The media’s path to the destruction of its own authority in the war with Trump
Nearly seven years after most media outlets abandoned fairness standards in a stampede to defeat Donald Trump, it is widely accepted that the media cannot be trusted for accurate reporting. Instead of fulfilling the duty of journalists to inform the public about the news, many of today’s reporters and editors concoct narratives about events that consistently align with the Democratic Party’s agenda.
This open predilection for the guerrillas is the main factor in two events that are troubling the nation. First, it is the intensification of polarization, which deeply divides voters and makes the government unable to agree on solutions to even basic problems.
Second, distrust of the media is becoming contagious: Americans are losing faith in most institutions, including the private sector, as well as government.
Even the military, which has long stood above the political infighting, is suffering from a decline in public confidence, fueling fears that America is heading towards a second civil war and becoming more vulnerable to foreign adversaries.
Understanding this perilous moment is essential to appreciate the importance of the new work on how the media has veered off course in its war against Trump. The author, seasoned investigative journalist Jeff Gert, follows the advice of showing readers what happened, not just telling them.
His exhaustive analysis in Columbia Journalism Review is a case study that details where the mainstream media, especially The New York Times and Washington Post, have made critical mistakes in their coverage of the Russian collusion story.
Naturally, all the key mistakes went in the same direction. Most of them, including suggestions that Trump and others committed treason, have never been corrected despite being proven false.
The stubborn resolve of the times
Gert writes that even now, the Gray Lady brushes aside his repeated questions about apparent inaccuracies with sweeping statements that “we stick to our reporting”.
In fact, the mountain of errors and exaggerations that Gert refers to is so huge that I thought of Scoop, Evelyn Waugh’s satirical novel about crappy journalism.
As in the 1938 book, the fierce competition for the big story again resulted in sensational claims and assertions unsupported by facts.
So it’s no coincidence, as Gert told me in an interview, that some people at The Times initially “thought it was another Watergate and the paper lost again to The Washington Post.”
His subject is certainly not virgin territory, and many of us have written extensively about the shameful media practices that began during the 2016 campaign and continue. We now know that the break with tradition was not a one-time thing, and the freedom from facts and justice that marked the first coverage of the Trump campaign sparked an unquenchable thirst for ideological struggle.
Almost every article in many publications these days revolves around race, climate, transgender people, or some other “ism” that demands immediate conformity with the latest far-left craze. Meanwhile, the media is acting like a battering ram against American history and culture, attacking law enforcement, the First Amendment, and the nuclear family.
Gert’s work stands out as the definitive account of the origins of this modern-day nightmare and is of unique value because he builds the case piece by piece. Reading the 26,000-word, multi-part project requires commitment, but the reward is complete clarity.
With his punctuality and organizational skills to maintain a steady focus through the many articles, interviews, testimonies, reports, and transcripts, some separated by years, criminals will never again be able to credibly plead innocence. If it were a trial, they would all be found guilty beyond any doubt.
Several of the gemstones he produced became more widely distributed. His interview with Bob Woodward of The Washington Post revived Woodward’s forgotten statement from 2017 that Steele’s infamous dossier was a “junk document.”
Woodward told Gert that “the people in the room lacked curiosity.” [Washington] Post about his criticism, and he thought readers were “deceived” by Russiagate’s poor coverage.
Some numbers that Gert produced are repeated. The Times, addicted to anonymous sources, has used variations of “person familiar with” over 1,000 times to hide the identity of its sources.
Showing how the all-over coverage has consumed the nation, Gert reports that during the 22 months of the Mueller investigation, 533,000 articles about Russia and Trump or Special Counsel Robert Mueller were published. This number comes from NewsWhip, a media analytics company, which reported that the articles resulted in 245 million social media interactions.
Large sections of his article focus on several Times and Washington Post articles that serve as the basis for his conclusions.
These newspapers are fair game not only because of their large audiences and influence, but also because they shared the 2018 Pulitzer Prize for reporting the history of collusion.
The Pulitzer citation states that the papers’ work “greatly contributed to the nation’s understanding of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election and its connection to the Trump campaign, the president-elect’s transition team, and his eventual administration.”
