For a brief moment following the November election, there appeared throughout the oft referred to “main stream media” a rarity of rarities. In production rooms and editor chairs across the country there was occurring something that the majority of Americans never thought possible, self-reflection.
Arthur Sulzberger, Jr., publisher, and Dean Baquet, executive editor of none other than the venerable New York Times wrote an apology letter of sorts to the paper’s subscribers where they both defended themselves “We believe we reported on both candidates fairly during the presidential campaign” and committed to “rededicate ourselves to the fundamental mission of Times journalism….to report America and the world honestly, without fear or favor, striving always to understand and reflect all political perspectives and life experiences….”
CBS News’ Will Rahn took it deeper, penning a column that noted “It shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone that, with a few exceptions, we were all tacitly or explicitly #WithHer “ and “more importantly, we also missed the story, after having spent months mocking the people who had a better sense of what was going on. This is all symptomatic of modern journalism’s great moral and intellectual failing: its unbearable smugness.”
Sadly, Mr. Rahn’s piece met with collective denial across the media landscape. “Who, us? Never! There must be another reason for Hillary’s loss.” Enter just a week post-election noted click-bait website BuzzFeed publishing its “analysis” of “Fake” election news stories on Facebook.
Never mind that the “analysis” is anything but scientific and Buzzfeed even includes itself on it’s self-defined list of “major news outlets”, the excuse was out there and Fake News became the narrative. Other reporters and news executives dutifully repeated and what should have gotten no further than its initial posting, instead became the next “Hands up, Don’t Shoot” meme sensation.
Eight days later the Washington Post would further fan the flames with its Russian propaganda piece based upon highly questionable research submitted by a group of anonymous researches known only as PropOrNot. (A story that now carries a severe Editor’s note of caution from the Post)
Throw in the Russians getting the DNC and Clinton Campaign manager John Podesta to fall for a 3rd rate phishing scam and everything’s back to normal. Normal as in, “Thank God for the Russians. This whole, where did we go wrong exercise was just far too depressing.”
And just to make sure the “Trump is not legitimate” narrative sticks, CNN reported Tuesday that intelligence officials had given President-elect Trump and President Obama a two page summary regarding claims that the Russians might have compromising (ie blackmail) material on our incoming President. That reporting led to BuzzFeedNews performing another “major news” service by publishing a 35 page, unverifiable political opposition research dossier on Mr. Trump.
Never mind that the “story” had been shopped to other outlets for months and no one would touch it because because none of it came with even an ounce of independent verification.
In a memo to staff trying to justify his reckless decision, BuzzFeedNews Editor-in-Chief Ben Smith was all over the place.
First he stated that “Americans can make up their own minds about allegations about the president-elect that have circulated at the highest levels of the US government.” and that Our presumption is to be transparent in our journalism and to share what we have with our readers. We have always erred on the side of publishing….”
Then he attempts to cover the legal side with: “As we noted in our story, there is serious reason to doubt the allegations.”
And he ends philosophically with “But publishing this dossier reflects how we see the job of reporters in 2017.”
I hope that Mr. Smith’s warped view of a reporter’s job is a minority of a minority of the smallest minority and from this day forward he and his organization will be relegated to the grocery store checkout lane of journalism. Because if it’s not, than the Russians are the least of our worries.
Editor’s Note: A version of this column first appeared in the January 15, 2017 print edition of the Joplin Globe.