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CNN's New "Reporter," Natasha Bertrand, is a Deranged Conspiracy Theorist and Scandal-Plagued CIA Propagandist
In the U.S. corporate media, the surest way to advance is to loyally spread lies and deceit from the U.S. security state. Bertrand is just the latest example.
The most important axiom for understanding how the U.S. corporate media functions is that there is never accountability for those who serve as propagandists for the U.S. security state. The opposite is true: the more aggressively and recklessly you spread CIA narratives or pro-war manipulation, the more rewarded you will be in that world.
The classic case is Jeffrey Goldberg, who wrote one of the most deceitful and destructive articles of his generation: a lengthy New Yorker article in May, 2002 — right as the propagandistic groundwork for the invasion of Iraq was being laid — that claimed Saddam Hussein had formed an alliance with Al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden. In February, 2003, on the eve of the invasion of Iraq, NPR host Robert Siegel devoted a long segment to this claim. When he asked Goldberg about “a man named Abu Musab al-Zarqawi,” Goldberg replied: “He is one of several men who might personify a link between Iraq and al-Qaeda.”
Needless to say, nothing could generate hatred for someone among the American population — just nine months away from the 9/11 attack — more than associating them with bin Laden. Five months after Goldberg's New Yorker article, the U.S. Congress authorized the use of military force to impose regime change on Iraq; ten months later, the U.S. invaded Iraq; and by September, 2003, close to 70% of Americans believed the lie that Saddam had personally participated in the 9/11 attack.
Goldberg's fabrication-driven article generated ample celebratory media attention and even prestigious journalism awards. It also led to great financial reward and career advancement. In 2007, The Atlantic's publisher David Bradley lured Goldberg away from The New Yorker by lavishing him with a huge signing bonus and even sent exotic horses to entertain Goldberg's children. Goldberg is now the editor-in-chief of that magazine and thus one of the most influential figures in media. In other words, the person who wrote what is arguably the most disastrous article of that decade was one most rewarded by the industry — all because he served the aims of the U.S. security state and its war aims. That is how U.S. corporate journalism functions.
Another illustrative mascot for this lucrative career path is NBC's national security correspondent Ken Dilanian. In 2014, his own former paper, The Los Angeles Times, acknowledged his "collaborative” relationship with the CIA. During his stint there, he mimicked false claims from John Brennan's CIA that no innocent people were killed from a 2012 Obama drone strike, only for human rights groups and leaked documents to prove many were.
A FOIA request produced documents published by The Intercept in 2015 that showed Dilanian submitting his "reporting” to the CIA for approval in violation of The LA Times’ own ethical guidelines and then repeating what he was told to say. But again, serving the CIA even with false "reporting” and unethical behavior is a career benefit in corporate media, not an impediment, and Dilanian rapidly fell upward after these embarrassing revelations. He first went to Associated Press and then to NBC News, where he broadcast numerous false Russiagate scams including purporting to “independently confirm” CNN's ultimately retracted bombshell that Donald Trump, Jr. obtained advance access to the 2016 WikiLeaks archive.
On Monday, CNN made clear that this dynamic still drives the corporate media world. The network proudly announced that it had hired Natasha Bertrand away from Politico. In doing so, they added to their stable of former CIA operatives, NSA spies, Pentagon Generals and FBI agents a reporter who has done as much as anyone, if not more so, to advance the scripts of those agencies.
Bertrand's career began taking off when, while at Business Insider, she abandoned her obsession with Russia's role in Syria in 2016 in order to monomaniacally fixate on every last conspiracy theory and gossip item that drove the Russiagate fraud during the 2016 campaign and then into the Trump presidency. Each month, Bertrand produced dozens of Russiagate articles for the site that were so unhinged that they made Rachel Maddow look sober, cautious and reliable.
In 2018, it was Jeffrey Goldberg himself — knowing a star CIA propagandist when he sees one — who gave Bertrand her first big break by hiring her away from Business Insider to cover Russiagate for The Atlantic. Shortly thereafter, she joined the Queen of Russiagate conspiracies herself by becoming a national security analyst for MSNBC and NBC News. From there, it was onto Politico and now CNN: the ideal, rapid career climb that is the dream of every liberal security state servant calling themselves a journalist. Her final conspiratorial article for The Atlantic before moving to Politico is the perfect illustration of who and what she is:
CNN's new national security star was no ordinary Russiagate fanatic. There was no conspiracy theory too unhinged or evidence-free for her to promote. As The Washington Post's media reporter Erik Wemple documented once the Steele Dossier was debunked, there was arguably nobody in media other than Rachel Maddow who promoted and ratified that hoax as aggressively, uncritically and persistently as Bertrand. She defended it even after the Mueller Report corroborated virtually none of its key claims.
