The Other McCain

"One should either write ruthlessly what one believes to be the truth, or else shut up." — Arthur Koestler

The Belated Admission of Media Error

Posted on | April 22, 2019 | 2 Comments


One of the things about media malpractice is, you may not notice it until the media begin reporting on a subject with which you are directly familiar. Like, have you ever seen a Nick Saban press conference? He obviously hates the media, because nobody knows Alabama football better than the coach, and their “spin” annoys him. If media bias is a problem in sports coverage — and you can ask Coach Nick about it — how much more of a problem is it in political journalism?

Another thing about media malpractice is that, by the time they admit they got the story wrong, the correction gets less coverage than their original error, and sometimes people’s lives can be wrecked by a published falsehood long before the media says, “Oops.”

Consider the case of President Trump and “Russian collusion.” Professor Glenn Reynolds reminds us that this entire narrative started with Hillary Clinton’s campaign team — specifically Robbie Mook and John Podesta — deciding immediately after her 2016 defeat “to engineer the case that the election wasn’t entirely on the up-and-up . . . Russian hacking was the centerpiece of the argument.” The hacking of Democrat emails was actually a crime for which Robert Mueller has indicted Russian military intelligence officers but (a) those emails didn’t make a decisive impact on the 2016 campaign and (b) Trump was not responsible for it. However, the media’s amplification and repetition of this simple message — “Russia stole the election” — eventually inspired the (completely unsubstantiated) suggestion that the reason Trump fired FBI Director James Comey in May 2017 was to prevent Comey from uncovering “collusion” between Russia and the Trump campaign, a suggestion that in turn led to the appointment of Mueller as special counsel. And it took nearly two years for Mueller to admit what Trump has said all along — there was no “collusion” at all. However, the media outlets that promoted the Clinton campaign’s phony Russia-stole-the-election message are now trying to spin this revelation in such a way as to conceal their role in a damaging political propaganda campaign against the President.

Now that Mueller has finished his investigation and filed his report, the New York Times is finally admitting what every Fox News viewer has known for more than a year: The Steele dossier, commissioned by the Clinton campaign and used to justify federal surveillance of the Trump campaign, was a pack of lies based on dubious Russian sources:

[T]he most sensational claims in the dossier appeared to be false, and others were impossible to prove. Mr. Mueller’s report contained over a dozen passing references to the document’s claims but no overall assessment of why so much did not check out. . . .
How the dossier ended up loaded with dubious or exaggerated details remains uncertain, but the document may be the result of a high-stakes game of telephone, in which rumors and hearsay were passed from source to source.
Another possibility — one that Mr. Steele has not ruled out — could be Russian disinformation. That would mean that in addition to carrying out an effective attack on the Clinton campaign, Russian spymasters hedged their bets and placed a few land mines under Mr. Trump’s presidency as well.

Oh, isn’t that convenient? Now that the Trump presidency has spent 22 months under the shadow of Mueller’s investigation, and after many of the president’s associates have been prosecuted on various grounds having nothing to do with Russia, the New York Times decides it’s OK to admit that the Steele dossier — the original pretext of this whole “Russian collusion” hoax — was a pile of bogus smears, possibly including disinformation from the Kremlin! This might be news to the Times readership, even though the truth about the Steele dossier been reported five nights a week, month after month, on Sean Hannity’s show.

Since I’m playing ombudsman here, allow me to enumerate the possible reasons for suspicion of “Russian collusion”:

  1. Trump’s business ties to Russia — Trump’s real-estate empire is heavily leveraged, and some of his debt is owed (mostly via German banks) to Russian investors.
  2. Trump’s “nationalism” — In contrast to the D.C. political elite in both parties, Trump is skeptical of the “globalization” consensus that has prevailed since the end of the Cold War. Trump isn’t inclined to defer to the Brussels-based European Union leadership, and seems to believe our NATO allies are not as friendly as they should be. Trump’s skepticism toward the EU and the whole “globalization” narrative makes him more sympathetic to the argument that Russia is suffering unfairly from Europe’s anti-Russian policies left over from the Cold War.
  3. Roger Stone’s fingerprints on the Wikileaks release of Democrat emails — According to Mueller’s indictment, the hacker “Guccifer 2.0” was an operative of Russian military intelligence. Stone, a notorious practitioner of political dirty tricks, was deeply interested in this, and reportedly had advance knowledge of Wikileaks obtaining the hacked emails.
  4. The Trump Tower meeting — In June 2016, “three senior members of the 2016 Trump campaign – Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner, and Paul Manafort — [met with] at least five other people, including Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya,” who had promised to provide “dirt” on Hillary Clinton. However, there is evidence to suggest that this was a Clinton campaign dirty trick orchestrated by Fusion GPS, using Veselnitskaya as bait to compromise the Trump campaign.

All of this can be admitted as giving credence to suspicion that there was something going on between Trump and the Russians, but suspicion is not proof, and all of this can be defended or explained as innocent. What happened instead was that a lot of the media (especially including CNN, MSNBC, the Washington Post and the New York Times) let themselves become a conduit for the Clinton campaign’s post-election “spin” operation, depicting Trump’s presidency as illegitimate and corrupt because the election had been wrongly “stolen” with Russian assistance.

Why did the New York Times wait this long to admit that the Steele dossier was a tainted source? Because to have examined this subject earlier would have undermined Team Clinton’s narrative, which was the underlying pretext of the Mueller investigation. Now that Trump has officially been cleared of “collusion,” it is OK for the media to admit the Steele dossier was a pile of garbage, because it has already served its purpose, i.e., to damage Trump by justifying the investigation.

You see, however, that this admission by the New York Times is too late to undo the harm inflicted by the months of their dishonest reporting which ignored or downplayed the problems with the “Russian collusion” narrative. It’s sort of like the way the New York Times was happy to collect a Pulitzer for Walter Duranty’s dishonest reporting about Stalin’s Soviet regime, and then wait decades before admitting Duranty got it wrong. As long as the Soviet Union was an ongoing enterprise, the New York Times couldn’t admit the truth about how they had published Stalinist propaganda as “journalism,” but once the Berlin Wall fell and the Cold War ended: “Oops.” That they were so wrong, for so long, about some of the greatest atrocities in human history — the terror-famine in Ukraine, and Stalin’s bloody purges — ought to have forever destroyed the credibility of the New York Times, but some people keep believing them anyway. Because some people are idiots.



2 Responses to “The Belated Admission of Media Error”

  1. HONK HONK | Dirt People
    April 24th, 2019 @ 2:04 pm

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    April 27th, 2019 @ 11:07 am

    […] The Other McCain – The Belated Admission of Media Error. […]