Posted by Curt on 2 November, 2016 at 4:02 pm. 6 comments already!


Mollie Hemingway:

At the top of Hillary Clinton’s Twitter feed is a pinned tweet that links to a Franklin Foer story in Slate magazine headlined “Was a Trump Server Communicating With Russia?” The story isn’t poorly written so much as vaguely written. It never quite explains what exactly is going on or why it’s disconcerting. Clinton’s tweet recognizes that fatal flaw, so she summarizes and repackages it. “Four things you need to know about the Trump organization’s secret server to communicate with Russian Alfa Bank,” she says:

Political reporters loved the story and spread it far and wide:

People on social media more knowledgeable of the underlying technology in play didn’t love it and began poking holes in it immediately. These tweets are the first of threads detailing some of the problems with the story, such as that there is no private server, and that it wasn’t set up to communicate with a Putin-tied Russian bank, and that it wasn’t shut down after a reporter inquiry, and wasn’t re-set up for the same purpose it never had.

Within hours, the New York Timesthe New York Times — had published a story that threw cold water on whatever exactly Foer was suggesting:

F.B.I. officials spent weeks examining computer data showing an odd stream of activity to a Trump Organization server and Alfa Bank. Computer logs obtained by The New York Times show that two servers at Alfa Bank sent more than 2,700 “look-up” messages — a first step for one system’s computers to talk to another — to a Trump-connected server beginning in the spring. But the F.B.I. ultimately concluded that there could be an innocuous explanation, like a marketing email or spam, for the computer contacts.

Editors started saying that they’d passed on the story when they’d been pitched it because it was such a nothingburger. Noah Schachtman of the Daily Beast said of its flaws, “that’s why we ultimately passed on it.” John Little of Blogs of War just said he passed on account of the anonymous sources. Sam Biddle at The Intercept said that “at least five outlets including The Intercept have been looking at this for weeks and decided it didn’t add up.”

But that wasn’t all. At the exact same time as Foer’s failed story dropped, a flurry of anonymously sourced stories all tried to hit the same drumbeat.

Reporters Ken Dilanian, Cynthia McFadden, William M. Arkin and Tom Winter wrote a piece claiming that an unspecified number of vague anonymous sources had told the quartet that a former Trump advisor was getting an, um, “FBI inquiry,” which is to say a preliminary examination and not a criminal investigation. There was no verification of this claim provided in the story.

Mother Jones’ David Corn reported that “A Veteran Spy Has Given the FBI Information Alleging a Russian Operation to Cultivate Donald Trump.” The story is built on a single anonymous primary source. There is no evidence to substantiate his claims. And while former intelligence officers speaking off the record happens about 200 times a day, one has to particularly appreciate the idea that this veteran spy leaked to Mother Jones, supposedly. All trustworthy but totally anonymous veteran spies who want to cast aspersions on Russia leak to Mother Jones. This particular combination is my favorite of yesterday’s opposition research dump. Or as Daniel Foster said, “It’s far more plausible that the [Mother Jones] story is a Russian op than it is that it’s true.”

Eamon Javers at CNBC wrote a story — with, you guessed it, a single anonymous source — claiming that FBI Director James Comey wouldn’t name Russia as meddling in the U.S. election and wouldn’t have the FBI’s name on a document saying as much. Eavers’ super-anonymous “former bureau official” says he heard that Comey privately thoughtit was too close to election day to make such statements. To quote a wise man, “I mean, seriously? What the hell kind of sourcing is this?

By the fourth story, some reporters noted the obvious — that this was a coordinated “opposition research” dump, albeit a very poorly orchestrated one. Partisans pushed back and said it could have just been a coincidence that a bunch of half-baked pieces on the same theme all ran within hours of each other. (This was very different than the fights reporters had about whether the reopening of the investigation into Clinton’s mishandling of classified information should be covered.)

Here’s another coincidence! Sen. Harry Reid — who spent much of 2012 lying repeatedly about Mitt Romney not paying any taxes — got yesterday’s news going with a letter that just happened to be about, well look at that, Trump and Russia. What are the odds? It was also about how Comey, who was the best FBI director in the history of FBI directors when he let Hillary Clinton skate, is now the world’s most evil person and is violating the law by continuing to investigate the former Secretary of State for her mishandling of classified information.

Could We Up Our Standards A Tad?

We’re in the closing days of a contentious campaign. All campaigns have late dumps of real or made-up information designed to change the course of the election. Donna Brazile, herself embroiled in a scandal related to her repeated collusion with Clinton to help her in debate preparation, had to step down from the Dukakis campaign in 1988 for spreading a story about President George H. W. Bush cheating on his wife. George W. Bush had to deal with late-breaking news about an old DUI during his 2000 run.

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