In a February, 2020 article headlined “How Politico’s Natasha Bertrand bootstrapped dossier credulity into MSNBC gig,” Wemple described how she was rewarded over and over for "journalism” that would be regarded in any healthy profession with nothing but scorn:
Where there’s a report on Russian meddling, there’s an MSNBC segment waiting to be taped. Last Thursday night, MSNBC host Joy Reid — subbing for “All In” host Chris Hayes — turned to Politico national security reporter Natasha Bertrand with a question about whether Trump “wants” Russian meddling or whether he can’t accept that "foreign help is there.“ Bertrand responded: “We don’t have the reporting that suggests that the president has told aides, for example, that he really wants Russia to interfere because he thinks that it’s going to help him, right?”
No, we don’t have that reporting — though there’s no prohibition against fantasizing about it on national television. Such is the theme of Bertrand’s commentary during previous coverage of Russian interference, specifically the dossier of memos drawn up by former British intelligence officer Christopher Steele. With winks and nods from MSNBC hosts, Bertrand heaped credibility on the dossier — which was published in full by BuzzFeed News in January 2017 — in repeated television appearances.
Wemple systematically reviewed the mountain of speculation, unproven conspiracies and outright falsehoods Bertrand shoveled to the public as she was repeatedly promoted. But it was the document that gave us deranged delusions about pee-pee tape blackmail and Michael Cohen's trip to Prague that was her crown jewel: “The Bertrand highlight reel features a great deal of thumb-on-scale speculation regarding the dossier,” Wemple wrote.
And when information started being declassified that proved much of Bertrand's claims about collusion to be a fraud, she complained that there was too much transparency, implying that the Trump administration was harming national security by allowing the public to know too much — namely, allowing the public to see that her reporting was a fraud. A journalist who complains about too much transparency is like a cardiologist who complains that a patient has stopped smoking cigarettes, or like a journalist who voluntarily rats out her own source to the FBI or who agitates for censorship of political speech: a walking negation of the professional values they are supposed to uphold. But that is Natasha Bertrand, and, to the extent that there are some people who still believe that working at CNN is desirable, she was just rewarded for it again yesterday — just as journalists who rat out their own sources to the FBI and advocate for internet censorship are now celebrated in today's rotted media climate.
Bertrand's trail of journalistic scandals and recklessness extend well beyond her Russiagate conspiracies. Last October, she published an article in Politico strongly implying that Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe was speaking without authorization or any evidence when he said Iran was attempting to undermine President Trump's 2020 presidential campaign. But last month, the Biden administration declassified an intelligence report which said they had "high confidence” that Iran had done exactly what Ratcliffe alleged: namely, run an influence campaign to hurt Trump's candidacy. A former national security official, Cliff Sims, said upon hearing of CNN's hiring that he explicitly warned Bertrand's editors that the story was false but they chose to publish it anyway.
It was also Bertrand who most effectively laundered the extremely significant CIA lie in October, 2020 that the documents obtained by The New York Post about the Biden family's business dealings in China and Ukraine were "Russian disinformation.” Even though the John-Brennan-led former intelligence officials admitted from the start that they had no evidence for this claim, Bertrand not only amplified it but vouched for its credibility by writing that the Post's reporting “has drawn comparisons to 2016, when Russian hackers dumped troves of emails from Democrats onto the internet — producing few damaging revelations but fueling accusations of corruption by Trump” (that those 2016 DNC and Podesta documents produced “few damaging revelations” would come as a big surprise to the five DNC operatives, led by Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, who were forced to resign when their pro-Hillary cheating was revealed).
It was this Politico article by Bertrand that was then used by Facebook and Twitter to justify their joint censorship of the Post's reporting in the weeks before the 2020 election, and numerous media outlets — including The Intercept — gullibly told their readers to ignore the revelations on the ground that these authentic documents were "Russian disinformation.” Yet once it did its job of helping defeat Trump, that claim was debunked when even the intelligence community acknowledged it had no evidence of Russian involvement in the appearance of these materials, and Hunter Biden himself admitted he was the subject of a federal investigation for the transactions revealed by those documents.
