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A Pair of Colossal Media Failures

Two bombshells in a week will fail to sober a media deranged by reflexive, partisan hatred

By Ken Kurson, February 6, 2023 10:12 am

Outside the Justice Department after the Mueller Report is released to Congress, April 18, 2019. (Photo: Victoria Pickering)

This week has produced two of the most stunning, wide-ranging and humiliating revelations in the history of American media.

Bombshell No. 1. Hunter Biden has acknowledged that the laptop is his. The laptop denied by the entirety of the mainstream media. The laptop about which accurate reporting by the New York Post got the country’s oldest newspaper kicked off of Twitter during a hotly contested election. The laptop that was alleged by 51 National Security experts to have “all the classic earmarks of a Russian information operation.”

Bombshell No. 2. Former New York Times investigative reporter Jeff Gerth has completed his massive four-part review of how and why the mainstream media spent two years obsessively focused on a RussiaGate story that turned out not to be true. In a comprehensive, 24,000 word analysis —he begins by wondering why the New York Times itself didn’t do any public introspection as it had when it publicly filleted itself for credulous coverage leading up to the Iraq War — Gerth concludes … it was all bullshit.

The fact that neither bombshell has produced the nonstop, industry-wide soul-searching and self-flagellation that they should have speaks to the lack of integrity of the majority of mainstream media rather than the explosive power of the revelation themselves.

To my knowledge, not a single reporter who spent two years on Russia Russia Russia has apologized for the error. Not a single one of the 60 intelligence experts has retracted his or her signature. Politico never retracted its headline “Hunter Biden story is Russian disinfo, dozens of former intel officials say” even though what they actually said was that it might be (which itself turned out to be false).

None has apologized for not only breaching their duty to remain non-partisan, which would be bad enough had the material is true, but so much worse for having done so when the “Russian disinformation” charge turned out to be a lie.

This should not be a surprise. After all, they didn’t apologize when the Washington Post finally acknowledged the authenticity of the laptop in March 2022. That’s only 18 months after chief WaPo fact guy Glenn Kessler cast doubt on it with his October  2020 column headlined “Hunter Biden’s alleged laptop.” They didn’t apologize when the New York Times finally acknowledged the authenticity of the laptop in March 2022. That’s only 18 months after Adam Goldman cast doubt on it with an October  2020 column that contained a paragraph that would have been right at home as a DNC bullet point: “The laptop prompted concerns about Russian disinformation because the intelligence community has warned for months about Russian attempts to influence the election, including by spreading disinformation about the Biden family.”

If the 51 experts (plus nine who declined to be named in the letter) and countless Russia-obsessed journalists didn’t apologize when the twin pillars of lefty mainstream intellectual thought finally admitted the truth, why should they now that Hunter himself—via the mind-boggling strategy of his own lawyer demanding that his father’s Justice department investigate his tormentors—has acknowledged the veracity of the laptop.

But the fact that the purveyors of the two big stories of the last two elections — Russiagate in ‘16 and the laptop in ’20–lack the integrity to question their own motives and tactics doesn’t diminish the explosiveness of these charges.

Watching these ordinarily careful and self-conscious reporters decline to acknowledge their mistakes has been a surreal experience. Reporters who have a duty to be skeptical of intelligence professionals were suddenly parroting the “Russian disinformation” line. Where Judith Miller had been cast out by her peers for her credulous pre-Iraq War reporting, media superstars like Rachel Maddow (who Greenwald dubbed “the Judith Miller of RussiaGate”) were rewarded night after night with big ratings and juicy contract renewals.

No one has covered this story with greater clarity or toughness than Miranda Devine. She has steadfastly refused to shut up about the harm that’s been done to America by journalists and experts colluding to prevent the harm that could come from letting voters elect who they wanted. Devine writes for the New York Post, which is disqualified by the elites despite having been vindicated by the facts and even by Jack Dorsey, who closed Twitter’s barn doors after the horse escaped by conceding that the company had made a “mistake” in censoring the story. The New York Post’s recent pivot into Never Trump land hasn’t yet restored the mainstream media’s willingness to let the venerable tabloid back into the club, but Devine’s voice on this matter has been unique. It’s not about getting Trump elected and never was. It’s about the obligation that journalists and security professionals have to tell the truth.

I asked Devine a simple question.

The Mueller Report. (Photo: Jon Viscott)

“I cannot find evidence,” I told her, “that even a single one of the signatories to the ‘laptop is Russian disinfo’ letter has apologized or even acknowledged their error. To your knowledge, have any of the 51 named signers (or 9 unnamed) retracted, walked back, or apologized for it? I was expecting quiet, late Friday night statements from at least a few, especially after the sainted Washington Post and New York Times confirmed the laptop last year. But now that Hunter himself has acknowledged its authenticity, is there a single instance of one of the 51 even saying ‘I think I’ll stay out of politics in the future’?”

Devine’s answer was chilling and stark.

“No, not one. And they won’t,” she told me.

“Doug Wise last month was asked about it by an Australian journalist I know during an interview. He said they ‘all’ knew the material ‘had to be real.’ But because Rudy had once met with a Ukrainian who was allegedly a Russian agent, that was their justification.”

