December 3, 2021
In 2018, The New York Times and the Washington Post were honored with the coveted Pulitzer Prize for 20 articles described as “deeply sourced, relentlessly reported coverage in the public interest that dramatically furthered the public’s understanding of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election and its connections to the Trump campaign, the President-elect’s transition team and his eventual administration.”
The award was for their coverage of Trump-Russia "collusion," based on Christopher Steele’s thoroughly discredited “dossier,” and now that the story has been exposed as a lie, these “news” outlets should have to give it back.
Here's OUR description of their work (are you listening, Pulitzer committee?): deeply flawed, badly sourced yet relentlessly reported fake news that defied the public interest by furthering the public’s misunderstanding, by lying about Russian "collusion" with the 2016 Trump presidential campaign, the President-elect’s transition team and his eventual administration.
Real journalist Aaron Mate at RealClearInvestigations has written a fabulous article on these publications’ completely inadequate attempts at “fixing” some of their mistakes/lies, offering detailed suggestions for how they really could correct what they wrote. It’s called “Five Trump-Russia ‘Collusion’ Corrections We Need From the Media Now –- Just For Starters.”
It’s been FIVE YEARS since BuzzFeed published the “dossier,” peddled by Michael Sussmann, now under indictment by Special Counsel John Durham for failing to tell the FBI that he was Hillary’s attorney when he gave them the story. Steele’s main source, Igor Danchenko, is charged with lying as well. Sara Fischer at Axios has called this reporting “one of the most egregious journalistic errors in modern history” and says the media’s response to its own fake reporting has been “tepid.” She points out that Axios did not publish the “dossier” or any original reporting based on its contents, as it was not verified. Thank you, Axios.
(Note: Also, in all these years, the Huckabee team has never had to retract or correct anything we’ve said about Trump and Russia.)
Fischer does give WAPO credit for allowing their media critic, Eric Wemple, to write about the mistakes they and other media outlets made in covering the Russia “collusion” story. In contrast, BuzzFeed still has the “dossier” posted, with a note added that “The allegations are unverified, and the report contains errors.” Nice of them to at least say that, five years later.
Ben Smith, BuzzFeed’s then-editor-in-chief, told Axios, “My view on the logic of publishing hasn’t changed.” He’s now a columnist for The New York Times.
Some outlets didn’t respond to Fischer’s calls about this. David Corn, in a comment to Wemple, revealed his continuing denial of reality: “My priority has been to deal with the much larger topic of Russia’s undisputed attack and Trump’s undisputed collaboration with Moscow’s cover-up.” What??
After the federal indictment of Danchenko, WAPO quietly re-edited a dozen stories related to Steele and the “dossier,” In a couple of cases –- stories written by Rosalind Helderman and Tom Hamberger –- this involved removal of entire sections, changing headlines, and adding lengthier editor’s notes. But, as the RealClearInvestigations article points out, the editors never explain how the mistakes happened or offer names of the anonymous sources who deceived “them and the public over months and years.”
Helderman and Hamberger are two of the dozen-plus reporters who now share the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction---I mean, for Reporting. Neither WAPO or the NYT has given any indication that they might return the award, even though, as Mate points out, “the Post’s and the Times’ reporting has the same problem as the Steele document that these same outlets are now distancing themselves from: a reliance on anonymous, deceptive, and almost certainly partisan sources for claims that proved to be false.” (Note: I’d remove the “almost” –- the sources were certainly partisan.)
It took seemingly forever for WAPO to address this at all, as the “dossier” has been discredited since April 2019, when Special Counsel Robert Mueller and his FBI team failed to verify any of its contents. That didn’t matter; most of the media still aggressively pushed the Trump-Russia narrative. Some, like David Corn, will never really give it up.
After BuzzFeed published the “dossier,” WAPO and the NYT were joined by other outlets in a media frenzy. Mate cites particularly outrageous stories that ran in the New Yorker (a “fawning” profile of Steele), McClatchy (Mueller had "evidence" Trump attorney Michael Cohen had been to Prague), and The Guardian (Paul Manafort met with Julian Assange in London’s Ecuadorian embassy). BuzzFeed stayed in the act, too, with a false story that Trump had instructed Cohen to lie to Congress. All fake, fake, fake.
To add juice to the argument that WAPO and the NYT should return their Pulitzer, Mate documents five specific stories “containing false or misleading claims, and thereby due for retraction or correction, that were either among the Post and Times’ winning entries, or other work of reporters who shared that prize.” These outright falsehoods can be shown to be wrong with information that has “long been in the public domain,” he says.
FALSEHOOD #1: Michael Flynn discussed sanctions with Russia and lied about it. We’ve covered the real story in detail here, throughout Flynn’s long ordeal of personal destruction. WAPO did not tell the truth in February of 2017 when they added their own spin and plenty of mind-reading to their report on Flynn’s phone call with Russian ambassador Sergei Kislyak. Both WAPO and the NYT continued the deception in articles from May of 2020 about the transcripts.
FALSEHOOD #2: Trump officials had repeated contacts with Russian officials. This fake story, written by three members of the NYT Pulitzer-winning team, came out the day after Flynn resigned as national security adviser in February of 2017. Debunked.
FALSEHOOD #3: George Papadopoulos’ “night of heavy drinking” with Australian envoy Alexander Downer in which he supposedly said the Russians had “dirt” on Hillary. This fake story was reported in December of 2017, a couple of months after it was revealed that Marc Elias of the Clinton-funded law firm Perkins Coie paid for the “dossier.” (Yes, this was uncovered that soon, by House Republicans led by Devin Nunes.) Their characterization of this conversation turned out to be false, as documented by declassified FBI recordings.
FALSEHOOD #4: Russia’s “sweeping interference campaign” posed a national security threat. Read the details in Mate’s article and you will see this story was a complete crock. To be fair, Mueller sensationalized this, too, as the body of his report fails miserably to live up to the headline.
FALSEHOOD #5: The DOJ never fully examined Trump’s ties to Russia. Reporters tried to “explain” why Mueller hadn’t found anything on Trump by saying Attorney General Barr and deputy AG Rod Rosenstein had handcuffed him. More fakeness. Even Peter Strzok later contradicted this.
Caution: reading through Mate’s article will raise your blood pressure, with example after example of this steaming load of Pulitzer-winning “journalism.” This utter waste of the public’s and the government’s time was created out of essentially nothing to damage Trump and his presidency as much as possible. It was all made up.
So, New York Times and Washington Post: GIVE THE PULITZER BACK NOW.