This was not a good year for the press.
Between industry-wide layoffs, a shocking decline in the quality and reliability of political journalism, and the continued rise of so-called fake news, which greatly undercuts the press’ already diminished credibility and reputation, the long-term outlook for media seems darker than ever.
Oh, sure. Some national newspapers saw subscription boosts this year, and ratings are up for cable and network television. But that sort of stuff is nothing compared to the lasting damage done by the overall shoddy journalism that has infested much of Presidents Trump’s first year in office.
It was a real chore restricting the list of 2017’s worst media moments to just 10 examples, but we tried.
You may disagree with my final picks, but this is my column, and I call the shots. Write your own list. Lastly, if you feel I'm being too hard on the press, we’re just going to have to disagree. Lord knows there are enough plaudits, book deals, and awards ceremonies in this industry to sooth fractured egos. They’ll get over it.
In order of appearance, here are the 10 most regrettable, sloppiest, and outright dishonest media misfires of 2017:
The U.S. State Department's "entire senior administrative team" resigned en masse in protest of Trump, the Washington Post reported on Jan. 26.
Here’s what really happened: Four mid-level State Department officials were told their services were no longer needed, which is common during White House transition periods. As is customary, the four officials tendered their resignations. They were accepted. That's a long way off from what the Post initially reported.
An ailing woman died in Iraq due to President Trump's executive order banning travel from several countries that are predominantly Muslim, Fox 2 Detroit reported on Jan. 31.
It was a lie.
Mike Hager's mother died five days prior to the executive order going into effect, a local imam later told Fox 2 Detroit. Hager's original story, which went viral quickly, was apparently too good to check.
President Trump is considering mobilizing the National Guard for immigration roundups, the Associated Press reported on Feb. 17.
As it turns out, the AP got a lot wrong in its story. The draft memo mentioned in the report is real, as confirmed by DHS officials, but it doesn't quite say what the AP reported.
For example, the memo didn't specifically suggest mobilizing the National Guard, as suggested by the AP story. The draft memo also never used the 100,000 figure referenced by the AP, though it's possible the newsgroup got this number by tallying the National Guard units currently stationed in the 11 states where they would supposedly be used to crack down on illegal immigration. If that's how the AP got its 100,000 figure, which, again, it doesn't explain, it means they reported an assumption, not a fact.
Lastly, just to be clear, the word "deportation" is never used in the memo. As far as National Guard troops are concerned, the memo only floats the idea of giving them the authority to assist in the "investigation, apprehension and detention" of criminal aliens.
This particularly gross bit of scaremongering had no basis in fact, according to Reason's Elizabeth Brown and the Washington Post's Michelle Ye Hee Lee, the latter of which awarded the conspiracy theory an unflattering four Pinocchios.
The bill would allow states to, “apply for waivers that will allow insurance companies, under certain limited circumstances, to charge higher premiums to people based on their personal medical histories — that's it,” Brown explained. “(States that are granted the waivers must also set up special high-risk insurance pools to try and help defray costs for these people.)"
"Under Obamacare, no such price variances based on preexisting conditions are permitted," she added.
Lee, for her part, wrote, "The notion that AHCA classifies rape or sexual assault as a preexisting condition, or that survivors would be denied coverage, is false. … this claim relies on so many factors — including unknown decisions by a handful of states and insurance companies — that this talking point becomes almost meaningless."
5. Speaking of Hacks
The claim that "Russia hacked the election” was repeated frequently by media during Trump’s first year in office.
The problem here lies in specificity. Russia reportedly meddled in in the presidential election, according to the U.S. intelligence community. They didn't, however, "hack the election," changing voter tallies or anything of the sort.
A high-profile iteration of this misleading allegation occurred on May 11 when Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., posed a carefully worded question to a panel of national security experts.
"Do you believe that the January 2017 intelligence community assessment accurately characterizes the extent of Russian activities in the 2016 election, and in its conclusion Russian intelligence agencies were responsible for the hacking and leaking of information and using this information in order to influence our elections?" the senator asked.
They responded in the affirmative.
"In new threat assessment, Trump's director of national intelligence accepts Russian hacked 2016 election – a conclusion Trump himself rejects," the Wall Street Journal's Byron Tau wrote on social media Thursday morning.
The AP’s Tom LoBianco then tweeted the following: "Warner up now - to the panel - did Russia hack the election? Entire panel: Yes."
CNN’s Daniella Diaz was not far behind: "WARNER: Did Russia hack the election? PANEL: Yes."
The problem with this shorthand – by hard-news reporters – is that it perpetuates the lie that voting numbers may have been tampered with, which would mean Trump's victory over Clinton is somehow illegitimate. This would run contrary to everything said by the intelligence community and even former President Barack Obama.
