• Defamation: Enter Sandmann v. CNN

    January 25, 2020 // 12 Comments »

    Once again a geopolitical event — this time, the killing of an Iranian General — was falsely blown by agenda-driven journalism into ItIsWWIIIWeAreAllGonnaDieBecauseTrump and then within a handful of days we realize no, not the case. Again.

    The facts never support the media contentions, but the facts seem to matter little. The need to drive an agenda,  Orange Man Bad, controls.

    Remember how Trump will start WWIII with China over Taiwan’s inauguration phone call, Trump will start global economic war with China trade sanctions, Trump will start WWIII by withdrawing from NATO, Trump will start a wider war in Syria bombing Russian bases, Trump will start a  war moving the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem, Trump will start WWIII pulling out of Obama’s Iran Nuclear Agreement, Trump will start WWIII with North Korea, Trump will sell out the U.S. to get peace with North Korea because he wants a cheap Nobel, Trump will start WWIII because he is Hitler, erratic, mentally ill, impulsive, isolated, Trump will ___ to distract from Mueller, Comey, impeachment, Trump will start a war over Venezuela, Trump will start a genocide of Kurds with Turkey, Trump will start a Mideast war after Iran attacked a Saudi oil facility or shot down a drone, Trump will start a civil war inside the U.S. after Charlottesville, or to stop the midterms, or to prevent the next election, or he won’t leave if he loses, Trump is a Russian asset, Trump owes Putin billions, Trump is Putin’s cockholster, Trump is a pee tape sex pervert, Trump will start a recession, Trump will trigger a depression, Trump is rich from emoluments, Trump is almost bankrupt with hidden taxes, the stock market will crash, trade wars will end global capitalism, Trump killed all the Puerto Ricans, Trump will take away health care, Trump will imprison LGBTQXYZ people, Trump will end legal abortion, Trump has America on the brink…

    One can find dozens of articles on any of the subjects above. By my count the NYT’s Paul Krugman predicted LINK a Trump recession 17 individual times, the first even before inauguration, alongside many more instances of the clear and present dangers of tax cuts, market bubbles, tariffs, and more. MSNBC’s Rachael Maddow devoted her entire show for about two years to the walls closing in on Trump, repeating “tick tock” like some modern version of the Rain Man.

    Columnist Max Boot in The Washington Post put into writing what we have all known for some time: real journalism, Jefferson’s informed citizenry and all that, is dead. The job has shifted to agenda writing, just plain made-up stuff to drive events. Boot is at least honest that he writes to drive Trump from office and overturn the 2016 election, “Much of my journalism for the past four years has been devoted to critiquing President Trump and opposing the spread of Trumpism. But no matter how many columns or sound bites I produce, he remains in office… I am left to ask if all my work has made any difference.”

    The worst agenda journalism reads like bad anti-Trump fan fiction, worse than the basement Star Wars stuff where Leia always ends up without her golden bikini. Trump is a spy. Trump digs golden showers. Turn around his jest, and if Trump saved a man’s life in the middle of Fifth Avenue Don Lemon would explain that night why that was wrong, and an existential threat to the rest of us if not Democracy itself. If it doesn’t pass even the sniff test, well, it was designed to. When writing for a fan fiction audience one simply need to feed them the raw meat they crave (naked Leia, Orange Man Bad.) Truth, subtlety, challenging thought have no place and indeed no value. That’s kind of what you expect when the goal is basement Solo pleasures, but it is now one of the drivers of the national mainstream media in America.

     

    The giveaway that journalism is near-singularly devoted to an agenda, frightening the public in service of driving Trump somehow from office, is how the mistakes are always wrong in same direction. Meanwhile none of the people who keep track of the lies Trump tells and who are demanding “fact checks” before ads are allowed to run on social media seem to spend any time on the other side of the equation. Who would accept a track record this bad from their doctor, lawyer, their nail technician (“No, seriously, cracked nails are hot this year, it was in the NYT”)? Is there any price to be paid for agenda journalism?

