In a day full of Fox News running with Trump disinformation efforts, here’s another one to add to the pile.
In a letter to Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), President Donald Trump’s director of national intelligence, John Ratcliffe, declassified a document purporting to be a Russian intelligence assessment from 2016. The document alleges that Hillary Clinton may have tried to pin allegations of Russian meddling onto then-candidate Trump. Ratcliffe did not state whether the intelligence was accurate or not.
This is, frankly, pathetic, and many were quick to point that out.
Close watchers have linked this release to former FBI Director James Comey’s scheduled testimony before Congress on Wednesday, as congressional Republicans would have another document to wave around, while forcing Comey and Democrats to spend time and effort debunking it.
Furthermore, Politico reported that the Senate intelligence committee had considered the same document previously and dismissed it as Russian disinformation:
The Senate Intelligence Committee issued five reports on Russia’s sweeping effort to meddle in the 2016 election to boost Trump, ranging across thousands of pages. The panel was made aware of that allegation early on in its investigation, and quickly dismissed it, the sources said.
A former senior intelligence official said it was “a surprising choice to release this information — that is not new and that seems unconfirmed — now and in an unclassified letter,” adding: “I don’t know what good purpose is served.”
It has long been known that the Russians were trying to stir up false narratives about Clinton through similar avenues.
Fox News quickly ran with the disinformation effort -- on its news side, no less. The network did the same with the bogus conspiracy theories alleging Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden would secretly wear an earpiece at the first presidential debate (as opposed to a public figure occasionally scratching his ear over numerous public appearances), and with his campaign’s supposed super-secret illicit cooperation with the New York Times on the Trump tax story (as opposed to a presidential candidate having a capable rapid response video team).
Rep. Don Beyer (D-VA) swiftly called out the network:
The Fox online article framed its story completely around Clinton allegedly trying to “distract from her email scandal before the 2016 presidential election.” The article included a statement from the spokesperson for Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA) calling the report “disinformation,” but spent far more time taking the allegation seriously.
On air, Fox News was much the same, giving the document breathless coverage across its opinion programming. (Lou Dobbs, for example, framed the letter from Ratcliff as “new evidence ... that further ties Hillary Clinton and the Obama/Biden administration to the plot, the conspiracy to overthrow President Trump.”)
Fox flagship “straight news” program Special Report linked the alleged effort in the document to Clinton and then-President Barack Obama personally, though the segment did include a brief comment from Fox contributor Daniel Hoffman casting doubt on the document:
But it wasn’t just Fox News; NBC News contributor Hugh Hewitt demanded that debate moderate Chris Wallace ask Biden about the document.
Russiagate (which in 2020 morphed into “Obamagate”) has been a favorite conspiracy theory of Fox News (particularly Sean Hannity) going back years. It's not worth rehashing all of it in 2020, but suffice to say there is overwhelming evidence that Russia tried to help Trump in 2016. Even a GOP-led Senate panel found as such.
One thing is clear: None of this is about the facts.