Under the guise of media criticism, Fox’s Howard Kurtz let Trump-sycophant Mollie Hemingway bogusly attack a bombshell New York Times report that Trump’s own campaign adviser George Papadopoulos’ brash, drunken boasts to an Australian ambassador is what prompted the FBI to open its Russia investigation, not the so-called Steele dossier that the right-wing loves to disparage.
The New York Times’ Papadopoulos bombshell dropped yesterday
Here’s how the Times began its report:
During a night of heavy drinking at an upscale London bar in May 2016, George Papadopoulos, a young foreign policy adviser to the Trump campaign, made a startling revelation to Australia’s top diplomat in Britain: Russia had political dirt on Hillary Clinton.
About three weeks earlier, Mr. Papadopoulos had been told that Moscow had thousands of emails that would embarrass Mrs. Clinton, apparently stolen in an effort to try to damage her campaign.
Exactly how much Mr. Papadopoulos said that night at the Kensington Wine Rooms with the Australian, Alexander Downer, is unclear. But two months later, when leaked Democratic emails began appearing online, Australian officials passed the information about Mr. Papadopoulos to their American counterparts, according to four current and former American and foreign officials with direct knowledge of the Australians’ role.
This matters because it undercuts a favorite Republican attack on the Russia investigation, as New York Magazine explains:
The timing of Papadopoulos’s ill-fated remarks at the London bar are key. In an effort to discredit the Russia investigation, Republican commentators have been pushing the notion that the FBI began its inquiry on the basis of the now-infamous “Steele Dossier,” the document put together by ex–British spy Christopher Steele, which alleged that Russia interfered in the election and had possible “kompromat” on President Trump. Republicans claim that the dossier is full of misinformation, and that, since the Democratic National Committee paid the firm that employed Steele, the document — and thus Mueller’s investigation — was tainted from the start
How Kurtz and Hemingway worked in tandem to undercut the report
On Kurtz’ MediaBuzz show, Mollie Heminway - whose seemingly omnipresent Trump flackery on the show makes her more of a Trump monitor than any legitimate media commentator - took over almost the entire discussion of the Times' report. One guest, Cathy Areu (and I’ll have more on her comments about Trump and the DOJ in another post), said nothing in response to the dishonest spin.
The discussion began with the third guest, Fox News contributor Mara Liasson, mildly describing the import of the Times article. She said it “offers an alternative story about how the investigation got started.” As if it’s now a matter of debate. However, she did correctly describe the significance of the timing of events.
But that was too much for Hemingway. She interrupted to start her devious spin disingenuously presented as media commentary.
HEMINGWAY: I think this is a great example of where reporters can push back on sources a little bit more. For a year, we’ve been told that the dossier, dossier, dossier was the centerpiece of the probe. And now that Congress and other people are asking a lot of tough questions of the FBI and Department of Justice about their use of the dossier, now we’re getting these leaks – oh, no, it wasn’t that important, it really didn’t matter that much, it had nothing to do with the start of the probe.
The camera cut to Kurtz, smiling broadly in appreciation of her right-wing sneer.
But here’s a fact check: As noted by New York Magazine above, it has been the Republicans pushing the notion that the Steele dossier prompted the investigation. As The Hill reported in October, Sen. John McCain gave the dossier to the FBI “in late 2016” when the FBI was already investigating possible coordination between the Trump campaign and Russia.
Furthermore, the Times never said the Steele dossier was not important. The article noted that author Christopher Steele had provided “some of his findings” to an FBI agent in Rome three months before FBI agents traveled to Europe in order to interview him in early October, 2016. Both events would have been well after the Papadopoulos incident in May.
But Kurtz was too busy admiring Hemingway’s “insight” to point out the truth. In fact, he prodded her to further discredit the report.
KURTZ: Are you a little skeptical that 28-year-old George Papadopoulos was the guy who started the ball rolling here?
HEMINGWAY: I think it’s funny that after a year of being told that the dossier was the centerpiece that now we’re told that it really is George Papadopoulos. I mean, a guy that nobody ever heard of.
FACT CHECK: The Times reported about Papadopoulos, “[I]nterviews and new documents show that he stayed influential throughout the campaign. Two months before the election, for instance, he helped arrange a New York meeting between Mr. Trump and President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi of Egypt.
But nobody corrected that distortion either. So Hemingway continued her long Trumpery unimpeded.
HEMINGWAY: And in a weird way, it’s actually a worse case than saying that the dossier was the launch of the probe, this hearsay from an Australian source who didn’t even report it for months – I mean, it just – there’s something very sketchy about this story and I think that reporters should push back a little.
FACT CHECK: The “hearsay from an Australian source” was the country’s “top diplomat in Britain,” according to the Times. Again, nobody clarified that Trumpery either.
And, by the way, nobody claimed that any Australian officials have disputed the account.
Liasson did note that the FBI interviewed Steele. But Kurtz interrupted to change the subject.
Watch Kurtz put Trumper Hemingway in control of the Russia narrative below, from the December 31, 2017 Media Buzz.