It has been a particularly embarrassing week for the press, and it's only Saturday.
For an industry that's as disliked and distrusted as Congress, there's a lot of work that media need to do to win back viewers' trust. There's no room for error, especially now that there's a subgenre of "news" that has zero basis in fact, and is created from thin air for the sole purpose of generating cash.
But learning to be more careful and even-handed is apparently difficult for some in media, and this week was especially rough for newsrooms that are already struggling to regain credibility.
In no particular order, here are some of the most embarrassing media moments from this week:
The New York Times reported this week that former Texas Gov. Rick Perry agreed to be energy secretary without knowing the department oversees and maintains the country's nuclear arsenal.
The story is written in such a way that Perry comes across as a bumbling bumpkin who's in way over his head.
The problem with the report – well, there are many problems – the main problem with the story is that it hinges entirely on a bland quote from a GOP energy lobbyist. That source, Michael McKenna, has disavowed the story, and he says the Times took him out of context. Other problems with the article include that McKenna was booted from the Trump transition team in early November, while Perry was nominated in mid-December.
Nevertheless, the paper's editors say they stand by the story, "which accurately reflected what multiple, high-level sources told our reporters."
This is a particularly interesting defense, considering there is nothing in the article to suggest the authors had more than one source.
In a separate story this week on the Times' unsubstantiated hit on Perry, I included a link to a USA Today report dated Dec. 14. The link was included for one reason: To provide citation for Perry's remarks on accepting the role at the Department of Energy.
What I didn't notice until later was that the USA Today report I linked to also included a bogus reference to the North Koreans.
The article read, "The Twitter feed of the nuclear-armed dictatorship said, 'Donald Trump minister of nuclear weapons Richard Perry known as governor of Texas province, famed for its production of tacos and bumpkins.'"
Unfortunately for USA Today, the North Korean government did no such thing. Like many others in media, the widely circulated newspaper fell for a parody Twitter account created by members of the libertarian-leaning website, Popehat.com. I later removed the hyperlink from my article debunking the Times, and I updated my story with a link to a source that doesn't include an embarrassing mistake.
Though USA Today falling for a parody Twitter feed doesn't count as a media misstep for this week, I'm including it in this article anyway because I missed it the first time, and because it's a good complement to the Times' thin reporting on Rick Perry.
The Post published a headline Wednesday evening titled, "David Gelernter, fiercely anti-intellectual computer scientist, is being eyed for Trump's science adviser."
The report, which is itself well-written and interesting, is careful to note that Gelernter, a Yale computer scientist, is the definition of a genius.
The Post's Sarah Kaplan writes:
Gelernter is a pioneer in the field of parallel computation, a type of computing in which many calculations are carried out simultaneously. The programming language he developed in the 1980s, Linda, made it possible to link together several small computers into a supercomputer, significantly increasing the amount and complexity of data that computers can process. Since then he has written extensively about artificial intelligence, critiquing the field's slow progress and warning of AI's potential dangers.
Another interesting detail about Gelernter: He is a longtime critic of academia. He argues that campuses too often silence and expel opposing thoughts. He is also a major opponent of credentialism.
So how on earth did the Post's editors decide on characterizing the Yale computer scientist, who, again, is an actual genius, as "fiercely anti-intellectual"?
Former Republican Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue, a devout and outspoken evangelical Christian, was picked this week to head the Department of Agriculture.
This is the news alert that the Post sent out late Wednesday evening: "Trump picks former Georgia governor Sonny Purdue, who once led a prayer for rain, for agriculture secretary."
Here's a breaking news alert for the Post's editors: Christians tend to believe in the efficacy of prayer. Also, they tend to apply it to just about every aspect of their lives.
Stop the presses.
CNN's Jim Acosta tried his damndest Monday to coax a juicy quote from Martin Luther King III, who had just met in New York City with the president-elect.