    Assuming credibility, professionalism, and self-respect are apparently worth about zero, the price tag for agenda journalism looks to be about $25 million. That’s what CNN is reported to have paid settling a defamation case brought by Covington High School student Nick Sandmann charging the network “maintained a well-known and easily documented biased agenda against President Donald Trump and established a history of impugning individuals perceived to be supporters of the president.” The amount is probably half what CNN spends yearly just on botox for Anderson Cooper but as Cooper’s estheticians are prone to say, it’s a start.

    Almost a year ago to the day Sandmann and his Catholic school classmates traveled to Washington, DC to join anti-abortion protests. Sandmann was photographed grinning at a Native American DC protest regular. The media with one mighty flatulent blast knew what to do. Based solely on a YouTube clip, outlets like CNN and WaPo imagined Sandmann, wearing his MAGA cap, as the distillation of everything evil, some redneck crapper from Kentucky a hatin’ women and a protestin’ them abortions and rubbing his smug grin in the face of a noble Native American POC supposedly trying to defuse a tense situation with native drumming. The drummer was also quickly (but wrongly) glorified as a Vietnam Vet.

    Blue Check Twitter suggested Sandmann be punched in the face, and veiled suggestions of mob action led to threats, Sandmann’s family temporarily run out of their home, the kid dropped from school trips, and other disciplinary action to include coerced apologies. The second wave was pearl clutching Op-Eds about what Trump has turned us into, and look, it has spread to The Children. The media implied Sandmann deserved it because of his politics. Contrast that treatment with the beatification bestowed on #Resistance kids like Greta Thunberg, and the good victims of the Parkland shooting (the Parkland kid who supports the Second Amendment meanwhile was media-doxxed out of his Harvard scholarship.)

    Not only was all of that absolutely wrong (Sandmann was never an aggressor, and alongside his peers, said nothing in return to those taunting him, even though CNN claimed they “looked like they were going to lynch” the Black Hebrew Israelites who actually started the whole thing) it wasn’t even news. Students on a field trip, with the media appointing Sandmann their symbolic oberfuhrer, were fashioned into props to fit the characterization people who wear MAGA hats are intolerant. The media cared little for the truth when they had their entire white nationalist anti-Trump agenda as they imagine it exists packaged in one handy snapshot.

    The media counts on America to forget their propaganda fails and move on. Only this time it turned out differently. Sandmann is suing a range of journalists individually, including Maggie Haberman, Ana Navarro, and Shaun King for slurs they threw at him on Twitter, and their employers for directing their massive global platforms to beat up an innocent high school kid. Included in the swath of lawsuits by Sandmann are CNN, MSNBC’s parent company, the AP, Gannett, and the Washington Post. In the words of the suit, they “brought down the full force of [their] corporate power, influence, and wealth on Nicholas by falsely attacking, vilifying, and bullying him despite the fact that he was a minor child.”

    Representative Ilhan Omar, who tweeted the boys yelled “it’s not rape if you enjoy it” when they did not, is exempt from the suit as a public office holder. “Comedian” Bill Maher, who called Sandmann a profane name on TV, also likely enjoys a legal exemption for satire. Maher topped off his coverage of the events by making a child rape joke about Sandmann, stating “I do not get what Catholic priests see in these kids.”

     

    While the many suits are pending, this month CNN independently reached a cash settlement with Sandmann, one of those we-sorta-admit-it but legally do not admit, in the words of the lawsuit, to defaming Sandmann by accusing him of “engaging in racist conduct” without properly investigating the incident. The suits contend CNN and the others would have “known the statements to be untrue had they undertaken any reasonable efforts to verify their accuracy before publication.” In other words, CNN willfully failed to commit journalism, the finding of facts, the asking of questions in lieu of packaging what was actually nothing at all into a steamy piece to fit an existing agenda.

