The new Trump-Russia denialists

It was to silence that question that the outgoing Trump administration appointed a special counsel of its own to investigate its investigators. John Durham has now issued three indictments, all for lying to the FBI about various aspects of the Steele dossier. None of these indictments vindicate Trump’s claims in any way. It remains fact that Russian hackers and spies helped his campaign. It remains fact that the Trump campaign welcomed the help. It remains fact that Trump’s campaign chairman sought to share proprietary campaign information with a person who the Senate report identified as a “Russian intelligence officer.” It remains fact that Trump hoped to score a huge payday in Russia even as he ran for president. It remains fact that Trump and those around him lied, and lied, and lied again about their connections to Russia.

Outright pro-Trump people remain deeply invested in those lies. But Trump’s media effort has often relied heavily on people who are not pro-him, but anti-anti-him. And the secret to successful anti-anti-Trumping has always been to fasten onto side issues and “whatabouts.”

Anti-anti-Trump journalists want to use the Steele controversy to score points off politicians and media institutions that they dislike. But as media malpractice goes, credulous reliance upon the Steele dossier is just a speck compared with—for example—the willingness of the top-rated shows on Fox News to promote the fantasy that the Democratic Party hacked itself, then murdered a staffer named Seth Rich to cover up the self-hack. (Some versions of this false claim include suggesting that Rich himself committed the crime.) Fox News ultimately settled with Rich’s family for an undisclosed sum even as the Fox host who had done most to promote the false story insisted on his radio show that he had retracted nothing. The story was crazy and cruel. But the story protected Trump, and that was proof enough for a media organization much more powerful than any of those that accepted the Steele dossier.