Analysis by WorldTribune Staff, December 10, 2017
The same major media outlets that bristle whenever President Donald Trump tweets “Fake News!” continue to provide the president with ammunition.
A rash of factual errors in the past week alone raises questions about once rigorous standards of objectivity and professionalism in today’s news industry.
On Dec. 8, CNN claimed to have a “bombshell” report that was proof of Trump-Russia collusion. The report said Donald Trump Jr. and the Trump campaign had received advanced access to stolen Democratic National Committee (DNC) emails published by WikiLeaks.
MSNBC and CBS quickly jumped on the news, each reporting that CNN’s “scoop” had been independently “confirmed.”
The report was soon debunked, a significant development missed by much of their audiences who could not have missed the earlier bulletins.
Consistent with recent media behavior patterns, the networks downplayed their mistake, analysts say.
Dec. 8 “was one of the most embarrassing days for the U.S. media in quite a long time,” Glenn Greenwald wrote for The Intercept.
“The humiliation orgy was kicked off by CNN, with MSNBC and CBS close behind, with countless pundits, commentators and operatives joining the party throughout the day. By the end of the day, it was clear that several of the nation’s largest and most influential news outlets had spread an explosive but completely false news story to millions of people, while refusing to provide any explanation of how it happened.”
CNN had reported that the date of the email was Sept. 4, 2016 – 10 days before WikiLeaks began promoting access to the emails. CNN, which cited “multiple sources” for the story, said the email was proof the Trump campaign was being offered special, unique access to the DNC emails, likely by WikiLeaks and the Kremlin.
The problem? The email was not dated Sept. 4, as CNN, but rather Sept. 14. It was sent after WikiLeaks had already published access to the DNC emails online.
“It’s impossible to convey with words what a spectacularly devastating scoop CNN believed it had … they clearly believed they were delivering a near-fatal blow on the Trump/Russia collusion story,” Greenwald wrote.
“It’s hard to overstate how fast, far and wide this false story traveled. Democratic Party pundits, operatives and journalists with huge social media platforms predictably jumped on the story immediately, announcing that it proved collusion between Trump and Russia (through WikiLeaks). One tweet from Democratic Congressman Ted Lieu, claiming that this proved evidence of criminal collusion, was re-tweeted thousands and thousands of times in just a few hours (Lieu quietly deleted the tweet after I noted its falsity, and long after it went very viral, without ever telling his followers that the CNN story, and therefore his accusation, had been debunked).”
CBS News also claimed that it had independently “confirmed” CNN’s story about the email, but “most embarrassing of all was what MSNBC did,” Greenwald noted.
“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 independently ‘confirmed’ the false CNN report from ‘two sources with direct knowledge of this.’ ”
Dilanian “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,” Greenwald wrote.
So, “How did CNN end up aggressively hyping such a spectacularly false story?” Greenwald asked. “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 PR 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.”
Greenwald continued: “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 to be disseminated 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.”
Meanwhile, Trump on Dec. 9 called for a reporter with The Washington Post to be fired for the reporter’s tweet that misled the public on the size of the crowd at Trump’s rally in Pensacola, Florida.
The reporter, David Weigel, tweeted a photo showing numerous empty seats. He removed the tweet after being told by others that the photo was taken before the venue filled up and apologized in a later Twitter exchange with the president.
Trump tweeted: “.@daveweigel of the Washington Post just admitted that his picture was a FAKE (fraud?) showing an almost empty arena last night for my speech in Pensacola when, in fact, he knew the arena was packed (as shown also on T.V.). FAKE NEWS, he should be fired.”
Weigel tweeted back: “Sure thing: I apologize. I deleted the photo after @dmartosko told me I’d gotten it wrong,” Weigel wrote, referring to David Martosko, U.S. political editor of the Daily Mail’s website. “Was confused by the image of you walking in the bottom right corner.”
In a later tweet, Weigel wrote: “It was a bad tweet on my personal account, not a story for Washington Post. . . . Very fair to call me out.”
The Washington Post released a statement saying: “Dave Weigel relied on an inaccurate image in tweeting about President Trump’s rally in Pensacola. When others pointed out the mistake to Weigel, he quickly deleted the tweet. And when he was later addressed by the president on Twitter, he promptly apologized for it.”