March 25, 2018

WSJ’s Strassel on Russia NRA ‘Infiltration’: Consider the Fake-News Sources

Someone is finally crying foul over an evidence-free fake-news effort pushed by the same people who have promoted the Steele dossier for over a year. This time, the targets are the NRA and President Trump’s 2016 victorious presidential campaign. In a Thursday Wall Street Journal column and a Friday Fox News appearance, Kimberley Strassel decried how the press has turned “the most outlandish accusation into ‘news’” based only on “the whispers of a couple of Democratic lawmakers” and “an anonymous reference to the FBI.”

Here are key passages from Strassel’s column:

This January, the House Intelligence Committee released its transcript of Mr. (Glenn) Simpson’s November testimony, in which he regaled incredulous committee Republicans with a wild new tale—of how the Russians had “infiltrated the NRA.” Fusion GPS had “spent a lot of time investigating” a “Mafia leader named Alexander Torshin” and a “suspicious” and “big Trump fan,” Maria Butina. Mr. Simpson provided zero detail to back up this claim—no names, dates, money transfers or specific actions.

But never mind. The day Mr. Simpson’s conspiracy-laden transcript was due to go public, McClatchy ran this headline: “FBI investigating whether Russian money went to NRA to help Trump.” The story cited only two unnamed “sources familiar with the matter.” The article admitted it “could not be learned” whether the FBI had any evidence involving the NRA, but it nonetheless went on at length about the group. A flurry of articles from other news organizations followed … All still based on nothing but Mr. Simpson’s infiltration claim.

… The NRA flatly denied the accusation. … It also reported it had had no contact with the FBI. House Intelligence Committee Democrats nonetheless last week issued a document demanding they get to continue investigating the “NRA’s relationship” with Mr. Torshin and Ms. Butina as well as … Washington lawyer Cleta Mitchell, who hasn’t done legal work for the NRA in a decade.

A few days later, the same two McClatchy reporters … again cited two anonymous sources claiming Congress was investigating Ms. Mitchell’s worries … Ms. Mitchell tells me she told McClatchy before publication that this was false … Ms. Mitchell calls it “the quintessential definition of fake news.”

McClatchy’s story found at Archive.org has a slightly different headline from the one Strassel cited:

McClatchyOnCletaMitchellNRA031518

Despite Mitchell’s clear denial, the news service appears to have used the headline Strassel cited, which communicates an unjustified degree of certainty, in very early versions of its report.

McClatchy’s reporters originally thought that Mitchell was still representing the NRA — even though she hasn’t “in a decade.” Rather than own up to their critical error and withdraw a story largely based on a false claim, McClatchy published a weaselly correction the following day, appending it at the 1,500-word report’s end:

McClatchyOnCletaMitchellNRA032418

Strassel also appeared on Tucker Carlson’s Friday Fox News show:

Transcript (beginning at 0:10):

TUCKER CARLSON: … Unpack this nutty conspiracy theory for us, if you would.

KIMBERLEY STRASSEL: Well, what’s important about this one, Tucker, is that it’s by the very same people, it would appear, that brought us the dossier claims as well.

So you remember, the Clinton campaign hires this Fusion GPS to commission the dossier. It comes up with these fantastical dossier claims.

And what’s it do? It goes to the FBI in order to give them some legitimacy, even though nothing in it has been corroborated, nothing has been proved. And then once the FBI said it was doing an investigation, then everyone took it seriously.

So now what we have is the same people, Fusion GPS, that have been peddling to the House Intelligence Committee and others their argument, Glenn Simpson the head of Fusion GPS, that the NRA has, quote, been “infiltrated” by the Russians, their top leadership, and that Russians have been filtering money through the NRA and did during 2016 to help Trump.

Now he has no evidence for this. And yet we see the media running after it and suddenly lots of stories making this claim without a shred of evidence.

CARLSON: Has anybody, I mean — There are very smart people on the left, and some of them who are self-aware. Has anyone said, “Well maybe this is mass hysteria. If everything we don’t like, every popular movement we disagree with, if our instinct is to blame unseen saboteurs from Russia, maybe we’re crazy.” Has anybody said that?

STRASSEL: Nope, not that I have heard of. Because, as you know and I know, there is such an interest on Russia somehow connecting it to the Trump campaign suggesting there are nefarious things happening around every corner. And this is just very concerning. Because look, there is not one jot of evidence to this, all right?

CARLSON: Right.

STRASSEL: Glenn Simpson said this in testimony. He mentioned some random Russians’ names. He could provide no evidence of money transfers, of any persons named in the NRA who supposedly took it. And yet you have newspaper outlets like McClatchy who continue to run newspaper articles giving credence to this.

So how does the NRA — It has flatly denied it. Anyone involved with this has flatly denied it. But apparently all you have to do these days is come up with a conspiracy, have House Democrats give it credence and then suddenly it’s legitimate.

CARLSON: Our leaders are out of control.

Out-of-control news outlets promoting the unproven, anonymously sourced, and presumptively evidence-free Russia-NRA “infiltration” narrative include the Associated Press, Business Insider, NPR, and New York Magazine.

Cross-posted, with possible revisions, at NewsBusters.org.

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