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This Trump/Russia/Kompromat story is coming apart pretty quickly
In Soviet Russia, fake news report you.
Before we deal with anything else, let's just say this: If you don't know what a golden shower is, try Urban Dictionary. We don't want to talk about it, especially since it almost certainly never happened. Then again, from the the way the story arc is developing here, maybe none of the rest of it did either.
The BuzzFeed decision to publish the entire memo without being able to verify any of it was reckless and irresponsible (it appears Ben Smith learned well during his days at the Worst Web Site in the World), but it may be having the unintended effect of revealing just how vaporous this whole supposed business is.
To start with, much of the collaboration-with-the-Russians thing rises or falls on the idea that Trump honcho Michael Cohen was in Prague meeting with the dark collaborators. Once Cohen came out with his passport to prove he had never been to Prague in his life, what was left of that detail?
Yeah, just as we thought:
Government source confirms different Michael Cohen was in Prague https://t.co/B4cwmL1Ek3— Jake Tapper (@jaketapper) January 11, 2017
So if that's already been exposed as garbage, why are we supposed to take the more salacious stuff seriously? Even Tom Brokaw doesn't, although not for lack of trying:
BROKAW: All right. Well, this has been around for a while. I first heard about it four months ago.
BROKAW: And it had a fair amount of detail and we’ve been chasing it and a lot of other news agencies have been as well. Never been able to close the book on it.
BROKAW: We did take it, Richard Engel and I have been working on it. We did take it at one point to a very senior American Intel official. He said I have no idea that there’s something like this going on. It’s not even been reportable because we don’t have the verification–
BROKAW: –of the various charges that are there. So it’s been around. And a number of organizations have been looking at it for some time. I was surprised when it showed up in this form. It got to the Intel Agencies and they included it in a report to the president without any kind of conclusion about the veracity of it. So I think from the Trump organization point of view that they’ve got a legitimate claim here.
Much of Buzzfeed's defense of itself for publishing the memo is the very same line of reason that argues against taking it seriously. Buzzfeed says official Washington has been hearing about this for months, and that the American people should be able to decide for themselves what they believe. OK. Let's think about that. If this has been out there for months, it means the Trump-hating media all knew about it. It means the Hillary campaign knew about it. At one point, not long after the Access Hollywood tape surfaced, we heard that worse things would be coming - things from which Trump could not possibly recover.
They did not come. Why? You know sure as hell the Hillary campaign would have been all over this if they'd thought there was any chance they could make it stick. Yet even they didn't use it? Even the Trump-hating New York Times and Washington Post didn't run with it? Why not? The only possible reason is that they weren't confident the information was true.
And remember, these are organizations whose bar to clear is pretty low where truth is concerned. The Post continues to this day peddling the nonsense that Trump mocked a reporter's disability, even though that slander has been thoroughly discredited. These are not people who are afraid to lie if it suits their agenda. But they weren't willing to jump on this particular lie, because it's so easily discredited.
I realize we run the risk here of having to backtrack if some of this turns out to be true. And yes, if it's true even to a partial degree, it's very serious. Possibly impeachment-level serious. But we already know Michael Cohen wasn't in Prague, so if these mercenary oppo researchers could get that much wrong, how much else in this entirely unverified memo should anyone take seriously?
This reminds me of something.
If you remember the Clarence Thomas hearings, you'll recall that everything was going fine until a confidential FBI file was released, which included the details of Anita Hill's allegations. Those allegations then became the focus of the hearings from that point forward, with Thomas barely being confirmed on a 52-48 vote. Some people pointed out at the time that there is a reason FBI files are kept confidential and don't get released to the public. When the FBI does an investigation, it takes down everything people tell its agents, regardless of how credible or non-credible the information seems. Someone could make up a load of total nonsense, and the agent will still write it down. That doesn't mean the source is credible or that the FBI itself believes what it was told. It just means someone said it and they wrote it down.
When I'm doing reporting, I take down what everyone tells me too. I don't use it all, because some of it I don't consider credible. And some of it I flat-out know isn't true. But I write it down.
If you were to look at my notes, just as if you were to look at an FBI file, you'd see some pretty wild things. Some of it you'd find shocking. And it would give you a completely wrong impression because you're looking at unverified, unvetted innuendo. It's not intended for widespread distribution because much of it can't be trusted.
Whoever did this oppo research wrote down a lot of things, and didn't do a very good job verifying any of it. I often slam the news media, and deservedly so, but at least I'll give them this much: Any experienced reporter knows that you don't just run with anything anyone tells you, regardless of the credibility of the source of the likelihood of what they're telling you actually being true. A hired-gun oppo researcher might not care about those standards, at least not in preparing a memo to a client about what he's heard. Presumably the client has to exercise discretion about what to believe and what to publicly allege.
In this case, no one found the information credible enough to go on the record alleging it. But Buzzfeed got ahold of the raw data and published it anyway.
If any of it turns out to be true, we'll deal with it accordingly. But for now, it appears to be collapsing under the weight of its own implausibility. And when you look at how it was gathered in the first place, it's no surprise.
Dan's new novel, BACKSTOP, is a story of spiritual warfare and baseball. Download it from Amazon here!