But even when her fantasies and conspiracies are debunked, Bertrand — like a good intelligence soldier — never cedes any ground in her propaganda campaigns. She was, needless to say, one of the journalists who most vocally promoted the CIA's story — published as Trump was announcing his plans to withdraw from Afghanistan — that Russia had paid bounties to the Taliban for the death of U.S. soldiers. Yet even when the U.S. intelligence community under Joe Biden admitted last week that it has only "low to moderate” confidence that this even happened — with the NSA and other surveillance agencies saying they could find no evidence to corroborate the CIA's story — she continued to insist that nothing had changed with the story, denying last week on a Mediaite podcast that anything had happened to cast doubt on the original story: “I think it’s much more nuanced than it being a walk-back. I don’t think that’s right actually."
Even a cursory review of Bertrand's prolific output reveals an endless array of gossip, conspiracy and speculative assertions masquerading as journalism. The commentator Luke Thomas detailed many of these transgressions on Monday and correctly observed that “arguably no single reporter has contributed more to the deranged and paranoid national security fantasies of the center-left than Natasha Bertrand. She's an embarrassment to her profession and will, therefore, fit right in at CNN.”
As Thomas noted, beyond all of Bertrand's well-documented and consequential propaganda, “she sees conspiracies and perfidiousness around every corner,” pointing to this demented yet highly viral tweet that deciphered comments from former Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) as inadvertently revealing some secret scheme to expand Trump's pardon powers. That scheme, like most of her speculative predictions, never materialized.
Then there is her garden-variety ethical scandal. In January, freelancer Dean Sterling Jones accused Bertrand of stealing his work without credit or payment. In a post he published, Jones documented how he emailed Bertrand a draft with reporting he had been working on, and in response she agreed to report it jointly with him on a co-byline. Yet two weeks later, the article appeared in The Atlantic with Bertrand as the only named reporter. Only after Jones complained did they insert a sentence into the story begrudgingly citing him as a source. “By my count,” Jones wrote, “Bertrand’s article contains at least six unequivocal examples of direct copying and revisions of my work.” When he published his post detailing his accusations, Bertrand arrogantly refused even to provide comment to the freelancer whose work she pilfered.
Natasha Bertrand has spent the last five years working as a spokesperson for the alliance composed of the CIA and the Democratic Party, spreading every unvetted and unproven conspiracy theory about Russiagate that they fed her. The more loyally she performed that propagandistic function, the more rapidly she was promoted and rewarded. Now she arrives at her latest destination: CNN, not only Russiagate Central along with MSNBC but also the home to countless ex-operatives of the security state agencies on whose behalf Bertrand speaks.
Once again we see the two key truths of modern corporate journalism in the U.S. First, we have the Jeffrey Goldberg Principle: you can never go wrong, but only right, by disseminating lies and propaganda from the CIA. Second, the organs that spread the most disinformation and crave disinformation agents as their employees are the very same ones who demand censorship of the internet in the name of stopping disinformation.
I've long said that if you want to understand how to thrive in this part of the media world, you should study the career advancement of Jeffrey Goldberg, propelled by one reckless act after the next. But now the sequel to the Goldberg Rise is the thriving career of this new CNN reporter whose value as a CIA propagandist Goldberg, notably, was the first to spot and reward.
Update, Apr. 27, 2021, 4:32 pm ET: Just as several readers predicted would happen, other corporate journalists responded to this article by engaging in a rank-closing defense of Bertrand, principally by accusing me of misogyny for publishing this critique of her reporting. Unlike me, they evidently view adult professional woman in highly influential media roles (such as Bertrand) as too fragile to endure critiques of their journalism, unlike adult men, who they apparently believe are strong enough to handle criticisms: a regressive view of the sexes right out of the 1950s. They also apparently skipped over the entire first section of this article detailing how Jeffrey Goldberg and Ken Dilanian — both men — were the pioneers of the CIA-serving career trajectory Bertrand is now following. But the oddest aspect of this media reaction, the only one that makes it worth noting here, is that misogyny allegations against me for this article were led by GQ's own Russiagate fanatic Julia Ioffe, even though Ioffe herself, in 2019, publicly accused Bertrand of a rather serious ethical violation that probably should be added to the list: