Vanity Fair’s Joe Pompeo wrote:
“I asked Isikoff whether he thought the Russia reporting had gone overboard. ‘I think it’s fair to say that all of us should have approached this, in retrospect, with more skepticism, particularly when we didn’t know where it was coming from,’ he said. ‘We knew that Steele compiled it, but that Steele did not hear these allegations himself. Somebody else heard them from others and then passed them along. That’s third-hand stuff, which is not usually the kind you want for publishing.’”
“All of us?” “We?”
Investigative journalist Michael Isikoff may find comfort in the herd; however, the fact is, he led it. It was Isikoff who published the first news story based on this “third-hand stuff” from the so-called Steele dossier in September 2016 for Yahoo News, where he was—and still is—”chief investigative correspondent.”
It’s one thing to be a useful idiot (at best), who, after more than 30 years in the news business, is easily gulled by Democratic Party and Clinton campaign contractors into presenting pre-packaged slander against the Republican presidential nominee as responsibly sourced and credible information. It’s quite another to start with this “we” business to avoid taking responsibility for hoaxing the public in the first place.
Still, Isikoff has performed something of a public service. Thanks to “Russian Roulette,” the 2018 book he co-authored with David Corn, who happened to have written the second load of #FakeNews based on Steele’s “third-hand stuff” in October 2016 for Mother Jones, we can now walk through Isikoff’s steps to see how exactly it first came into public view as “news.”
According to “Russian Roulette,” the stage was set in mid-September 2016, when Fusion GPS proprietors Glenn Simpson and Peter Fritsch “booked a private room” at the Tabard Inn, “a bohemian hotel and bar,” Isikoff and Corn explain, “long favored by Washington journalists.” They add: “It would serve as something of a private salon for Steele and reporters.”
Ladies and gents, here we see everything that is wrong with elite journalism. It takes place in private salons. The salons are run by opposition research firms. The salon attraction, in this case, retired British intelligence officer Christopher Steele, interacts with pre-selected reporters from The New York Times, The Washington Post, CNN, and Yahoo News, some number of whom may even be on the Fusion GPS’s still-redacted journalist payroll, just as Steele is, too. Dictation misnamed as reporting ensues.
For all the chi-chi surroundings, the whole thing smelled, but Isikoff and Corn didn’t seem to notice.
It was here where Steele unloaded his “third-hand stuff” to Isikoff: Carter Page, the peripheral, unpaid Trump campaign adviser, had connections to the Kremlin (for which Page would be hounded even as the “connections” turned out to be fabrications).
“Steele wouldn’t say anything about his sources,” Isikoff wrote. “After all, this was Russia—where sources could be shot or poisoned for talking about such matters.”
Isikoff played along in 2016, and, in a bobbing and weaving way, he still is.
As Isikoff put it recently to Vanity Fair: “It’s been surprising to me the degree to which some people have wanted to maintain that the dossier was checking out when, as far as I can tell, it hasn’t.”
So reasonable, right? Wrong. He continued, explaining that the dossier was “not a total wash” and, key point, also was worthy of investigation:
“There are aspects in there, like cultivating Trump on business relationships, that there is support for, so it’s not a total wash. But it’s the specifics that really knocked people over the head, that really set expectations for what [special counsel Robert] Mueller was gonna find—a vast criminal conspiracy of collusion—and the reality seems to be that the relationships are murkier than that. … None of this justifies the Republican jihad to undermine the entire investigation.”
That’s the bottom line. For the anti-Trump conspiracy, the phoniness of the dossier’s contents was and is immaterial to the grand strategy to trigger an “entire investigation”—first, domestic spying on the Trump team, and, later, the special counsel investigation.
In “Russian Roulette,” we watch Steele bait this hook for Isikoff. All of this “truly disturbing” information about Page, Steele told Isikoff, had been presented to the FBI. “There were people in the Bureau taking this very seriously.”
