Accuracy in Media


After the New York Times took the highly unusual step of running an anonymous op-ed by a “senior administration official” saying insiders at the White House work around the clock to keep President Trump from acting on his worst instincts, mainstream media outlets responded with … more anonymously sourced stories.

NBC News typified the stories with “On the hunt for a betrayer, a ‘volcanic’ Trump lashes out; The president vented his frustration Wednesday in the wake of an anonymous op-ed article that rattled the White House” by Hallie Jackson, Kristen Welker and Peter Alexander.

“President Donald Trump, forced to contend with the possibility that a senior member of his administration, along with others, may be trying to undermine his authority, erupted in private on Wednesday, according to multiple aides and allies familiar with his thinking,” read the lead of the story. “They described his mood as ‘volcanic.’”

Later, the story read, “On Wednesday, those close to the president said he was enraged by both the book and the anonymous opinion piece, and one senior administration official expressed anger at the ‘betrayal’ by an unnamed colleague.

“Some close to the president speculated the story could add fuel to the president’s ongoing battle with the media.

“Trump is ‘not just furious with the person (who wrote it) but furious The Times would run an unsigned op-ed,’ said one person close to the White House.”

The Washington Post took a darker tack with its headline: “’The sleeper cells have awoken’: Trump and aides shaken by ‘resistance’ op-ed”

But the story, by Philip Rucker, Ashley Parker and Josh Dawsey, also relied on unnamed sources to paint the president as irrationally angry about the piece. It used language similar to that used by NBC.

“Trump reacted to the column with ‘volcanic’ anger and was ‘absolutely livid’ over what he considered a treasonous act of disloyalty and told confidants he suspects the official works on national security issues or in the Justice Department, according to two people familiar with his private discussions.”

The Post wrote, without attribution to any source at all, that the column “sent tremors through the West Wing and launched a frantic guessing game. Startled aides canceled meetings and huddled behind closed doors to strategize a response. Aides were analyzing language patterns to try to discern the author’s identity or at a minimum the part of the administration where the author works.

“’The problem for this president is it could be so many people,’ said one administration official, who like many others interviewed for this story spoke on the condition of anonymity to be candid. ‘You can’t rule it down to one person. Everyone is trying, but it’s impossible.’”

Anonymous sources also told the Post the part of the Times letter about John McCain especially rankled the president. The letter describes McCain, who sparred with Trump as Trump rose to the Republican nomination and then the presidency while the Arizona senator’s influence waned, as a “lodestar for restoring honor to public life and our national dialogue.”

The Post wrote that the column “reignited Trump’s frustration with last week’s remembrances of McCain and the widespread adulation of his life.” The president was already “feeling especially vulnerable – and a deep ‘sense of paranoia,’ in the words of one confidant – after his devastating portrayal in Woodward’s book.”

CNN devoted almost six minutes of air time to having an on-air personality read the entire op-ed on camera.

The personality set the stage thusly: “In an unprecedented move, the New York Times publishing a shocking, anonymous op-ed from a senior Trump administration official. It is so unusual, it is so biting, it’s such an indictment of the president, the only way to lay out the case this person makes is to read the entire thing to you. So here it is … in full. The opinion piece in the New York Times.”

Normally, a biting indictment of the president from an anonymous source would be thrown in the trash, not read on the air. But when Trump is the issue, the rules go out the window.




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