Washington Post media critic Erik Wemple issued a scathing critique of MSNBC host Rachel Maddow's coverage of the deeply-flawed Steele dossier, laying out the numerous times when Maddow emphasized information that seemed to support the dossier while ignoring or downplaying evidence that the document was unreliable.
The Steele dossier is a collection of memos alleging the Russian government has been supporting and assisting President Donald Trump for years, and that the Russians hold compromising information against Trump. It was initially made public by Buzzfeed News in January 2017, just before Trump was inaugurated.
Wemple, in his analysis of Maddow's coverage, credits her with repeatedly mentioning that the dossier was unverified, but notes that her coverage was slanted toward rooting for the dossier to be considered true, and leading viewers to believe the claims within the dossier carried substantial truth.
When the Mueller report failed to support the dossier's central claim that the Trump campaign and Russia had worked together to interfere in the 2016 election, Maddow focused on the possibility that a footnote within the report corroborated the Steele dossier claim that Russia had compromising tapes on Trump.
After Inspector General Michael Horowitz's report further damaged any potential credibility of the Steele dossier, Maddow again chose not to emphasize that aspect of the report in her coverage. Since that day, Dec. 9, Wemple writes, "the dossier has gone in hiding from 'The Rachel Maddow Show.'"
Wemple wrote that Maddow's "rooting" for the veracity of the Steele dossier likely misled her viewers about the true nature of the documents:
When small bits of news arose in favor of the dossier, the franchise MSNBC host pumped air into them. At least some of her many fans surely came away from her broadcasts thinking the dossier was a serious piece of investigative research, not the flimflam, quick-twitch game of telephone outlined in the Horowitz report. She seemed to be rooting for the document.
And when large bits of news arose against the dossier, Maddow found other topics more compelling.
She was there for the bunkings, absent for the debunkings — a pattern of misleading and dishonest asymmetry.