FoxNews.com and a Washington, D.C., affiliate reported on May 16 that a private investigator had uncovered evidence showing WikiLeaks collaborated with slain DNC data analyst Seth Rich prior to his murder in 2016.
Rod Wheeler, an ex-D.C. homicide detective who works as a private investigator and occasional Fox News contributor, told Fox 5 that Rich's laptop, which was supposedly inspected by the FBI, held evidence of collusion.
Wheeler was asked point blank: "You have sources at the FBI saying that there is information that could link Seth Rich to WikiLeaks?"
"Absolutely," he asserted. "And that's confirmed."
FoxNews.com reported separately that Wheeler said, "My investigation up to this point shows there was some degree of email exchange between Seth Rich and WikiLeaks."
It was all bogus.
Wheeler, who was dismissed from the DC Metropolitan Police Department in 1995, has recanted his story later, claiming he was taken out of context by Fox reporters.
The FoxNews.com report cited an additional source outside of Wheeler. This unnamed source, a supposed "federal investigator," claimed the murdered DNC staffer was in contact with WikiLeaks via the late journalist Gavin MacFadyen. The anonymous tipster also claimed the FBI conducted a forensic analysis of Rich's laptop within 96 hours of his death.
However, FBI officials claim the bureau was not involved in the Rich case and that it had never handled his laptop.
And there's one last piece of nonsense in this lousy story.
Wheeler had been recommended to Rich's family by financial adviser and Fox News contributor Ed Butowsky. The conservative businessman and occasional Breitbart News contributor initially lied about his involvement in Wheeler's investigation, and confessed later after he was caught.
Where does this leave us? A detective who recanted his story, a right-wing benefactor who was caught in a boldfaced lie, and FBI officials who deny their agency has been involved in any way in the Rich case, contrary to what was initially reported. Also, the Rich family is furious about how it all played out.
Fox 5 eventually issued lengthy and detailed corrections while FoxNews.com simply deleted its version of the story from its site.
The New York Times on June 14 repeated the long-ago-debunked slander that former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin inspired the 2011 mass shooting in Tucson, Ariz.
There is no proof that the Tucson shooting was ever inspired by Palin’s now-famous crosshairs map. There's no evidence the shooter, Jared Loughner, ever saw the map or even followed Palin. The shooter reportedly didn't watch television, he didn't read the news, and he didn't listen to talk radio.
"He didn't take sides. He wasn't on the Left. He wasn't on the Right," said Loughner's high school friend Zach Osle.
Lastly, Loughner's obsession with then-Congresswoman Gabby Giffords dates back to at least 2007, before Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., introduced Palin to the nation as his vice presidential nominee.
The New York Times amended its editorial later and issued a mealy-mouthed apology. Palin sued for defamation and lost.
Longtime Trump ally Anthony Scaramucci, who played a significant role in the president's transition team, has deep ties to a $10 billion Russian investment fund owned by a Kremlin-connected bank, CNN.com reported in a since-retracted June 22 report.
The story was taken offline after attempts to verify its central claim failed to produce anything conclusive. The original story cited a single anonymous source. The article's sourcing was so thin, and Scaramucci's denials so total, that CNN decided it couldn't stand by its own coverage.
Three CNN staffers involved in the story's publication, reporter Thomas Frank, editor Eric Lichtblau, and executive editor Lex Haris, resigned after the report fell apart.
Former national security advisor Gen. Michael Flynn is prepared to testify that, as a candidate, Donald Trump directed him to make contact with the Russians, ABC News' Brian Ross reported on Dec. 1.
However, the referenced directive came after the 2016 election. The president-elect reportedly ordered his transition team to contact Russia and other world leaders regarding the incoming administration's foreign policy objectives, which is standard for incoming presidents.
It took ABC eight hours to issue a correction. When it did, it characterized it incorrectly as a "clarification."
Ross was suspended for his error, and subsequently banned from any further coverage of the president.
Donald Trump and his inner circle received advance notice during the 2016 presidential election of WikiLeaks' plans to dump thousands of hacked emails belonging to Democratic National Committee staffers and Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta, CNN, MSNBC, and CBS News reported around Dec. 8.
The email that supposedly showed the 2016 GOP nominee and his team received advance notice of the email dump was actually sent after the hacked correspondences were made publicly available.
CBS, MSNBC, and CNN each reported separately that Trump and his team were given a heads-up, according to an email sent on Sept. 4. In reality, the email in question was sent on Sept. 14, after the emails were published online.
The difference between Sept. 4 and Sept. 14 is the difference between someone flagging already public information and someone quietly slipping the GOP nominee and his team advance access to hacked correspondences.
In short, the since-amended reports are little more than a “colossal fuck up” for their respective newsrooms, as on CNN reporter put it for the Washington Examiner.