A prominent press critic has warned mainstream media outlets they face a “steep journalistic challenge” to back up their initial reporting on the Steele dossier in the wake of the latest indictment secured by special counsel John Durham.
Washington Post media critic Erik Wemple wrote Monday that last week’s indictment of Igor Danchenko, a key source for former British spy Christopher Steele’s report, is “bad news” for several media outlets — including Wemple’s own employer.
“The Danchenko indictment doubles as a critique of several media outlets that covered Steele’s reports in 2016 and after its publication by BuzzFeed in January 2017 … CNN, MSNBC, Mother Jones, the McClatchy newspaper chain and various pundits showered credibility upon the dossier without corroboration — and found other topics to cover when a forceful debunking arrived in December 2019 via a report from Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz,” Wemple wrote.
Danchenko, a Russian citizen living in Virginia, is accused of lying to the FBI regarding his sources — one of whom turned out to be a PR executive with close ties to Bill and Hillary Clinton. Danchenko helped Steele compile the dossier, which put forth several outrageous allegations — including that Russian security services possessed a tape of Trump in a Moscow hotel room with prostitutes who were urinating on a bed where then-President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama had previously stayed.
On Monday, Wemple said the indictment revealed that the sourcing behind the file was “threadbare in the most charitable of depictions,” as were initial media reports about the dossier’s contents.
One example Wemple cited was reporting by the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post and ABC News in 2017 alleging that the most headline-grabbing claims in the dossier — including the supposed existence of the “pee tape” — came from Sergei Millian, the former president of the Russian-American Chamber of Commerce.
However, Danchenko’s recent indictment claims that while Danchenko “never spoke” to Millian, Steele believed Danchenko had “direct contact” with Millian.
“News organizations may face a mismatch as they place their reporting alongside the indictment,” he wrote. “Where the indictment relies on emails, interviews and other powerful investigative tools, the Journal’s initial scoop cited a single anonymous source. The sourcing for the The Post’s reporting about Millian’s alleged conversation is unclear, while ABC News attributes its primary assertion to ‘a person familiar with the raw intelligence provided to the FBI.’
“These news outlets now face a steep journalistic challenge — that of returning to their source(s) in an effort to back up the original claims that Millian was an unwitting source for the dossier,” Wemple added. “If that effort doesn’t produce enough evidence to surmount the allegations in the indictment, there’s only one option: Retract the stories. Allowing one version of events to sit awkwardly alongside another — and leaving it to the reader to decide — won’t cut it.”
The media critic also called out MSNBC host Rachel Maddow after she suggested that Durham was trying to, as she put it “discredit the whole Russia investigation by arresting various sources for that investigation, to discredit the Steele dossier because so many people have been led to think that was the reason for the investigation.”
“Just as Durham can’t use the dossier to deflect from the larger Trump-Russia tableau, however, people such as Maddow and others can’t use the larger Trump-Russia tableau to deflect from their coverage of the dossier,” Wemple concluded. “A reckoning is years overdue.”
Over the weekend, former Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe said that he is expecting “many indictments” from Durham’s investigation and argued that everyone involved in creating the dossier is in “jeopardy.”
“What happened with the Steele dossier, a grand jury is saying, was criminal in nature and I expect that all of the folks that are involved with creating it and peddling it falsely would be in jeopardy,” Ratcliffe told Fox News, “and I know that that’s what John Durham is looking at, and as I talked about, this goes to the highest levels of our government and government agencies involved.”