The media’s epic fail
By Sara Fischer
November 16, 2021:
A reckoning is hitting news
organizations for years-old
coverage of the 2017 Steele dossier, after
the document's primary source was charged
with lying to the FBI.
Why it matters: It's one
of the most egregious journalistic errors in
modern history, and the media's response to
its own mistakes has so far been tepid.
Outsized coverage of the unvetted
document drove a media frenzy at
the start of Donald Trump's presidency that
helped drive a narrative of collusion
between former President Trump and Russia.
- It also helped drive an even bigger
wedge between former President Trump and
the press at the very beginning of his
Driving the news: In
wake of the key source's arrest and further
reporting on the situation, The Washington
Post on Friday
corrected and removed large portions of
- To The Post's credit,
its media critic, Erik Wemple,
written at length about the mistakes
made by The Post and other media outlets
in their coverage of the dossier.
BuzzFeed News, which
made waves in 2017 by publishing the entire
dossier, says it has no plans to take the
document down. It's still online,
accompanied by a note that says “The
allegations are unverified, and the report
- Ben Smith, who was BuzzFeed's
editor-in-chief at the time and is now a
media columnist at The New York Times,
told Axios, “My view on the logic of
publishing hasn't changed."
- BuzzFeed defended the decision in a
2018 lawsuit by arguing that because the
FBI opened an investigation into the
Trump campaign's ties to Russia, the
dossier itself was newsworthy, whatever
the merits of its contents turned out to
be. It won that case.
Other outlets that gave
the document outsized coverage have so far
been less forthcoming.
- CNN and MSNBC did
not respond to requests for comment
about whether they planned to revisit or
correct any of their coverage around the
- Mother Jones
Washington bureau chief David Corn began
reporting about the dossier prior to the
Asked by Wemple whether he planned
to correct the record, Corn said," My
priority has been to deal with the much
larger topic of Russia’s undisputed
attack and Trump’s undisputed
collaboration with Moscow’s cover-up."
- Corn did not respond to a request to
speak on the record with Axios.
- The Wall Street Journal
told Axios, "We’re aware of the
serious questions raised by the
allegations and continue to report and
to follow the investigation closely."
- Axios was among the outlets
that did not publish the
dossier or original reporting based on
What to watch: The
Steele screwup will undoubtedly cause an
even bigger rift in trust between Democrats