    With a win in Sandmann’s pocket and as his cases against the other media outlets work their way through the courts, others also appear ready to challenge agenda journalism via the defamation laws. Ten more Covington high school students are now suing various media for defamation. Elsewhere, writer Peter Brimelow is suing the NYT for labeling him an “open white nationalist.” Karen McDougal, a former Playboy model who said she had an affair with Donald Trump, filed suit against Fox a month ago claiming defamation. George Zimmerman, who killed Trayvon Martin, filed a defamation suit against HarperCollins, the Martin family lawyer’s publisher. Trump critic and Harvard prof Lawrence Lessig is suing the NYT, accusing them of publishing “false and defamatory” information about him. Melania is suing all sorts of outlets for defamation. Representative Devin Nunes sued CNN last month claiming the network defamed him with false reports he traveled to Vienna to meet with the Ukrainian prosecutor Joe Biden helped oust in 2016.

    Under current law, most of those suits will fail. Going forward, how powerful a weapon defamation lawsuits might prove to be against agenda journalism will depend on how flexible the courts choose to be. Historically they have given great leeway to anyone, journalist or not, who appears to libel (an untrue defamatory statement in writing) or slander (same, but orally) public figures. The idea is if you put yourself out there as an actor, or a politician, you’re expected to take a few slings and arrows and so the standards of proof are higher. This is what allows tabloids like the National Enquirer to get away with making up stories about popular figures as their basic trade. Defamation as a business practice was once upon a time what they did, and not what places like the media of record are now about.

    The major defenses against defamation are truth, or that the alleged defamatory statement was a statement of opinion. If CNN were to prove Nunes did go to Vienna as reported, that would end his suit. One woman who claims Trump raped her several decades ago is now suing him, claiming his Constitutionally-protected statement of innocence defamed her. Her suit demands he prove the truth of his denial to escape judgement. Opinion is exempt when it is truly some sort of opinion — Nunes is the worst Congressman ever — and not just when it is fudged along the likes of “This reporter’s opinion is Nunes traveled to Vienna.”

    The hope would be justice recognizes a new media environment has crawled out from the mud, one which drags innocent people onto the national stage unnecessarily and without context in a way which is unethical and exploitative. And that even public figures, never mind the voters who select them, deserve accurate, factual reporting.

    Yeah, one can hope. But in the case of CNN and Nick Sandmann, it appears the network would rather pay out a couple of million dollars then to roll the dice to see what a court would say. And hey, small world: Nick Sandmann’s attorney, Lin Wood, is the same person who successfully represented Richard Jewell in his defamation suit against CNN years ago, when the network falsely labeled him the Atlanta Olympic Park bomber.

    In a rare breath of self-examination, columnist David Brooks wrote “Donald Trump is impulse-driven, ignorant, narcissistic and intellectually dishonest. So you’d think that those of us in the anti-Trump camp would go out of our way to show we’re not like him — that we are judicious, informed, mature and reasonable. The anti-Trump echo chamber is becoming a mirror image of Trump himself — overwrought, uncalibrated and incapable of having an intelligent conversation about any complex policy problem.”

    That CNN has not made any noticeable changes in its stream of agenda journalism since the original incident a year ago, or since settling with Sandmann, suggests what they paid out is to them a reasonable price to continue to lie to the American public. Defamation settlements are just another business expense. The Founders assigned journalism a specific role to ensure that citizens would be able to carry out informed debates. Truth, they understood, is more than an ideal, it is a perspective. Yet over the last three years serious journalism has all but been pushed aside in a rush to do away with Trump, not by honest persuasion but by any means necessary. Fear won out, and so objectivity is now #Collusion. Seeking facts before going viral is so 2015. The media picks on kids because they can’t get Trump. We asked for an informed citizenry and we got Mean Girls.

     

     

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    What if Political Journalism Really Can’t Snap Back from Tabloidization?

