The media is failing on the DNI ‘whistleblower’ scandal by amplifying Trump’s debunked conspiracy theory

President-elect Donald Trump meets with former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani at the clubhouse of the Trump National Golf Club November 20, 2016 in Bedminster, New Jersey. Rudy Giuliani, US President Donald Trump's new lawyer, said Wednesday, May 2, 2018, on Fox News Channel's Hannity, that Trump repaid $130,000 to his personal attorney Michael Cohen for payment to porn star Stormy Daniels, contradicting the president's past comments on the controversy. / AFP PHOTO / Don EMMERTDON EMMERT/AFP/Getty Images

The mainstream media that Donald Trump likes to abuse as “fake news” has frequently assisted the right-wing conspiracy theories that he thrives upon by giving them reporting, and this giving them an air of credibility through repetition, even while debunking them.

For example, back in April 2015 I warned you what was coming, which proved prescient for what actually happened in 2016. The Hunting of The President: The Sequel (excerpt):

The conservative media entertainment complex came of age during the Bill Clinton administration, and its scandal mongering on White Water and numerous other non-scandals — for which Kenneth Starr’s successor as Independent Counsel, Robert Ray, released a report in September 2000 stating that “This office determined that the evidence was insufficient to prove to a jury beyond a reasonable doubt that either President or Mrs. Clinton knowingly participated in any criminal conduct” — led the supposed “gatekeepers “of the mainstream media to abandon all previous standards and principles of journalism to engage in The Hunting of the President. I would strongly encourage everyone to re-read the book by Joe Conason and Gene Lyons or to view a video of the documentary film.

History is about to repeat itself. POLITICO Tiger Beat on the Potomac reports today New York Times, Washington Post, Fox News strike deals for anti-Clinton research:

The New York Times, The Washington Post and Fox News have made exclusive agreements with a conservative author for early access to his opposition research on Hillary Clinton, a move that has confounded members of the Clinton campaign and some reporters, the On Media blog has confirmed.

Clinton Cash: The Untold Story of How and Why Foreign Governments and Businesses Helped Make Bill and Hillary Rich” will debut on May 5. But the Times, the Post and Fox have already made arrangements with author Peter Schweizer to pursue some of the material included in his book, which seeks to draw connections between Clinton Foundation donations and speaking fees and Hillary Clinton’s actions as secretary of state. Schweizer is the president of the Government Accountability Institute, a conservative research group, and previously served as an adviser to Republican vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin.

Fox News’ use of Schweizer’s book has surprised no one. The bulk of the network’s programming is conservative, and the book’s publisher, HarperCollins, is owned by News Corporation. But the Times and Post’s decision to partner with a partisan researcher has raised a few eyebrows. Some Times reporters view the agreement as unusual, sources there said. Still others defended the agreement, noting that it was no different from using a campaign’s opposition research to inform one’s reporting — so long as that research is fact-checked and vetted. A spokesperson for the Times did not provide comment by press time.

In an article about the book on Monday, the Times said “Clinton Cash” was “potentially more unsettling” than other conservative books about Clinton “both because of its focused reporting and because major news organizations including The Times, The Washington Post and Fox News have exclusive agreements with the author to pursue the story lines found in the book.”

That’s a rather circular argument by The Times: because we agreed to an exclusive agreement with the author, this makes this “potentially more unsettling”? It’s important because The Times is doing it? Please.

Remember that it was The Times, routinely derided by conservatives as the “librul” media, that did the early reporting on White Water and abandoned its role as  a “gatekeeper” of the mainstream media by engaging in scandal mongering over White Water and other non-scandals.

This is how the baseless Uranium One and Clinton Foundation “scandals” that dogged Hillary Clinton in 2016 and led to Trump’s rally chants of “lock her up!” got started and amplified by the mainstream media.

Now that unholy alliance between right-wing scandal mongers and the supposed “gatekeepers” of the mainstream media is playing out again with the DNI “whistleblower” scandal. This is a straightforward crime story: our third-rate mafia “Don” Trump and his consigliere Rudy Giuliani have been extorting and offering a bribe to Ukraine to manufacture “dirt” on Joe Biden’s son in a quid pro quo for receiving security assistance. Trump is inviting foreign interference in our elections, again.

Trump’s response to his criminality is that the media should be looking into the already debunked conspiracy theory that he has been peddling about Joe Biden and his son instead. And once again, the New York Times has been ready to oblige him.

Joshua Holland at Rawstory writes, It’s ‘Clinton Cash’ all over again as the media blow the Trump whistleblower story:

We would praise the reporters who revealed the content of a whistle-blower’s complaint that the Trump regime has refused to turn over to Congress as the law requires. But it appears that the outlines of the story were already known in DC political circles. Two weeks before the whistleblower story broke, The Washington Post ran an editorial noting that Donald Trump was withholding $250 million in military aid to Ukraine, and that while “some suspect Mr. Trump is once again catering to Mr. Putin, who is dedicated to undermining Ukrainian democracy and independence,… the president has a second and more venal agenda: He is attempting to force [Ukrainian president Volodymyr] Zelensky to intervene in the 2020 U.S. presidential election by launching an investigation of the leading Democratic candidate, Joe Biden.” The authors added, “Mr. Trump is not just soliciting Ukraine’s help with his presidential campaign; he is using U.S. military aid the country desperately needs in an attempt to extort it.”

But we’re conflicted about crediting WaPo’s editorial board for breaking that news. They, like so many neutral outlets this week, described the goal of Trump’s extortion as forcing Ukraine to “launch an investigation” of Biden. That is flatly false, as there is no serious allegation of wrongdoing against the former Vice President. So Trump didn’t press Zelensky to investigate Biden–he used the power of his office to extort the newly elected Ukrainian leader to fabricate a controversy about a domestic political opponent.

Every headline suggesting that Trump (or Rudy Giuliani) simply pressed for an “investigation” adds credence to Trump’s defense.

This is not the first time the press has assisted Trump in his effort to smear Biden. In May, The New York Times helped mainstream Trump’s baseless allegation in a story titled, “Biden Faces Conflict of Interest Questions That Are Being Promoted by Trump and Allies.” Although the piece acknowledged that Biden’s effort to pressure the Ukrainian government to oust former prosecutor Viktor Shokin was based on the view of the entire US government that Shokin had consistently turned a blind eye to corruption within Ukraine’s elites, and that Shokin had “long [been] a target of criticism from other Western nations and international lenders,” it nonetheless insinuated that something was amiss because Biden’s son, Hunter, had been connected to a firm that Shokin may have been investigating.

The story was widely panned for being misleading. CNN noted that “it wasn’t until the 19th paragraph that The Times noted that there was no evidence to support the claim that Biden intentionally tried to aide his son by working to oust the prosecutor. Bloomberg also reported on May 16 that the Ukrainian prosecutor general said he had no evidence of misconduct against Biden.”

The piece was co-authored by Kenneth Vogel and Iuliia Mendel. One month later, Mendel took a job as Volodymyr Zelensky’s spokesperson. Vogel remains with The Times.  

It’s hard not to see echoes of how The New York Times—followed by CNN and The Washington Post—helped move the Uranium One nontroversy from the fever swamps of the right into the mainstream political dialogue in 2015. That contrived scandal, like this one, had absolutely no basis in fact. It had been pushed relentless by conservative outlets for months without getting much traction, until former Breitbart editor-at-large Peter Schweizer snookered The Times into laundering the allegations in a now-infamous piece titled, “Cash Flowed to Clinton Foundation Amid Russian Uranium Deal.” After that, every ostensibly neutral outlet ran with it, and although the story was easily and repeatedly debunked, it, along with EmailGhazi, became the basis for Trump’s claims that Hillary Clinton was hopelessly corrupt and should be locked up. (Peter Schweizer, having failed so far to get traction with a different Biden “scandal” having to do with China, is now pushing hard on the Biden-Ukraine story.)

[T]he media’s willingness to regurgitate and ultimately lend credence to phony scandals contrived by Trump and his allies will be used against whoever gets the Democratic nomination.

