The following article is reproduced in slightly edited form from the Moon of Alabama website, with thanks.
Last week Matt Taibbi, with access to Twitter’s internal papers, debunked the fake Hamilton 68 propaganda dashboard that was used to create many stories about alleged Russian disinformation. I had done similar five years earlier without access to the original data, but at that time there were enough secondary indications to conclude that the dashboard was a sham. Still, to have the case made with primary data is a valuable addition.
There has been no Russian influence or disinformation campaign.
Two days later, the Columbia Journalism Review (CJR) published a four-part report from an 18-month-long investigation into the ‘Russiagate’ drama and on how the media had cooked it up. The editor’s note summed up the significance of the report:
“No narrative did more to shape Trump’s relations with the press than Russiagate. The story, which included the Steele dossier and the Mueller report among other totemic moments, resulted in Pulitzer prizes as well as embarrassing retractions and damaged careers. For Trump, the press’s pursuit of the Russia story convinced him that any sort of normal relationship with the press was impossible.
“For the past year and a half, CJR has been examining the American media’s coverage of Trump and Russia in granular detail, and what it means as the country enters a new political cycle. Investigative reporter Jeff Gerth interviewed dozens of people at the centre of the story – editors and reporters, Trump himself, and others in his orbit.
“The result is an encyclopedic look at one of the most consequential moments in American media history.” (Looking back on the coverage of Trump by Kyle Pope, 30 January 2023)
Gerth, who is 78, is a longtime mainstream investigative reporter who has written for major media outlets. The result of his investigation is indeed encyclopedic, detailed and very damaging.
The four parts of the report, entitled ‘The press versus the president’, will help you grasp the real extend of the media’s failures.
For those who do not have time to read the four lengthy pieces, there is a Fox news piece with a decent summary of their content.
Gerth ended his report with a personal afterword:
“I’ve avoided opining in my more than 50 years as a reporter. This time, however, I felt obligated to weigh in. Why? Because I am worried about journalism’s declining credibility and society’s increasing polarisation. The two trends, I believe, are intertwined.
“My main conclusion is that journalism’s primary missions, informing the public and holding powerful interests accountable, have been undermined by the erosion of journalistic norms and the media’s own lack of transparency about its work. This combination adds to people’s distrust about the media and exacerbates frayed political and social differences.
“My final concern, and frustration, was the lack of transparency by media organisations in responding to my questions. I reached out to more than 60 journalists; only about half responded. Of those who did, more than a dozen agreed to be interviewed on the record. However, not a single major news organisation made available a newsroom leader to talk about their coverage.
“Most Americans (60 percent) say they want unbiased news sources. Yet 86 percent think the media is biased. The consequences of this mismatch are all too obvious: 83 percent of the audience for Fox news leans Republican while 91 percent of the readers of the New York Times lean Democratic.
“Walter Lippmann wrote about these dangers in his 1920 book Liberty and the News. Lippmann worried then that when journalists ‘arrogate to themselves the right to determine by their own consciences what shall be reported and for what purpose, democracy is unworkable’.” (The press versus the president, part four by Jeff Gerth, 30 January 2023)
I have the same concern that Gerth and Lippmann expressed.
The three main culprits of the Russiagate sham, the New York Times, the Washington Post and CNN, have yet to report on the CJR story. They probably fear to admit that their reporting on Russiagate, which in itself created large parts of the story, was full of mistakes and omissions because of their partisan view.
I have written dozens of pieces of media criticism and on the media’s failures. My concerns about systematic bias of, and ‘official’ influence on, media has steadily increased. False stories are a major ingredient for cooking up wars. The Hamilton dashboard, the Steele dossier and other Russiagate elements were likely invented for that larger purpose.
Objectivity in the media is now threatened to become even worse. Leonard Downie Jr, a former executive editor of the Washington Post, has published an opinion piece that argues for even less objectivity:
“Amid all the profound challenges and changes roiling the American news media today, newsrooms are debating whether traditional objectivity should still be the standard for news reporting. ‘Objectivity’ is defined by most dictionaries as expressing or using facts without distortion by personal beliefs, bias, feelings or prejudice. Journalistic objectivity has been generally understood to mean much the same thing.
“But increasingly, reporters, editors and media critics argue that the concept of journalistic objectivity is a distortion of reality. They point out that the standard was dictated over decades by male editors in predominantly white newsrooms and reinforced their own view of the world. They believe that pursuing objectivity can lead to false balance or misleading ‘bothsidesism’ in covering stories about race, the treatment of women, LGBTQ+ rights, income inequality, climate change and many other subjects. And, in today’s diversifying newsrooms, they feel it negates many of their own identities, life experiences and cultural contexts, keeping them from pursuing truth in their work.” (Newsrooms that move beyond ‘objectivity’ can build trust by Leonard Downie Jr, 30 January 2023)
Having the news reported through the tinted glasses of an ever-increasing number of ‘identities‘ will not make today’s generally bad quality media any better.
It will only increase the problem of partisanship and bias that leads to an ever-more disunited public.
Think about it: Who has an interest in that?