MSNBC’s Ruhle: Unmasking Scandal ‘Completely Made Up,’ ‘Nonsense’

 MSNBC’s Ruhle: Unmasking Scandal ‘Completely Made Up,’ ‘Nonsense’

On her Friday morning show, MSNBC anchor Stephanie Ruhle kept up her network’s insistence that there was “nothing” to see regarding the controversy swirling around top Obama administration officials – including Joe Biden – urging the unmasking of Michael Flynn. Following days of her fellow liberal hosts pushing the same claim, Ruhle assured viewers the scandal was “completely made up” and a “nonsense story.”

“This morning, nearly 86,000 Americans have died from coronavirus….But the President and his allies are laser focused on a different story, one they completely made up,” Ruhle declared during the 9:00 a.m. ET hour. She bitterly added: “Something that they now are calling ‘Obamagate.’ It means nothing.”

On Thursday afternoon, Deadline: White House host Nicolle Wallace used nearly identical language, ranting that the scandal was a “fantasy,” like “the political version of the Tooth Fairy” or Santa Claus.

After playing a clip of President Trump referring to Obamagate during a recent White House press conference, Ruhle asserted on Friday: “The President has called it the greatest political crime in our country’s history, but it’s not.”

Turning to NBC News national security correspondent Ken Dilanian minutes later, Ruhle urged him to dismiss the controversy: “Ken, this word is used over and over again in this case, ‘unmasking.’ Can you explain what unmasking a source would be necessary and talk to us about how routine this is.”

Dilanian was eager to oblige:

It’s absolutely routine, customary, and legal, Stephanie….there’s a procedure called unmasking if a senior official believes they need to know the name of that American to better understand the intelligence. And you can imagine the necessity for this across many examples. For example, in a terrorism case. A foreign terrorist is talking to an American, officials need to know who that American is….For example, a company that’s being hacked by Chinese intelligence. The FBI may need to know the identity of the company. An American who’s trying to be recruited by a foreign intelligence agency. The FBI would need to know the identity of that person. So it’s routine and customary….So the idea that this is a scandal, Stephanie, is just absurd.

The only problem with that analysis was that none of the examples Dilanian cited to justify unmasking an American citizen in a surveilled phone call actually applied to the Flynn case.

It did, however, echo the sentiment of former Obama administration official turned NBC analyst Jeremy Bash, who argued on Morning Joe earlier that there was “absolutely nothing here.”  

Still desperate to discard the story, Ruhle brought NBC senior media reporter Dylan Byers and professed: “Dylan, I didn’t even want to give one ounce of breath or attention to this, but the issue is, the truth matters, but only if you hear it. And millions of Americans are not hearing the truth.” She then predictably teed him up to bash a certain competing cable channel: “I want to share just a snippet of how Fox News has gone all in on this completely nonsense story.”

After various clips played of Fox anchors reporting on the scandal, including Tucker Carlson noting “we learned a lot more about the corruption that spawned the Russia hoax that consumed three years of this country’s time,” Ruhle sneered: “No, we didn’t.”

Byers piled on:

And I laugh because the coverage you just showed from Fox is so absurd, but it’s actually no laughing matter because so many members of that Fox News audience are actually believing what they see….which pretty much toes the line on anything the President says, is obviously to distract from what has been a very poor response to the coronavirus pandemic and to try as best they can to make Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic nominee, look bad.

Lacking any self-awareness of being on a channel that routinely engages in left-wing conspiracy theories and outrageous rhetoric, Byers decided to pass judgement on others:

Unfortunately, it’s quite obvious, I think, to anyone who thinks about it that they’re scraping the bottom of the well here when it comes to looking for conspiracy theories about the President and about a sort of deep state effort to basically undermine Trump’s presidency….you look at how absurd the coverage is…everything that Ken just outlined in terms of why this is a non-gate, why this is a non-controversy….there are so many folks at Fox News, especially as you work your way up the chain of command there, who obviously know better, who obviously know that they’re peddling conspiracy theories.

He even argued that it was time for Fox owners and executives to start cracking down and censoring coverage: “And I always sort of wonder when I see things like this, at what point does someone, whether it’s Rupert Murdoch or Lachlan Murdoch or Suzanne Scott, who runs Fox, at what point do they just sort of look at what they’re doing and think, okay, enough is enough?”

At what point do the bosses at NBC News decide “enough is enough” at MSNBC?

Here is a transcript of the May 15 segment:

9:32 AM ET

STEPHANIE RUHLE: This morning, nearly 86,000 Americans have died from coronavirus. More than 36 million have lost their jobs in the last eight weeks. But the President and his allies are laser focused on a different story, one they completely made up. Something that they now are calling “Obamagate.” It means nothing.  

DONALD TRUMP: Obamagate, it’s been going on for a long time. It’s been going on from before I even got elected and it’s a disgrace that it happened. And if you look at what’s gone on and if you look at now all of this information that’s being released and from what I understand, that’s only the beginning.

