The Listening Post examines the virtually non-stop coverage in the US media of a news story that, upon closer examination, has very little in the way of hard evidence to back it up: that the Kremlin has somehow undermined American democracy, helping land Donald Trump the White House.
This past week, FBI Director James Comey told a congressional committee that there is an active investigation into Russian collusion with Trump officials during the election campaign but that there is still no proof it actually happened.
That dominated another news cycle or two, with all kinds of conjecture offered in the absence of facts.
Comey also poured cold water on Trump’s claim he had been wiretapped by former President Barack Obama, a story that started out on the conservative news site Breitbart.
Later, when defending that claim, the White House quoted a story that it saw on Fox News.
Under normal circumstances, being quoted – even indirectly – by a president would usually be prestigious for a news brand.
But the Trump administration is not doing Fox any favours because when the network’s journalism is examined, sometimes it comes up woefully short – such as it did in this case, when it was revealed Fox relied on a Kremlin-funded news channel, RT, for some basic facts that proved to be bogus.
Those pushing this story argue that Moscow is very much in the picture.
“Right after Director Comey said that they were doing this investigation, the Republicans really immediately turned and they focused on the question of leaks,” says Michael Schmidt, a journalist at The New York Times.
Republicans sent a message that whistleblowers will be severely punished.
“But this isn’t anything that the Obama White House didn’t do to [Chelsea] Manning and [Edward] Snowden. Whistleblowers are always punished by the government. It depends what party’s in power as to whether or not you care,” says media analyst Adam Johnson of FAIR.
With intelligence officials and members of Congress “leaking like a sieve”, says Marcy Wheeler, an independent journalist, “a Twitter frenzy ensued with people trying to connect the dots on Trump and his associates and their ties to various Russians”.
The president himself is part of that Twitter frenzy.
Trump live-tweeted the Comey hearing, part of which was devoted to whether he had misinformed Americans about the wiretapping accusations. Trump, once again, used his Twitter account to tell Americans something that just wasn’t true.
Certain aspects of the Trump-Russia story, which the president calls fake news, are very real.
Two members of his inner circle – Michael Flynn, the ex-national security adviser, and former campaign manager Paul Manafort – were forced to resign when their communications and associations with Russian officials were revealed by the media.
However, the other story that has been reported by so many American journalists, that the Russians supposedly hijacked the 2016 election by hacking the emails of senior Democratic Party officials and releasing them through WikiLeaks, is beyond murky.
The lack of proof that the hackers were indeed Russian, or operating under orders from the Kremlin, has not stopped the steady stream of related stories ever since.
Instead of conservative news outlets being fed information by the new administration, Trump often tweets shorthanded versions of stories from those outlets, effectively endorsing what is later disproved.
“It’s not so much to be influenced by Fox News, or even Breitbart, but it’s that you know, Trump had to have been ignoring what he had been told in briefings. Trump trusts Fox, trusts Breitbart but doesn’t trust the experts surrounding him because he doesn’t feel like he’s bound by expertise and facts,” says Wheeler.
There are those who say the Trump-Russia story is not so much an exercise in journalism – as it is a coping mechanism.
Because, these days, there are all kinds of people in Washington who can use one – and they’re on both sides of news cameras.
Adam Johnson, media analyst, FAIR
Marcy Wheeler, independent journalist
Oksana Boyko, host, RT
Michael Schmidt, national security reporter, New York Times
Source: Al Jazeera News