Ronan Farrow Isn't a Journalist, He's an Informational Warfare Tool

Nothing I haven't said before.

Ex-BuzzFeeder Ben Smith isn't an ideal messenger and he largely whacks away at Farrow for not particularly caring about facts.

It was a breathtaking story, written by The New Yorker’s marquee reporter and published with an attention-grabbing headline: “Missing Files Motivated the Leak of Michael Cohen’s Financial Records.”

In it, the reporter, Ronan Farrow, suggests something suspicious unfolding inside the Treasury Department: A civil servant had noticed that records about Mr. Cohen, the personal lawyer for President Trump, mysteriously vanished from a government database in the spring of 2018. Mr. Farrow quotes the anonymous public servant as saying he was so concerned about the records’ disappearance that he leaked other financial reports to the media to sound a public alarm about Mr. Cohen’s financial activities.

The story set off a frenzied reaction, with MSNBC’s Chris Hayes calling it “an amazing shocking story about a whistle-blower” and his colleague Rachel Maddow describing it as “a meteor strike.” Congressional Democrats demanded answers, and the Treasury Department promised to investigate.

Two years after publication, little of Mr. Farrow’s article holds up, according to prosecutors and court documents. The Treasury Department records on Michael Cohen never went “missing.” That was merely the story put forward by the civil servant, an Internal Revenue Service analyst named John Fry, who later pleaded guilty to illegally leaking confidential information.

The records were simply put on restricted access, a longstanding practice to prevent leaks, a possibility Mr. Farrow briefly allows for in his story, but minimizes. And Mr. Fry’s leaks had been encouraged and circulated by a man who was barely mentioned in Mr. Farrow’s article, the now-disgraced lawyer Michael Avenatti, a passionate antagonist of Mr. Cohen.

Now, to be fair to Farrow, this kind of thing, especially when it comes to Trump, is commonplace these days in the media. Consider the Politico hit piece on Trump and the Bank of China. Misstating basic facts is so common that only conservatives care anymore.

Smith notes that Farrow doesn't seem to bother with corroborating accounts. But did the media bother with corroborating the stories of Kavanaugh accusers?

None of these things are the real problem with Farrow. Though they are a real problem with attack journalism in general.

The real problem has always been that Farrow is a informational warfare delivery system and we don't know who's pulling the trigger. He's a minor media celebrity who pushes out stories that are well written, but whose contents are served up in the same way that Fusion GPS served up the Steele Dossier to journalists. And while some of Farrow's work, particularly on Harvey Weinstein, accomplished a good thing, until we know who's pulling the strings, we won't know what the real agenda is.
 

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