Column: The Steele Dossier Boosters Lecture Fox News on Truth?

April 21st, 2023 5:50 AM

It’s a heady time for the badly disguised Democrats in the “objective media,” seeing Fox News settle a fake-news lawsuit with Dominion Voting Systems over wild and unproven claims of massing voting-machine fraud. But a new book excerpt from “BuzzFeed Ben” Smith should remind everyone that the same “Truth Matters” cheerleaders accepted wild and unproven claims about Donald Trump willy-nilly.

The Atlantic published Ben Smith's proclamation that “After All That, I Would Still Publish the Dossier.” This refers to his 2017 decision as the boss at BuzzFeed News to publish -- in its entirety -- the Steele Dossier, a burning rubbish pit of unproven gossip about Trump that was pushed by Hillary Clinton’s lawyers through the “opposition research” firm Fusion GPS.

Smith now admits this ended up in a media cluster....bungle. “The dossier’s overreaching allegation of an immense and perverse conspiracy would, [author Barry Meier] predicted, ‘ultimately benefit Donald Trump.’ Six years after publication, I accept that conclusion.”

So the biggest regret on the Left isn’t that it was false, but because it backfired and helped Trump. Smith says he did it in defense of the intelligence of the public, that they can figure this out. Isn’t that better than a circle of journalists keeping it secret until wild charges can be proven?

This assertion is easy to refute. Just put Hillary Clinton or Joe Biden in the blank slot. If Breitbart published an unproven packet of sleaze that Biden hired Russian hookers to urinate on someone’s bed, they would be denounced with the greatest vigor. Every “disinformation reporter” on the Left would be screaming that social-media giants should be crushing these allegations into internet dust.

In fact, you see an analogue in the Hunter Biden laptop, including hookers. The Fox-hating media all avoided any attempt to confirm it and merely screamed “disinformation.”

You can also pause to think of the Dominion lawsuit when Smith recounts how BuzzFeed avoided any punishment in the legal system. “We faced a difficult series of lawsuits, but we won them all, in part because we’d maintained our journalistic distance. We argued, successfully, that we were not making these claims ourselves; we were making the ‘fair report’ of what amounted to a government document.”

It “amounted to a government document” because Fusion GPS shopped it with the FBI. Smith recounts how that firm assembled a clique of reliable liberal sources – The New York Times, The New Yorker, ABC News, CNN – at the Tabard Inn in DC, where “Steele calmly shared his shocking suggestion that Trump had been compromised by the Russian government.”

In 2019, Robert Mueller’s report and then the Justice Department Inspector General’s report eviscerated Steele's gossip. Washington Post media critic Erik Wemple – who’s written many hard-charging critiques of Fox – devoted a pile of columns to revisiting the wreckage of the media’s dossier coverage.

When he went around asking the dossier’s most enthusiastic promoters for comment, MSNBC analyst Howard Fineman earnestly replied to Wemple: “For much of its public existence, the dossier got credibility from the very fact that the feds seemed to think it was a real road map. I came to accept it on that basis. I now regret citing the Steele [dossier] for any proposition.”

He was the exception. Wemple found a pile of refusals to comment, including Rachel Maddow, John Berman, Alisyn Camerota, Phil Mudd, Natasha Bertrand, and Jacob Weisberg. Manu Raju referred Wemple to CNN’s public relations department, which issued this statement: “CNN stands by our reporting.”

These are the people now fulminating that Fox didn’t have to make a public apology.