Fox News Found a New Rabbit Hole

Recently, Fox News reported that John Durham — the lawyer who was tasked by William Barr to investigate the origins of the Trump-Russia investigation — had learned that in 2016 Hillary Clinton’s campaign had paid a technology company to infiltrate a White House server. And then the Washington Examine reported Durham says Democrat-allied tech executive spied on Trump’s White House office.

You will not be surprised that the entire right-wing echo chamber blew up over this. But I also noted, as I browsed headlines, that absolutely nothing was being reported about this outside the right-wing echo chamber. This usually means the right-wing news outlets have found themselves a new rabbit hole to fall down. I decided to sit on this until the people who get paid to investigate and explain things worked it out.

Here’s Charlie Savage at the New York Times.

The latest example began with the motion Mr. Durham filed in a case he has brought against Michael A. Sussmann, a cybersecurity lawyer with links to the Democratic Party. The prosecutor has accused Mr. Sussmann of lying during a September 2016 meeting with an F.B.I. official about Mr. Trump’s possible links to Russia.

The filing was ostensibly about potential conflicts of interest. But it also recounted a meeting at which Mr. Sussmann had presented other suspicions to the government. In February 2017, Mr. Sussmann told the C.I.A. about odd internet data suggesting that someone using a Russian-made smartphone may have been connecting to networks at Trump Tower and the White House, among other places.

Mr. Sussmann had obtained that information from a client, a technology executive named Rodney Joffe. Another paragraph in the court filing said that Mr. Joffe’s company, Neustar, had helped maintain internet-related servers for the White House, and that he and his associates “exploited this arrangement” by mining certain records to gather derogatory information about Mr. Trump.

Citing this filing, Fox News inaccurately declared that Mr. Durham had said he had evidence that Hillary Clinton’s campaign had paid a technology company to “infiltrate” a White House server. The Washington Examiner claimed that this all meant there had been spying on Mr. Trump’s White House office. And when mainstream publications held back, Mr. Trump and his allies began shaming the news media. …

… There were many problems with all this. For one, much of this was not new: The New York Times had reported in October what Mr. Sussmann had told the C.I.A. about data suggesting that Russian-made smartphones, called YotaPhones, had been connecting to networks at Trump Tower and the White House, among other places.

The conservative media also skewed what the filing said. For example, Mr. Durham’s filing never used the word “infiltrate.” And it never claimed that Mr. Joffe’s company was being paid by the Clinton campaign.

Most important, contrary to the reporting, the filing never said the White House data that came under scrutiny was from the Trump era. According to lawyers for David Dagon, a Georgia Institute of Technology data scientist who helped develop the Yota analysis, the data — so-called DNS logs, which are records of when computers or smartphones have prepared to communicate with servers over the internet — came from Barack Obama’s presidency.

Jonathan Chait:

Durham has an established history of floating allegations that disintegrate upon inspection. The last time he did this, Durham got the mainstream media to quickly amplify his charges before subsequent reporting showed how weak they were.

That’s a “fool me once” trick. So now, appropriately, the media is going to perform its due diligence and look into Durham’s charges rather than echo them in credulous headlines.

Sure enough, the mainstream news has begun reporting on the filing. Here’s CNN, the Washington Post, and the New York Times. Somehow, despite its absolute determination to ignore the story, the mainstream media has wound up producing several reports covering it. The flesh is weak.

These stories completely debunk the erroneous Fox News coverage that prompted all the right’s complaints.

See also Marcy Wheeler, John Durham Is the Jim Jordan of Ken Starrs; Paul Waldman, The Republican propaganda machine kicks into high gear; and Charles Pierce, The Durham Report Is Vague Enough to Be Useful.