Liberal Columbia Journal Review offers scathing indictment of New York Times’ Russiagate coverage
NY Times, Washington Post, CNN spearheaded much of the Trump-Russia collusion narrative
The liberal media watchdog the Columbia Journalism Review (CJR) published a wide-ranging retrospective of the media’s Russiagate coverage that examined several news organizations and their various roles throughout the Trump-Russia saga, leveling the most criticism towards The New York Times.
“No narrative did more to shape Trump’s relations with the press than Russiagate. The story, which included the Steele dossier and the Mueller report among other totemic moments, resulted in Pulitzer Prizes as well as embarrassing retractions and damaged careers,” CJR executive editor Kyle Pope wrote in an editor’s note.
Pope explained that the CJR spent the past 18 months “examining the American media’s coverage of Trump and Russia in granular detail” to determine what it means as Americans inch closer to the 2024 election.
The findings were published in a lengthy, four-part series. The first section begins with a story about then-New York Times executive editor Dean Baquet’s reaction when he found out Special Counsel Robert Mueller didn’t plan to pursue Trump’s ousting, telling his staff “Holy s–t, Bob Mueller is not going to do it.”
“Baquet, speaking to his colleagues in a town hall meeting soon after the testimony concluded, acknowledged the Times had been caught ‘a little tiny bit flat-footed’ by the outcome of Mueller’s investigation,” wrote Jeff Gerth, the investigative reporter who authored the lengthy CJR retrospective.
“That would prove to be more than an understatement,” Gerth continued. “But neither Baquet nor his successor, nor any of the paper’s reporters, would offer anything like a postmortem of the paper’s Trump-Russia saga, unlike the examination the Times did of its coverage before the Iraq War.”
Gerth believes the Times damaged its credibility outside of its “own bubble” and that even famed journalist Bob Woodard told him coverage of the Russia probe “wasn’t handled well.”
The examination of the Times’ questionable coverage began even before Trump was elected into office, highlighting a report from August 2016 claiming Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort allegedly accepted $13 million in cash payments from pro-Russia entities in Ukraine. While he didn’t deny the ballpark figure he received, Manafort insisted “the cash angle was clearly wrong.” But as Gerth noted, the Times “won a Pulitzer Prize for the work on Manafort.”
The Times appeared to go 180 in its coverage. As Gerth noted, it ran the headline, “Investigating Donald Trump, FBI Sees No Clear Link to Russia,” in October 2016, pertaining to the conspiracy of secret communications between the Trump Organization and the Kremlin-linked Alfa Bank. But in January 2017, just days before Trump’s inauguration, it ran, “Intercepted Russian Communications Part of Inquiry into Trump Associates.”
Gerth wrote that story “evoked a strong reaction from [Peter] Strzok, who was leading the FBI inquiry: ‘no substance and largely wrong,’ he texted, adding ‘the press is going to undermine its credibility.’”
The paper’s coverage escalated, as laid out in part two of CJR’s retrospective, with a report published in February 2017 headlined, “Trump Campaign Aides Had Repeated Contacts With Russian Intelligence,” noting Baquet personally signed off with running it, calling it the “biggest story in years.”
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Despite Baquet’s expressed desire for details to be included in the report and to point out whether contacts were considered “innocent” or “sinister,” the published details were vague and few. Noted Gerth, “The piece did contain a disclaimer up high, noting that their sources, ‘so far,’ had seen ‘no evidence’ of the Trump campaign colluding with the Russians,” adding “But in the next paragraph it reported anonymous officials being ‘alarmed’ about the supposed Russian-Trump contacts because they occurred while Trump made his comments in Florida in July 2016 wondering whether Russia could find Hillary’s missing emails.”
“The story said ‘the FBI declined to comment.’ In fact, the FBI was quickly ripping the piece to shreds, in a series of annotated comments by Strzok, who managed the Russia case,” Gerth wrote. “His analysis, prepared for his bosses, found numerous inaccuracies, including a categorical refutation of the lead and headline; ‘we are unaware,’ Strzok wrote, ‘of ANY Trump advisers engaging in conversations with Russian intelligence officials.’ Comey immediately checked with other intelligence agencies to see if they had any such evidence, came up empty, and relayed his findings to a closed Senate briefing, according to testimony at a Senate hearing months later.”