New York Times Article Spurs Avalanche Exaggerations, Distortions, Disinformation

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Today the New York Times reported that the whistleblower, after first approaching the CIA General Counsel with his concerns, then contacted a House Intelligence Committee aide, before eventually filing his complaint. This news led to a near instant avalanche of exaggerations, distortions, and disinformation. Following is a factual presentation of the key points of the New York Times article, and what followed.

The New York Times Report

WASHINGTON — The Democratic head of the House Intelligence Committee, Representative Adam B. Schiff of California, learned about the outlines of a C.I.A. officer’s concerns that President Trump had abused his power days before the officer filed a whistle-blower complaint, according to a spokesman and current and former American officials.

The C.I.A. officer approached a House Intelligence Committee aide with his concerns about Mr. Trump only after he had had a colleague first convey them to the C.I.A.’s top lawyer. Concerned about how that initial avenue for airing his allegations through the C.I.A. was unfolding, the officer then approached the House aide. In both cases, the original accusation was vague.

The House staff member, following the committee’s procedures, suggested the officer find a lawyer to advise him and meet with an inspector general, with whom he could file a whistle-blower complaint. The aide shared some of what the officer conveyed to Mr. Schiff. The aide did not share the whistle-blower’s identity with Mr. Schiff, an official said.

The foregoing represents no wrongdoing by any party in the equation, nor does it represent “collusion” by the House Committee or Schiff. The attorney for the whistleblower, asked to comment, stated: “I can unequivocally state that neither any member of the legal team nor the whistleblower has ever met or spoken with Congressman Schiff about this matter.”

“Like other whistleblowers have done before and since under Republican and Democratic-controlled Committees, the whistleblower contacted the Committee for guidance on how to report possible wrongdoing within the jurisdiction of the Intelligence Community,” said Patrick Boland, a spokesman for Schiff and the House Intelligence Committee. “This is a regular occurrence, given the Committee’s unique oversight role and responsibilities. Consistent with the Committee’s longstanding procedures, Committee staff appropriately advised the whistleblower to contact an Inspector General and to seek legal counsel.”

However, Schiff had previously been quoted as saying “we” had had no direct contact with the whistleblower prior to the filing. Although an aide would later clarify that by “we”, Schiff meant the principals in the committee, the statement, coupled with the news of the contact with a staff member, triggered a firestorm. A redfaced Trump would respond to a question in his press conference:

“It shows that Schiff is a fraud. … I think it’s a scandal that he knew before. . . I’d go a step further. I’d say he probably helped write it. … That’s a big story. He knew long before, and he helped write it too. It’s a scam.”

Trump’s offered no evidence to back up his speculation that Schiff “probably helped write it” — but the statement, and in particular it’s second half where trump states flatly “he knew long before, and he helped write it too” would spur a flood of distortions as the day went on.

The Fox News Report

Under a headline “Trump says Schiff ‘helped write’ whistleblower complaint, after House panel admits advance knowledge” Fox News reported:

A spokesman for House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, D-Calif., acknowledged for the first time on Wednesday that the whistleblower alleging misconduct in the White House had reached out to Schiff’s panel before filing a complaint — prompting President Trump, in an extraordinary afternoon news conference at the White House, to accuse Schiff directly of helping write the document.

Schiff had previously claimed in a televised interview that “we have not spoken directly with the whistleblower.” A Schiff spokesperson seemingly narrowed that claim late Wednesday, telling Fox News that Schiff himself “does not know the identity of the whistleblower, and has not met with or spoken with the whistleblower or their counsel” for any reason.

An aide to Schiff insisted that when Schiff mentioned “we” had not spoken to the whistleblower, he was referring to members of the full House intelligence committee, rather than staff. NBC National Security reporter Ken Dilanian flagged Schiff’s explanation as “deceptive” late Wednesday.

“It shows that Schiff is a fraud. … I think it’s a scandal that he knew before,” Trump said, as the president of Finland stood at an adjacent podium. “I’d go a step further. I’d say he probably helped write it. … That’s a big story. He knew long before, and he helped write it too. It’s a scam.”

By this point, Trump’s closing words on the matter had become a mantra for conservative media: “He knew long before, and he helped write it too. It’s a scam.”

Those three statements would, as the day progressed, be repeated and amplified a thousand times over in conservative media, frequently with headlines blaring “Schiff Helped Write the Whistleblower Complaint” not as a speculative accusation by the President, but as if it were fact.

And this, in turn, led to literally millions of social media exchanges.

And the beat goes on.

COMMENT: Adam Schiff was not completely candid with his earlier response when he said “we” had not had contact with the whistleblower. This lack of candor pales in comparison to that of his detractors, chief among them being President Trump, but as they say — “it’s not a good look” and it fuels the fever swamp fire.

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