Three major U.S. news outlets in early December promoted a story alleging WikiLeaks had secretly offered the Trump campaign special access to the Democratic National Committee emails before they were published. The reports suggested the correspondence proved collusion between the Trump family and Russia, since the U.S. intelligence community regards WikiLeaks as an “arm of Russian intelligence.” It turns out this information was false. The issue of collusion with Russia was also a key focus in President Trump’s recent interview with reporter Michael Schmidt of The New York Times, where Trump said repeatedly, “There was no collusion. … There was no collusion.” We talk about the probe into Russia collusion and coverage by mainstream media with Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter Glenn Greenwald, one of the founding editors of The Intercept.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Early [last] month, three major U.S. news outlets all promoted a story alleging that WikiLeaks had secretly offered the Trump campaign special access to Democratic National Committee emails before they were published. The reports suggested the correspondence proved collusion between the Trump family and Russia, since the U.S. intelligence community regards WikiLeaks as an “arm of Russian intelligence.” It turns out the information was false.
AMY GOODMAN: So, we continue our conversation with Glenn Greenwald, the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, who writes about this and many other issues. Can you set the record straight, Glenn? You commented on Twitter shortly after this report, saying, quote, “Slate notes because CNN & MSNBC completely refuse to provide even the most minimal transparency about how they got their big story so wrong, we still don’t know the answer to the key question—and probably never will, since they’re burying it.” So, Glenn, talk about what this story was, how it was reported, the sense people are left with who are just fleetingly covering these things—following these things.
GLENN GREENWALD: So, I think it’s—yeah, so I think it’s worth remembering how dramatized CNN presented the story as being. They really did present it as kind of the smoking gun that would bring down the Trump presidency and, once and for all, prove collusion. And then, shortly after, both MSNBC and CBS said that they confirmed the story independently, and were on air for hours doing the same thing. It was by far the biggest story of the day, being pointed to as evidence that Trump actually did collude with the Russians through WikiLeaks, because what CNN said was that there was an email sent from an unknown person to Donald Trump and Donald Trump Jr., offering them access to the WikiLeaks archive, to the archive of emails that WikiLeaks didn’t publish but had pointed to, before WikiLeaks actually made them public, suggesting that the Trump campaign was given special early access to this archive of emails that had been hacked, and thus proving collusion.
And as it turned out, the entire report was false. It was false because it was based on the inaccurate date of this email. The email that was sent to Donald Trump offering this access was not sent before these emails were public. It was sent by some member of the public after the emails were public. It was just some guy saying, “Hey, you should look at these emails,” that everybody in the world is already aware of. So the whole story completely collapsed.
Now, all journalists make mistakes. You guys have made mistakes. I’ve made mistakes as a journalist. And what you do when you make a mistake—and the bigger the mistake, the more this is true—is you have to explain to the public how it is that you got wrong what you got wrong, what went wrong in your process. Did somebody mislead you? Did you make a mistake in your analysis?
And so, what CNN said was that they had multiple sources, multiple sources who told them about this email and who characterized it in this way, that this email took place and was sent before these emails were public. And as it turned out, that was wrong. So the question that arose is an obvious question. It’s a really important question, which is—it’s plausible that one person could look at this email and just misread the date. The date that they said it was was September 4th. It was really September 14. You can see one person misreading a date. But CNN said multiple sources gave them the date of September 4th. Then, MSNBC and CBS said the same thing. How did multiple sources all get this wrong? How did they all get the date wrong in exactly the same way, for exactly the same purpose?
So, CNN and CBS and MSNBC were forced to admit their story was false, because The Washington Post got a hold of the email and showed that it was false. But what they refused to do is what journalists demand every day that other people do, that other companies and corporations do, that government officials do, which is provide transparency about their mistakes. To this day, CNN refuses to say who these sources were who gave them the wrong date, how it is that they all got the date wrong, innocently, in good faith. Was it a deliberate attempt to deceive the public?
And that’s what erodes trust in media outlets, which is: When they clam up and hide behind corporate and lawyer statements and refuse to provide basic transparency about their own behavior, how do they then have credibility to turn around and demand transparency from government institutions and officials or from corporations, when they refuse to provide it themselves? And to me, to date, that is the most disturbing part of this story, is that it’s not just a huge mistake, it’s not just a huge mistake that’s been one in a long series of similar mistakes all geared toward the same political agenda, which is to inflate the Trump-Russia story; it’s their refusal to explain what happened, how they made such a monumental mistake, and whether they were deliberately misled or whether it was some kind of bizarre coincidental accident that multiple people all made at the same time.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Glenn, I wanted to ask you about something else, an article that you wrote about in September. It was shortly after Sean Spicer’s being—having been ousted from the White House, gets an appearance at the Emmy Awards. And you talked about the quickness by which disgraced people in previous administrations in Washington suddenly get rehabilitated. And especially you listed all of the Bush administration people, because somehow now the Bush administration, the former people in that administration, are now being welcomed, and even on many of the liberal talk shows on commercial television.
