On Friday January 6, Donald Trump was briefed by FBI Director James Comey about the existence of a 35-page opposition research dossier titled US Presidential Election: Republican Candidate Donald Trump's Activities In Russia And Compromising Relationship With The Kremlin.1 Compiled by Christopher Steele, a well-regarded former British spy hired by a D.C. research firm at the bequest of an anonymous client, the dossier suggests that the President-elect has certain ties to Russia that could be exploited to influence his leadership.2 One of the more salacious reports is that while in Moscow Trump engaged in sexual behavior with prostitutes that was recorded by Russian security.3 Steele and his family have since gone into hiding.4
Four days after the Comey briefing, CNN published a story stating that the FBI director and others "presented Trump with claims of Russian efforts to compromise him," but stopped short of addressing the specifics of the dossier as it could "not independently corroborate the specific allegations." 5 Fifteen minutes after the publication of CNN's report, BuzzFeed, an internet-based tabloid, published all 35 pages of the dossier so (according to its introduction) "Americans can make up their own minds about allegations about the president-elect." BuzzFeed, however, included the caveat that the dossier's "allegations are unverified, and the report contains errors." 6
Holding his first news conference as President-elect a day after the CNN and BuzzFeed reports, Trump had his communications director Sean Spicer open the event with an attack on both news outlets calling their respective stories "a sad and pathetic attempt to get clicks." Before introducing the vice-president-elect Mike Pence, Spicer went on to say, "For all the talk lately about fake news, this political witch hunt by some in the media is based on some of the most flimsy reporting and is frankly shameful and disgraceful." Pence, too, took an opportunity to allege that both BuzzFeed and CNN had engaged in publishing "fake news." When Trump finally came to the microphone, he also began his opening statement with an indictment of "one group and one television station" for producing "fake news." Trump went on to use the term "fake news" six more times during the conference. He lashed out at BuzzFeed calling the outlet "a failing pile of garbage," and when CNN's Jim Acosta repeatedly attempted to get Trump's attention so he could address the attack on CNN, the President-elect refused to call on him calling his organization "terrible" and "fake news." 7
While the tenor, tone, and approach of both stories was vastly different - BuzzFeed to titillate and CNN to probe - neither story was fake. The dossier was written and Trump was briefed on it by Comey. Whether or not the information in the dossier is "fake" is another matter, but for the record Britain's former ambassador to Russia Andrew Wood, who knows Steele and worked with him in Moscow in the 1990s, stated, "I do not think he would make things up. I don't think he would, necessarily, always draw correct judgment, but that's not the same thing." 8The day after Trump's bashing of BuzzFeed and CNN, his chief media spokesperson Kellyanne Conway appeared on Anderson Cooper's CNN program 360 and repeated the "fake news" mantra during an incredible exchange that lasted 25 minutes. When Cooper asked Conway what was "inaccurate" about CNN's January 10 story, Conway replied, "Oh, my goodness, the whole headline. Go read the entire story. Four bylines and a story that's just not true that the president-elect was presented with this information that it was appended in a two-page document to the briefing." The CNN headline Intel chiefs presented Trump with claims of Russian efforts to compromise him was accurate to a fault and Conway's claim that Trump was not "presented" with information on the dossier is patently untrue. In an effort to equate CNN's report with BuzzFeed, Conway said that the CNN story had an internet link to the BuzzFeed story. Again, patently false. When Cooper asked Conway if she has evidence for her claim that the CNN story is not true Conway responded, "The fact is that the media have a 16 percent approval rating for a reason. It's been earned. And it's crap like this that really undergirds why Donald Trump won. In fact, you're doing him a favor again. This was an anti-elitist election. It was rejection of everybody thinks they know better than people." 9
Perhaps one of the most telling insights into how team Trump understands the roll of the media was revealed toward the end of the interview when Conway asked Cooper, "How are we going to move forward and have a great relationship with major news organizations if everything just sounds and looks and seems the same?" Cooper aptly responded, "To be honest, my job is not to have a great relationship with you." 10 The irony, if irony still exists after November 8, is that Trump appointed Stephen Bannon, the former chairman of Breitbart - one of the most ideological media outlets operating today which is known for publishing fake news - as a chief White House strategist and senior advisor. 11,12,13 The strategy of Trump and his sycophants is as transparent as it is dangerous; delegitimize the fourth estate so that political power can reign supreme. In light of the fact that Trump is not just politically incorrect, but morally unbalanced, it's an understandable strategy.
The morning of his January 11 press conference Trump tweeted, "Are we living in Nazi Germany?" 14 Not yet, but if propagandists like Kellyanne Conway succeed, we may soon be.15
1. FBI's Comey Told Trump About Russia Dossier After Intel Briefing: http://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/fbi-s-comey-told-trump-about-russia-dossier-after-intel-n706416
2. British ex-spy behind Trump dossier seen as a cool operator: http://www.cbsnews.com/news/christopher-steele-british-ex-spy-behind-donald-trump-dossier-seen-as-cool-operator/
3. These Reports Allege That Trump Has Deep Ties To Russia: http://metamorphosis.democraticunderground.com/10028454821
4. Ex-MI6 officer Christopher Steele in hiding after Trump dossier: http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-38591382
5. Intel chiefs presented Trump with claims of Russian efforts to compromise him: http://fox2now.com/2017/01/10/intel-chiefs-presented-trump-with-claims-of-russian-efforts-to-compromise-him/
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