    January 25, 2019 // 11 Comments »


     

    After a week in which Buzzfeed published the false claim Donald Trump told Michael Cohen to lie to Congress, quickly followed by a tsunami of inaccurate reporting over a bunch of Covington high school kids and their MAGA hats, it’s time to ask: What happens if political journalism can’t snap back from its current state of tabloidization?

    Journalism is the only profession mentioned in the Bill of Rights. The Founders assigned it a specific role in helping citizens carry out informed debate. And yet in the last two years, serious political journalism has all but been pushed aside in a rush toward tabloidization, the goal of which is to do away with Donald Trump, not via informed debate but by any means necessary.

    The justification is America is on the precipice of 1933 so running Trump out of office is a moral duty. Trump is a Nazi, red MAGA caps the new Klan hood. Under such dire circumstances, media can no longer risk both sides being heard (now known as “giving them a platform”) or chance unbiased reporting might inadvertently make Trump look good. Some journalists believe they were partially responsible for Hillary’s defeat, and live in fear some scrap of truth might accidentally abet Charlottesville’s everywhere controlled by Putin. The new standard is tabloid-level journalism, so every story can be a Fruity Pebbles sugar high serving the cause. Objectivity is #Collusion.

    Classic tabloids like the National Enquirer run Elvis-is-alive articles, announce miracle cancer cures, and traffic in outrageous celebrity gossip. Sources are anonymous, conclusions spoon-fed, headlines bombastically out of line with the text. It’s OK in its place because absent a few blue haired old ladies in what used to be called the beauty parlor, no one really believes the stories. We’re spectators at a magic show where we know no one is actually sawed in half but it is fun to be fooled anyway. The concern is with the tabloidization of real news.

    The most recent example is Buzzfeed’s claim documentary proof exists Trump ordered his attorney (whom the media by common agreement libelously calls a “fixer”) to lie to Congress about the Moscow Project. Tabloids use assumed narratives and prejudices – a cure must be out there to save Mom if only Big Pharma would get out of the way – and in this case the narrative chain is Trump wanted to build a hotel in Moscow so the Russkies helped him win the presidency so he’s now their asset and so it all has to be lied about and so Trump has to be in on it.

    Lack of actual evidence has held back Russiagate in all its metastasizing forms for over two years. Enter Buzzfeed, who sets the hook with something new: its mystery sources saw the evidence Trump told Cohen to lie. One of the Buzzfeed authors, albeit one with a history of plagiarism and misreporting going back years, kinda sorta maybe said he personally saw it too.

    Same as with the miracle cure, to any objective person Buzzfeed’s story was too good to be true: a literal paper receipt for perjury! Trump can’t lie his way out of that! He’ll be out of office as fast as the paperwork can be processed! Impeach the MF!

    Legacy prestigious media outlets such as WaPo and the New York Times picked up the story, having learned how to hide behind the thong of appending “As reported by Buzzfeed…” after which for all they care they can headline The Earth is Flat! at no reputational risk to themselves. In 2019 they are no longer responsible for what they (re)print.

    Congressman Jim Clyburn spoke for the media and his fellow pols when he said “I don’t think that my Democratic friends are in any way rushing to judgment because they qualified right up front, ‘If this is true.’ When you preface your statement with ‘If this is true,’ that, to me, gives you all the cover you need.” One imagines with horror those words chiseled on a journalism building Clyburn funds at his alma mater.

    The only sort of problem is Buzzfeed’s story wasn’t true. It was shut down by a statement from the Special Counsel’s office in less than 24 hours, the first such rebuke ever issued, though to be fair, James Comey also stated some New York Times reporting on Russiagate was wrong. The media in both instances characterized being told it was wrong by the definitive source it otherwise deified as just a “dispute,” “push back,” a “controversy.”

    Buzzfeed’s specific reaction included a clumsy jujitsu of challenging Mueller to tell them exactly what he thought was inaccurate. They perhaps understood in the tabloid world truth has a viral-length expiration date, that truth is only what people are willing to believe anyway, including that magicians really can saw women in half on stage. Falsehoods are the work of bad sources, even though we’ll try again next week with basically the same story from new sources. All that matters is an infusion saying Trump is evil and that end justifies the journalistic means.

