Two different journalists have claimed one email from the WikiLeaks' document dump The Podesta Emails, Part 1 has been faked or altered.(1) Kurt Eichenwald claims that Russian journalists at Sputnik “faked it all, taking a real document released by WikiLeaks and altering it to create a bogus story”.(2) Then Georgina Bristow posted an article with the title ”Hillary Clinton VINDICATED After WikiLeaks Caught FABRICATING Fake Emails”.(3)
I would like to examine these claims. There is certainly an story here, but it is not quite as exciting as these journalists make out. It is more like a case of journalistic Chinese whispers, where communication fails when one mistake creates other mistakes until in the end the original message is completely lost. My assessment is that Eichenwald's story is a beat-up, and Bristow's is sheer fabrication.
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.(4) 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.(5) His email has two parts. The first part with the heading 1. Key Section. consists of the section of the article which related to Blumenthal himself, “Secrets, Lies and Sidney Blumenthal”. The second part with the heading 2. THE ENTIRE ARTICLE: consists of the entire article including the section 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 his rally in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania.(6) 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.(7) 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'.”(8)
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.
The last and most absurd twist in this story is provided by Georgia Bristow. While her headline screams WIKILEAKS FAKE her article contains absolutely no evidence that WikiLeaks was involved in any way in any faking. And the article by Eichenewald which she refers us to puts all the blame for the faking on Russia.(9)
WAS THERE ANY FAKING OR FABRICATION OF AN EMAIL POSTED BY WIKILEAKS?
No evidence is presented by either of the two journalists that WikiLeaks faked or fabricated any of the emails in the Podesta documents. 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”. Unlike Bristow, 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 by Eichenwald, something he could have done himself. If the email is the same word for word as his article, how can he say the Russians or anyone else altered the document? Eichenwald gives no evidence that it has been altered by anybody. The Russians clearly quoted passages from the email 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.
All the Russians did was to fail to realize that the words they were quoting were not written by Blumenthal himself, but by Eichenwald. 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 it 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. Eichenwald's story is a beat-up, and Bristow's is sheer fabrication.
OTHER RELEVANT MATERIAL:
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.
12 October 2016:
The article by Georgia Bristow appears with the amazing headline: “BREAKING: Hillary Clinton VINDICATED After WikiLeaks Caught FABRICATING Fake Emails (DETAILS)”. This article claims WikiLeaks fabricated an email in the document dump The Podesta Emails which was supposedly written by Sidney Blumenthal. The fake email was then alleged to have been used in an article from the Russian outlet Sputnik. The article then reports how Trump used this “discovery” as proof from an “insider” that Clinton bore total responsibility for the deaths in the attack in Bengazi.
Georgina Bristow explains that the fake email contained passages from a Newsweek article by Kurt Eichenwald which were then mistakenly attributed to Sidney Blumenthal. However her article fails to explain exactly how Wikileaks fabricated a fake email. She only says a Russian controlled media outlet – Sputnik – was responsible for taking words from the Newsweek article and attributing them to Sidney Blumenthal.
COMPARISON BETWEEN BRISTOW'S STORY AND EICHENWALD'S STORY
Georgia Bristow's article ends with the following sentence: “You can check out the full editorial over at the Newsweek website.”
However when you go to the Newsweek website you get a very different story:
“Almost as soon as the pilfered documents emerged, Sputnik was all over them and rapidly found (or probably already knew about before the WikiLeaks dump) a purportedly incriminating email from Blumenthal.
“The email was amazing—it linked Boogie Man Blumenthal, Podesta and the topic of conservative political fever dreams, Benghazi. This, it seemed, was the smoking gun finally proving Clinton bore total responsibility for the attack on the American outpost in Libya in 2012. Sputnik even declared that the email might be the “October surprise” that could undermine Clinton’s campaign.
“But the Russians had faked it all, taking a real document released by WikiLeaks and altering it to create a bogus story—one that ultimately was picked up by Trump himself. But the Russians had faked it all, taking a real document released by WikiLeaks and altering it to create a bogus story—one that ultimately was picked up by Trump himself. Since Newsweek first broke the story online, 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'.”(10)
Notice that in the Newsweek article Georgia Bristow refers us to “the Russians had faked it all, taking a real document released by WikiLeaks and altering it to create a bogus story.” In Eichenwald's story the party guilty for the faking was not WikiLeaks but the Russians.
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.”(11)