“In the main, it was not true,” James Comey told the Senate Intelligence Committee about a bombshell New York Times story that alleged contacts between Trump’s inner circle and Russian officials.
“The challenge, and I’m not picking on reporters, about writing stories about classified information is the people talking about it often don’t really know what’s going on and those of us who actually know what’s going on are not talking about it,” Comey continued. “And we don’t call the press and say, ‘Hey, you got that thing wrong.”
Although the fourth estate serves an inestimably important role in preserving our democracy and holding our elected officials to account, perhaps now is the time to do what Comey did not: To pick on reporters.
The New York Times is one of many news outlets that have had their reporting questioned, or worse, proven false during President Trump’s tenure. The latest misstep came when CNN, relying on a single anonymous source, reported on a connection between Trump ally Anthony Scaramucci and a Russian investment fund managed by a Kremlin-controlled bank. According to the report, Scaramucci was suspected by Senate investigators of holding a secret meeting with at the fund to discuss the removal of U.S. sanctions.
Scaramucci denied the story and other media outlets immediately began picking apart its details. CNN, to its credit, admitted that it could not stand by its reporting, retracted the story, and apologized to Scaramucci. Three CNN journalists who worked on the story, including a Pulitzer prize winner they recently courted from the New York Times, resigned.
The retraction was succeeded by the release of hidden-camera footage of a CNN producer saying that the subject of Trump’s ties to Russia is “mostly bulls—t.” Nevertheless, the network is beating the story into the ground “because it’s ratings” and “Trump is good for business right now.”
That’s true. Ratings are up dramatically across networks, but credibility—the purported raison d’être of news organizations—is way, way down. Even worse, as Glen Greenwald writes for The Intercept, their appears to be a consistent theme cropping up in news outlets’ missteps:
What is most notable about these episodes is that they all go in the same direction: hyping and exaggerating the threat posed by the Kremlin. All media outlets will make mistakes; that is to be expected. But when all of the “mistakes” are devoted to the same rhetorical theme, and when they all end up advancing the same narrative goal, it seems clear that they are not the byproduct of mere garden-variety journalistic mistakes.
There are great benefits to be reaped by publishing alarmist claims about the Russian Threat and Trump’s connection to it. Stories that depict the Kremlin and Putin as villains and grave menaces are the ones that go most viral, produce the most traffic, generate the most professional benefits such as TV offers, along with online praise and commercial profit for those who disseminate them. That’s why blatantly inane anti-Trump conspiracists and Russia conspiracies now command such a large audience: because there is a voracious appetite among anti-Trump internet and cable news viewers for stories, no matter how false, that they want to believe are true (and, conversely, expressing any skepticism about such stories results in widespread accusations that one is a Kremlin sympathizer or outright agent).
Some small part of this seems to be a vaingloriously misguided attempt to “save democracy,” a job that Rolling Stone’s Matt Taibbi laments.
“For all the flaws in the business, reporters used to have few existential concerns. It wasn’t our job to save democracy,” he writes. “We were taught that our only job was to get things right, and that it was up to others – politicians, activists, voters – to do the fixing. To be useful all we had to do was give people better information with which to make those decisions.”
But the bigger problem is that in the media’s effort to foster the narrative, without so much as a glimmer of evidence, that President Trump and Russia colluded in the election, they’ve forgotten about integrity. They chase after sources, regardless of their motivations or veracity. They revel in innuendo, littering their stories with words like “suspected,” “possibly,” “may” and “suspected” which allows them free reign to proclaim just about anything. And they ignore anything that gets in the way of the narrative.
If the media truly respects its role in the preservation of our democracy they first must fight to preserve their own integrity. Or should we say, they should fight to get it back.
Photo credit: Ayush. See more HERE