The cable news stations on Wednesday could not ignore Tuesday evening’s bombshell report by The Washington Post confirming that Democrat Hillary Clinton’s campaign helped pay for the infamous “dossier” on President Donald Trump.
But CNN, MSNBC and their guests downplayed its significance and frequently labeled it a “distraction” from the real issue — unproven allegations that the Trump campaign conspired with Russian agents to interfere in the campaign.
The broadcast networks also gave the issue some coverage, although not a great deal, according to the Media Research Center. Rich Noyes, director of research at the watchdog, said the story got four minutes on NBC, two and a half minutes on CBS and 30 seconds on ABC.
"If this was about Trump paying for Russian information to smear Hillary Clinton, it would have been the overarching news story of the day," he said.
Noyes noted that NBC White House correspondent told viewers that the important issue is the contents of the Trump dossier, not how it was created.
"That's trying to have your collusion and eat it, too," he said.
According to the Post's report Tuesday, Clinton campaign lawyer Marc Elias contracted with Fusion GPS in April 2016 on behalf of the campaign and the Democratic National Committee.
The Post reported that it could not determine how much money the firm earned, but House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) has subpoenaed the company's bank records in an attempt to find that out.
MSNBC host Joe Scarborough said on "Morning Joe" that the Republican National Committee had highlighted the Post story.
"But it's interesting," Scarborough said. "They left out a line. Would you like to guess what line the RNC left out?"
Answered MSNBC's Willie Geist: "Was it that they initiated the research?"
"Yes," Scarborough said, "it was that this was actually a Republican project, that Republicans initiated, that Republicans funded, that Republicans kept going until he won the Republican primary."
On claims that Democrats funded the dossier, Scarborough said, "Of course, that's a lie, because it started with Republicans."
But that badly mischaracterizes the affair. It is true, as The Washington Post report made clear, that an unidentified Republican donor initially paid Fusion GPS for opposition research on Trump during the GOP primary contest. But there is not evidence that the Republican National Committee was involved.
What's more, Fusion GPS did not bring in former British spy Christopher Steele to produce the dossier until after the Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee started paying the bills.
That dossier, which contains a number of salacious and unverified allegations, became public in January when BuzzFeed published it despite acknowledging that it could not verify the claims.
Parts of Steele's dossier, gleaned from sources in Russia, have been verified. The most salacious and damaging allegations have not. But Carol Lee, an NBC News national political reporter, gave little of that context.
"Some of it has been proven, and we know that they're still looking at elements of the dossier," she told Scarborough. "So it's not completely history."
Not surprisingly, Democratic politicians were not eager Wednesday on CNN to discuss the matter or the new questions surrounding the approval by Barack Obama's administration of a Russian company's purchase of controlling interest of a mining company that owns a fifth of America's uranium reserves.
"We all engage in opposition research," said Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), when asked about Clinton's role in funding the dossier research.
About that and new congressional investigations into the uranium deal, Hirono said, "there's this constant effort to shift the focus away from the fact that Russians interfered with our elections."
CNN anchor Alisyn Camerota framed the uranium issue this way on her "New Day" broadcast Wednesday: "While Republicans are in revolt, there's a new effort to divert attention to President Trump's former rival. What about these new investigations into Hillary Clinton? Why now?"
CNN contributor Betsy Woodruff, a Daily Beast reporter, said the fact that the Clinton campaign funded Steele's research "is something that's incredibly useful to Nunes as he engages in that project."
Wall Street Journal reporter Michael Bender suggested on CNN that the Clinton-DNC revelations are much ado about nothing.
"There is nothing wrong with opposition research," he said. "And it looks like this went through sort of the normal channels to do so."
Noyes, of the Media Research Center, said it is clear that most reporters are not treating Trump and Clinton the same when it comes to revelations about conduct during the 2016 campaign.
"The media seem to be looking for reasons to convict Trump on mere suspicions, but when there's suspicions about Clinton, they want to wait for absolute proof before running a story," he said. "It's an amazing double standard when it comes to ethics and good government."
(photo credit, homepage images: Donald Trump, CC BY-SA 2.0, by Gage Skidmore / Hillary Clinton, CC BY-SA 2.0, by Gage Skidmore ; photo credit, article images: Donald Trump, CC BY-SA 2.0, by Gage Skidmore / Hillary Clinton, CC BY-SA 2.0, by Gage Skidmore)
Last Modified: October 25, 2017, 9:26 pm