Mark Twain used to say that a lie can fly half way around the world while the truth is still getting its boots on.
Almost from the beginning the “dossier” on Trump – actually, a cluster-muck put together by a paid opposition researcher, apparently an ex-British intelligence officer -- was rejected by news outlets that like to think of themselves as champions of truth. Good for them. It had been shopped around to various newspapers that had declined to bite because much of the information in the cluster-muck seemed either implausible or unverifiable. Even BuzzFeed, which printed the damning dossier, had doubts. But the news outlet was determined not to let doubt kill a good story. And so, along with feeble disclaimers, BuzzFeed provided the dossier to the general public.
The dossier read like an opposition research document because that is what it was. And it was full of juicy bits that seemed to confirm everyman’s worse suspicions concerning the president-elect, who had usurped a position, president of the United States, that rightly should have gone to Democratic nominee for president Hillary Clinton.
Alas, the erotic hook in the opposition research document proved almost immediately to be a hoax, according to hoaxers associated with 4ChanNow. The steamy part of the cluster-muck alleged that prostitutes in Russia, under the eyes of the deplorable Vladmir Putin and paid by Mr. Trump, wet a bed previously occupied by President Barack Obama and his wife because – Trump hated the Obamas. The incident, bait for the self-delusional, is fictional, but then opposition research needs fangs to be successful.
Soon after the dossier was circulated by Buzzfeed and CNN, Zero Hedge reported “a post on 4Chan now claims that the infamous ‘golden showers’ scene in the unverified 35-page dossier, allegedly compiled by a British intelligence officer, was a hoax and fabricated by a member of the chatboard as "fanfiction", then sent to Rick Wilson, who proceeded to send it to the CIA, which then put it in their official classified intelligence report on the election.”
The whole cluster-muck fell apart nearly as soon as the opposition research paper had been published and it was marginal though respectable news sites that were responsible for sifting through the muck to discover the truth. Mainstream news sites that had declined – for very good journalistic reasons – to soil their papers with fictional sludge were praised by President-Elect Donald Trump for having refused to print the so called dossier, after which Mr. Trump tore into a CNN reporter during a media availability, labeling him an employee of a “fake news” site.
The cluster-muck -- an opposition research paper commissioned by what we might call Enemies of Trump (EOTs), both Republicans and Democrats -- found its way to politicians unfriendly to Trump: Senator John McCain shared the cluster-muck with the CIA, and U.S. Senator Chris Murphy helpfully mentioned the dossier in dark tones to Connecticut reporters.
The lie was flying around the world; the truth was still putting its shoes on.
Honest journalists should be asking hard questions: Who paid for the cluster-muck? Why did some politicians who ought to have known better fall for the salacious hook? Really? Putin and Trump conspired to hire prostitutes to soil a bed previously used the Obamas so that Trump’s hatred of the Obamas might he satiated? Really? Why was everyone so late in challenging this deplorable attempt to use the news media to fatally smear the Trump administration before it had sprouted out of the ground? Why is Vladimir Putin so successful in exploiting the American media? Why are editorial writers who failed to denounce in the strongest possible terms those who exploited their just concerns so – sorry, but there is no other word for it – self-delusional? Congressional committees, one may be certain, will not address such questions.
Fake news operates on a simple assumption: If you know that someone – everyone? – is disposed to believe A about B, you feed the false predisposition by supplying the missing fake news that confirms A. At this point truth is shown the door. It quite literally is no longer useful, because the object of truthful assertions is to convince people; but if people may be convinced by feeding false news to confirm their predispositions, the false method may attain the same outcome. And politics is all about outcomes. If you label an argument or a person effectively, V.I. Lenin knew, you no longer have to argue with it – or him.
That is the Devil that confronts every honest purveyor of the truth. Sometimes, the Devil wins.