On Friday, while President Trump celebrated yet another historic diplomatic achievement, with Serbia and Kosovo committing to economic normalization with each other and advancing their relationships with Israel, the press instead focused on a hit piece The Atlantic ran based on unnamed sources.
Editor-in-Chief Jeffrey Goldberg opened his Thursday “exclusive,” by proclaiming that “when President Donald Trump canceled a visit to the Aisne-Marne American Cemetery near Paris in 2018, he blamed rain for the last-minute decision, saying that ‘the helicopter couldn’t fly’ and that the Secret Service wouldn’t drive him there. Neither claim was true.”
Rather, Goldberg claimed, according to “four people with firsthand knowledge of the discussion that day,” “Trump rejected the idea of the visit because he feared his hair would become disheveled in the rain, and because he did not believe it important to honor American war dead.” The article continued with offensive quotes about our troops the unnamed sources attributed to Trump.
Soon after the article hit, named sources with undisputed firsthand knowledge of the visit cancelation refuted the charges. Former White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, calling the story “BS,” countered, “I was actually there and one of the people part of the discussion—this never happened.” Outspoken Trump critic John Bolton told Bloomberg he hadn’t heard the president say any of those things.
The Atlantic’s story also conflicted with Bolton’s recounting of what he called in his anti-Trump book a “straightforward decision to cancel the visit.” In it, he also confirmed that the “Marine One’s crew was saying that bad visibility could make it imprudent to chopper to the cemetery.” Likewise, Bolton’s memoir restated the rationale for not taking a motorcade, noting it posed “an unacceptable risk.” And then there were the government documents obtained in open-records requests that eviscerated The Atlantic’s tale.
As The Atlantic’s story crumbled, the Associated Press and Fox News claimed corroboration or confirmation of the story. However, as Glenn Greenwald at The Intercept explained in his must-read piece, “Journalism’s New Propaganda Tool: Using ‘Confirmed’ to Mean its Opposite”:
But if one looks at what [the AP and Fox News] actually did, at what this ‘confirmation’ consists of, it is the opposite of what that word would mean, or should mean, in any minimally responsible sense. AP, for instance, merely claims that ‘a senior Defense Department official with firsthand knowledge of events and a senior U.S. Marine Corps officer who was told about Trump’s comments confirmed some of the remarks to The Associated Press,’ while Fox merely said ‘a former senior Trump administration official who was in France traveling with the president in November 2018 did confirm other details surrounding that trip.’
Not only was The Atlantic’s story not confirmed by the supposed corroboration of some of the details, there is no way you can confirm a story premised solely on anonymous sources: A journalist cannot possibly know if he is receiving confirmation of the facts by another source, or merely hearing the same lies from the same source who peddled the initial story.
Greenwald highlighted how that had happened when CNN falsely reported, based on anonymous sources, that “during the 2016 campaign, Donald Trump, Jr. had received a September 4 email with a secret encryption key that gave him advanced access to WikiLeaks’ servers containing the DNC emails which the group would subsequently release to the public ten days later.” MSNBC and CBS both “confirmed” CNN’s reporting, even though, as the outlets were later forced to admit, the email sent to Trump Jr., was actually dated Sept. 14, 2016—after the WikiLeaks release.
So how did two outlets “confirm” the Fake News CNN had run earlier in the day? “All that happened,” Greenwald explained, “was that the same sources which anonymously whispered these unverified, false claims to CNN then went and repeated the same unverified, false claims to other outlets, which then claimed that they ‘independently confirmed’ the story even though they had done nothing of the sort.”
Revisiting the many hit pieces launched at Trump since he first entered the political sphere reveals the same technique in play, especially with SpyGate. The Atlantic’s latest contribution to the Fake News franchise struck a familiar chord, but not just one played in the press. Rather, the incident seemed eerily similar to the Crossfire Hurricane team’s use of anonymous press stories as supposed confirmation of the anonymously sourced Christopher Steele dossier in the four Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) applications targeting Carter Page.
In seeking the FISA surveillance orders on Page, the DOJ and FBI relied heavily on the dossier that was compiled by former British MI6 operative Steele. Steele, in turn, purportedly relied on a network of unnamed sources and sub-source. Then the FBI in the FISA applications portrayed Steele’s “intel” as confirmed by media reporting.
For instance, the FISA applications included this lengthy passage that sought to imply confirmation of the Steele dossier:
On or about September 23, 2016, an identified news organization published an article, (September 23rd News Article), which was written by the news organization’s Chief Investigative Correspondent, alleging that U.S. intelligence officials are investigating Page with respect to suspected efforts by the Russian Government to influence the U.S. Presidential election. According to the September 23rd News Article, U.S. officials received intelligence reports that when Page was in Moscow in July 2016 to deliver the above-noted commencement address at the New Economic School, he met with two senior Russian officials. The September 23rd News Article stated that a ‘well-placed Western intelligence source’ told the news organization that Page met with Igor Sechin, a longtime Putin associate and former Russian deputy minister who is now the executive chairman of Rosneft. At their alleged meeting, Sechin raised the issue of the lifting of sanctions with Page. According to the September 23 News Article, the Western intelligence source also reported that U.S. intelligence agencies received reports that Page met with another top Putin aide-Igor Divyekin, a former Russian security official who now serves as deputy chief for internal policy and is believed by U.S. officials to have responsibility for intelligence collected by Russian agencies about the U.S. election.
Of course, we now know that the “September 23 News Article” was the Yahoo news article, and that the “well-placed Western intelligence source” was Steele. Thus what the FBI presented to the FISA court as confirmation of Steele’s reporting was nothing of the sort. It was merely an echo chamber.
The FBI repeated this deceptive strategy two additional times in the Page FISA applications, relying on Josh Rogin’s Washington Post opinion piece and Michael Crowley’s Politico article to together imply confirmation of Page’s status as a Russian agent. The FISA applications used those articles to paint Page as a Putin patsy who bore responsibility for the Republican National Committee’s supposed watering down of the party platform’s position on Ukraine.
However, Page had nothing to do with the RNC’s platform changes concerning Ukraine. Yet the FBI used the press-peddled speculation as evidence in the FISA applications. That “evidence” suggested to the FISA court that there was confirmation of Steele’s reporting that Page had struck a deal with Putin associates to accept a stake in Rosneft in exchange for lifted Ukrainian sanctions. There was no such confirmation, however, because there was no such deal.
It is bad enough that the press uses faux “confirmations” to push propaganda to serve its political purposes. But it is beyond the pale that the Crossfire Hurricane team used the same technique to obtain court-ordered surveillance of Page (and in turn the Trump campaign) and that the FISA court fell for this hoax.
Don’t expect the corporate media that perfected this means of propaganda to report on the government’s use of this technique in the Page FISA applications. It won’t. But since the public no longer needs the legacy media to learn the truth, the press’ self-imposed silence will do nothing but reinforce their reputation as purveyors of Fake News.