Our media is bad, it has been bad for years, that lack of common sense in the media is a big reason we have Trump in the White House, and after three years of this hurricane of fecal matter flying around the country leaving destruction in its wake, our media betters are still the same awful clods they were in 2016, as evidenced by Washington Post media critic Erik Wemple interviewing NY Times reporter Adam Goldman
on the Steele dossier.
What was your first reaction to the dossier? Were you wary of it?
I hadn’t read the dossier until BuzzFeed published it. I was at The Washington Post, and I left in late August [for the New York Times], and I started hearing rumors, but nobody actually told me anything. I’m at the Times; I’m doing terrorism; I’m dealing with the Clinton Foundation; and I don’t actually read the dossier until it’s online.
Were you part of Steele’s media tour?
No, I was not.
You heard rumors, and then BuzzFeed posted it, and then did your focus turn to it?
No, my focus didn’t turn toward it because I was subsumed with the FBI Russia investigation itself, all the different components to it, right? Figuring out if he was under investigation, right? What was it based on, what were the origins of Crossfire Hurricane? I was trying to figure out the past and trying to keep up with what the FBI was doing. So the dossier for me was not a central — there was a lot of reporting to be done, and I wasn’t the one focused on the dossier.
But then it did obviously, eventually come closer into your world.
Of course I remember reading the memo — the [Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) memo claiming surveillance overreach at the FBI], the dueling memos from the Dems and the Republicans. … Who was right and who was wrong? The dossier had been used, we knew, from Nunes’s memo. We didn’t know how much of it was used, and we didn’t have a good understanding of what the FBI had done to vet it. The assumption was they certainly were trying to. And, well, what did they know that we didn’t know? And then how many months ago, the deputy attorney general says they need to look into this. There were all these accusations floating around. So the deputy attorney general has the IG start looking into it. But really for me, as the guy covering the FBI, I was very interested in what the IG was doing. There was a lot going on, as the IG developed his case and more people started to talk to more people, I was able to get a better sense eventually there were going to be problems not only with the dossier but obviously big problems with the FISA.
I might have figured [that the FBI had interviewed the dossier’s primary sub-source in January 2017] in early 2019 or late 2018. And that for me was an extraordinary moment: Right? I knew, s---, there were problems. So now there’s some indication that there were problems with the dossier and the FBI had a sense of it. But there were only a handful of people in that room with the source [in January 2017]. And I couldn’t — to be able to write a definitive story with the details the IG had was, I guess, a bridge too far, right? It was a mountain too high for me. Because as the IG report shows, the information didn’t even get to the FISA court. So it somehow rested with this very small group of people in the FBI. I did identify one former law enforcement official who I thought would know about it and I’m sure probably did, and this person did not answer any of my requests. So I went to great lengths to try to build out that information and also figure out who the primary [source] was, and it proved to be extraordinarily tough. I mean, you can imagine: That was an explosive part of the IG report. I would have liked to have known and reported what he said in January of 2017. If I had learned more, I would have liked to have written a much larger, more important story informing the public [about] the problems that the FBI uncovered.
People on the right on Twitter criticized us for our pre-IG leak stories. I thought they were all very sound. The New York Times was the first newspaper to identify Kevin Clinesmith by name. [Clinesmith is the FBI lawyer who, according to the Times account, “altered an email that officials used to prepare to seek court approval to renew the wiretap.”] My colleagues and I had the first comprehensive story about the main takeaways: No evidence of bias, no — [Joseph] Mifsud wasn’t working for the FBI, Crossfire Hurricane was legit; and these were all important takeaways. The immediate two stories we wrote — I wrote there are many errors, omissions and mistakes [in the FISA applications]. And I wrote there’s exculpatory evidence they should have included about [George] Papadopoulos and the FISA and about Carter [Page]. I didn’t have the nitty-gritty detail of a 500-page report to be able to walk through all 17 of those significant errors. And frankly it wasn’t even clear to me what Clinesmith had done and how he had altered that email. I had a sense of that. … The way it was described to me it was he took something from the positive and made it into a negative. And that’s what he did. … It was an important report, and I think we did a pretty good job previewing what a lot of it was going to say on a macro level.
Everything you did predict actually was in the report. The criticism, such as it is, is a matter of weighting.
Well, the president of the United States has been accusing the FBI of a coup. He said it in that news conference afterward, they tried to overthrow the government. This is a big, weighty accusation. Why wouldn’t we have tackled that one: Was the president right, did the president know something we didn’t? And if the president was right, that’s pretty extraordinary.
Also: I was very careful with this language reporting they hadn't placed reporters or undercovers inside the campaign. That was also a major takeaway.
Given that you’ve covered the FBI forever and law enforcement forever and surveillance and all this stuff, tell me what you think about the semantics and the technicalities of this debate about spying.
I mean, look, Matt Apuzzo and I wrote the NYPD stories [about the NYPD’s illegal surveillance of Muslim neighborhoods, for the Associated Press]. We used the word “spying” because it seemed that the NYPD didn’t have a legal justification to do what they were doing: going into coffee shops, eavesdropping on private citizens in public spaces, gathering intelligence about communities and putting them in secret documents. People had done nothing wrong and were not accused of doing anything wrong. In this particular case, you have what the IG says are informants who didn’t violate any rules or policies being used as a legitimate law enforcement investigation. Attorney General William P. Barr thinks it’s spying. I don’t think I would hesitate to use the word “spying” if they had found something illegal. If lawful surveillance is spying, then is every FBI investigation they do spying? Did they spy when they busted those NFL players for health-care fraud? God knows what they did in that investigation.
Is the investigation into Rudy and Lev and Igor — is that spying? Where is the line between lawful surveillance and spying?
It’s like torture, right? … The implication of “torture” is that somebody did something wrong. They violated someone’s human rights.
You reported in April about the alleged flimsiness of the dossier.
I had just been collecting a lot of information wanting to do a story about all of this. I'd just been filling up this bucket until I had enough information to write a story. And I kept refilling the bucket.
It was cited on “Hannity.” How do you feel oftentimes to see Sean Hannity and Trump rip the New York Times and then rely on it the next day?
I don’t pay much attention to it. But I’d love to go on “Hannity.”
David Kris was on the Lawfare podcast and said he needed to emphasize a million times that the FISA problems were not political and he couldn’t emphasize that enough. And I know that there are representations in the Horowitz report saying that he couldn’t find political bias —
That’s fine, but he also said he didn’t get reasonable satisfactory answers. I mean, there were so many screw-ups. How is that possible — basic stuff that people were incapable of doing? My position is that we’re going to go with the Horowitz report until we learn otherwise from U.S. Attorney John Durham or whoever — somebody reputable.
And I mean, Goldman is a solid reporter, and Wemple has been all over the Trump regime's treatment of the media, but Goldman would also
love to go on the Junior Fascist Hatred Hour, and Wemple is now up to part seven (this interview) of his long-winded criticism of how the media absolutely failed America in every sense of the word by even reporting
on the Steele dossier and the Carter Page story.
Wemple has gone so far as to trash Steele himself
, going after McClatchy for the Michael Cohen Prague story
, slagging Rachel Maddow's coverage of the story
over the months, and defending disinformation conduit John Solomon
, among other attacks over the last several weeks that's had Wemple cited positively by the very right-wing outlets that have been horrible to him for years.
The media has learned nothing in 2019. They still believe the Trump regime is operating in good faith. To paraphrase Upton Sinclair, their salary depends on not understanding that Trump is their mortal enemy.