Oh, come on, let’s not be hasty. Just because Lanny Davis misled reporters as a source and then went public to admit it doesn’t mean he’s not a voice to be trusted, right? I mean, if that’s the criteria, one would have to ask why the former attorney for the famously dishonest Bill Clinton was considered a reliable source and analyst in the first place, right?
Politico’s Jason Schwartz doesn’t go that far, but he still raises a very good point:
Lanny Davis, in his role as lawyer and spokesman for Michael Cohen, has copped to misleading journalists, admitted he made false statements on national television and generally caused headaches for reporters who’ve used him as a source.
It’s the latest example of a perennial Washington question that seems to have become more pressing in the Donald Trump era: How should journalists handle sources who are in powerful news-maker positions, but who are also known to be dishonest? …
Frank Sesno, director of The George Washington University’s media school and a former CNN reporter, said networks should avoid giving Davis a platform as a pundit, but his position representing Cohen could lead to situations where it would be legitimate to bring him on for interviews.
“He is damaged goods. His value as a source will be suspect. Anytime anyone puts him on the air, he is going to be grilled from five different angles,” Sesno said. “You don’t put him on the air hoping you’re going to get information. You would only put him on the air if he’s able to demonstrate before going on the air that he’s got something that’s going to advance the story, that is based on actual fact, that it can be documented with either documents or some kind of corroborated testimony from somebody else and he’s the only one who can do it.”
Sesno’s an optimist. If Davis has a claim that will damage Donald Trump, does anyone really think that a news outlet will put him through the five-grill test before getting him on air first to report it? Anyone? Bueller? Bueller?
This really breaks down into two questions. Do news outlets trust Davis as a source on the Cohen case, and do they trust him in the more general role as an analyst and pundit? As a Cohen source, news outlets won’t have much choice, although they should have been skeptical of Davis from the start as such. After all, he’s Cohen’s attorney, and is operating in the best interests of Michael Cohen, not the truth. Using Davis as an anonymous source on Cohen-Trump stories isn’t an issue of Davis’ reliability but of news outlets’ credibility and judgment. Putting Davis on camera to discuss the case is much less problematic, as it allows viewers to put his input into its proper context and motivation, at least if the interviewers are willing to apply some journalistic skepticism to his responses.
Schwartz parallels this with using Trump administration officials as news sources and interview subjects. The same applies there, too, but it applies a lot more broadly than Schwartz allows. Putting them on camera for interviews isn’t a problem, especially if their interviewers are willing to ask tough questions and press for honest answers. Using any administration official under any president as an anonymous source to push a story out is an open invitation to manipulation, regardless of whether it’s Kellyanne Conway, Ben Rhodes, Ron Ziegler, or whomever.
That brings us back to the second question: can news outlets use Davis as a commentator and/or analyst after getting caught spreading “fake news” and burning journalists? They certainly have in the past. To use one of my previous examples, how many times has Ben Rhodes been used in that capacity after bragging about pulling the wool over journalists’ eyes to get favorable coverage of the Iran deal? NBC hired Rhodes as a contributor at MSNBC just two months ago and joined the Meet the Press panel immediately afterward. At least Davis has expressed some remorse over his manipulation rather than bragging about it.
Besides, TV news outlets have filled their seats with political shills moonlighting as analysts. ABC hired George Stephanopoulos as a reporter and then anchor after his stint as a political operative in the Clinton White House. Former administration officials, party chairs, and partisan campaign operatives dot the news-analyst universe. So far as can be determined, no one has imposed a Pinocchio test on hiring, even if they should have. Davis will fit right in again when his work with Cohen is finished.
And maybe that’s why trust in the media has dropped to an all-time low. Schwartz raises the right questions. It’s unlikely that the news media will supply the correct answers.