WHO PUNKED CNN, MSNBC, CBS AND TPM…?

December 10th, 2017

This has been a sad year for Journalism, and we’ve got 21 days to go. Democracy cannot exist without a free, independent and reliable fourth estate. I just finished reading Bruce Bartlett’s excellent The Truth Matters: A citizen’s guide to separating facts from lies and stopping fake news in it’s tracks. (Jordon Klepper interviewed Bartlet back in October—now, sadly, behind a paywall.)

In the introduction, Bartlett writes:

Once upon a time, Americans could read their local newspaper, subscribe to a weekly magazine and watch thirty minutes of national news on television each night, and be reasonably sure they knew everything important and newsworthy that they needed to know to live their lives.

Those days are long gone.

The rest of the book is devoted to schooling readers how to separate truth from lies. I picked up The Truth Matters because so many of my students accept the ridiculous as fact because they saw it with their own eyes. This video leaps to mind. The ghost of P.T. Barnum is rubbing its incorporeal hands together in glee.

Which brings me to Glen Greenwald’s frustration with journalist who should know better.

Greenwald, writing in The U.S. Media Yesterday Suffered its Most Humiliating Debacle in Ages: Now Refuses All Transparency Over What Happened for The Intercept,explains:

Friday was one of the most embarrassing days for the U.S. media in quite a long time. The humiliation orgy was kicked off by CNN, with MSNBC and CBS close behind, with countless pundits, commentators and operatives joining the party throughout the day. By the end of the day, it was clear that several of the nation’s largest and most influential news outlets had spread an explosive but completely false news story to millions of people, while refusing to provide any explanation of how it happened.

Read the rest, of course, for Greenwald’s complete and excellent dissection, but for journalists, this is the vital bit.

If this were, in fact, a deliberate attempt to cause a false and highly inflammatory story to be reported, then these media outlets have an obligation to expose who the culprits are—just as the Washington Post did last week to the woman making false claims about Roy Moore (it was much easier in that case because the source they exposed was a nobody-in-DC, rather than someone on whom they rely for a steady stream of stories, the way CNN and MSNBC rely on Democratic members of the Intelligence Committee). By contrast, if this were just an innocent mistake, then these media outlets should explain how such an implausible sequence of events could possibly have happened.

Thus far, these media corporations are doing the opposite of what journalists ought to do: rather than informing the public about what happened and providing minimal transparency and accountability for themselves and the high-level officials who caused this to happen, they are hiding behind meaningless, obfuscating statements crafted by PR executives and lawyers.

How can journalists and news outlets so flamboyantly act offended when they’re attacked as being “Fake News” when this is the conduct behind which they hide when they get caught disseminating incredibly consequential false stories?

For all Americans, Greenwald hammers the most important aspect of this story home:

All media outlets, of course, will make mistakes. The Intercept certainly has made our share, as have all outlets. And it’s particularly natural, inevitable, for mistakes to be made on a highly complicated, opaque story like the question of the relationship between Trump and the Russians, and questions relating to how WikiLeaks obtained DNC and Podesta emails. That is all to be expected.

But what one should expect with journalistic “mistakes” is that they sometimes go in one direction, and other times go in the other direction. That’s exactly what has not happened here. Virtually every false story published goes only in one direction: to be as inflammatory and damaging as possible on the Trump/Russia story and about Russia particularly. At some point, once “mistakes” all start going in the same direction, toward advancing the same agenda, they cease looking like mistakes.

No matter your views on those political controversies, no matter how much you hate Trump or regard Russia as a grave villain and threat to our cherished democracy and freedoms, it has to be acknowledged that when the U.S. media is spewing constant false news about all of this, that, too, is a grave threat to our democracy and cherished freedom.

So numerous are the false stories about Russia and Trump over the last year that I literally cannot list them all.

Let’s just remind ourselves of how many times major media outlets have made humiliating, breathtaking errors on the Trump/Russia story, always in the same direction, toward the same political goals. Here is just a sample of incredibly inflammatory claims that traveled all over the internet before having to be corrected, walk-backed, or retracted…

What the fuck is going on here?

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