CNN reported Monday evening that the U.S. government, under President Barack Obama, had wiretapped Donald Trump’s former campaign manager, Paul Manafort — both during after the 2016 presidential campaign.
CNN Exclusive: US government wiretapped Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort, conversations with Trump included. https://t.co/nvG30RFDAf
— Yashar Ali (@yashar) September 18, 2017
The report vindicates earlier reporting by conservative talk radio host Mark Levin, and by Breitbart News, which the entire mainstream media attempted to dismiss at the time as a “conspiracy theory” to mock Trump and to protect Obama.
The media pounced after President Trump tweeted on March 4: “Terrible! Just found out that Obama had my “wires tapped” in Trump Tower just before the victory. Nothing found. This is McCarthyism!”
Terrible! Just found out that Obama had my “wires tapped” in Trump Tower just before the victory. Nothing found. This is McCarthyism!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 4, 2017
Leading the “conspiracy theory” charge was none other than CNN itself. Brian Stelter, host of Reliable Sources, wrote at the time that the wiretapping story was an “incendiary idea” floated by Levin, Breitbart News, and others before reaching Trump’s attention.
CNN’s Jeff Zeleny specifically reported that the Breitbart News story about the wiretapping had been widely read in the West Wing of the White House. “Was Breitbart the main source for Trump’s tweet?” Stelter wondered.
He had little interest in the underlying story, which had stitched together facts from mainstream media reports in the New York Times, the Washington Post, and other sources. Instead, Stelter and others at CNN poured scorn on the idea.
The New York Times — which had run a front-page headline on Inauguration Day reporting that Trump aides had been “wiretapped” — likewise dismissed the story as a “conspiracy theory,” courtesy of Levin and Breitbart News:
It began at 6 p.m. Thursday as a conspiratorial rant on conservative talk radio: President Barack Obama had used the ”instrumentalities of the federal government” to wiretap the Republican seeking to succeed him. This ”is the big scandal,” Mark Levin, the host, told his listeners.
By Friday morning, the unsubstantiated allegation had been picked up by Breitbart News, the site once headed by President Trump’s chief strategist, Stephen K. Bannon. Less than 24 hours later, the president embraced the conspiracy in a series of Twitter posts accusing his predecessor of spying on him, setting in motion the latest head-spinning, did-he-really-say-that furor of Mr. Trump’s six-week-old presidency.
The Los Angeles Times called the wiretapping story a “phony conspiracy theory” (as distinguished from legitimate conspiracy theories?). It reported, incredulously:
“The incredible scandal here is the Obama administration was investigating top officials in the Trump campaign, maybe even Trump himself, during the course of the election,” Levin said.
The next day, Breitbart — the right-wing tabloid website once led by Stephen K. Bannon, Trump’s chief strategist — devoted a story to Levin’s conspiracy theory. The account, which rehashed Levin’s assertions, said the Obama administration had eavesdropped on the Trump campaign, then relaxed National Security Agency rules “to allow evidence to be shared widely within the government.”
The intent, the March 3 article stated, was “ensuring that the information, including the conversations of private citizens, would be leaked to the media.”
The piece circulated in the White House before Trump’s tweet storm the following morning and, according to CNN, “infuriated” the president.
The Times compared the story to the Birther conspiracy theory about Obama’s origins and hauled in an expert who lamented: “We’re living in a world in which people are making false assumptions that because something exists in print and is circulating, it has a legitimacy that it otherwise wouldn’t merit.” (It turns out that complaint applies more to the Los Angeles Times, which dismissed the wiretapping, than it does to Mark Levin and Breitbart News.)
U.S. News & World Report published a feature titled, “The Power of Breitbart: How the country can escape the gravitational pull Breitbart holds over Trump.” It instructed readers to ignore the allegations and facts at the heart of the story: “The question is not, ‘Did Obama undertake a massive, felonious conspiracy against the Trump campaign?’ but rather, ‘Why is this man running around spreading kook conspiracies about the former president?'”
The Washington Post‘s Chris Cillizza — now with CNN — saw the wiretapping story as confirmation that Americans seemed to have elected a “conspiracy-theory president.” He argued: “The problem here, of course, is that what Levin – and Breitbart – use as evidence for these claims are a series of seemingly unconnected events.” Cillizza hedged his bets, however, allowing that it was not “impossible” that evidence might emerge to vindicate Trump.
And so it has. Literally the entire mainstream media were wrong, and Mark Levin and Breitbart News — and Trump himself — were right.
And we were right because the facts were sitting in front of our noses, in bold print at the top of the front page of the New York Times.
1. The Obama administration wiretapped Trump Tower.
2. The New York Times published unverified #FakeNews on its front page.
Pick one. pic.twitter.com/ahb3JD3py8
— Patrick Cooper (@PatrickCooper75) September 3, 2017
But for the mainstream media, it was more important to protect Obama, to demonize Trump, and to smear conservative media outlets.
Call it a fake news conspiracy to cover up the truth.
Joel B. Pollak is Senior Editor-at-Large at Breitbart News. He was named one of the “most influential” people in news media in 2016. He is the co-author of How Trump Won: The Inside Story of a Revolution, is available from Regnery. Follow him on Twitter at @joelpollak.