Press needs to restore its credibility on the FBI and Justice Department

I will never call the mainstream media “the enemy of the people.” But I will call them out for having strayed from fairly reporting some of the biggest stories of the last two years. No matter how egregious their errors, they insist on pointing fingers elsewhere and reinforcing political biases, in ways unimaginable to those of us who grew up in the Walter Cronkite era.

A few days ago, John Solomon of The Hill revealed that Congress has discovered that Bruce Ohr, one of the highest ranking Justice Department officials reporting to Deputy Attorney General Rod RosensteinRod Jay RosensteinFreedom Caucus calls on Rosenstein to testify or resign House panel preparing to subpoena for McCabe memos Trump telling advisers he's open to keeping Rosenstein: report MORE, was in secret communication with former British spy Christopher Steele, author of the salacious Russia dossier produced for an opposition research firm on behalf of the Clinton campaign and the Democratic Party.

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Steele also just happened to be a paid informant for the FBI, but he was later dismissed for lying about his contacts with the media. The FBI used his dossier to apply for warrants to surveil Trump campaign consultant Carter Page. It turns out part of the FBI substantiation for those warrants was a Yahoo News article which was, in fact, not independent reporting but simply the same story from the same source, Steele, although he never told the FBI of this connection.

Regardless of whether there was any truth to the unsubstantiated dossier, Steele caused the FBI to lie about its warrant and, thus, was dismissed as an informant. Or was he? It turns out the wife of Ohr was employed by Fusion GPS, a political research firm working on the Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonSenate panel subpoenas Roger Stone associate for Russia probe Webb: The new mob: Anti-American Dems Clinton to hold fundraiser for Menendez in NJ next month MORE and Democratic National Committee efforts to discredit Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump: Dems playing destructive 'con game' with Kavanaugh Several Yale Law classmates who backed Kavanaugh call for misconduct investigation Freedom Caucus calls on Rosenstein to testify or resign MORE. Ohr evidently failed to disclose that and was demoted when it came out later.

But what has come out now is that Steele, even after being dismissed by the FBI, continued to have ongoing input into the Russia investigation through Ohr, who was trading information with the opposition researcher. Ohr was not even officially part of the Russia investigation, yet he had more than 60 contacts with Steele. Rosenstein, his boss, has testified he knew nothing about about these contacts, so it remains unclear for whom and why Ohr was busy trading notes with Steele about the investigation. This, then, is another reason Rosenstein should have removed himself from supervising the Mueller investigation. He is a witness here as well.

Now, these are all established facts. Let us go over them again. Ohr was a senior Justice Department official whose wife was employed by the research firm hired by Clinton and the Democratic Party to get dirt on Trump. This was not reported on any disclosure forms. Nellie Ohr worked on the same Fusion GPS project as Steele, who concocted the dossier, and Ohr himself established a secret backchannel with Steele, who had been dismissed for lying to the FBI, all apparently so that Steele was never far from learning about the investigation or having input into it. His text messages even refer to a fear of “firewalls” being discovered.

This is an absolutely stunning development, suggesting a “deep state” conspiracy hidden even from superiors and driven on the basis of undisclosed dollars ultimately from the opposition candidate going to the wife of a Justice Department official. Even moderate senators like Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamGOP divide in Congress over Rosenstein's future Sanders: Kavanaugh accusers 'have risked their lives to come forward' Rosenstein fiasco raises the stakes in midterms for DOJ’s future MORE (R-S.C.) have been shocked by this and called for a special counsel to investigate the FBI. Yet, the mainstream media not only ignores the story while in the throes of Omarosa fever, but suggests only tin hat conspiracy theorists would believe anything is wrong here.

The New York Times did write a story wondering why Ohr would possibly be on a list of people the president has suggested might lose their security clearance. The article says Ohr has been “at the center of a right wing conspiracy theory” on how the Russia investigation began in the first place. Ohr, according to the article, has been the subject of “conservative attacks” about the origins of the Russia investigation which, the article notes, the Justice Department kept under wraps so as not to affect the election. Yup, they were actually trying to help Trump.

The article notes that the wife of Ohr did work for Fusion GPS, but it omits his failure to disclose this, his demotions, and that he has been called to testify about his contacts with Steele and Fusion GPS partner Glenn Simpson. Finally, the article notes that Ohr worked in organized crime and drug cases, and the loss of his security clearance could hinder his work, but it fails to point out that his undisclosed contacts caused him to lose that job and be demoted. The article makes it seem as though none this happened and that this is a Justice Department guy picked almost at random for possible disciplinary actions by a rogue president.

This kind of journalism has caused the public to lose complete faith in the mainstream media, as poll after poll has shown. Americans see the media as essential to democracy, according to a Gallup survey earlier this year, but only 28 percent of respondents see the media as serving democracy well. The New York Times should have more than a dozen full time reporters on the obvious problems at the FBI and Justice Department to dig for answers to the legitimate questions that have been raised.

There is a reason why the bestselling nonfiction book in the country is “The Russia Hoax.” It’s because millions upon millions of Americans, both Democrats and Republicans, are hungry for the truth here. They are not getting it from the mainstream media that has put its war with Trump above unbiased reporting. After hundreds of days of 90 percent negative reporting on Trump, the media does not need another day to dump on the president. Instead, it needs a day of introspection to consider how it could have so misunderstood the 2016 election and how it can restore its credibility and role in democracy by covering all sides of stories.

The mainstream media in the United States should be at the vanguard of discovering corruption at the FBI and the Justice Department rather than helping to cover it up. Only then will it earn the right to criticize others. Only then will it once again be listened to by Americans who, by and large across the nation, have written the press off as biased, out of touch with the public, and putting political partisanship over journalistic integrity.

Mark Penn is a managing partner of the Stagwell Group, a private equity firm specializing in marketing services companies, as well as chairman of the Harris Poll and author of “Microtrends Squared.” He served as pollster and adviser to President Clinton from 1995 to 2000, including during Clinton’s impeachment. You can follow him on Twitter @Mark_Penn.