There have been plenty of media stories to write about this week. I’ve covered a couple of them myself. But I didn’t really step back and think about how spectacularly awful major media has been this week until I read Mark Hemingway’s piece titled “24 hours of Media Malpractice.” This really was a banner week for the media and I think I know why. What’s more, I think I know what’s coming next.
Sunday: The media’s no good, very bad week actually started Sunday when the NY Times published a story bemoaning the fact that conservative operatives had threatened to systematically embarrass professional journalists by—wait for it—digging up their public statements on social media. Allahpundit wrote about the absurdity of the Times or anyone else in the media complaining about behavior that has been standard operating procedure at Media Matters and elsewhere for years.
Journalists don’t deserve a get-out-of-bigotry-jail free card just because they’re journalists. If their past tweets, however ancient, undercut their current journalistic work or make them sound hypocritical, they can’t blame their diminished prestige on Trump’s allies. It’s like blaming a cop for writing you a ticket for speeding in a school zone.
Tuesday: But the media was just getting started. Here’s Mark Hemingway:
Just before 10 a.m., someone else at the Washington Post made another outrageous and unsupported accusation of racism. The New York Times’ Jeremy Peters had written an article assessing the impact of the Tea Party protests 10 years later. Washington Post reporter Wesley Lowery, who is the paper’s “national correspondent covering law enforcement, justice and their intersection with politics and policy” — and ostensibly not an opinion journalist — took to Twitter to express his disapproval of the story. “How do you write a 10 years later piece on the Tea Party and not mention – not once, not even in passing – the fact that it was essentially a hysterical grassroots tantrum about the fact that a black guy was president? Journalistic malpractice,” he tweeted out to his 600,000 followers.
It’s true that there were a few racially charged signs that popped up at Tea Party rallies, but there are always fringe characters in every large crowd, especially at political protests. I covered multiple Tea Party rallies at the time – Lowery was still a teenager in 2009, so I presume he doesn’t have a lot of first-hand experience talking to Tea Party protesters – and I saw and heard nothing to indicate widespread racial animus. If the media covered the nearly concurrent Occupy Wall Street protests by highlighting the same fringe extremism, we’d unfairly dismiss the left’s sincerity out of hand and conclude that they were engaged in a hysterical tantrum in support of rape and defecating on cop cars…
Still, Lowery’s objections – and those of lots of other journalists and angry social media activists – to the Times piece won the day. Tuesday afternoon, just after 2 p.m., the Times’ official Twitter account made it, well, official: “We have updated this story assessing the policy failures of the Tea Party movement 10 years after its rise to include context about attacks on President Barack Obama and racist displays at some Tea Party rallies.”
Also Tuesday, the Washington Post published a piece in its Post Everything section which strongly suggested author JD Vance was promoting white supremacy in a public speech. That was clearly false as even a cursory reading of the speech demonstrated. After getting pushback the Post removed the accusation and added a correction which clarified that Vance was not channeling white supremacy. However, the author of the piece refused to apologize and claimed on Twitter that the idea to target Vance came from her editor at the Post.
Tuesday night MSNBC’s Lawrence O’Donnell looked at the media landscape and cried out hold my beer. O’Donnell went on his nightly MSNBC show and claimed that President Trump’s Deutsche Bank loan documents had been co-signed by Russian oligarchs. Throughout, his show, O’Donnell kept repeating that “if true” this was a devastating story but admitted he hadn’t seen the documents.
Wednesday: In the early afternoon, O’Donnell announced on Twitter that he’d made a mistake.
Last night I made an error in judgment by reporting an item about the president’s finances that didn’t go through our rigorous verification and standards process. I shouldn’t have reported it and I was wrong to discuss it on the air. I will address the issue on my show tonight.
— Lawrence O'Donnell (@Lawrence) August 28, 2019
Wednesday night, O’Donnell admitted “I did not go through the rigorous verification and standards process here at MSNBC before repeating what I heard from my source. (This was such a blatant failure that Erik Wemple at the Post is wondering aloud today whether O’Donnell should even have a show.)
There was also a social media freakout Wednesday suggesting that a policy change meant the children of US servicepeople who were born abroad would no longer be citizens. That was false.
Thursday: The Washington Post has more conservatives to smear. In another piece for the Post Everything section, the Post allows a writer to claim that “reasonable conservatives” sound suspiciously like antebellum racists. Her entire argument boils down to cherry-picking a few lines from various authors and claiming the tone is the same. The author compares the ideas of “reasonable conservatives” to a virus being spread through—get this—free speech.
Today is Friday and it’s still early so I’m not sure if we’ll be adding more items to this list today. But to sum up: Monday it was dastardly conservatives threatening journalists (with public accountability for public comments). Tuesday it was the Tea Party, plus conservative-friendly author JD Vance as a white supremacist, plus President Trump as a Russian stooge. Wednesday it was another immigration freakout with people claiming the Trump administration was up to no good. Thursday it was “reasonable conservatives” sounding like racists.
Some of the stories (O’Donnell, the Post’s JD Vance claim) got corrected internally and some got corrected externally (the NY Times whinging about accountability, the immigration freakout). But all of the errors involve conservatives as villains (though I guess the “error” in the Tea Party piece was that it didn’t call the Tea Party racist, the correction did that).
I think this week is a harbinger of things to come. Why? Because the Mueller report didn’t work out as Democrats and the media hoped. There’s no public appetite for impeachment. Progressives are getting nervous and the NY Times has signaled privately and publicly, through its 1619 Project, that the 2020 election will be all about racism because that’s the best chance Democrats have to activate their base.
So what’s coming next? A lot more careless mistakes by the usual suspects looking to drag Trump and the GOP down. What this week demonstrates is that many of them care less about their credibility than ensuring the desired outcome. This isn’t really new of course. In fact, some version of this happens every four years. See dog-abusing-vampire-capitalist-with-80s-foreign-policy Mitt Romney for a previous example.