MLK III didn't take the bait, and he answered the questions cleanly and professionally, taking care to avoid saying anything that could be construed as a hit on the Queens businessman.
But that didn't stop Acosta from trying.
"[I]sn't there something that cuts to your core when you hear the president-elect refer to [Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga.] as all talk and no action?" the CNN reporter asked.
Acosta's question came amid Trump's feud with Lewis, a Civil Rights icon, over the congressman saying he wouldn't attend the inauguration Friday.
The CNN reporter finished his question, saying, "I mean, nothing could be further from the truth, isn't that right? John Lewis is not all talk and no action."
What kind of a question is this? Asking whether something "cuts to your core" is a transparent attempt by the interviewer to create a moment. It's not about fact-finding. It's about teeing up the interviewee for a hot soundbite. Bad form.
Did you know the White House website now "promotes" first lady Melania Trump's jewelry line and modeling career?
Sounds like an unforgivable misuse of a public utility, right? As it turns out, the Washington Post oversold the story.
Reporter Kelsey Snell wrote Friday, "Trump's biography starts with traditional details such as her date of birth in her native country of Slovenia and information about her background as a model. That's when the brief backgrounder takes a promotional turn."
"The website includes a lengthy list of brands that hired her as a model and several of the magazines in which she appeared, including the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue," she added.
This is hardly the scandal promised in the story's headline. The word "promotes" clearly suggests some sort of abuse of the White House website for personal gain and/or profit. If not, then who the hell cares?
"So her biography should have omitted the companies she worked for and the jewelry line she launched?" National Review's Austin Yack asked. "The Post may sneer at her resume, but given that Mrs. Trump was a model and entrepreneur before becoming first lady, it's not shocking that her biography highlights the major milestones of that career."
Time magazine and White House pool reporter Zeke Miller set off a media frenzy late Friday evening after he claimed incorrectly that the Trump White House had removed a bust of Martin Luther King Jr. from the Oval Office and replaced it with a bust of Winston Churchill.
Though it's true Trump's team returned the Churchill bust to the Oval Office, reversing an earlier decision by former President Obama, it's not true that they removed MLK's bust.
Miller noted his mistake later Friday evening, and sent out a correction stating that the MLK bust was indeed still in the Oval Office.
Correction: The MLK bust is still in the Oval Office. It was obscured by an agent and door.— Zeke Miller (@ZekeJMiller) January 21, 2017
Unfortunately, the incorrect version of the story made it around the world a few times before he was able to issue a correction. Miller's update came only after many, many journalists had already repeated the false story.
Reporters panicked Friday after pages dedicated to certain issues, including LGBT issues and climate change, disappeared from the White House website.
A not-insignificant numbers of reporters and newsrooms frantically noted the online changes, and passed around screen grabs on social media suggesting the Trump administration was poised to do away with these issues.
"LGBT rights page disappears from White House web site," read an alarmed Washington Post headline.
The pro-LGBT rights group the Human Rights Campaign published a press release titled, "Trump Administration Removes All Mentions of LGBTQ People or Rights from The White House Website."
And so on.
Though it's unclear whether the Trump administration will continue to highlight issues like LGBT rights, there's nothing at all unusual about pages disappearing from the White House webpage following the formal transfer of power from one president to the next, BuzzFeed's Chris Geidner explained.
"Understandably, the Trump White House started anew — with a barebones site that includes just six short "issues" sections," he wrote, adding that, "There is news in what the new administration chose immediately to highlight."
"[It does] not appear to be a sign of anything beyond the fact that the new president has a new website," he added.
Also, for those who were wondering, the Obama-era issues pages are still available at the archived version of the Obama White House website, which is exactly how it worked for former presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton.
Thank goodness a bunch of reporters didn't freak out about something that had a perfectly reasonable explanation. Also, it's great that they didn't lose their cool over something that has definitely already happened twice before with Clinton transferring the White House to Bush and then Bush to Obama.
Solid work, everyone.