Sidney Blumenthal blunders in attack on GOP senator, requiring factual correction

Blumenthal's story about Johnson's pursuit of 'ObamaGate' had incorrect information related to the now-discredited Steele dossier

Updated: July 25, 2020 - 4:38am

The Facts Inside Our Reporter’s Notebook

An article by journalist and Democratic political operative Sidney Blumenthal critical of GOP Sen. Ron Johnson has been amended to remove a sentence that stated the Washington Free Beacon was involved in hiring Steele dossier author Christopher Steele, following an inquiry by Just the News.

The now deleted sentence in the JustSecurity.org story reads: "Steele was in fact initially hired by the conservative website The Free Beacon and paid by Republican donor Paul Singer to help the Jeb Bush campaign." 

The FBI relied heavily on the now-discredited dossier by Steele, a former British intelligence officer, to get a surveillance warrant to spy on former Trump aide Carter Page.

Just Security, affiliated with the Reiss Center on Law and Security at New York University School of Law, responded to contacts earlier this week from Just the News questioning the veracity of the sentence and asking whether it would be amended or removed if found to be incorrect.

The center responded with an email that stated the sentence had been stricken from the article and that an editor's note had been appended to the story. 

The editor's note reads: "This article originally referred to the Free Beacon’s hiring Steele, which is an error."

In addition, the note points out that the Associated Press previously made a similar error and includes the wire service's correction.  

"As the Associated Press stated in a correction to its reporting, 'The Associated Press erroneously reported that a former British spy’s work on an opposition research project was initially funded by the conservative Washington Free Beacon. Though the former spy, Christopher Steele, was hired by a firm that was initially funded by the Washington Free Beacon, he did not begin work on the project until after Democratic groups had begun funding it.' "

Blumenthal's incorrect sentence was included in his lengthy July 17 story titled, "The Life and Adventures of Ron Johnson: His Journey Through 'Multiple Untruths' to the Fable of Obamagate."

The 10,000-plus-word story is critical of efforts by Johnson, a Wisconsin Republican senator, and fellow Senate Republicans to uncover a purported Deep State plot inside the Obama administration and U.S. intelligence community to destroy Trump's presidency by investigating possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia to influence the outcome of the 2016 election.

Blumenthal is a longtime Washington political correspondent and a former Clinton adviser who also worked for the Clinton Foundation. 

Johnson's office did not respond to requests for comment. 

The Washington Free Beacon, when contacted, replied by sending a statement dating back to 2017 that responds to the misinformation about its connection to Steele.

"All of the work that Fusion GPS provided to the Free Beacon was based on public sources, and none of the work product that the Free Beacon received appears in the Steele dossier," the statement reads. "The Free Beacon had no knowledge of or connection to the Steele dossier, did not pay for the dossier, and never had contact with, knowledge of, or provided payment for any work performed by Christopher Steele. Nor did we have any knowledge of the relationship between Fusion GPS and the Democratic National Committee, Perkins Coie, and the Clinton campaign." 

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