Kurt Eichenwald claims that Russian journalists at Sputnik altered one of the Podesta Emails as a part of a Russian disinformation campaign. Donald Trump used passages from the Sputnik article in one of his rallies and his comments were reported in the media. Eichenwald sees the Sputnik article used by Trump as a bogus story intended to disrupt the US election. He claims the Russians “faked it all, taking a real document released by WikiLeaks and altering it to create a bogus story”.(1)
However a careful look at the events Eichenwald describes reveals that both Sputnik and Eichenwald made journalistic mistakes. In this case the Russian and American journalists are more interested in getting a “good story” than carefully observing and thinking. To see all the twists and turn we need to start at the beginning.
IN THE BEGINNING...
On 21 October 2015 Newsweek published a long analysis by Kurt Eichenwald of the events which ended in the deaths of four Americans in Bangazi. Its focus was the subsequent discussions at the House Select Committee on Events Surrounding the 2012 Terrorist Attack in Benghazi.(2) That same day Sidney Blumenthal, known as a Clinton “insider”, read the article. Judging by the title of the email he sent out to undisclosed recipients - “The Truth...” - he clearly thought the article by Eichenwald was a good overall assessment.(3) His email has two parts. The first part with the heading 1. Key Section. consists of several paragraphs which relate to Blumenthal himself, entitled “Secrets, Lies and Sidney Blumenthal”. The second part with the heading 2. THE ENTIRE ARTICLE: consists of the entire article including the paragraphs in the first part.
When Wikileaks released a copy of this email in its first document dump of the Podesta Emails it was noticed by people working for Sputnik. They wrote an article which I have not seen and no longer exists. It is quite plausible that the Russian commentators made a simple mistake. They didn't realize that the contents of the email had been copied from Kurt Eichenwald's article of 2015. They assumed that Blumenthal wrote what they found in the email, not Eichenwald.
Then Trump's staff found the Sputnik article and gave him some of it to use at a rally in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania.(4) Because it looked damaging to the Clinton campaign, it was picked up by mainstream media, where Eichenwald realized that the words Trump mistakenly attributed to Blumenthal were actually written by him.
Eichenwald immediately wrote a “scoop” based on his discovery.(5) However his “spin” on the events was constructed to follow the Obama/Clinton party line in which the evil Vladimir Putin and the devious Russian media had maliciously tried to interfere in the current US election. He discussed an alternative interpretation of events which is the same as mine, but it is rejected:
“Some journalists have speculated that the misrepresentation of the email may have merely been an error by an overworked Russian news agency. However, according to a government official with direct knowledge of the American intelligence agencies’ inquiry into the Russian hacking campaign, and who spoke on condition of anonymity, that theory is 'absurd'.”(6)
Well that is the end of that, isn't it? At least for those who work for Newsweek. He writes that American officials recently been predicting manipulated documents would soon be appearing in outlets like Sputnik. He also says that the Blumenthal email appears to be the first manipulated record to be publicly identified. He sees the Sputnik article as a part of an extensive Russian disinformation campaign.
WAS THERE ANY FAKING OF AN EMAIL POSTED BY WIKILEAKS?
Eichenwald claims that the Russian journalists “had faked it all, taking a real document released by WikiLeaks and altering it to create a bogus story”. Eichenwald is a competent journalist, but his claim is clearly false. How could the Russian journalists alter the real document released by WikiLeaks? It is still there unaltered. How do I know this? By comparing it to the original article written by Eichenwald, something he could have done himself. As far as I can see the email is the same word for word as his article. Blumenthal just did a cut and paste to create it.
Ironically both the journalists at Sputnik and Eichenwald himself made simple journalistic errors. The Russians failed to notice the email was just a copy of Eichenwald's article. Eichenwald's mistake was to fail to look at the email to see if it was in fact altered. Perhaps he was so keen to find the predicted manipulated documents from the Russians that he didn't actually compare his original article with the email.
The Russians clearly quoted passages from the email in the article picked up by the Trump staffers. The passages they used could not have been altered much if at all because Eichenwald recognized his very words. They probably did not alter anything, but it is hard to know this for sure as the original has disappeared. Even if they deliberately presented what they knew as Eichenwald's words as Blumenthal's, how does this constitute “altering” the original email? Further, the story in Sputnik is only a bogus story if the Russians knew it was not written by Blumenthal. Something is bogus only when there is intent to deceive. Otherwise it is a simple mistake, sloppy journalism, etc.
Why do I think it was not deliberate? Because the source they were using could be checked by anybody and they knew that. Are the Russians so stupid that they would think they could get away with such an obvious bogus article? The more important their scoop is, the more they would know it would be checked for authenticity. I am sure the reason it was withdrawn is that the instant they heard about Eichenwald's discovery (“I wrote that, not Blumenthal”) they realized their mistake and quite properly pulled it.
CHRONOLOGY OF EVENTS
4:15 pm – 21 October 2015:
Kurt Eichenwald published an article in Newsweek BENGHAZI BIOPSY: A COMPREHENSIVE GUIDE TO ONE OF AMERICA’S WORST POLITICAL OUTRAGES.
19:16 or 7:16 pm – 21 October 2015:
Sidney Blumenthal sent an email to undisclosed-recipients with the title “The Truth...”. The email begins as follows:
1. Key Section. Then whole article below...
Benghazi Biopsy: A Comprehensive Guide to One of America’s Worst Political Outrages
BY KURT EICHENWALD
AT 4:18 PM"
7:31 – 8 October 2016:
WikiLeaks released the first of The Podesta Emails.
Sometime in next day or so the Russian media outlet Sputnik wrote an article based on the released email called “The Truth...” in which Sidney Blumenthal is reported as saying the following:
“Clinton was in charge of the State Department, and it failed to protect U.S. personnel at an American consulate in Libya. If the GOP wants to raise that as a talking point against her, it is legitimate.”
10 October 2016
Donald Trump held a rally in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania at Mohegan Sun Arena at Casey Plaza at which he is reported as saying “‘This just came out a little while ago, I have to tell you this. He’s now admitting they could have done something about Benghazi.” I assume the “he” refers to Sydney Blumenthal.
7:45 PM 10 October 2016:
Kurt Eichenwald posted his article at Newsweek “Dear Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin, I Am Not Sidney Blumenthal”. At his rally Donald Trump claimed Sidney Blumenthal had written in a leaked email that “they” could have done something to prevent the American deaths at Bengazi. The “scoop” was that the words Trump quoted were his and were not written by Sidney Blumenthal.
HOW DID THE STORY HIT THE MEDIA?
It began when Eichenwald heard passages spoken by Donald Trump which originated from the Sputnik article.
“The author of the article in Newsweek, Kurt Eichenwald explains that when he hear the killer accusation against Clinton “the words sounded really, really familiar. Really Familiar. Like so familiar they struck me as something I wrote. Because they were something I wrote.”(7)