If you tried to keep abreast of the news this weekend by reading the New York Times, watching ABC News, or following well-regarded veteran reporters on Twitter, you would have been led astray as badly as if you had followed a couple of guys working out of a coffee shop in Moldova.
Relying on the supposedly respectable news media would have left you believing that the FBI found President Trump urging national security adviser Michael Flynn to contact Russia during the campaign (it didn’t), that Trump national security aide K.T. McFarland wrote that Russia threw the election to Trump (she didn’t), and that Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, blasted sick, poor children as slackers (he didn’t).
These false or misleading stories, all of which, not coincidentally, disparaged Republicans, were parroted and retweeted and broadcast by countless reporters before being completely debunked. Countless readers and viewers still don't realize that the stories produced by this sloppy reporting are false. Or "fake," to borrow a phrase.
The costlier result is that no adult who cares for accuracy and honesty can take reports from these august outlets at face value without serous fact-checking.
Media sloppiness last weekend, which was extraordinary for both its low quality and its high volume, buttresses even Trump’s most outlandish claims. The public is concerned that Trump is convincing many people, particularly among his base voters, that news media are staffed with liars. That isn't true, but far too many media outlets have sacrificed their arduously won integrity in the delusional belief that today's circumstances has produced a uniquely appalling situation in which their primary role must be to hound the elected government.
Three stories showed this weekend that it is impossible to trust the many news media when they report damning things about Republicans.
Brian Ross of ABC News reported on Friday that Flynn was prepared to testify that Trump instructed him to contact Russians during the campaign. This story, which brought a look of feral joy to the face of the left-wing resistance, would, if true, prove many of Trump's pronouncements to have been false, and would have been a much-needed injection of credibility to the case of collusion against Team Trump. But, once the lie had spread around the world, the truth got its boots on and ABC had to retract the story as utterly false. Trump had told Flynn to contact the Russians during the transition, after he was elected, and it would have been a dereliction of his duty as incoming president if he had not done so. ABC suspended Ross for four weeks without pay. But, given the scale of TV money, this is no more than an unpaid vacation.
But this news catastrophe didn't make others extra cautious. The media smash-up continued.
On Saturday, the New York Times quoted a leaked email written by McFarland, a Trump adviser and former deputy national security director. The Times writers doctored the end of the email, mentioning Russia, “which has just thrown the U.S.A. election to” Trump. The reporters expressed agnosticism on whether McFarland was admitting Russia swung the election or whether she was merely characterizing an opinion held by former President Barack Obama.
It was obvious to any fair-minded reader that it was the latter. But nearly every reporter who tweeted out this passage excluded even the Times’ weak agnosticism as to the words' meaning. The effect was totally to misrepresent the words of a Trump adviser in a way that condemned Trump and confirmed the #resistance's fever dreams.
Only hours later was the entire email made public, allowing the reading public to appreciate the depth of media mendacity.
And even this did not chasten major news outlets, several of whom on Sunday misled their customers about the meaning of comments from Sen. Hatch. Hatch condemned federal waste that makes it harder for Washington to afford worthy programs, such as the Children’s Health Insurance Program. Reporters claimed Hatch was calling sick, poor kids lazy and entitled.
Professional skepticism was absent. News media misreported stories in one direction, much as when all the mistakes in a cheat's tax return, oddly, tend to reduce what he owes. In other words, every major "mistake" in the weekend's reporting tended to confirm what biased, left-liberal reporters already believe or affect to believe: Trump and Russia colluded to cheat voters out of getting the president they wanted, McFarland is incompetent, and Republican senators hate the poor.
These biases and the inability of reporters to suppress them long enough to do a good job, prompts proper public doubt about everything the national news media say. This is bad. It's very bad.
The press is in the First Amendment because it — we — are needed to hold the powerful to account. We can’t do that if the people don’t trust us. After this weekend, asking the people to trust the press is a lot harder.