    Advocacy journalism, tabloid style, is not about pointing out real wrongs with an occasional correction issued. It is about teeing up tales to support a political goal. Let Buzzfeed open the door for WaPo to legitimize the story. Members of Congress then bypass the fuzzy source to cite the name-brand one (“according to sources” becomes “according to the Washington Post”) until Democrats want hearings into the Buzzfeed story Mueller’s office already made clear isn’t true.

    In the same week as Buzzfeed, a selective short clip of an encounter between some white Covington, Kentucky high school students wearing MAGA hats, a Native American (whom the media falsely lionized for days as a Vietnam vet), and some black protesters was fanned into a racial showdown, when all it took was for someone to watch the whole recording of the interaction to realize that was not true.

    Or the mass-proclamation conservatives were furious over Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s silly dance video when no one was. Or this long list of Russiagate game-changers that weren’t. Or two-years’ worth of false breaking news somebody in the Trump administration was about to flip, quit, be indicted, get fired or fire Mueller.

    Tabloid journalism for a political ends has assumed priority over reporting facts. People are being conditioned to overreact. Name calling is commentary. Prejudice and stereotyping are offensive when aimed left, allowed when projectiled by Pulitzer-winning columnists at Trump voters. Headlines can be less true than the text. Belief trumps truth. The ends justify the means when attacking a political opponent. Too much free speech plays into the hands of the authoritarians. The term “both sides journalism” is a now a negative one. Journalists have convinced themselves serving up the correct sort of political bias is equivalent to serving the nation.

    It’s sad some measure of the truth has to come from Whoopi Goldberg on The View, who wondered why the media rushed to judge the Covington teens. “Because we’re desperate to get Trump out,” co-host Joy Behar asserted.

    Political journalism adopting the standards and methods of the tabloids is a true threat to democracy. As one writer put it “let’s not underestimate the damage being done… people of all political stripes will acknowledge the important role that free and unfettered discourse plays in the democratic process. By extension, when that discourse is poisoned, so too is the process.”

    The Buzzfeed story, followed so quickly by the Covington high school story, should be a significant moment of reflection, when the media remember they play a critical role in our system. Yet there are few calls against the misuse of sources, the rushes to judgment, the purposeful dropping of objectivity, the loss of seeking out other perspectives, the problem of reporting wrongly too often, the slurring of editorial into reporting.

    Still no one asks why there aren’t mainstream “Sources: Trump is innocent” stories that later need to be walked back. No one demands as much emphasis on corrections as on the original false story. Instead, the standard response to being caught wrong seems to be either dig in as with Buzzfeed, or at most to delete a Tweet or two about the Covington mess, as if in the age of the Internet that makes something to have never happened.

    It is unlikely things will change, especially when this model of journalism is also good for a business where clicks equal dollars. The sad thing is craven economic self-interest is the least worst explanation for tabloidization. Democracy dies in the darkness? It’s in danger in plain sight.

     
     

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    What if Political Journalism Can’t Snap Back from Tabloidization?

    // Comments Off on What if Political Journalism Can’t Snap Back from Tabloidization?


     

    What if mainstream political journalism can’t snap back from its current state of tabloidization? After a week in which Buzzfeed brought the false claim Trump told Michael Cohen to lie to Congress, quickly followed by a tsunami of inaccurate but inflammatory reporting over a bunch of Covington high school kids and their MAGA hats, the media needs to do more than apologize and delete a few Tweets. It’s time for a dollop of introspection.

    Journalism is the only profession specifically mentioned in the Bill of Rights, and the Founders assigned it a specific role, helping citizens (we have a task assigned as well) carry on an informed debate. And yet in the last two years, serious political journalism has all but been pushed aside in a rush toward tabloidization. Political journalism has slipped into a kind of con job to wash away the dangers of free speech.

