Fox News’ Durham story survives the emergence of inconvenient details

That story was quickly debunked, but now Durham has hinted that it was a function of something larger, an effort by Sussmann, whose company had been held up by Hillary Clinton’s campaign, to use the analyzing data from various computer networks to find connections between Trump and Russia. Among the datasets included in this analysis were those of Trump Tower and, provocatively, “the executive office of the President of the United States.”

In no time, a crystallized narrative on the right driven by A declaration from former Trump staffer Kash Patel, which was amplified by Fox News: Clinton’s campaign did something shady with computers to spy on Trump’s campaign and his White House. Over the weekend, the cable channel and other right-wing outlets and voices picked up and amplified this idea.

Then reality finished putting on its boots. The Washington Post’s fact checkers plunged the story into cold water, as did the New York Times. A filing from Sussmann’s legal team and statements from others involved in the situation like the researchers who analyzed the data indicate, for example, that the period in which the White House (to shorten the descriptor of ” executive office”) was included in the analysis ended before Trump took office. Durham’s record does not suggest otherwise. Additionally, the data assessed was not based on anything being hacked or stolen; rather, it was an analysis of a particular and limited type of data file that had been shared by both the White House and outside internet service providers as part of the standard practice of detecting online activity. illicit line. (In fact, that appears to be why the White House was sharing the data; it was a response to a Russian infiltration in 2015.)

Moreover, the question of whether Sussmann worked for the Clinton campaign is central to the indictment against him. Again, Durham draws an inferred, not direct, line that Sussmann disputes. Either way, the indication of the Durham dossier is not that the Clinton team pushed down for an investigation into possible electronic links between Trump and Russia, but rather that a responsible tech who had engaged Sussmann independently brought the opportunity to his attention and from there it grew. . Remember the moment here: It was just as hardware stolen from the Democratic Party by Russian hackers was being leaked and questions about Trump’s ties to Russia were being raised (even before Clinton’s team do so publicly).

Here is the situation on Tuesday morning. The original story that Clinton’s team oversaw some sort of electronic spying on Trump, including while he was president, has been badly undermined, leading conscientious observers to understandably want to pepper their assessments of qualifiers and caveats.

And then Fox News primetime programming began.

Host Sean Hannity dove into the story with both feet, moving fast not with new developments, but with first, undercut.

“As we first reported last night,” he said, “a bombshell dossier from the Durham investigation details how the Clinton campaign and their associates actively — according, of course, to John Durham — exploited internet data mined from Trump Tower and even the Trump White House to smear Donald Trump.This, Hannity argued, was suppressed by a “media crowd” terrified of the implications – the Fox hosts’ inescapable explanation for turn other media’s cautious assessments of the allegations into evidence that they were trying to bury the truth.

Hannity cited several lines from Durham’s filing, offering none of the qualifications that have emerged since Friday. Hannity also quoted Sussmann’s response – although only the part in which he describes Durham’s case as “unrelated to the alleged offense and clearly intended to politicize this case, inflame media coverage and taint the jury. “.

To discuss the case, Hannity interviewed two guests: former California congressman Devin Nunes (for whom Patel had previously worked); and Fox News legal analyst Gregg Jarrett. Jarrett, I note, is not an impartial observer of the overlap of politics and law; he has written books called “The Russia Hoax: The Illicit Scheme to Clear Hillary Clinton and Frame Donald Trump” and “Witch Hunt: The Plot to Destroy Trump and Undo His Election”.

It was also Jarrett who offered the most detached assessment of the reality of Durham’s case. He alleged that a number of laws had been broken, from fraud in the United States (possibly Durham’s ultimate target) from racketeering to computer crimes.

Here’s how Jarrett described what happened: “In this particular case, a technology company paid for by Hillary Clinton’s campaign is using cyber sleuths to gain unauthorized access to servers to collect unauthorized data. , unbeknownst to Donald Trump, the Trump. Organization, the Trump Transition and allegedly the Trump White House. I mean, it’s absolutely mind-blowing and mind-blowing.

Thus, the research was conducted in part by a researcher at a university, not a technology company, and the company involved, Neustar, was not known to have been paid for by the Clinton campaign. It is not clear that he was paid at all for the research, in fact. “Cyber ​​sleuths” – such a scathing phrase it’s worth pointing out – aren’t supposed to have “penetrated” servers to collect data; instead, they analyzed the log files that had been shared with them. Shared with them, which means “not collected without permission”. This happened without Trump’s knowledge, certainly, but, again, the lawyers for the research team who had the White House data write that “to the best of our knowledge, all the data they have used was non-private…data from before Trump took office.” Again, the Durham filing does not conflict with this.

In other words, Jarrett’s claims were not only supported by the Durham dossier, but he also had to actively ignore a slew of information undermining Fox News’ account of the dossier to whittle away at his alleged list of crimes.

Hannity’s answer? “Incredible”, which is true, but not in the way he meant it.

Nunes’ contributions were also misinformed. “It is clear that anyone who is able to enter the White House, regardless of the president, is something unprecedented. These should be the most protected communications in this country,” he said. , suggesting that the data was obtained illegally, which no one, including Durham, alleged. Nunes then wondered how the contractors could have communications with Americans all over the country, including the sitting president. Beyond the apparent inaccuracy of the “in the White House” part, this is not a collection of “communications”, rather it is domain name search log files than the entrepreneurs and researchers use to track bad behavior online.(I wrote more about this on Monday.)

Again, this is what Fox News airs long after any responsible media outlet and responsible reporters should know best.

Part of what underlies this is that the claims are both convoluted and rooted in arcane technological practices, a field both little understood and easy to misrepresent. The average American hears “data exploited” and thinks “hacked”, which is not the case. (Hannity himself admitted he didn’t know much about the technology, an admission intended to endear him to his audience, not qualify his insistence.) Part of that, too, is Fox’s continued interest News to talk about Hillary Clinton to piss off its viewers.

But this situation illustrates the acute challenge of ensuring a well-informed public. The network, the most-watched news channel on cable TV and a right-wing commentary engine elsewhere, does not have a robust mechanism in place for self-correction. It’s hard to correct TV in the first place, but Fox News hosts have no demonstrated experience in revising their false claims. Hannity’s segment on Tuesday night was peppered with abbreviated references to his misrepresentations about the Russian investigation itself, a good hint at how this Durham stuff will ultimately come to fruition. (This despite at least one prominent voice in the universe of Russian probe skepticism urging caution on the history of Durham.)

What’s worth remembering, though, isn’t just that viewers are misinformed about what’s going on. It is also that they are convinced that they are Following informed. That’s why Hannity began by insisting that other networks were afraid to cover the story. He wants to reinforce the feeling among viewers that they have exclusive access to reality, that they are a collective counterweight to the deceptive elites who are undermining the country. A story is created and backed up by all sorts of (often unsubstantiated) claims, with no one to offer a skeptical assessment. Those who buy see themselves as having more information about what is going on, not less.

It’s been less than a week, but it will now always be true that part of the public – a large part – will forever believe that the Clinton campaign paid hackers to infiltrate Trump Tower and the Trump White House. This belief will be reinforced when people like me say it’s not rooted in any available evidence, because of who I am and where I work, but also because of the various things the narrative reinforces. Clinton bad; victim of Trump; insidious hacking.

Fox News hosts and pundits won’t try to present another story.

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