used before, both in Washington and on Wall Street, to publicize unconfirmed private research. A short seller might hire a consulting firm to prepare a report on a company he or she has bet against. When the report is completed, the investor then tries to get the SEC or the FBI to take possession. If they do, news leaks the company is “under investigation,” the stock dives, and everyone wins.

Taibbi points out how ridiculous was the assertions about compromat being a unique problem of Trump:

Steele wrote of Russians having a file of “compromising information” on Hillary Clinton, only this file supposedly lacked “details/evidence of unorthodox or embarrassing behavior” or “embarrassing conduct.”

We were meant to believe the Russians, across decades of dirt-digging, had an emptykompromat file on Hillary Clinton, to say nothing of human tabloid headline Bill Clinton? This point was made more than once in the reports, as if being emphasized for the reading public.

Taibbi doesn’t leave out criticism of politicians who have pushed Russiagate  relentlessly:

But here was Schiff, telling the world Trump aide Carter Page had been offered huge fees on a 19% stake in Rosneft – a company with a $63 billion market capitalization – in a secret meeting with a Russian oligarch who was also said to be “a KGB agent and close friend of Putin’s.”

(Schiff meant “FSB agent.” The inability of #Russiagaters to remember Russia is not the Soviet Union became increasingly maddening over time. Donna Brazile still hasn’t deleted her tweet about how “The Communists are now dictating the terms of the debate.” )

Schiff’s speech raised questions. Do we no longer have to worry about getting accusations right if the subject is tied to Russiagate? What if Page hadn’t done any of these things? To date, he hasn’t been charged with anything. Shouldn’t a member of congress worry about this?

Taibbi also addresses a common accusation made at DK about “right-wing sources” for news reporting problems with the Russiagate narrative:

When Michael Cohen testified before congress and denied under oath ever being in Prague, it was the same. Few commercial news outlets bothered to take note of the implications this had for their previous reports. Would a man clinging to a plea deal lie to congress on national television about this issue?

There was a CNN story, but the rest of the coverage was all in conservative outlets – the National Review, Fox, The Daily Caller. The Washington Post’s response was to run an editorial sneering at “How conservative media downplayed Michael Cohen’s testimony.”

Finally, Taibbi returns to the conduct of the press and the implications for press credibility in the future, especially when it comes to Trump:

This has been a consistent pattern throughout #Russiagate. Step one: salacious headline. Step two, days or weeks later: news emerges the story is shakier than first believed. Step three (in the best case) involves the story being walked back or retracted by the same publication.

That’s been rare. More often, when explosive #Russiagate headlines go sideways, the original outlets simply ignore the new development, leaving the “retraction” process to conservative outlets that don’t reach the original audiences.

This is a major structural flaw of the new fully-divided media landscape in which Republican media covers Democratic corruption and Democratic media covers Republican corruption. If neither “side” feels the need to disclose its own errors and inconsistencies, mistakes accumulate quickly.

The Rolling Stone includes a story about David Corn, the reporter who wrote one of the first pieces on Russiagate and has ridden the story hard ever since:

I knew David a little and had been friendly with him. He once hosted a book event for me in Washington. In the program, however, the subject of getting facts right came up and Corn said this was not a time for reporters to be picking nits:

So Democrats getting overeager, overenthusiastic, stating things that may not be [unintelligible] true…? Well, tell me a political issue where that doesn’t happen. I think that’s looking at the wrong end of the telescope.

I wrote him later and suggested that since we’re in the press, and not really about anything except avoiding “things that may not be true,” maybe we had different responsibilities than “Democrats”? He wrote back:

Feel free to police the Trump opposition. But on the list of shit that needs to be covered these days, that's just not high on my personal list.

For Corn, it wasn’t truth or facts that matters, but getting Trump.  That approach to journalism will always end up betraying both the truth and the readers.

Taibbi is one a last real reporters out there.  He was not a Russiagate skeptic early on, though he urged caution and suggested a focus on facts rather than speculation.  With the conclusion of the Mueller investigation, he has provided us with a thorough discussion of the history of Russiagate and its players along with some trenchant observations about the further erosion of credibility for the MSM and politicians.

The piece is definitely long form, but if you’re someone whose assumptions and trust have been challenged by the Mueller investigation misfire, Taibbi’s piece is a good place to start to gain another, non-Fox News view of what has been happening the last two years.

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