A Dark Week for the Mainstream Media

First, there was Black Thursday, then there was Cyber Monday, but nothing matches the Mainstream media’s Black Weekend when most in the media followed CNN down its rabbit of Russia/Trump obsession.

The network kicked off the first weekend in December with either an unvetted or intentionally dishonest story that countless commentators, pundits, and bloggers quickly reported as fact.

Ken Dilanian, intelligence and national security correspondent for MSNBC rushed to repeat CNN’s ‘breaking news’ that the Donald Trump and his campaign team had special access to emails stolen from the Democratic National Committee before they were published by WikiLeaks. Both Dilanian and CBS claimed they had sources with “direct knowledge” independent of CNN of this supposed collusion with Russia.

Since Dilanian was forced later to report the story to be incorrect it isn’t surprising the video of his initial piece is no longer available on his network’s website.

By the next morning, it was clear that CNN, The Most Trusted Name in News™, was not a good source for reliable news. The story that the network offered for public fodder and was repeated almost verbatim by the other networks went like this:

  • An email dated September 4th and sent to the network by a Michael J. Erickson provided proof that Donald Trump Jr. had been offered a decryption key for access to DNC emails that WikiLeaks had yet to provide public access to.
  • The email was a smoking gun because it was dated September 4, almost two weeks before WikiLeaks began promoting access to those emails online.
  • Trump had been offered special, unique access to the DNC archive: most likely by the Kremlin and WikiLeaks.
  • This was monumental news that once and for all proved Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin had worked together to sabotage the presidential election.

The aforementioned story was broadcast and rebroadcast in an almost perpetual loop for the next twelve hours until The Washington Post reported the many holes in CNN’s story.

  • The email was not dated on the 4th but rather the 14th of September, 10 days after WikiLeaks made the emails available to the public.
  • Michael J. Erickson was a random person from the public who emailed the Trump family encouraging the campaign to look at the DNC emails that were by then already available to anyone with an internet connection.

It is difficult to overstate how much damage this kind of story inflicts or just how insidious it is. It’s true that retractions were made but not before the lie had spread to thousands of sources and been read by millions who would never see the retraction. Even in its rather weak correction, CNN clung to the excuse that is two trusted sources had given the wrong date for the email. One can only assume that no one at the network ever saw the email for verification. CNN took no disciplinary action against those who reported the story.

Supposed disinterested third parties are no better than the networks they parrot. Benjamin Wittes of the Brookings Institution tweeted the story accompanied by a graphic of a cannon detonating to his more than 200,00 followers and 24 hours after the story was debunked he had not followed up with a correction.

Glenn Greenwald of The Intercept wrote of a member of Congress who retweeted the story:

This tweet is from a member of Congress today. It was RT’d more than 7,000 times (and counting), and liked more than 15,000 times. It’s based on a completely false claim, from a debunked CNN story. This happens over and over. This seems damaging. And still no retraction.

Going on two days after promoting CNN’s story, Wittes finally got around to noting that what he had reported as explosive news had “serious problems.” There was no explanation as to what those problems were. Talking Points Memo’s Josh Marshall tweeted the story to his quarter of a million followers before lunch but only noted it was false in an editor’s note late in the night.

This kind of journalistic smoke and mirrors is not the exception but rather the rule. Some of the inflammatory stories perpetrated by the mainstream media that were later proven false include:

  • A secret server between Trump and a Russian bank discovered. (Slate)
  • The Russian International Television Network (RT) hacked C-SPAN causing disruption in its broadcast. (Fortune)
  • Links found between Trump ally Anthony Scaramucci and a Russian investment fund that is under investigation (CNN)
  • Unnamed Russians attempted to hack elections systems in 21 states. (multiple news outlets)
  • Russia hacked into the U.S. electric grid last winter (Washington Post)
  • WikiLeaks has a long, documented relationship with Putin (Guardian)

The Russia/Trump feeding frenzy has sunk to such depths that even Putin’s biggest critics in Russia warn of the dangers of the current glut of fake news. Russian expatriate Masha Gessen, a constant critic of Putin, sees reports by the U.S. media as unhinged, ignorant, paranoid, and destructive of its credibility to those who need the truth most—Putin’s opposition.

CNN and its ilk are doing exactly the opposite of what journalists should do. Instead of reporting information that is held to the highest of accountability standards they hide behind meaningless disclaimers crafted by lawyers and Public Relations.

These stories do more than inflict injustice to the truth. Not that long ago, ABC cited “unnamed sources” that showed that General Flynn made overtures to the Russian Ambassador at President Trump’s direction. By the time ABC offered a retraction, CNBC and a dozen other sources had repeated the initial story. Three hours later the New York Stock exchange had fallen over 300 points. ABC initially called the updated story a “clarification,” but later corrected the piece and deleted its original tweet.

One has to wonder how much other “fake news” is still be quoted long after it was recklessly reported as fact. Fake news – feathers in the wind.