Never mind Anthony Scaramucci’s fairly successful transition to White House Communications Director. Never mind Spicer’s abrupt resignation. Never mind the White House’s communication team, period. They’re not the real players as far as the news cycle – especially the Russia story – goes.

It’s at communications shops like Fusion GPS with it’s co-founder Glenn Simpson, where most of the news nowadays gets manufactured.

In a fascinating piece in Tablet Magazine, The Weekly Standard’s Lee Smith details the fall of mainstream journalism (not mainstream media mind you; business is booming right now) and the rise of opposition research, epitomized by Fusion GPS. Journalism has always depended in part, and sometimes in large part, on access to important government officials. How big is your source? they ask over drinks – assuming they have the time for happy hour – in D.C. And Fusion GPS, founded in 2009 by several ex-WSJ writers with reputations as very competent professionals flipped the equation they’d been laboring under as well-paid reporters at WSJ and elsewhere. As Lee Smith puts it:

Fusion GPS is the story of a few journalists who decided to stop being suckers. They’re not buyers of information, they’re sellers.

That’s because most people get far more of their news from Facebook, and news organizations apparently don’t have the budget to staff the newsrooms with experienced veteran reporters. That has meant that communications shops and opposition research groups are now the newsrooms. And it’s they who manufacture and sell narratives to journalists with little experience, eager to have and to jealously protect a hot source. Those folks of whom Ben Rhodes famously said: they literally know nothing.

And Fusion GPS sits at the intersection of this new news-making network of communications firms and opposition research groups. They have been part of some of the main stories of the last several years:

  • Mitt Romney’s donors and the supposed scandal over them in the 2012 campaign
  • Panned Parenthood’s pushback after the videos were released that showed them in a rather horrifying light.
  • They have been hired to look into the affairs of Carlos Slim – The Mexican billionaire who even owns a piece of the NYT
  • The Russia probe that may bring down a president
  • And they even played the opposite side of this game by working with Natallia Velenitskaya’s project to help repeal the Magnitsky Act.

Which means they helped produce a story that makes Trump look like a Manchurian candidate owned by Putin, and at the same time they helped people with links to Putin to try and overturn a piece of legislation that Putin himself detests. That’s uncomfortably close to being both prosecutor and defense lawyer and getting paid for both roles. Nice work if you can get it. As Lee Smith writes:

The Trump-Russia story has been frequently likened to Watergate, a specious comparison since the latter started with evidence of a crime and the former with publication of an anthology of fables, pornography, and Russian-sourced disinformation put together and distributed by partisan political operatives. The salient comparison is rather in the effect – it has the same feel as Watergate. And it’s taking up the same space as Watergate – and that’s because comms shops-for-hire like Fusion GPS have assumed the role that the American press used to occupy.

It’s Private Label Rights that America’s news organizations happily buy into. Literally.