GLENN GREENWALD: I mean, I think that if you were to go back and look at not just the Bush years, but also the Obama years, the person, the journalist or pundit or commentator who was probably the single most disgraced and discredited was the neoconservative editor-in-chief of The Weekly Standard, Bill Kristol. It wasn’t just that he was this incredibly vocal advocate of the Iraq War. His sins and crimes extend way beyond that. He advocated for torture. He was one of the people who wanted to go and go to war with Iran and have regime change in Tehran. During the Obama years, he accused Justice Department lawyers who had represented Guantánamo detainees of being jihadists and called them “the al-Qaeda Seven.” I mean, he’s one of the scummiest and least ethical smear artists in American politics over the course of 30 years, somebody who has constantly lied, defended the most atrocious policies. And suddenly, last year, because he became a critic of Donald Trump, he’s now welcomed on MSNBC, almost on a daily basis, talked about as though he’s some kind of person whose insights are to be valued, who is a person of high ethics.
And this is what I think you see in American politics all the time, is people who have no accountability for what it is that they do. We’ve been—we’ve spent some time talking about why the American media is held in such low esteem on the part of the public. I think that’s one of the reasons. In ordinary life, if you go to your job and you make a series of horrendous mistakes, you’re going to be fired, and it’s going to be hard for you to find a job. But people who work in journalism or people who work in politics, like David Frum, who spent years just outright lying to the American public about the most—the weightiest matters, continue to get promoted. One of the most prestigious journals in American political life is The Atlantic, and the editor-in-chief of The Atlantic is Jeffrey Goldberg, who in 2002 and 2003 was writing articles in The New Yorker saying that Saddam Hussein had a relationship with al-Qaeda and sort of laundering every horrible lie that the Bush administration was telling that sparked the Iraq War. And all these people do is continue to rise and get embraced and get rehabilitated, because there’s zero accountability. The more power you have, the more you are able to commit all kinds of grave sins and lies and crimes, and continue to succeed. And it really ought to be the opposite. And I think, in media, you see that probably more than anywhere else.
AMY GOODMAN: And what’s happening with Sean Spicer, as Juan started off that question?
GLENN GREENWALD: Yeah, I mean, the example of Sean Spicer is particularly amazing, because I think most people are in agreement that the Trump administration has systematically lied to the public. All governments lie, as I.F. Stone famously observed. But the Trump administration has taken that to an entirely new level. And the face of that for the first six months of the administration was Sean Spicer, who stood in front of the public and lied on a daily basis. He ought to be disqualified from public life in every decent institution. And yet there he was—I forget whether it was the Academy Awards or the Emmy Awards—being feted by Hollywood.
The most amazing thing of all was that he was given a fellowship at Harvard in the Kennedy School, which is the same program that originally gave a fellowship to Chelsea Manning, who risked her liberty in order to provide the most valuable journalistic archive that we have in American journalism, which is the archive that she gave to WikiLeaks about the Iraq and the Afghanistan War. She was part of that same fellowship program that Sean Spicer received, and yet the CIA objected to Chelsea Manning being given this honor, and Harvard turned around and instantly rescinded the offer to Chelsea Manning, saying, “We have to preserve the integrity of this program,” while allowing not just Sean Spicer, but Corey Lewandowski, a former top Trump campaign official, who lied repeatedly, to become part of that same program. And I think that’s the point that I’m getting at, is Chelsea Manning has no power in Washington, and therefore there’s accountability for her. She spent seven years in a brutal prison and now has her offer rescinded, at the demand of the CIA, by Harvard. But people like Sean Spicer and Corey Lewandowski, who continue to wield influence in Washington, or David Frum and Jeffrey Goldberg and Bill Kristol, continue to climb the ladder of success—
AMY GOODMAN: Glenn—
GLENN GREENWALD: —no matter what it is that they do. And that’s a really skewed incentive scheme.
AMY GOODMAN: We have to leave it there. I thank you so much for being with us. Glenn Greenwald, we’ll link to your pieces, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist.
And we end today’s show with the news that here in New York City, anti-police brutality activist Erica Garner died Saturday, after she fell into a coma following an asthma-induced heart attack. She was just 27 years old, the daughter of Eric Garner. She struggled for justice in her father’s case, who died in a police chokehold as he gasped “I can’t breathe” 11 times.