Thursday, March 2, 2017

Navigating the minefield of scandal-mongering media

Here's a rule of thumb for navigating today's media landscape. If a print article or broadcast segment seems to be presented in such a way as to make you draw a specific snap conclusion, chuck it (figuratively) out the window. Our job as journalists is to present all the facts in a comprehensive and unemotional manner and let you consider the evidence and form your own opinion.

And if a supposed bombshell story breaks, such as today's controversy involving Attorney General Jeff Sessions, it's best to read as much as possible from as many sources as possible, find raw transcripts or footage whenever applicable, and stay away from the TV shoutfests.

For an examination of why, look no further than how the Sessions "story" developed. Obama administration holdovers still in government positions worked with the New York Times and Washington Post to drop a story that would subsequently dominate the cable news conversation, replacing the relatively good reviews from President Donald Trump's first address to Congress a day and a half earlier.

Robert Eno writes at Conservative Review:
The media have gotten their marching orders. Today’s news shall be 24/7 wall-to-wall coverage of SessionsGate! What’s that? You see, former senator and current Attorney General Jeff Sessions was asked in his confirmation hearing if he met with the Russians as part of his role as a Trump campaign surrogate. He said no. Now it has come to light that Sessions spoke with the Russian ambassador twice during 2016. Both times were in his capacity as a senator, not as a Trump campaign actor or representative.

This whole non-story is yet another attempt to impugn the character of a good man just because that man supported Donald Trump.
Eno explains how the Washington Post distorted the context of questions Sessions was asked by Sens. Al Franken and Patrick Leahy during his confirmation hearing. Joel Pollak of Breitbart News covers this in more detail here.

Eno concludes:
The media and the Left are making a case regarding something they have no evidence of. The fact that then-Senator Sessions answered the questions that were asked truthfully, and not the questions the Left wishes were asked, doesn’t rise to the level of perjury. In fact, it’s not even close to perjury. It doesn’t even seem all that untoward.
This episode is only the latest in a dubious and destructive pattern, writes columnist Victor Davis Hanson (HT: Power Line).
In just his first month in office, reporters have already peddled dozens of fake news stories designed to discredit the President—to such a degree that little they now write or say can be taken at face value.

No, Trump did not have any plans to invade Mexico, as Buzzfeed and the Associated Press alleged.

No, Trump’s father did not run for Mayor of New York by peddling racist television ads, as reported by Sidney Blumenthal.

No, there were not mass resignations at the State Department in protest of its new leaders, as was reported by the Washington Post.

No, Trump’s attorney did not cut a deal with the Russians in Prague. Nor did Trump indulge in sexual escapades in Moscow. Buzzfeed again peddled those fake news stories.

No, a supposedly racist Trump did not remove the bust of Martin Luther King Jr. from the White House, as a Time Magazine reporter claimed.

No, election results in three states were not altered by hackers or computer criminals to give Trump the election, as implied by New York Magazine.

No, Michael Flynn did not tweet that he was a scapegoat. That was a media fantasy endorsed by Nancy Pelosi.
He continues:
Ezra Klein at Vox just wrote a warning about the autocratic tendencies of Donald Trump. Should we believe him? Perhaps not. Klein was the originator of Journolist, a “left-leaning” private online chat room of journalists that was designed to coordinate media narratives that would enhance Democratic politicians and in particular Barack Obama. Such past collusion begs the question of whether Klein is really disinterested now in the fashion that he certainly was not during the Obama administration.

Recently, New York Times White House correspondent Glenn Thrush coauthored a report about initial chaos among the Trump White House staff, replete with unidentified sources. Should we believe Thrush’s largely negative story?

Perhaps. But then again, Thrush not so long ago turned up in the Wikileaks troves as sending a story to Hillary Clinton aide John Podesta for prepublication audit. Thrush was his own honest critic, admitting to Podesta: “Because I have become a hack I will send u the whole section that pertains to u. Please don’t share or tell anyone I did this Tell me if I f**ked up anything.”

Dana Milbank of the Washington Post has become a fierce critic of President Trump. Are his writs accurate? Milbank also appeared in Wikileaks, asking the Democratic National Committee to provide him with free opposition research for a negative column he was writing about candidate Trump. Are Milbank’s latest attacks his own—or once again coordinated with Democratic researchers? [...]

We are now in a media arena where there are no rules. The New York Times is no longer any more credible than talk radio; CNN—whose reporters have compared Trump to Hitler and gleefully joked about his plane crashing—should be no more believed than a blogger’s website. Buzzfeed has become like the National Inquirer.
So how should the news consumer navigate this environment? Hanson writes:
Trump now communicates, often raucously and unfiltered, directly with the American people, to ensure his message is not distorted and massaged by reporters who have a history of doing just that. Unfortunately, it is up to the American people now to audit their own president’s assertions.

The problem is not just that the media is often not reliable, but that it is predictably unreliable. It has ceased to exist as an auditor of government.
Look, I'm all for transparency in government. But I've not seen anything about this Russia narrative that convinces me it wasn't invented by corporate "news" outlets as both an excuse and a distraction after having been caught in rampant collusion and corruption throughout last year's campaign. These outlets will never get their reputations back in the eyes of most of the American people, so they're trying to take revenge on the political opponents they think put them in this position. It's best to avoid these shrill and agenda-driven voices and get your information elsewhere.

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