The media's war on truth

  • 12 December 2017
  • NormanL

The media has had a terrible time of it recently, botching stories they thought were major scoops pinning the President to the wall only to discover they had made fundamental errors in fact. That the press makes mistakes is nothing new -- reporters are, after all, fallible just like the rest of us. And they do make corrections when those errors are discovered (though as often as not, those corrections are muted, and come long after the erroneous "news" has circled the globe several times).

But the recent failures were so bad that the press is getting flack from inside its own tent, in the person of left wing investigative reporter Glenn Greenwald. Writing at the Intercept, Greenwald penned a scathing piece on CNN, CBS, MSNBC, and the rest for their behavior:

How did CNN end up aggressively hyping such a spectacularly false story? They refuse to say. Many hours after their story got exposed as false, the journalist who originally presented it, congressional reporter Manu Raju, finally posted a tweet noting the correction. CNN’s P.R. department then claimed that “multiple sources” had provided CNN with the false date. And Raju went on CNN, in muted tones, to note the correction, explicitly claiming that “two sources” had each given him the false date on the email, while also making clear that CNN did not ever even see the email, but only had sources describe its purported contents...

All of this prompts the glaring, obvious, and critical question — one that CNN refuses to address: How did “multiple sources” all misread the date on this document, in exactly the same way and toward the same end, and then feed this false information to CNN?

It is, of course, completely plausible that one source might innocently misread a date on a document. But how is it remotely plausible that multiple sources could all innocently and in good faith misread the date in exactly the same way, all to cause the dissemination of a blockbuster revelation about Trump-Russia-WikiLeaks collusion? This is the critical question that CNN simply refuses to answer. In other words, CNN refuses to provide the most minimal transparency to enable the public to understand what happened here.

And they still refuse to make it clear why they are with a story without first having access to the email that was the key to their story. Instead, they circle the wagons, and continue on as if nothing happened save for an honest mistake. Greenwald says it's bunk:

Surely anyone who has any minimal concerns about journalistic accuracy — which would presumably include all the people who have spent the last year lamenting Fake News, propaganda, Twitter bots, and the like — would demand an accounting as to how a major U.S. media outlet ended up filling so many people’s brains with totally false news. That alone should prompt demands from CNN for an explanation about what happened here. No Russian Facebook ad or Twitter bot could possibly have anywhere near the impact as this CNN story had when it comes to deceiving people with blatantly inaccurate information.

Second, the “multiple sources” who fed CNN this false information did not confine themselves to that network. They were apparently very busy eagerly spreading the false information to as many media outlets as they could find. In the middle of the day, CBS News claimed that it had independently “confirmed” CNN’s story about the email and published its own breathless article discussing the grave implications of this discovered collusion.

Most embarrassing of all was what MSNBC did. You just have to watch this report from its “intelligence and national security correspondent” Ken Dilanian to believe it. Like CBS, Dilanian also claimed that he had independently “confirmed” the false CNN report from “two sources with direct knowledge of this.” Dilanian, whose career in the U.S. media continues to flourish the more he is exposed as someone who faithfully parrots what the CIA tells him to say (since that is one of the most coveted and valued attributes in U.S. journalism), spent three minutes mixing evidence-free CIA claims as fact with totally false assertions about what his multiple “sources with direct knowledge” told him about all this.

The video of that MSNBC report is no longer available online. 

All of this leads Greenwald to charge that the press is buring its credibility to the ground:

...when media outlets are responsible for such grave and consequential errors as the spectacle we witnessed yesterday, they have to take responsibility for it by offering transparency and accountability. In this case, that can’t mean hiding behind P.R. and lawyer silence and waiting for this to just all blow away.

At minimum, these networks — CNN, MSNBC, and CBS — have to either identify who purposely fed them this blatantly false information or explain how it’s possible that “multiple sources” all got the same information wrong in innocence and good faith. Until they do that, their cries and protests the next time they’re attacked as “Fake News” should fall on deaf ears, since the real author of those attacks — the reason those attacks resonate — is themselves and their own conduct.

A vibrant, free, and accountable press is an essential part of our democracy. But in its pursuit of Donald Trump, large portions of the media complex have cast whatever pretence of accountability they have over the side. That endangers their ability to cover the news in the near term, and is fatal to their entire edifice over the long term.