    The con is this: since by acclamation America is perched on the precipice of 1933 (you’re reading this somewhat tongue-in-cheek but too many people are dead serious about the historical warning) resisting Trump’s policies until he can be run out of office (emoluments lawsuit, 25th Amendment, indictment, impeachment, an election if it really has to come to that) is a moral duty. Trump and his MAGA people are Nazis, their red caps the equivalent of Klan hoods. This is for the first time in American history beyond the push-pull of politics. The survival of the Republic itself on the line, dammit don’t-you-know.

    It follows journalism in the specific and free speech more generally cannot afford to allow for both sides to be heard (now known as “giving them a platform”) or allow objective reporting that might inadvertently make Trump look good. Journalists, some of whom literally believe they are responsible for Hillary’s defeat, live in fear they might abet the government-sanctioned mass lynchings of blacks and beatings of transpeople they expect to break out across America, Charlottesville’s everywhere controlled by Putin. Objectivity is #Collusion. Advocacy is #Resistance. The new standard is tabloid journalism, where every story has to be a Fruity Pebbles sugar high serving the cause of freedom.

    While the tension between objectivity and advocacy isn’t particularly new (read up on The Jungle and The Way the Other Half Lives) what’s new is the near-complete way the mainstream media has created an anti-Trump narrative of Charlottesville’s everywhere controlled by Putin while condemning any outlet not on board as the Fox in democracy’s henhouse. Demonizing a perspective has gotten rougher in the age of deplatforming and weaponized “fact checking.” A new step in the wrong direction is to claim talking heads have blood on their hands for supporting disagreeable but still legitimate political positions say on restricting immigration or withdrawing from Syria. It’s a bit much, but it falls within a snappable-back range for now.

    Classic tabloids like the National Enquirer once upon a time ran Elvis-is-alive articles, or reported on aliens walking among us, or trafficked in outrageous celebrity gossip. It was OK, because absent a few blue haired old ladies in what used to be called the beauty parlor, no one really believed the stories were true. The con included us as willing participants, spectators at a magic show where we know no one is actually sawed in half but it was fun to be fooled anyway.

    The greater concern lies in how alongside all this social media has tabloidized “real” news. The most recent example is Buzzfeed’s use of anonymous sources to claim documentary proof exists Trump ordered his attorney (whom the media by common agreement libelously calls a “fixer”) to lie to Congress about the so-called Moscow Project. Tagged on is the fact-free narrative chain of Trump wanting to build a hotel in Moscow so the Russkies helped him win the presidency so he’s now their asset. To any objective reader, same as an Elvis sighting, Buzzfeed’s story was too good to be true: a literal paper receipt for perjury before Congress. Trump could not lie his way out of this, and he would go down for basically the same crime Bill Clinton was impeached over. Trump would be out of office as fast as the paperwork could be processed.

    The Buzzfeed story appeared out of nowhere, went globally viral, and was shut down by the Special Counsel himself, all within a span of hours.

    So that’s why there are no viral stories that need to be walked back claiming “Trump is innocent.” Nope, the media wants to believe he is guilty of, well, something, and they know they are peddling that belief to a willing audience. A good con also has some truth in it, otherwise the con artist’s job is much harder. Cohen actually did lie to Congress. Next step is knowing most media and many Americans want to believe Trump was involved. Not a hard sell. But it has been the lack of actual evidence that has held back Russiagate in all its metastasizing forms for over two years, you know, actual proof, something you can hold in your hand or listen to online, not simply the now-you-see-it now-you-don’t self-serving statements from convicted perjurers, anonymous officials, and felons we love to hate.

    Enter Buzzfeed, who sets the hook with something new, and it appears given Mueller’s unambiguous press statement, wholly untrue: Buzzfeed’s sources have seen written evidence Trump told Cohen to lie. One of the Buzzfeed authors, albeit one with a history of plagiarism and misreporting going back years, kinda sorta maybe even said he personally saw the documents.