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Mark Sumner at Daily Kos makes a similar point. Journalists behaving badly—the rush to frame the whistleblower story to help Trump:

Donald Trump withheld military aid from a United States ally in order to force that ally into providing him with ammunition he could use against a potential opponent in the 2020 election. That’s the story. Full stop. There are no circumstances in which what Trump has done are in any sense acceptable. The only option is for Congress to immediately begin impeachment. Not an inquiry into whether there should be an inquiry. Impeachment.

But astoundingly, there are members of the media who are already rushing to ignore Trump’s gross misuse of power, vault past an astounding measure of “ends justify the means,” and go straight into how this is good for Trump. And bad for Joe Biden.

New York Times reporter Ken Vogel was astoundingly willing to ignore all the forest in the search for a shrub in an MSNBC interview where he declared that Hunter Biden being on the board of oil and gas company Burisma was “a significant liability for Joe Biden.” And to make it clear that the Times was going to unpack every keyboard that’s been gathering dust since “but her emails,” Vogel added, “There is a story here. We’re going to continue to, sort of, pull that back.”

On Saturday morning, Politico aka Tiger Beat on the Potomac joined in the Great Justification by declaring that this scandal “could backfire on Biden.” They go on to find a pollster that says that this story puts Biden “on the ropes.” and that this whole story is more “perilous” for Biden than for Trump.

At the heart of Politico’s story—is a timeline of events in Ukraine. That timeline also matches one that was featured in the New York Times back in May, based on information from Rudy Giuliani. That timeline makes one claim that is absolutely fundamental to the story. The claim is that when Joe Biden went to Ukraine in 2016 and asked the government there to fire its prosecutor general, that prosecutor had an “open probe” into the company that was paying Hunter Biden. In other words, that Biden’s actions protected his son.

That’s not only not true, it’s the opposite of what happened.

Here is how Politico phrased it in their story. “Joe Biden successfully pressured the Ukrainian government to remove its prosecutor general, Viktor Shokin, who was unpopular with Western leaders, threatening to withhold loan guarantees if it did not. At the time, Shokin’s office had open probes of Burisma and Zlochevsky. Shokin’s successor closed the investigations, but then reopened an investigation of Burisma last year.”

Almost nothing in that statement is correct.

In May, when The New York Times began publishing Giuliani’s accusations in connection with Biden, Bloomberg did something that apparently no one else bothered to do—they sent reporters to Ukraine to look into the facts. Those reporters located both documents and officials connected with the case, and this is what they learned—there was no case open against Burisma. It wasn’t part of an “open probe” by anyone. That case was “shelved in 2014.”

In fact, it was the refusal of Shokin to reopen any investigation that generated calls for his ouster by officials in the U.K. While Politico waves off concerns about the prosecutor by saying Shokin was “unpopular with Western leaders,” he wasn’t unpopular—he was notoriously corrupt. And it was Shokin’s failure to cooperate with U.K. prosecutors in looking into Burisma that caused the U.K. to ask Biden to seek the Ukrainian prosecutor’s removal.

After Shokin was gone—several months and another administration change after Biden’s request—his replacement did in fact open a new investigation into Burisma. And eventually closed it, after finding nothing. But Biden’s request didn’t protect the company where Hunter Biden worked from some active investigation by a hard-charging prosecutor. It removed a corrupt prosecutor who had already shelved the case and brought in someone new who actually conducted an investigation.

Maybe Politico and The New York Times are convinced that every story about Trump, no matter how enormous, can be ignored, and that every papercut caused by a Democrat is cause for a major expose. But the least they could do when they’re shouldering aside extortion and abuse of power, is not to get the damn story upside down.

It appears that Trump didn’t need to go to Ukraine to generate false accusations against Joe Biden at all. There are plenty of people in the U.S. willing to do it for him.

Once again, this is a straightforward crime story: our third-rate mafia “Don” Trump and his consigliere Rudy Giuliani have been extorting and offering a bribe to Ukraine to manufacture “dirt” on Joe Biden’s son in a quid pro quo for receiving security assistance. Trump is inviting foreign interference in our elections, once again. This is not about a debunked right-wing conspiracy theory about Joe Biden and his son.

Once again, the media is failing the American people.