Attorney General William Barr’s summary of the Robert Mueller special counsel investigation findings confirmed not only the conclusions of congressional committees in the House and the Senate, but the work of left-wing and conservative writers and freelance internet sleuths.
Nonprofessionals and nonexperts unraveled the treasonous Trump-Russia collusion narrative months before their media competitors (not to mention investigators) did, in spite of their comparative lack of inside knowledge and resources. How did the doyens of media fail so spectacularly for two years on the matter of Trump-Russia collusion, while anti-establishment opinion journalists and media neophytes succeeded?
One answer: The mainstream media was never seeking the truth, while its skeptics were. Were the mainstream media honest, it would admit it graded itself not on journalistic accuracy, but on the amount of damage it inflicted on President Donald Trump—while generating ratings, and thus increasing market share in a tough environment.
If the credentialed media were to judge itself primarily by political and pecuniary gain, rather than the veracity of its reportage, it would only make sense then that mea culpas would not be forthcoming. Why engage in introspection, show contrition, or undertake a post-mortem to explain why you got the story so spectacularly wrong, if your desired end was never to get it right?
Russiagate looks much like the media’s last Earth-shattering failure: The 2016 presidential election. Only it is worse. Much worse. In this case, the media was so integral to foisting this fraud on the public, invested in its creation and propagation, that it now cannot even feign a desire to hold itself accountable.
Since Election Day 2016, the Trump-hating political establishment and Trump-hating media establishment have been in a symbiotic relationship to achieve their desired end of destroying Trump. Their shared hatred of the man is indisputable. But the idea of them colluding in this information operation to maximum political and legal effect is altogether more disturbing.
This is particularly ironic because in the past, of all government institutions, the media has held the intelligence agencies in contempt and with great distrust. But not today. In the case of Russiagate, the supposedly adversarial media dutifully and unquestioningly took the most outlandish leaks, spoon-fed by intelligence agencies, to frame the Trump-Russia narrative.
In one of the more brazen gambits, government officials selectively leaked nuggets to reporters incorporated into their public writings, that were then inserted as evidence to Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act warrants used to spy on American citizens. The idea was to pad the evidence for spying on an opposing campaign, under accusation of the incredibly serious charge of serving as an agent of a foreign power, by taking hearsay framed as a legitimate intelligence product, leaking the hearsay, and using the reporting on the leaked hearsay as if it were supporting documentation.
That circularity illustrates the nature of the relationship between government officials executing an information operation, and a media that willingly participated in it. Sure, there were useful idiots and dupes, but those who knew better had to be true believers in the cause.
To use the same parlance Trump’s accusers used, media officials were unindicted co-conspirators in a conspiracy with members of the government to kill a presidency by propagating a narrative—based in large part on third-hand propaganda from sketchy Russian sources, conveyed via a foreign agent, paid through the dubious Fusion GPS by Hillary Clinton and the Democratic National Committee—to start investigations that would culminate in the president’s fall.
Once the die was cast, and the scurrilous investigations began, there could be no good faith fact-finding, dispassion, or attempt at objectivity in the media. Hence one outrageous “bombshell” after another being shown to be a dud. The media never sought truth. Its audiences never sought truth.
For its work, the media was rewarded. It received Pulitzers for unquestionably propagating the political establishment narrative, based on the political establishment’s selected leaks. Again, ratings went up. Meanwhile, those in government working to undermine the president leveraged the media towards their shared desire to execute a bloodless coup.
On the merits, Russiagate should be, as Tablet’s Lee Smith calls it, “an extinction level event.” At the very least, for their own well-being, collusion-mongers should accept the advice Federalist colleague Mollie Hemingway proffers to “understand…it’s over.”
But absent a mass exodus of Trump Derangement Syndrome-addled viewers, I believe there will be no mainstream media demise, nor acceptance of the damning reality. While such a disaster should doom many prominent media outlets, again it has gotten results. Trump-Russia did not lead to the president being thrown from office. But it did almost incalculable damage to his presidency. The perhaps unintended collateral damage to our republic, however, is almost unfathomable.
Consider some of the results of Russiagate, for which the media played an essential part as a colluder, both narrow and wide.
Russigate put Trump’s presidency under a cloud of suspicion for more than half of his days in office so far, paralyzing his agenda in part through forcing the administration to expend valuable time, resources, and political capital on the phony Russia issue. Such efforts also delegitimized the election and undermined the president’s office.
Russiagate led to a practically limitless Mueller special counsel, seemingly against Justice Department rules and regulations, on the dubious basis of and in retaliation for the firing by the president of a subordinate—and at core on the basis of a counterintelligence investigation hinging on salacious and unverified agitprop—that not only destroyed lives, but upended the lives of dozens and dozens of witnesses, costing them collectively millions and millions of dollars, in the process undermining the legitimacy of our justice system.
Russiagate created the appearance of serving as de facto political score-settling, further undermining the legitimacy of our justice system. By comparison to the Hillary emails investigation, the Trump-Russia investigations cemented the ideas that we have a double standard of justice in America, further undermining the legitimacy of our justice system.
Russiagate destroyed the lives of several Americans for process crimes that would never have existed had the special counsel never been ordered, charges that authorities had refused to pursue previously or infractions for which few were ever convicted. None of the convictions had anything to do with the stated Russia-centric purpose of the special counsel.
The scalps of Michael Flynn, Paul Manafort, and Roger Stone represent the criminalization of dissent against the political establishment by their proximity to President Trump. This chilling effect cannot be underestimated.
Russiagate did perhaps irrevocable damage to critical institutions meant to serve vital national security and law enforcement functions, thanks to the actions of hyper-politicized officials at the highest levels of said institutions.
Last but not least, Russiagate sowed mass discord within our political system, tearing our country apart at the seams. This was on the basis again of salacious and unverified hearsay from Russians that never needed to be injected into the American body politic.
In short, as I argued 13 months before Mueller completed his report, the collusion-mongers did more damage to the country than any indicted Russians or Russian President Vladimir Putin themselves could have ever hoped to achieve.
While there is little to indicate that there will be a great reckoning in the media, there must be justice for the public officials who committed crimes in the process of so deeply damaging not just a presidency, but the country.