Earlier this week, Ben Smith published a piece at the NY Times titled “Is Ronan Farrow Too Good to Be True?” The piece argues that some of Farrow’s reporting seems to fall into a category Smith labels “resistance journalism.”
Mr. Farrow, 32, is not a fabulist. His reporting can be misleading but he does not make things up. His work, though, reveals the weakness of a kind of resistance journalism that has thrived in the age of Donald Trump: That if reporters swim ably along with the tides of social media and produce damaging reporting about public figures most disliked by the loudest voices, the old rules of fairness and open-mindedness can seem more like impediments than essential journalistic imperatives.
If you’re interested in how that applies to Farrow, read Smith’s piece. But over at the Intercept, Glenn Greenwald picked up the “resistance journalism” concept and ran with it. He argued that the left’s fixation on Russian collusion produced a host of conspiracy theories for which the reporters were never held accountable.
It is this “resistance journalism” sickness that caused U.S. politics to be drowned for three years in little other than salacious and fact-free conspiracy theories about Trump and his family members and closest associates: Putin had infiltrated and taken over the U.S. government through sexual and financial blackmail leverage over Trump and used it to dictate U.S. policy; Trump officials conspired with the Kremlin to interfere in the 2016 election; Russia was attacking the U.S. by hacking its electricity grid, recruiting journalists to serve as clandestine Kremlin messengers, and plotting to cut off heat to Americans in winter. Mainstream media debacles — all in service of promoting the same set of conspiracy theories against Trump — are literally too numerous to count, requiring one to select the worst offenses as illustrative.
At this point he includes this clip of Rachel Maddow suggesting Russia might turn off the heat in U.S. cities as an example:
Glenn Beck 2009 + Maddow 2019 is the greatest crossover event in history pic.twitter.com/D1NElGBq3U
— Adam H. Johnson (@adamjohnsonNYC) January 31, 2019
Greenwald points to Erik Wemple of the Washington Post as one of the very few reporters who has even attempted to look back and hold any of these resistance journalism figures to account:
The Washington Post’s media columnist Erik Wemple has been one of the very few journalists devoted to holding these myth-peddlers accountable — recounting how one of the most reckless Russigate conspiracy maximialists, Natasha Bertrand, became an overnight social media and journalism star by peddling discredited conspiratorial trash (she was notably hired by Jeffrey Goldberg to cover Russigate for The Atlantic); MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow spent three years hyping conspiratorial junk with no need even to retract any of it; and Mother Jones’ David Corn played a crucial, decisively un-journalistic role in mainstreaming the lies of the Steele dossier all with zero effect on his journalistic status, other than to enrich him through a predictably bestselling book that peddled those unhinged conspiracies further…
By far the easiest path to career success over the last three years — booming ratings, lucrative book sales, exploding social media followings, career rehabilitation even for the most discredited D.C. operatives — was to feed establishment liberals an endless diet of fearmongering and inflammatory conspiracies about Drumpf and his White House. Whether it was true or supported by basic journalistic standards was completely irrelevant. Responsible reporting was simply was not a metric used to assess its worth.
I wrote about the series of articles Wemple wrote attempting to hold journalists accountable earlier this year. One of the most revealing things was the way in which most of the reporters he contacted about their prior comments promoting the Steele dossier simply wouldn’t speak to him about it:
- MSNBC’s Rachel “Maddow declined to comment on the record.”
- CNN’s Alisyn Camerota “Declined to comment on the record.”
- CNN’s John Berman “Declined to comment on the record.”
- Former State Department official Jonathan Winer (appearing on CNN) “did not return a request for comment.”
- Former federal prosecutor Paul Butler (appearing on MSNBC) offered “No response to a request for comment.”
- CNN counterterrorism analyst Phil Mudd…Wemple lists this as “Awaiting a reply.”
- Journalist Jacob Weisberg (appearing on MSNBC)…Wemple writes “Attempts to secure a comment from Weisberg have been unsuccessful.”
- Journalist Natasha Bertrand (appearing on MSNBC) “Bertrand did not respond to requests for comment.”
There’s a lot more in Greenwald’s piece, including a section on blogger Marcy Wheeler. But he concludes by pointing out that rewarding journalists for joining the herd in their groupthink is a sure way to ruin journalism:
All professions and institutions suffer when a herd, groupthink mentality and the banning of dissent prevail. But few activities are corroded from such a pathology more than journalism is, which has as its core function skepticism and questioning of pieties. Journalism quickly transforms into a sickly, limp version of itself when it itself wages war on the virtues of dissent and airing a wide range of perspectives.
We had nearly three years in which all of the major outlets seemed pretty certain about where the story was going, we were just waiting for the next “Boom!” or blockbuster story that would finally prove it. The result was a disaster for the credibility of everyone who promoted this fraud. And yet, most of them are still working. They’ve moved on to the next resistance outrage often without so much as a backward glance at their own failure.