FILE – This Tuesday, March 7, 2017 file photo shows Christopher Steele, the former MI6 agent who set up Orbis Business Intelligence and compiled a dossier on Donald Trump, in London. No one has painted a more vivid or lurid portrait of a purported alliance between Trump’s presidential campaign and Russia than Steele. (Victoria Jones/PA via AP)
One of the most frustrating things about the Trump-Russia investigative fiasco is just how many people who pushed false reporting and allowed themselves to be direct mouthpieces for Fusion GPS propaganda are now profiting off that.
Perhaps the most obvious example is Politico’s Natasha Bertrand, who went from an obscure reporter to a national media figure almost solely on her propensity to repeat whatever crazy collusion conspiracy theories her “sources” chose to feed her on a given day. Bertrand has spent countless words fluffing the Steele Dossier and attempting to lend it credibility by using the same type of circular logic that Yahoo’s Michael Isikoff used.
Her reward? A gig on MSNBC as a contributor.
The Washington Post’s Erik Wemple hit this issue in a piece that is part of an ongoing series dealing with the media practice regarding the Steele Dossier.
No, we don’t have that reporting — though there’s no prohibition against fantasizing about it on national television. Such is the theme of Bertrand’s commentary during previous coverage of Russian interference, specifically the dossier of memos drawn up by former British intelligence officer Christopher Steele. With winks and nods from MSNBC hosts, Bertrand heaped credibility on the dossier — which was published in full by BuzzFeed News in January 2017 — in repeated television appearances. Her written work has appeared on Business Insider, the Atlantic and Politico, where she is now a national security reporter. Along the way, she bootstrapped her punditry into a contributor’s role on MSNBC.
Wemple continues by laying out exactly how Bertrand traded on bad, misleading (at best) reporting to become the go-to “Russian collusion” contributor on MSNBC.
The boosterism dates back years. On Sept. 18, 2017, for example, Bertrand participated in a collective journalistic failure on the MSNBC airwaves. On “All In,” Bertrand, who then worked for Business Insider, discussed an apparent scoop from CNN that Paul Manafort, the former campaign chairman for Trump, had been “wiretapped” before and after the 2016 presidential election under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.
To shower context on the apparent news, Bertrand remarked that securing a FISA warrant is “extremely difficult.” And she sandwiched the report with previous reporting that the feds had taken a similar action regarding former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page: “They also got a warrant for Carter Page, who if you remember in the infamous Trump-Russia Steele dossier, it said that Carter Page was actually working as a liaison, being managed by Paul Manafort as kind of a go-between. So these pieces are all starting to come together and it’s really alarming.”
Not so alarming, as it turned out. For one, CNN was wrong about the Manafort wiretapping story, as made clear in the report from Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz. The network added aweaselly editor’s note to the Manafort story as a means of wishing away the bad news. For another, the Horowitz report made clear that the FBI made numerous omissions and errors in the FISA process and still secured authorizations. For yet another, the “pieces” didn’t particularly “come together”: Though Steele’s 35-page dossier alleged that Page was in collusive cahoots with Manafort, the FBI concluded otherwise, according to the Horowitz report.
Make sure you click on the link above to Wemple’s piece, as he goes bullet point by bullet point, taking Bertrand’s past reporting apart in meticulous detail. The above is just a small taste of the article.
The story of Bertrand’s rise clearly exposes what’s wrong with our news media and she’s hardly the only example. Reporters essentially sell themselves to certain groups as long as the stories keep flowing, Fusion GPS in this case. They then go reinforce bad information by presenting it as vetted reporting when it’s clearly not. The Paul Manafort story noted above, for example, was false. Does anyone think Bertrand did anything to try to verify it before running to repeat it? I certainly see no evidence of that.
For her part, Bertrand is doing what most “reporters” do when faced with a factual critique of their past work – doubling down.
Bertrand herself sent this statement via email: “I stand by everything I’ve said on air and reported.”
Yeah, well except non-negligible parts of that reporting turned out to be false. But failing up in media has become the norm these days, assuming you hold the right politics of course.