"Hell is other people"

Trumped Up Press Coverage

“Most Americans (60 percent) say they want unbiased news sources. Yet 86 percent think the media is biased.” — Jeff Gerth

The Columbia Journalism Review has published journalist Jeff Gerth’s impeccably researched and comprehensive look at the press coverage of Russiagate: The press versus the president. He is not a rightwing partisan, he employs anodyne language, and only expresses a narrow opinion in his afterword. The report is in four parts, weighs in at around 40,000 words and is damning.

I don’t enjoy attacking the Infotainment Media Complex. We need a press that people see as credible and unbiased. It is absolutely essential to a free democratic republic. Too many journalists in too many news outlets have soiled themselves in the pursuit of juicy stories and fighting a president they hated, and Gerth lays it all out.

Read the Report

The first thing I ask everyone is, read the CJR Report. Gerth describes his motivation in the report’s Afterword:

I’ve avoided opining in my more than fifty years as a reporter. This time, however, I felt obligated to weigh in. Why? Because I am worried about journalism’s declining credibility and society’s increasing polarization. The two trends, I believe, are intertwined.

My main conclusion is that journalism’s primary missions, informing the public and holding powerful interests accountable, have been undermined by the erosion of journalistic norms and the media’s own lack of transparency about its work. This combination adds to people’s distrust about the media and exacerbates frayed political and social differences.

Here is Steele on his dossier, from the report:

It turns out that a few weeks after the FBI began checking out the dossier, in the fall of 2016, it offered Steele as much as $1 million if he could offer corroboration and he didn’t, according to court testimony by an FBI official in October.

Steele, in response to my questions earlier this year, wrote that his “raw intelligence reports” were meant only “for client oral briefing, rather than a finished and assessed written intelligence product,” which would have contained “sourcing caveats.” Thus, Steele wrote, “the quality of the Dossier reports was fine imo.” He said only one minor detail had been “disproved,” with the rest either corroborated or unverified.

Yet the FBI used it to keep digging, even when some high-level agents expressed grave doubts about the validity of it, and the press is still making money hyping it.

Read the whole thing. It is clear to me that there are few all-good, or all-bad people in this story. A few things are clearly evident:

  • The news outlets care about their reputations and credibility, so they engage in lawyerly parsing of their reportage, issuing retractions when they had to, but failing to acknowledge how they ignored their contribution to distorting the big picture.
  • Related to the big picture, the report identifies many intances of ‘sins of omission,’ where news outlets failed to provide information that would make the picture clearer, and almost always, that information would have gone against the anti-Trump narrative.
  • Overreliance on anonymous sources, and failure to include rebuttals and comments from people being criticized.
  • Government officials–including famous names–did try to put the brakes on some of this, but it looks like a situation that got out of control. Trying to halt it all without admitting professional or even criminal culpability would have been very difficult.

To reach a reckoning and reconciliation between the press and the people, we all need to acknowledge a simple piece of logic: The government and press admitting their mistakes is in no way an endorsement of Trump or Trumpism.

Plenty of Trump buffoonery and questionable actions remain on the record and some are under investigation. Hopefully the press can learn some lessons and play it straight from now on. The people elected a man who some 90% of the DC Establishment (including the press) consider a horrible, vulgar monster. OK. The DC Establishment may want to consider why so many voters repudiated so much that the Establishment holds so dear.

Bob Woodward, of the Post, told me that news coverage of the Russia inquiry ” wasn’t handled well” and that he thought viewers and readers had been “cheated.” He urged newsrooms to “walk down the painful road of introspection.”

What say you?

Related Links:

Wikipedia: Links Between Trump Associates & Russian Officials

Wikipedia: Steele Dossier

Charles McGonigal, indicted ex-FBI head, helped trigger ‘Russiagate’ probe

Strategic Culture: The Press Reckoning on Russiagate

%d bloggers like this: