We’re Naming And Shaming The Absolutely Worst Reporters On The Russian Collusion Conspiracy Theory

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Amber Athey Podcast Columnist
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Attorney General Bill Barr revealed this weekend that special counsel Robert Mueller did not find that the Trump campaign colluded with the Russian government, dealing a hefty blow to a large swath of the media.

Perhaps most damaged were the individual anchors and reporters who bet their careers on proving that President Donald Trump conspired with a foreign power to steal an election. These journalists authored fake stories, gave breathless coverage to the alleged scandal and ultimately misled the public.

We’ve compiled a list of some of the worst offenders.

Rachel Maddow (MSNBC)

MSNBC host Rachel Maddow has been one of the most prominent voices on the Russian conspiracy, spending more time on the collusion narrative than any other issue, according to The Intercept.

Between Feb. 20 and March 31, 2017, Russia coverage accounted for 53 percent of Maddow’s broadcasts.

Maddow was so devastated by the news that Mueller wasn’t indicting the president or his family last Friday that she was holding back tears during her opening monologue. Maddow’s viewers were apparently unhappy as well — she dropped half-a-million viewers the week after the Mueller report dropped.

Manu Raju / Jeremy Herb (CNN)

Raju and Herb were responsible for a fake news story at CNN claiming that Donald Trump Jr. had advance access to stolen Democratic documents and emails from WikiLeaks. According to the duo’s reporting, Trump Jr. received an email with an encryption key for the documents on Sep. 4, 2016.

As other outlets later clarified, Trump Jr. received the email on Sep. 14, one day after WikiLeaks had already released the documents publicly.

These two reporters were also behind another CNN story that required a major update, regarding former Trump attorney Michael Cohen’s 2017 testimony to Congress and alleged edits made by Trump’s legal team. (RELATED: CNN Adds Major Update To Michael Cohen Story)

Carl Bernstein / Jim Sciutto (CNN) 

Bernstein and Sciutto reported in August 2018 that Michael Cohen was prepared to tell Congress that Trump knew about his son meeting with Russians in Trump Tower before the meeting occurred.

The story flew in the face of Cohen’s prior testimony that he did not know about the meeting in advance. Cohen’s attorney at the time, Lanny Davis, later said that he was a source for CNN’s story and made a mistake by claiming Cohen had any information regarding the Trump Tower meeting.

CNN has refused to retract the story.

Natasha Bertrand (The Atlantic) 

Bertrand authored a story in February 2018 that made a big to-do about Roger Stone’s “secret messages” with WikiLeaks, suggesting that Stone was an intermediary between WikiLeaks and the Trump campaign.

The full communications between Stone and WikiLeaks, which occurred over Twitter DM, are relatively innocuous and show WikiLeaks chastising Stone for public perception that they had a relationship with one another. Stone was never charged for allegedly lying about his communications with WikiLeaks.  (EXCLUSIVE: Roger Stone’s Full WikiLeaks Conversation)

“The content of the exchange with WikiLeaks shows neither any claim by me to have any information beyond what Assange himself had said publicly and reiterates the statement by WikiLeaks that I had not communicated with them prior to the release of the DNC emails that were both accurate and so damaging to Hillary,” Stone told The Daily Caller.

Ken Dilanian (NBC News)

Dilanian claimed in an August 2017 report that former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort’s notes during the infamous Trump Tower meeting referenced political “donations” to the Republican National Committee (RNC).

A spokesperson for former Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley disputed the report, and Dilanian’s sourcing quickly fell apart. One source said they actually saw the word “donor” instead of “donation,” and the other source would only offer that he saw a vague reference to political contributions.

“It is 100 percent false … Mr. Manafort provided the Senate Intelligence Committee with the facts and his notes so this speculation and conjecture is pointless and wrong,” a spokesperson for Manafort told NBC News.

Dilanian also “independently confirmed” CNN’s bunk story claiming Trump Jr. had advance access to WikiLeaks documents.

Chris Hayes (MSNBC) 

MSNBC host Chris Hayes told late-night comedian Stephen Colbert in March 2018 that the simplest explanation for the behavior of Trump and the people around him is that they’re all “super guilty” of collusion.

“Why is everyone lying to investigators? Why is everyone making stuff up? Why are people acting super guilty? They’re acting super guilty because they’re guilty,” Hayes offered.

Hayes also floated impeachment in January 2019 over a Mueller-disputed BuzzFeed News report that claimed Trump directed Michael Cohen to lie to Congress about potential business deals in Moscow.

Luke Harding (The Guardian) 

Harding published a questionable report in November claiming that former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort met secretly with WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange during the 2016 presidential campaign.

The report was partially sourced by an Ecuadorian journalist who has a history of faking documents, and both Assange and Manafort have vehemently denied the story. (RELATED: Alleged Fabricator Contributed To The Guardian’s Assange, Manafort Report)

The Intercept’s Glenn Greenwald also spotted red flags in the report, noting that there is not a whiff of physical evidence that Manafort visited the Ecuadorian Embassy to see Assange and that the sourcing on the story seems quite thin.

Harding is also the best-selling author of the book “Collusion,” an accomplishment cloaked in irony now that Mueller has found none.

Franklin Foer (Slate)

Foer, who now writes for The Atlantic, wrote an explosive piece for Slate shortly before the 2016 election that grappled with the idea that a server from the Trump campaign was linked to a Russian bank. After Hillary Clinton tweeted about the tenuous connection, other news outlets began picking apart Foer’s reporting.