After just one hour with Steele in the “private salon” (and maybe a quick Tabard Burger—house-made brioche bun, chorizo, Angus beef, smoked bacon, local smoked gouda, fried egg, sriracha ketchup, lemon aioli and French fries), it was a short hop to a big headline: “U.S. intel officials probe ties between Trump adviser and Kremlin.”
Of course, first, Isikoff had to check up on Steele.
Isikoff and Corn wrote:
“When he got back to the office, Isikoff called Jonathan Winer at the State Department; he had known Winer for years. Simpson had told Isikoff Winer could vouch for Steele. Yes, Steele was an absolutely reliable source, Winer said.”
I’m not making this up. This is how Washington “journalism” works, and, thank you, Isikoff, for not being too embarrassed to reveal these details.
First, if Simpson approves, you receive an invitation to interview an “impeccable” source in a private salon. You take dictation. Then, salon host (and Democratic National Committee/Clinton contractor) Simpson provides you with a second source to vouch for the things you have copied down from the first. Never mind that in this case, the second source is longtime John Kerry aide Jonathan Winer, himself a conduit from Steele into the Kerry State Department, and then back again to Steele as a conduit for Sidney Blumenthal/Cody Shearer dossier material (which also ends up in the FBI).
The Trump campaign is on its way to defeat, and you are on your way to the Pulitzer Prize.
Only it didn’t work out quite that way. Isikoff’s co-author Corn even took a whack at publishing Steele’s “third-hand stuff” in late October 2016, but to no avail—even though Corn, too, did his due diligence. As he and Isikoff wrote in “Russian Roulette”:
“After speaking with Steele, Corn confirmed Steele’s identity and expertise. He contacted Jonathan Winer to ask him about Steele. (Isikoff, too, had called Winer about Steele.) Speaking on background, Winer told Corn that he had worked with Steele and that he had a solid track record of collaborating with U.S. government agencies. …”
Winer again—the mainstream media’s one-stop Steele character witness.
This is getting goofy. We’re at a place where a self-respecting left-wing magazine such as Mother Jones, winner of a pair of “Izzies,” a journalism award named for Soviet agent and journalist I.F. Stone, now believes in a source’s credibility on learning that he collaborates (and, I dare say, colludes) with the U.S. government. See what happens when the left becomes the Establishment, aka, the Deep State?
I’ll bet it takes all of the fun out of executing really slick disinformation campaigns for the KGB (or whatever it calls itself these days). It’s just too easy to own the U.S. media information loop.
Note to any honest Washington journalists still practicing the trade. The next time you’re invited to a “private salon,” just say no. Bone up on common sense about vetting sources so you’re less likely to get burned.
Here’s how intelligence writer Edward Jay Epstein distilled the wisdom of the legendary counterintelligence chief James Jesus Angleton in his book “Deception.” The men were discussing intelligence matters decades ago, but the same rules work for anyone evaluating information today:
“[Angleton] explained that ordinary standards of evidence cannot be applied to much of the information the CIA receives from inside the Soviet bloc. It is a ‘denied area,’ where often it is not possible for American case officers to meet, much less test, the ultimate sources in their chains of agents. What emerges in Washington from the darkness is copies of Soviet state documents and reports of what high-level Soviet officials have said in private.
“The crucial issue is whether these documents and private conversations from the Soviet inner sanctum represent legitimate intelligence or disinformation. If the material has been intercepted without the knowledge of the KGB, it is considered intelligence; if it has been passed through this chain with the knowledge of the KGB, it is considered disinformation. What separates intelligence from disinformation is nothing more than an assumption about the enemy’s state of awareness—an assumption always open to question in the secret world.”
Everything we have learned to date about the Steele dossier and its Russian sources tells us it passed into the U.S. domain with the knowledge of Russian intelligence agencies, and is, therefore, by Angleton’s definition, to be regarded as disinformation.
Anyone, from Isikoff and Corn, to Mueller and Attorney General William Barr, who isn’t trying to make that clear, is spreading it.
Diana West is an award-winning journalist and author whose latest book is “The Red Thread: A Search for Ideological Drivers Inside the Anti-Trump Conspiracy.”
Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.