At this point, the feedback loop of disinformation between Trump-friendly congressional Republicans, the White House and pro-Trump media has become familiar. The cycle runs like this: Congressional Republicans voice concerns about an alleged abuse of government authority under President Obama or an instance of anti-Trump bias; one of a small group of relatively marginal media outlets writes about their theories and investigations, drawing yawns from more traditional reporters; then Fox News—usually including Sean Hannity—devotes breathless attention to the story; President Trump tweets about it; Fox and Congress respond to the president’s tweets; and around and around we go.
But the substantive focus of the cycle of obfuscation and confusion looks slightly different on each turn. Think back to March 2017, when Nunes first alleged abuse of unmasking authority. The drumbeat since then hasn’t focused unceasingly on unmasking. Rather, this particular news cycle has moved from unmasking to the Steele dossier, to attacks on the credibility of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s team, to calls for a second special counsel to investigate Hillary Clinton, to efforts to push out FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe, to Uranium One, to the allegedly inflammatory text messages between FBI employees Peter Strzok and Lisa Page, to the Steele dossier, and back again. It’s a roulette wheel of stories aimed at discrediting the special counsel and the FBI. Some of them are even true.
And stories often return, looking slightly different the second time around.