Devine is referring to Douglas Wise, the former Defense Intelligence Agency deputy director who was one of the 51 signatories. In a brilliant bit of follow-up journalism, in March 2022, The New York Post asked Wise and all the others to account for discrediting the Hunter Biden story. Nearly all declined to comment and the few who responded did so with weasel words. None more so than James Clapper, the former director of national intelligence and CNN pundit who said, “I stand by the statement made AT THE TIME.” But after not responding last March, in January of this year Wise told The Australian, “All of us figured that a significant portion of that content had to be real to make any Russian disinformation credible.”

But before the laptop, there were years of Russia Russia Russia. Even after the Mueller Report — 500 witnesses, 2800 subpoenas, and two years of national obsession—officially declared Russian collusion a nothingburger, that “Russian disinformation” reflex proved irresistible. It set the stage for the laptop debacle.

Ben Smith, now the editor of Semafor, discusses the Gerth report and says, “I agree with two of its findings” and boils them down succinctly:

  • The media should have done more to “report facts that run counter to the prevailing narrative” of collusion between Donald Trump and the Russian government
  • The media overplayed the impact of the Russian government attempts to interfere with the elections via Twitter and Facebook.

Smith conceding that he “agrees” with these findings is the closest I have found to any journalist apologizing for having supported the two-year Russiagate hoax. Before he founded Semafor, Smith was the media critic of the New York Times, and before that the editor in chief of Buzzfeed, and therefore the person who decided to publish the discredited Steele dossier, which even Bob Woodward claims to have cautioned against. Smith played a minor role in my own weird brush with Russia hysteria, which I’ve detailed before.

To be fair, Smith also mentions that the Gerth report fails to credit properly the parts of 2016 campaign that really were coups for Russian interference, such as its successful phishing of Clinton chairman John Podesta’s email account. That had nothing to do with Trump and almost certainly didn’t cost Clinton the election, but Smith is right that it was the kind of distraction that consumes a campaign and makes it paranoid.

Representative Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-Ill), being questioned by reporters after the release of The Mueller Report, April 18, 2019 (Photo: Victoria Pickering).

I applaud Columbia Journalism Review for devoting real time and space to this brutal “how could this have happened” post-mortem. They devoted a year and a half to it and Gerth is said to have interviewed “dozens of people at the center of the story—editors and reporters, Trump himself, and others in his orbit.” In an odd piece of trivia, the CJR’s editor, Kyle Pope, is like me a former editor of the New York Observer, and thus a former employee of Jared Kushner, which I mention as both disclosure but also to be forthright about perspective.

After 30 years as a professional journalist and one who’s seen more than his share of ridiculousness (and no doubt is guilty of plenty of his own), it still makes me crazy that none of these experts — and none of the journalists who relied upon them — will own up to their mistake.

I asked Devine why that is. Her answer is brilliant and printed below in full.

“I have pondered this a lot the last two years,” she told me. “All I can think is that they genuinely believed Trump was an existential threat – to their former agencies, to their ability to grift in the swamp, to the endless war machine, to the standing of the United States, to the established order in DC. They are so self-involved they see these things as a threat to the United States, so they grabbed hold of any possible link between Trump and a foreign adversary – and Hillary Clinton provided it with her BS Russia hoax. It was too good to pass up and ‘where there’s smoke there’s fire,’ so they willingly entered into a mass delusion. This allowed them to launder their visceral hatred of Trump (and the rubes who support him) into a patriotic quest to save the country by ensuring he did not win another election. January 6 would have justified their decision in their minds, which is one reason why they have kept quiet and why DC played it up. In their own minds, they still are heroes. They saved America from Trump.”

That’s precisely right.

I think of it as the “killing the angry Austrian painter syndrome.” The 51 experts and the countless journalists now know they were wrong — and as Devine and other brave reporters have now proven, many knew or suspected they were wrong in October 2020. But if they had a chance to kill Hitler at 25, before he’d ruined the world, they’d have been right to do so. Therefore, they are justified in taking down Trump by whatever means necessary.

I am not interested in debating their political opinions. But the harm it’s done to the world’s ability to trust journalism is immeasurable.

I mentioned this four years ago. After the Mueller Report decided there had been no collusion, I wrote about “How RussiaGate turned my fellow journalists into hypnotized, suggestible lunatics.” I detailed my own personal experiences with formerly thoughtful journalists becoming deranged by Trump’s existence and gave three personal examples.

In that piece, from March 2019, I fretted that, “We have learned almost nothing from the experience, exactly as we did from the Lewinsky episode and the uncritical reporting on WMDs.” And that was before the laptop.

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5 thoughts on “A Pair of Colossal Media Failures

  1. Are Mr. Kurson’s fellow journalists hypnotized and suggestible lunatics…or maybe most of them are treasonous quislings who sold their souls to the deep-state Democrat and RINO globalist cabal?

  2. “Journalists” these days are paid liars. They know what they are doing. Incompetence is their only defense yet it is funny how they never resign.

  3. Very troubling, the media should take this very seriously. The main stream media should absolutely be held responsible for promoting out and out lies. All the while crying dis information… This is very dangerous and should not be tolerated.

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