President Trump has made the phrase “fake news” one of the most widely used in American politics. Both Team Right and Team Left have praised and condemned the term for their own purposes. The mainstream media detests it and accuses the President of placing our republic in jeopardy by daring to criticize the press.
The problem for the mainstream media is that there really is fake news. There have been a variety of things reported since the President took office that have simply not been true. For example, it was widely reported, based on a BuzzFeed story, that the President had instructed Michael Cohen to lie to Congress. That story led to Mueller making an uncommon public statement to correct the record.
There have been many other instances, and thanks to today’s alternative media outlets, most eventually get exposed — although not always with the full awareness of the public.
While folks debate the idea of “fake news,” there is a problem that is far more commonplace and which is virtually an epidemic within the MSM. It is the deliberate tactic of reporting an actual news story but doing so in such a way that you completely control the takeaway for the typical viewer who is generally trusting of reporting and not obsessed with independent fact-finding.
Allow me to walk you through an example. I’m going to focus on ABC, but please don’t think I’m playing favorites. Any of the alphabet soup networks are just as guilty, as are the failing New York Times and other MSM outlets.
On Friday, Robert Mueller delivered his final report to the Attorney General for review. Given the two-plus years of media obsession with this, the event is understandably a big deal. On Saturday, Good Morning America led off its weekend show with coverage.
Music plays. “Bracing for the possible fallout over the Mueller report,” are the first words spoken. The host gives a teaser and then says, “we’re covering all the angles.” Really? Let’s see.
Before the host turns it over to correspondent Pierre Thomas, we are told that 37 people have been indicted as part of this investigation, and the pictures of six people called “President Trump associates” are displayed on the screen. Michael Flynn, Paul Manafort, Rick Gates, George Papadopoulos, and Michael Cohen.
No mention is made that none of these six people were indicted for colluding with Russia. In fact, four of them were indicted for “process” crimes — which means that if the investigation had never started, not only would their crimes not be uncovered, they could have never actually committed the crime!
Thomas describes the President as loudly proclaiming his innocence, and then we see a clip of the President calling the process a “witch hunt.” Mueller is then described as a “legendary prosecutor and lawman,” as if Elliot Ness has just suddenly re-emerged from cryonic storage.
Next, Thomas notes the President has been relentlessly attacking the special prosecutor through Twitter, citing NYT statistics saying he has done so over 1,000 times. Thomas continues, “Mueller [is] doing his talking only through charges filed in court.”
Oh, noble is he.
The setup here is to make sure the audience is going to keep listening with the idea that Mueller has taken the higher ground all along the way, ignoring that the entire investigation rests upon sand.
Again, we get the 37 indictments, including those “12 Russians suspected of hacking the Clinton Campaign.” It is not mentioned that the 12 had absolutely no ties to the President. Nor is it mentioned that the entre investigation started because of a fake dossier paid for by the Clinton Campaign. I’ll come back to that.
From here it just gets worse. Four pictures go back up of “some of the most powerful people in President Trump’s inner circle (Manafort, Flynn, Gates, Cohen).” That fully-loaded characterization stands on its own. I don’t have to critique.
Screen shifts right, and adjacent to the four people who have pled guilty, not for Russian collusion remember, they depict three more faces saying even “longtime friends and family members caught up in the investigation.” The pictures are of Roger Stone (who has been indicted for a process crime) and Don Jr. and Jared Kushner — who have been in indicted for absolutely nothing!
One by one, Thomas goes through the list of people, with each description made to sound very nefarious. No balance, no counterpoints, just thematically saying: look at these shady characters surrounding the President.
The clip for Michael Cohen shows him testifying on Capitol Hill, saying of Trump, “He is a racist. He is a con man. He is a cheat.” The clip is bookended by showing the President first supporting Cohen early on and then criticizing him later once he began cooperating with prosecutors. No mention is made of Cohen being a perjurer. Just a clip to give great import and gravitas to his name-calling of the President.
The Don Jr. piece is almost the worst part. Thomas refers to how Mueller “locked in on what critics call suspicious contact of Trump associates with the Kremlin.” He then refers to the “infamous meeting at Trump Tower where a number of Russians showed up promising dirt on Hilary Clinton. In attendance, Don Jr.”
To be clear, this investigation started because of a fake intelligence dossier that we know was paid for by the Clinton Campaign. The dossier made its way into the hands of John McCain allies who passed it on to then-FBI Director James Comey, who in turn used it to get the FISA warrant they couldn’t get without it.
None of that is mentioned in the ABC report. Anyone watching who doesn’t have detailed knowledge of the case would leave the segment thinking, “The President is obviously guilty, but he might not get caught.”
Nothing in the ABC story was fake, except for the conclusion to which it deliberately drew the viewer.