Accuracy in Media

Mainstream media outlets seemed to rejoice after laughter could be heard in the background of a segment on Meet the Press that featured Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas).

“Audible Laughter on Broadcast As Ted Cruz Claims Ukraine Meddled in 2016 election,” read the headline on HuffPost. “The senator had people on NBC’s ‘Meet the Press’ set laughing enough to be heard on mic,” read the subhead on Josephine Harvey’s story.

At Esquire, the headline read: “Ted Cruz Was Literally Laughed At During His Appearance on Meet the Press” and the subhead: “Host Chuck Todd seemed astounded by Cruz’s answer to a question about the 2016 election.”

At Rolling Stone, the headline read: “Ted Cruz Wishes He Hadn’t Woken Up Early After Chuck Todd Was Through With Him,” but the subhead on Peter Wade’s story read: “Laughter could be heard in the studio as the senator said he believed Russia’s talking points that Ukraine meddled in the 2016 election.”

The Washington Post’s headline read: “Sen. Ted Cruz echoes debunked claims that Ukraine interfered in 2016 election.” But a cutline on a video embedded in the story read: “Over the past three years, President Trump and some of his allies have at times mimicked Russian President Vladimir Putin’s rhetoric on election interference.”

In the Dallas Morning News, reporter Todd Gilman was careful to note that the notion Ukraine interfered in the U.S. election in 2016 was “a theory that U.S. intelligence agencies have not endorsed. Trump critics consider the theory baseless and a theme of Kremlin propaganda aimed at deflecting attention from Russia’s own election meddling while simultaneously driving a wedge between Kyiv and Washington.”

But his editors were not so circumspect.

“Ted Cruz calls impeachment ‘kangaroo court,’ pushes debunked theory that Ukraine interfered in 2016 election,” read the headline. “The Texas Republican likened a Ukraine op-ed to Russian hacking.”

The remark about the op-ed referred to a part of the interview with Todd in which Cruz ticked off a number of points on Ukraine interference in the 2016 election to make his case. One such point was that Valeriy Chaly, Ukraine’s ambassador to the U.S. at the time, wrote an op-ed in The Hill in August 2016 taking exception to comments Trump made on the campaign trail that he would not be willing to go to war to force Russia to return the Crimea to Ukraine.

This was considered at the time – and since – to have been a violation of diplomatic protocol against ambassadors getting involved in the domestic politics of the countries where they serve.

None of the outlets produced evidence the charges that Ukraine interfered in the U.S. election have been “debunked” or proven false in any meaningful way.

When Todd asked Cruz if he believed Ukraine interfered in the election, he said, “I do.” Todd responded by saying “You do?” which set off the laughter in the newsroom that delighted various media outlets.

Todd then offered as proof Ukraine did not meddle that Trump had attacked Cruz when they were both candidates for the Republican nomination.

“Senator, this sort of strikes me as odd because you went through a primary campaign with this president. He launched a birtherism campaign against you. He went after your faith. He threatened to quote spill the beans about your wife on something. He pushed a National Enquirer story which, we now know, he had a real relationship with the editor of the National Enquirer …”

“You’re dragging up all that garbage. That’s very kind,” said Cruz.

But Todd pressed on. “Let me ask you this: Is it not possible that this president is capable of creating a false narrative about somebody in order to help him politically?”

Cruz was ready. “Except that’s not what happened. The president released a transcript of the phone call. You can read what was said on the phone call.”

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