The Revelation That Wasn’t
In fact, all the work of the newspapers contributed to confusion and misunderstanding, and several stories cited were discredited. For example, two out of 10 articles submitted to the Times focused on a 2016 meeting between Donald Trump Jr. and other campaigners with a Russian lawyer.
For several weeks the meeting was portrayed as a “gotcha” moment, but it turned out that the whole thing was a lot of noise for very little. However, the Pulitzerians and The Times have never acknowledged excessive claims.
Trump, whom Gert interviewed twice, urged the Pulitzer Commission to cancel the award, and when it refused, sued.
As Gert points out, the board did say it commissioned two “independent” reviews of the 2018 awards, and both found that “the passages or headings, claims or allegations in none of the winning entries were discredited by facts that arose after the award was made.” prizes”, so the awards are “worth it”.
He adds that the board does not disclose the names of the reviewers it has chosen and does not publish any actual results of the work, only the conclusion.
That’s media transparency for you!
Criticism of the Times also came from within the newspaper itself. According to Gert, then-editor-in-chief Dean Baquet was heavily criticized by then-editor-in-chief Liz Spade. Gert writes that Spade, in an email to him, “complained that the Times had operated to different standards at different times.”
She said that one pre-election article was “downplayed” because the paper “didn’t know if the allegations would be true”. But she also believed that after the election, The Times ran a continuous stream of articles about whether Trump colluded with the Russians to win the election, without knowing whether the accusations were actually true.
The post-election article she cited was published on the front page on February 15, 2017, with the headline: “Trump aides had contacts with Russian intelligence.”
Spade’s point about convoluted warnings is accurate. Despite the sensational headline, there is a line in the story: “To what extent the contacts could be related to business,” and not to the elections, law enforcement officials did not say. Another line reads: “It is also unclear whether these conversations had anything to do with Trump himself.”
Naturally, all key sources were anonymous, but Jim Comey, then head of the FBI, later told a Senate hearing that the story was “mostly untrue.” Asked under oath if it was “almost completely wrong”, Comey answered in the affirmative.
Spade was later fired and her job was fired.
Another example involves former FBI agent Peter Strzok, who Gert says was an anonymous source for the Times. Although Strzok wrote emails revealing his hatred of Trump and said the Republican would never become president because “we’re going to stop this,” he also turned down an offer to join Mueller’s team. In a letter to a colleague, Strzok said it was because “there isn’t a big one out there.”
Gert writes that Strzok’s message, when it was made public in 2018, “was quoted dozens of times in the news, including in the first part of an article in The Wall Street Journal and later in an article in The Washington Post. However, The Times did not mention this message in the article – not that day, nor in the coming years.
This was a typical shortcoming he finds—the Times’ frequent refusal to publish information that might undermine its focus.
While Gert reports on the insidious ways that Hillary Clinton and her team fed the FBI and the media false stories about Trump and Russia, I think her role deserves more attention given her influence.
Moreover, she has never fully recognized Trump’s victory as legitimate, which is a factor why the vast majority of Democrats continue to believe that Trump does not deserve to be president. This sentiment fuels widespread support for prosecuting the former president for just about anything the legions of left-wing investigators can come up with, which in itself is a cause of polarization.
Gert and I were colleagues at The Times many years ago, but hardly knew each other because he was mostly in Washington and I was in New York. We have spoken several times in recent years and share sympathy for the high standards of fairness required of Times reporters in those days and deplore the paper’s bias.
He also believes that the “falling credibility of journalism” and political polarization are “intertwined”.
He makes a clever suggestion by calling on the Times and others to conduct an autopsy on their erroneous coverage, and cites as a model the newspaper’s investigation into how they erroneously concluded that Saddam Hussein had nuclear weapons in the run-up to the 2003 invasion. Iraq.
For now, he writes that journalism’s missions of “informing the public and holding influencers accountable have been undermined by the erosion of journalistic norms and a lack of transparency in their work on the part of the media themselves.”
God bless him.
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