00:34 GMT20 April 2021
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    Sputnik staff were surprised to get free publicity from HBO's show based on sacked FBI Director James Comey's fanciful memoirs of the 2016 US election - because the network hadn't bothered to fact-check or even contact the news site before writing it into the script.

    Some merely dream of fame, others work hard all their lives to get into showbiz, but Sputnik has had its big break by accident thanks to an HBO miniseries that rehashes long-debunked claims about Russian meddling in the 2016 US election.

    Your favourite news site is mentioned in a scene from HBO's dramatisation of James Comey's florid 2018 memoir A Higher Loyalty. It shows the then-FBI director and his staff breathlessly recite allegations of collusion with Moscow against a list of US President Donald Trump's associates - most of which have since been proven false.

    The fictionalisation - featuring 'Dumb and Dumber' star Jeff Daniels as Comey - repeats a claim already debunked four years earlier that Trump was being fed leaked information from Democratic rival Hillary Clinton's campaign by Sputnik.

    "We're starting to see propaganda about secretary Clinton from Sputnik Radio and Russia Today showing up verbatim in Trump's stump speeches", one of the suited feds says. "I dunno if it's co-ordinated, but..."

    In fact, the story in question was on the Sputnik International website, and Russia Today changed its name to 'RT' in 2009, seven years before the scene is set. But that's Hollywood for you... 

    Sputnik staff were surprised by their new-found fame as HBO didn't even contact the news outlet's Washington, Edinburgh, or Moscow offices before writing it into the script. And apparently neither they nor Comey bothered to check on Google for the many reports exposing Kurt Eichenwald's sensationalist fabrications.

    The true story began when former Sputnik online editor Bill Moran was duped by a Twitter post of a screenshot from the WikiLeaks release of Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta’s emails. The image miscast an excerpt from a story by Newsweek columnist Kurt Eichenwald on the attack on the US Embassy in Benghazi, Libya as a comment from Clinton confidante Sidney Blumenthal.

    Moran wrote an article based on the tweet, but quickly realised his own mistake and pulled the story from the Sputnik website less than half an hour after it was published. That was not before it had garnered around a thousand views, however.

    After Trump quoted the same tweet at a rally in Pennsylvania later that day, the ever-vigilant Eichenwald put two and two together and made five - spinning the simple error into a huge imaginary conspiracy between 'the Russians' and Trump to smear Clinton, Blumenthal, and himself.

    "That should raise concerns not only about Moscow’s attempt to manipulate the election but also about how Trump came to push Russian disinformation to American voters”, Eichenwald said.

    But that narrative - just like the rest of the Russiagate hysteria - quickly fell apart, with even the liberal Washington Post pointing out that it was nonsense. 

    Newsweek retracted the story under threat of legal action by Wikileaks and Sputnik, and Eichenwald was apparently fired from the title. The disgraced journalist's parting shot was to gloat that Assange faced jail for the rest of his life, while making more libellous claims that the Australian was a Russian agent, a rapist, and a child molester.

    As was pointed out at the time, Eichenwald had a long-running obsession with Trump. He was caught out running fake news stories about the president being admitted to a psychiatric hospital during his 2016 election campaign and his supporters booing when Trump mentioned pioneering astronaut John Glenn at a rally. And Eichenwald was one of the first to pounce on the fanciful 'Golden Showers' dossier on Trump cooked up by former British MI6 spook Christopher Steele.

    The release of Comey's kiss 'n' tell story followed his sacking by Trump in 2017, less than four years into his 10-year term as director, for his farcical handling of both the Clinton email server case and the Russiagate claims, since disproven. Trump called the former fed a "showboat" and "grandstander".

    The book is notable for its purple prose and dramatic embellishments when describing his meetings with Trump, but enjoyed widespread coverage in the mainstream media at the time.


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    Sidney Blumenthal, Kurt Eichenwald, Hillary Clinton, WikiLeaks, Julian Assange, James Comey, Donald Trump, Margarita Simonyan, Sputnik
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