The Washington Post noted that the connection between the servers could be because of spam emails or random internet bugs. The New York Times, who had also been looking into the servers, said that the FBI investigated the issue for weeks and could find nothing beyond innocuous explanations for the issue.

Foer acknowledged the issues with his original report in a follow-up piece in The Atlantic, admitting, “Nearly two years have passed since the publication of that piece — and there’s rarely a week when I don’t think about it.”

Michael Isikoff (Yahoo! News) 

The FBI relied on an Isikoff article to obtain a surveillance warrant against Trump campaign adviser Carter Page, according to a memo released by House Republicans in February 2018.

Isikoff’s article, which claims Page had secret meetings with Kremlin insiders, was based on the unverified dossier compiled by former British spy Christopher Steele. Isikoff said he was stunned to find out his article was used to justify a surveillance warrant, especially considering the warrant application already cited the dossier elsewhere.

“It’s self-referential,” he said of the article and its reliance on the dossier. “My story is about the FBI’s own investigation.”

Isikoff could very well be responsible for the confusion. The Daily Caller News Foundation’s Chuck Ross reported that Isikoff used “vague sourcing” in his article on Page and failed to indicate that his reporting was the result of the Democratic-funded research in the dossier.

David Corn (Mother Jones) 

Corn was responsible for another article that relied on the unverified Steele dossier. Shortly before the election, Corn reported that a “veteran spy” gave the dossier to the FBI and that the spy is “a credible source with a proven record of providing reliable, sensitive, and important information to the US government.”

The FBI later cut ties with Steele when they found him to be unreliable.

Former FBI official James Baker told Congress in October that Corn, his longtime friend, was “anxious” to provide him with the dossier so that the FBI could “authenticate” its contents.

“I was merely doing what a journalist does: trying to get more information on a story I was pursuing,” Corn claimed.

Corn and Isikoff co-authored a book titled “Russian Roulette: The Inside Story of Putin’s War on America and the Election of Donald Trump,” which alleges that Trump and Putin have been “striving to collaborate for years.”

Ken Bensinger / Ben Smith (BuzzFeed News) 

Bensinger obtained the Steele dossier from David Kramer, a former Deputy Assistant Secretary of State, and published the entire thing on BuzzFeed without attempting to verify any of the claims in the document. BuzzFeed justified the decision by noting that the document is of public interest and that president-elect Trump had been briefed on its contents.

BuzzFeed’s publication of the dossier warned readers that the document contained unverified and flat-out false information, but it was the first time Americans read the absurd allegations that Trump had hired Russian hookers to give him “golden showers.” (RELATED: MacCallum Grills Swalwell For Standing By Debunked Dossier)

BuzzFeed News editor-in-chief Ben Smith defended the outlet’s decision to publish the dossier.

Jason Leopold / Anthony Cormier (BuzzFeed News) 

Leopold and Cormier published a story in BuzzFeed claiming that President Donald Trump instructed Michael Cohen to lie to Congress in 2017 about efforts to build a Trump Tower in Moscow, Russia during the 2016 presidential campaign.

In an unprecedented move, special counsel Mueller’s office disputed the report, stating, “BuzzFeed’s description of specific statements to the Special Counsel’s Office, and characterization of documents and testimony obtained by this office, regarding Michael Cohen’s Congressional testimony are not accurate.”

Cohen later testified to Congress in March 2019 and further undermined BuzzFeed’s report when he said Trump never “directly” told him “to lie to Congress.”

Greg Miller (The Washington Post) 

Miller withheld evidence he obtained through his own reporting that could have debunked one of the key claims in the Steele dossier.

The dossier alleges that Michael Cohen visited Prague in August 2016 to meet with Kremlin officials, which Cohen has repeatedly denied in testimonies to Congress and elsewhere.

Miller quietly revealed that CIA and FBI sources told him that they don’t believe the trip ever happened during an event in October 2018. The event did not air on television until December on C-SPAN.

“We’ve talked to sources at the FBI and the CIA and elsewhere — they don’t believe that ever happened,” Miller, a Pulitzer-prize winner, said.

The information was never reported in The Washington Post and was not detailed in Miller’s book, “The Apprentice: Trump, Russia, and the Subversion of American Democracy.”

Brian Ross (ABC News) 

Ross temporarily tanked the stock market in December 2017 when he erroneously reported that candidate Trump ordered then-national security adviser Michael Flynn to make contact with the Russians prior to his election. Ross cited a single anonymous source who claimed Flynn was prepared to testify about Trump’s order.

Subsequent, accurate reporting revealed that it was actually President-elect Trump who asked Flynn to contact Russians about issues they could work on together when Trump took office, including targeting ISIS.

ABC News suspended Ross for his massive error.

Greg Gordon / Peter Stone (McClatchy) 

Gordon and Stone reported in April 2018 that they could confirm a key dossier allegation — that Michael Cohen had, indeed, visited Prague in 2016.

But nearly a year after their report, not a single other news outlet has confirmed Cohen’s trip, and Cohen has repeatedly denied that it ever occurred under oath. A Mueller spokesman urged caution on news reports about the Russia investigation when asked about the McClatchy article shortly after its publication.

“What I have been telling all reporters is that many stories about our investigation have been inaccurate. Be very cautious about any source that claims to have knowledge about our investigation and dig deep into what they claim before reporting on it,” the spokesman said.

McClatchy is still standing by the story.

The DCNF’s Chuck Ross noted that the same reporters were responsible for three other thinly-sourced and unconfirmed stories related to the Russian collusion conspiracy.

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