In a new interview, Bob Woodward, a veteran journalist, revealed that Washington Post reporters ignored his warnings regarding the flaws of the Christopher Steele dossier amid the feverish Russiagate media coverage.
Jeff Gerth, a Columbia Journalism Review reporter, interviewed media and politicians involved in Russiagate, the broad term that refers to the allegations of Trump-Russia collusion during the 2016 election. He also found out where the media went wrong. Woodward, a reporter who broke the Watergate scandal at the Washington Post, said that viewers and readers were being “cheated”.
A particular shellacking was done to the Steele dossier. Ex-British spy Christopher Steele wrote a series of memos that contained unproven claims of Trump-Russian coordination to defeat Hillary Clinton. These memos were circulated among journalists and intelligence officials for several weeks before BuzzFeed News published the full contents.
Just before Trump took office, James Comey, then-FBI Director, briefed Trump about the contents of the 35-page file. A summary of the file was also provided to Obama by the then-FBI Director James Comey. This was uncritically reported on by many left-wing media personalities who became enthusiastic supporters of the Russiagate conspiracy. The FBI used it to obtain a surveillance warrant against Carter Page, a former Trump aide. It was then read into the Congressional Record, by Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif).
BuzzFeed published the dossier on January 15, 2017. Russiagate media coverage was already in launch mode. However, Woodward made a statement in a Fox News interview on Jan. 15, 2017 that the dossier was a “garbage paper” that should never have been part intelligence briefings.
Gerth was told by Woodward that he “reach out to people at the Washington Post who covered this.” Woodward replied to Gerth that there was “a lack of curiosity” on the part the Post about his statements and why he said them.
The Washington Post had to make lengthy corrections years later to several stories about the Steele dossier. The paper did not respond to a request for comments.
The Steele dossier has been widely discredited. Media outlets that attributed credibility to it are now being criticized. In 2019, the Michael Horowitz InspectorGeneral report found that some of the dossier’s only confirmed aspects were public information. Some aspects, such as the claim that Trump lawyer Michael Cohen visited Prague in a collusion scheme, were also proven false.
The Washington Post’s Erik Wemple published several reports about media failures surrounding dossier. The New York Times’ Daily podcast also concluded that it was “profoundly flawed.” Indictment of Steele subsource Igor Danchenko was made for lying to the FBI. He was later acquitted. The John Durham probe revealed that one of his sources was Charles Dolan, a long-time Democratic spin doctor and Clinton supporter. Wemple called this a “twisted circular logic” to the dossier. Wemple said that a Democratic-funded exspy was compiling the information partly from a Democratic source supporting the funder of it.
Steele stated to Gerth in his CJR report, that his “raw intelligence” reports were intended only for client briefing and not as a final and evaluated written intelligence product. However, many figures on MSNBC or CNN gushed that Steele’s material was not disproven in the years following its publication by BuzzFeed.
CJR spent 18 month investigating Trump’s coverage in Russia and published its report on Monday. Kyle Pope, editor-in-chief, stated in the introduction to Gerth’s long treatise that neither Trump nor the press came out well.