Responsible journalism is journalism responsible, in the last analysis, to the editor’s own conviction of what, whether interesting or only important, is in the public interest.
— Walter Lippman, Address at the International Press Institute
We all make mistakes. As prestigious a publication as the Wall Street Journal has just proved it.
In the case of the WSJ it happened because (a) its editors did not have the time to read the excellent reporting of its own reporters as to events that led to the FBI and Justice Department asking FISA for a surveillance warrant to surveil Carter Page in 2016, and (b) they were unwilling to wait for Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee to take the steps needed so that the Democratic response to the “Nunes Memorandum” could be released. Had they waited, they would have had a complete picture of the facts that led to the request to the FISA court by the FBI and the Justice Department.
The one-sided Republican memorandum known as the “Nunes Memorandum” after the chair of the House Intelligence Committee, Devin Nunes, was released by the White House on February 2, 2018. In less than 24 hours the WSJ had written a long editorial wallowing in enthusiastic support of what, to many observers other than the editors of the editorial page, was obviously a biased and incomplete memorandum explaining what led the FBI to ask the FISA court to permit it to monitor the activities of Carter Page. In addition to the obvious question of why the editorial page editors couldn’t wait to lavish praise on the report until they saw the Democrats’ response to it, (assuming it would be released by the Republicans on the Committee and the White House) the more salient question is why they couldn’t have at least read the work of their own reporters.
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The editorial entitled: “A Reckoning for the FBI” appeared three days after a lengthy report by WSJ reporters, Rebecca Ballhaus and Byron Tau had been published. The reporting of those two individuals contradicted much of the “Reckoning for the FBI” editorial. The authors of the editorial based much of their criticism of the FBI and the Justice Department on the fact that those two agencies failed to disclose to the FISA Court what the Nunes Memorandum described as “essential information.” The essential information was, among other things, that the “dossier” that was prepared by Christopher Steele, a former British spy, was paid for by the Clinton campaign. The editors cited other partisan examples that it extracted from the Nunes memorandum describing the reasons for the conclusions of the Republican members of the Intelligence Committee. Had the editors read the reporting of their own reporters, their editorial would have been quite different or, perhaps, not written at all.
Those two reporters carefully examined what was known about the counterintelligence agencies' interest in Carter Page years before the controversial dossier that was relied by the Republicans had even come into existence. The FBI’s interest in Carter Page, as the reporters explained, went back to 2013. They reported that in seeking the surveillance warrant authorizing the Justice Department to conduct surveillance on Carter Page, the application to the FISA court included material that preceded Christopher Steele’s entry into the picture. Mr. Page, we were told, had been of interest to intelligence officials for at least three years before he became a member of the Trump campaign in 2016. Indeed, his dealings with Russia had taken place for more than 10 years before Mr. Trump ran for president.
The article disclosed that Mr. Page met with Victor Podobnyy, a junior attaché at the Russian Consulate on more than one occasion, meetings that triggered the interest of FBI counterintelligence. Mr. Page was first interviewed by a U.S. counterintelligence official in June 2013. The official was trying to determine whether Mr. Podobnyy, with whom Mr. Page had had two meetings, was a Russian intelligence agent. According to the reporters, in the criminal complaint that was filed in 2015 by U.S. federal prosecutors, Mr. Podobnyy was charged with posing as a U.N. attaché while trying to recruit Mr. Page as a Russian intelligence source. The description of the activities of Messrs. Poddobnyy and his contacts with Mr. Page, provided more than ample evidence to help the FISA court, if not the editors at the WSJ, or the Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee, to understand why the order to monitor Mr. Page was sought.
Had the WSJ editorial editors read their own reporters’ reporting or been willing to await the release of the Democrat’s response to the Nunes Memorandum, they would have been in a position to give voice to accuracy, instead of partisanship. They didn’t. As Mr. Trump would say, “Too bad.”