    Social media rockets the story around the globe. Media outlets as once prestigious as the WaPo and New York Times have learned how to hide behind the micro bikini bottom of appending “As reported by Buzzfeed…” after which for all they care they are allowed to headline “The Earth is Flat” at no cost to themselves. In 2019 they are no longer responsible for what they print. Democratic Congressman Jim Clyburn spoke for all media and pols when he said “I don’t think that my Democratic friends are in any way rushing to judgment because they qualified right up front [by saying], ‘If this is true.’ When you preface your statement with ‘If this is true,’ that, to me, gives you all the cover you need.”

    It doesn’t hurt that this model of journalism seems to be also good for business in a market where clicks equal dollars, in the words of one NYT columnist “reinforc[ing] the prejudices of your readers.” The sad thing is craven economic self-interest in the service to social media mob-think is the least worst explanation for this phenomena of tabloidism.

    The free press the founders wrote into the Bill of Rights isn’t part of some long con, where the goal is to take the rubes for their ticket money, or give them a chuckle over Elvis. No, the serious media adopting the standards and methods of the tabloids, feeding us back what we want to hear, pretending this all is serious and real without the little wink which says “pssst, we’re in on it with you…” is a very bad thing for a democracy. As one writer put it “let’s not underestimate the damage being done… people of all political stripes will acknowledge the important role that free and unfettered discourse plays in the democratic process. By extension, when that discourse is poisoned, so too is the process.”

    We are being taught there is no truth beyond ever-briefer viral spasms. Falsehoods are just bad sources, we’ll try again next week with basically the same story about Trump from hopefully better sources. Because all that matters is proclaiming some moral stance — Trump is evil, really evil, not just a bad president — and that ends justifies the journalistic means. Advocacy journalism in 2019 is not about pointing out real wrongs with the occasional professional missteps caused by the haste of social media. Nope, it is about teeing up “crimes,” with any small outlet opening the door for the bigger ones to legitimize the story. Members of Congress, citing the Times or the Post, then do things like demand investigations into the Buzzfeed story even after Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s office made clear the original story wasn’t true.

    It’s not like the Buzzfeed saga is a one-off. In the same week, a carefully edited clip of an encounter between some white Covington, Kentucky high school students wearing MAGA hats, a Native American, and some black protesters was fanned into a racial showdown, when all it took was for someone to first watch the whole recording to realize that was a completely false narrative. Or CBS’ lead journalist falsely Tweeting he was under an arrest warrant in Egypt. Or something as silly as a mass-proclamation conservatives were furious over Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s silly dance video. Or this long list of Russiagate game-changers that weren’t. Or two-years’ worth of inaccurate breaking news somebody in the Trump administration was about to flip, quit, be indicted or get fired. The narrative has assumed priority over reality. People are conditioned to overreact as their first impulse. Somebody is going to get hurt.

    Buzzfeed’s reaction was to “stand by its reporting” and challenge Mueller to proofread their work for them and be more specific in telling them where they screwed up, beyond the Special Counsel’s clear, blanket statement the Buzzfeed article was simply not accurate. That was the first such rebuke issued by Mueller in some two years. Though to be fair, James Comey also stated in front of Congress some New York Times reporting on Russiagate was wrong. The media in both instances characterized being told it was wrong by the definitive source as a “dispute.” Otherwise, the standard response to being wrong is to apologize and maybe delete a Tweet or two, the damage done, the zeitgeist stirred.

    The Cohen story, followed so quickly by the Covington high school story, should be a pivot point, a significant moment of reflection for the media when they stop, take a deep breath, and remember why they really exist as a free press. Hint: they were written into existence by the Founders to play a critical role in critical thinking in our system of government. This tabloidization is already out of control, the media already largely written off as a force for good through the 2020 election cycle. One hopes after that some amount of resiliency will take hold, and the press will snap back.

    Now that way of dealing with political enemies, choosing stereotypes and falsity over accurate reporting, does indeed have some echoes back to 1933.

     
     

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