Our ruling class will use any means necessary—no matter how lawless, vicious, or brazen—to preserve its power and privilege. And it will seemingly never pay a price for its corruption and criminality. That is the ultimate lesson conveyed in the more than three hundred pages of gory details about the republic-eroding scandal that is Russiagate, comprising Special Counsel John Durham’s final report.
Russiagate’s aim from the jump was to delegitimize, destabilize, and destroy Donald Trump’s presidency. Hatched by the Hillary Clinton campaign, this would be her revenge for losing to Trump—an attempt to make his victory a Pyrrhic one. This would be the deep state’s way to sabotage and subvert a commander in chief who threatened to upend its agenda, and that of the entire political establishment.
Neither fidelity to the law and truth, nor any sense of shame, nor any fear of consequences could temper the zealous would-be vanquishers of the “bad orange man.” We know this because, as Durham’s report spells out, and as even casual observers have long been aware, the story of Trump-Russia collusion was a farce from the very beginning and in virtually every respect.
It was born of hearsay, ludicrous innuendo, and laughable inferences. Its sources were biased, unscrupulous, and shady. The investigators acted corruptly, lawlessly, and violated basic practices and time-honored norms in pursuing a probe of the highest stakes. They could not corroborate the key pillars on which they “built” their “case” and covered their eyes and ears in the face of exculpatory evidence at every turn. The lack of due diligence and carelessness is staggering—if you were to assume the FBI and Justice Department were operating in good faith. Despite the glaring deficiencies in their case and the blatant violation of the rights of innocent Americans, including among them true patriots, nothing would slow them down.
It did not have to be this way. Were American journalists at our nation’s most storied publications adversaries of the ruling class rather than its stenographers—had they even a modicum of skepticism, curiosity, or intellectual honesty, they could have stepped in to defend our republic.
They could have exposed one of the greatest scandals in American history: that our national security and law enforcement apparatus effectively sought to halt the transfer of power to a president they feared and loathed by pursuing him as a traitor, based on crackpot conspiracy theories borne of his political opponent’s research.
Consider Gen. Michael Flynn’s purported Logan Act violations; George Papadopoulos’ comments to an Australian diplomat; Carter Page’s supposed Russian ties; the contents of the Steele dossier; Sergei Millian’s significance; the secret Alfa Bank back channel to Russia. The list of shoddy stories pertaining to purported Russian collusion is virtually endless, and as the Durham Report shows—as did reporting from independent, contrarian journalists at the time—such stories would fall apart under the slightest scrutiny.
Instead, the press served as a willing co-conspirator in this information and lawfare operation. It credulously ran with the lines the Clinton camp, and then the national security and law enforcement apparatus, fed to it.
More than one Pulitzer prize was handed out for fraudulent Russia collusion stories. The Washington Post would eventually retract and remove portions of certain Pulitzer-winning stories. But many glaring errors remain uncorrected, and never apologized for.
As Tom Kuntz, a former longtime New York Times editor who helped edit the Gray Lady’s Pulitzer submissions in several years (and my editor at RealClearInvestigations) detailed back in 2019 amid the release of the Robert Mueller special counsel report showing no Trump-Russia collusion, the award-winning Russiagate “journalism” suffered from major deficiencies.
For one, as he noted, much of the award-winning work, in a parallel to the FBI and DOJ’s efforts, relied on anonymous sources “with insufficient skepticism and a lack of caveats in the service of a credulous and disingenuous journalism of innuendo.”
As Kuntz wrote, these stories did little to establish the credibility and objectivity of their anonymous sources:
Rereading the stories, I searched mostly in vain for answers to these questions: Which government departments did the sources work for? What were their motivations? Were any of them seeking to deflect attention from their own failure to prevent Russian meddling in the 2016 election? How many were current and how many former (i.e. Obama administration) officials? Were any of them connected to former high-ranking officials who publicly—and profitably—turned against Trump?… For that matter, were those high-profile men also serving as anonymous sources? And—a problem little discussed in journalism—could the same people have been sources for multiple stories, creating a distorted, snowballing impression of major wrongdoing?
Just as important, apart from White House denials of allegations, I usually searched in vain for voices both inside and outside the government who dissented from the dark interpretations that were offered.
Former New York Times reporter Jeff Gerth, in an expansive Columbia Journalism Review exposè in large part focused on the media’s coverage of Trump-Russia collusion, points out that Russian collusion-mongering publications failed to print countervailing facts, seek comment from those being scrutinized, and often cited as “government officials” or other purportedly neutral authorities partisan congressional leakers.
Dozens of journalists also refused Gerth’s requests for an interview.
Gerth concluded that “journalism’s primary missions, informing the public and holding powerful interests accountable, have been undermined by the erosion of journalistic norms and the media’s own lack of transparency about its work.”
The parallels between the deep state and its media co-conspirators in foisting Trump-Russian collusion on America are striking.
Both failed at their missions to expose the truth in defense of our republic, but self-evidently defined success differently.
Both wanted to get Trump. With the deep state doing the “investigating” and corporate media serving as its communications arm, they got millions of Americans to believe the president was working with Russia, cast a pall over the entire presidency, and undermined it.
While the deep state has brushed off its corruption as “missteps” and made reforms largely around the edges to “address” it, the media has continued to downplay its own errors or even double down on its work.
Durham’s report stands as a direct indictment of the FBI and Justice Department, and an indirect indictment of the media that carried the agencies’ water. But as with the former, the latter will not face indictments. No one responsible for printing stories filled with gaping errors in major publications has been disciplined, let alone fired.
The deep state and media remain unchastened. The very agencies we can least afford to be hyper-politicized and weaponized remain hopelessly so, and the institution of journalism that might help expose and hold them to account remains co-opted by them.
We the people suffer it.
Ben Weingarten is editor at large for RealClearInvestigations. He also contributes to The Federalist, the New York Post, The Epoch Times, and other publications. Subscribe to his newsletter at weingarten.substack.com, and follow him on Twitter: @bhweingarten.
The views expressed in this article are the writer’s own.