Did Fusion GPS pay journalists to publish fake news?
If anything is in the domain of the public's right to know, it's the facts on whether Fusion GPS paid journalists to write what they wanted written.
That's what's being wrangled in Congress now, whether Fusion GPS should be forced to reveal its banking records showing payments to journalists, payments that might possibly have come from the Russian government or some other moneybags client. Glenn Reynolds at Instapundit asks it right out flat:
WAS FUSION GPS ACTUALLY PAYING JOURNALISTS? Fusion GPS And House Intel Committee Renew Battle Over Bank Records.
Fusion GPS and the House Intelligence Committee renewed their legal battle on Friday over subpoenas for the Trump dossier firm’s bank records.
Lawyers for Fusion submitted a new request for a temporary restraining order preventing its bank, TD Bank, from producing records requested by the House panel regarding records of its transactions “with any law firm, ‘media company’ or journalist with which it has worked.”
The filing raises the possibility that Fusion has paid journalists.
Because while there is nothing illegal about an opposition research firm, however disreputable, paying for information, there is plenty wrong with journalists at mainstream publications taking cash on the side for running stories in their mainstream publications and not telling anyone about it. Was that story about the city councilman being corrupt the result of what the reporter dug up without fear or favor on his own, or was it a put-up job paid for by some deep-pocketed political opponent to knock him from power? Did that story about the awfulness of, say, Sergei Magnitsky, amount to a paid story from a foreign government? That's, to take hypothetical examples, something the public has a right to know, particularly because newspapers advertise themselves as being on the up and up.
Fusion GPS is the sort of Washington smear outfit described well by Sharyl Attkisson in her bestseller, The Smear: How Shady Political Operatives and Fake News Control What You See, What You Think, and How You Vote. She wrote of how these groups have a corrupting influence on news and often rely on smearing their targets rather than allowing reporters to report in calm, fair, perspective, and they are known to pressure reporters to manipulate the news their way.
Media Matters was clearly the worst in her book, which came out last summer. But Fusion GPS is noteworthy, too, since it follows the same pattern.
The company, founded by two ex-Wall Street Journal reporters, been known to pressure reporters to spike stories which are unfavorable to their paid clients, which is one sign of its efforts to manipulate news.
One such example of Fusion GPS's behavior is described in The Federalist, here.
Interestingly, given Fusion GPS’ admitted role in compiling a dossier against Donald Trump, Halvorssen said that Fusion GPS’ methods of going after whistleblowers and journalists included “smear campaigns,” “dossiers containing false information,” and “carefully placed slanderous news items.”
Halvorssen said that Fusion GPS was able to kill a Wall Street Journal story on the Venezuelan scandal by having reporter José de Córdoba meet with Fritsch, his former boss at the Journal. “Mr. De Córdoba described this blatant intimidation tactic as something that made him feel uncomfortable. Mr. Fritsch sent Mr. De Cordoba a dossier containing false and derogatory information about me and about the other whistleblowers who have drawn attention to Derwick,” Halvorssen said. You can read more about that from another source here.
When he returned to the United States, De Córdoba’s supervisors received threatening letters from the law firm Derwick hired to pay Fusion GPS’s fees. The law firm is key because Fusion GPS says being paid by a law firm means all paperwork about their work for Derwick is covered by attorney-client privilege.
Stories at Bloomberg News and The Economist were also killed prior to publication, Halvorssen said.
Circumstantial information also signals that there may be more than just killing stories in Fusion GPS's repertoire. According to an investigation by The Tablet, Fusion GPS also influences reporters to write stories, effectively planting them. Halvorssen accuses reporter Ken Silverstein, who identifies himself as a journalist with cash-flow problems and a friend of Fusion GPS's founder Glenn Simpson, as one such person who has taken his cue to write based on information that apparently came from Fusion GPS, although Silverstein denies it. Silverstein's work generally seems to be very good yet what he wrote about Halvorssen is utter rubbish, seemingly out of character.
With those kinds of allegations going on, it's very much the public's right to know whether journalists have been bought off by firms like Fusion GPS, which has been known to take money from the Russians. There's not a reputable news outlet out there that will tolerate this kind of activity and yes, anyone who does engage in such profit-taking, for whatever reason without telling anyone does get fired, as the recent firing of Wall Street Journal chief foreign correspondent Jay Solomon shows. Readers have a right to know that their news is untainted by sly little payments from special interests made under the table.
Particularly if they are foreign governments, in the case of Fusion GPS.
It's just this sort of activity that is at the root of fake news, and the degeneration of trust in the press that has occurred so intensely from the public in recent years. Attkisson sums up the scope of the problem for the public quite well at the end of her book, stating:
For now, one thing you can count on is that most every image that crosses your path has been put there for a reason. Nothing happens by accident. What you need to ask yourself isn't so much Is it true? but Who wants me to believe it--and why?
For that, it behooves Congress to get to the bottom of whether Fusion GPS was paying journalists and why.