PHIL RUCKER [WASHINGTON POST]: What is the crime exactly?

TRUMP: You know what the crime is. The crime is very obvious to everybody.

RUHLE: No, no, we don’t. The President has called it the greatest political crime in our country’s history, but it’s not. Carol Lee has some great new reporting, she joins us now. Carol, what is this?

CAROL LEE: Okay, so basically if you think about this, there’s two threads essentially, so far, of what Trump and his allies are calling Obamagate. And the first is an accusation that President Obama and Vice President Biden knew in advance about the FBI’s investigation into Flynn and specifically knew that the FBI planned to interview Flynn. So that’s one. Two is this idea that Biden and other Obama administration officials quote/unquote “unmasked” Flynn in some sort of nefarious way. You know, what happened with unmasking is, as is customary, Biden and other officials received intelligence that was collected on a foreigner. An American was named in there but that name was redacted. And in order to understand the intelligence further, they requested that that name be given to them.

(…)

9:35 AM ET

RUHLE: So joining me now to discuss and break through this noise, Ken Dilanian, he’s an NBC News national security and intelligence correspondent. And Dylan Byers, NBC News senior media reporter. Ken, this word is used over and over again in this case, “unmasking.” Can you explain what unmasking a source would be necessary and talk to us about how routine this is.

KEN DILIANIAN: It’s absolutely routine, customary, and legal, Stephanie, as Carol explained. It generally involves the National Security Agency, that vast digital spying agency that’s intercepting communications all over the world and spying on foreigners. Well, in this modern day, many times an American is on one end of those conversations. And when there’s an intelligence report generated from that conversation, the American’s name is blacked out for privacy reasons. Now, the NSA knows who it is, but it’s blacked out as it goes around the rest of the government.

But there’s a procedure called unmasking if a senior official believes they need to know the name of that American to better understand the intelligence. And you can imagine the necessity for this across many examples. For example, in a terrorism case. A foreign terrorist is talking to an American, officials need to know who that American is. But it goes well beyond that and happens thousands of times a year, Stephanie, because often it’s the victim of action that FBI officials, for example, need to know. For example, a company that’s being hacked by Chinese intelligence. The FBI may need to know the identity of the company. An American who’s trying to be recruited by a foreign intelligence agency. The FBI would need to know the identity of that person. So it’s routine and customary. And by the way, unmasking, Stephanie, doesn’t mean making the name public. It just means circulating it to a very senior, small group of officials at the highest level of the government who have security clearances. So the idea that this is a scandal, Stephanie, is just absurd.

RUHLE: Okay, those right there are the facts. Dylan, I didn’t even want to give one ounce of breath or attention to this, but the issue is, the truth matters, but only if you hear it. And millions of Americans are not hearing the truth. I want to share just a snippet of how Fox News has gone all in on this completely nonsense story.

SEAN HANNITY: Huge, massive developments in the biggest abuse of power, corruption scandal in American history.

STEVE DOOCEY: We start with a Fox News alert. The Flynn unmaskers have been unmasked.

TUCKER CARLSON: Yesterday, thanks to disclosures from Rick Grenell, the acting head of intelligence, we learned a lot more about the corruption that spawned the Russia hoax that consumed three years of this country’s time.

RUHLE: No, we didn’t. But millions of good Americans are watching that. That while nearly 86,000 Americans have died and they were watching that while an ousted vaccine official testified about the shortcomings of this administration and how they’re handling this pandemic. What is the goal here, Dylan?

DYLAN BYERS: Well, look, you’re absolutely right, millions are watching it. And I laugh because the coverage you just showed from Fox is so absurd, but it’s actually no laughing matter because so many members of that Fox News audience are actually believing what they see. I think what strikes me here – look, the end goal for the Trump administration, for the Trump re-election campaign and then for Fox News, which pretty much toes the line on anything the President says, is obviously to distract from what has been a very poor response to the coronavirus pandemic and to try as best they can to make Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic nominee, look bad.

Unfortunately, it’s quite obvious, I think, to anyone who thinks about it that they’re scraping the bottom of the well here when it comes to looking for conspiracy theories about the President and about a sort of deep state effort to basically undermine Trump’s presidency. I think you look at this – I think you look at how absurd the coverage is, I think you think about everything that Ken just outlined in terms of why this is a non-gate, why this is a non-controversy. What strikes me in terms of thinking about the way Fox News is covering it, there are so many folks at Fox News, especially as you work your way up the chain of command there, who obviously know better, who obviously know that they’re peddling conspiracy theories. And I always sort of wonder when I see things like this, at what point does someone, whether it’s Rupert Murdoch or Lachlan Murdoch or Suzanne Scott, who runs Fox, at what point do they just sort of look at what they’re doing and think, okay, enough is enough?

(…)