After the 2016 general election, which saw Hillary Clinton defeated by Donald Trump, Democrats scrambled for someone to blame other than themselves. Rather than reflect on their many betrayals of the working class that once made up the core of their voting base, Democrats and their most fervent media allies quickly pointed the finger at an old enemy: Russia. What became known as the “Steele dossier,” which MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow breathlessly claimed was based on “deep cover sources inside Russia,” was widely reported in mass media. It now turns out, according to the Justice Department indictment released this week, the contents of the dossier were in fact a deliberately concocted lie now denounced as a fraud by the FBI.
The Justice Department has charged Igor Danchenko, the prime intelligence source for the Steele dossier, with making false statements to the FBI. The indictment documents that there were no such deep cover sources in Russia. Rather, it was all a politically convenient fantasy concocted by Danchenko, a former Brookings Institute hawk, and his Russian emigree drinking buddies telling the Democratic financiers of the Steele dossier what they wanted to hear.
It was not only Maddow who uncritically hyped this fabrication. As Washington Post media critic Erik Wemple writes: “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.”
Many journalists who rushed to promote the most lurid Russiagate claims were equally zealous in their scorn for others in the press who resisted the call for a new Cold War with Russia and were particularly venomous in attacking journalist Aaron Maté. His was one of the few voices who emerged on the left to decry the dangers of this new brinkmanship with a fellow nuclear power. Maté joins Scheer on this week’s “Scheer Intelligence” to discuss “Russiagate” and the latest developments in what the two call an outright conspiracy theory.
Maté, who worked for DemocracyNow! and is a regular contributor to The Nation, makes the case that while many progressives and liberals were drawn into believing the Russian intervention allegations as an easy way to condemn Trump’s vile presidency, doing so backfired spectacularly in a number of ways. The Canadian journalist argues that the Russiagate obsession, which not only let Democrats but the corporate media off the hook for the roles they played in Trump’s election, actually allowed the Republican to get away with many other heinous acts that went under-reported.
For the small band of dissenters to the Russiagate fiasco, it is a bitter vindication now, nearly five years since Russiagate began, that numerous damning revelations have come to light about the Steele dossier, and that two people have been charged by John Durham, the Special Counsel in charge of the Russia investigation, including a Hillary Clinton campaign lawyer. Listen to the full discussion between Maté and Scheer as they examine how, as Maté wrote in a recent piece, “the Russiagate scam is now indicted” and what the episode says about the state of U.S. politics and journalism.