WaPo media critic says Durham indictment is ‘bad news’ for those who hyped Steele dossier

Washington Post media critic Erik Wemple took aim at media outlets that peddled the infamous Steele dossier following recent revelations from the Durham probe

Last week, Special Counsel John Durham, who was appointed by the Trump administration to investigate the origins of the Russia investigation, charged Steele sub-source Igor Danchenko over false statements made to the FBI. The indictment shed light on Danchenko’s ties to Democrats, casting doubt in the validity of the media’s past coverage of the dossier. 

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“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,” Wemple wrote on Monday. “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.”

Wemple, who has long been critical of the media’s hyping of the Steele dossier, highlighted the involvement of Democratic operative and Clinton ally Charles Dolan Jr., one of Danchenko’s primary sources according to the indictment whose credibility was also undermined by Durham. Yet Christopher Steele, the former British spy who authored the controversial memo, recently told ABC News, “I stand by the work we did, the sources that we had and the professionalism which we applied to it.”

Multiple news outlets, including the Post, ABC News and the Wall Street Journal, told Wemple they were “reviewing” their past and potentially dubious reporting on the dossier’s involvement of Sergei Millian, the former president of the Russian-American Chamber of Commerce.  

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“News organizations may face a mismatch as they place their reporting alongside the indictment. Where the indictment relies on emails, interviews and other powerful investigative tools, the Journal’s initial scoop cited a single anonymous source. The sourcing for The Post’s reporting about Millian’s alleged conversation is unclear, while ABC News attributes its primary assertion to ‘a person familiar with the raw intelligence provided to the FBI,'” Wemple wrote. “These news outlets now face a steep journalistic challenge — that of returning to their source(s) in an effort to back up the original claims that Millian was an unwitting source for the dossier. If that effort doesn’t produce enough evidence to surmount the allegations in the indictment, there’s only one option: Retract the stories. Allowing one version of events to sit awkwardly alongside another — and leaving it to the reader to decide — won’t cut it.”

Rachel Maddow lost to a dozen Fox News programs in the key category, (Photo by Virginia Sherwood/NBCU Photo Bank/NBCUniversal via Getty Images)

Rachel Maddow lost to a dozen Fox News programs in the key category, (Photo by Virginia Sherwood/NBCU Photo Bank/NBCUniversal via Getty Images)

Wemple also called out MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow, who he noted once heralded Steele’s “deep cover sources inside Russia,” for downplaying the findings in the Danchenko indictment and suggesting the purpose of the Durham probe is to “discredit the whole Russia investigation by arresting various sources for that investigation, to discredit the Steele dossier because so many people have been led to think that was the reason for the investigation.”

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“Just as Durham can’t use the dossier to deflect from the larger Trump-Russia tableau, however, people such as Maddow and others can’t use the larger Trump-Russia tableau to deflect from their coverage of the dossier. A reckoning is years overdue,” Wemple wrote. 

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