Accuracy in Media

If President Donald Trump ends up being impeached, it will be in large part because he is a “casualty of his own side’s disinformation,” Jane Mayer wrote in the New Yorker this week.

“’Whether Trump and Giuliani are dupes of their own propaganda, I can’t say,’ Mayer quoted Yochai Benkler, a professor at Harvard Law School and co-author of the recent book, ‘Network Propaganda: Manipulation, Disinformation, and Radicalization in American Politics,” as saying. “’But the timeline is completely consistent with that. Either way, it proves that running an administration based on Hannity is dangerous.’”

Benkler was being interviewed by Mayer for “The Invention of the Conspiracy Theory on Biden and Ukraine” – subhead: “How a conservative dark-money group that targeted Hillary Clinton in 2016 spread the discredited story that may lead to Donald Trump’s impeachment.”

Mayer’s thesis is that Steve Bannon is behind it all. He co-founded the Government Accountability Institute, a Tallahassee-based group led by Peter Schweizer, the investigative reporter behind the books “Clinton Cash” and, most recently, “Secret Empires: How the American Political Class Hides Corruption and Enriches Family and Friends.”

Mayer had a particular problem with Schweizer’s practice of providing his findings to major publications and asking them to re-report them to ensure accuracy.

“In a novel arrangement, he doled out negative scoops about the Clintons … in advance to a variety of mainstream news outlets, including the Times,” she wrote. “The paper disclosed its exclusive deal with the book’s author to its readers and maintained that it independently verified and expanded on the information. But when it ran a front-page story derived from the book on April 24, 2015, the Times stirred controversy and criticism, including from its own public editor.”

The story, which exposed Clinton misdeeds in the Uranium One scandal, fell flat when “later reporting poked holes in the story’s insinuation of corruption,” she wrote.

The Biden story was more of the same, she implied – a book perfectly timed to hurt a Democrat candidates’ prospects that was full of innuendo and inaccurate.

By May, Mayer wrote, the mainstream media, including the New York Times, had picked up on the story about the Bidens.

“Although the Times’ piece ran under a headline pointing out that the scandal was being ‘promoted by Trump and Allies,’ and midway noted that there was no evidence of criminality, critics attacked the paper for reprising the Uranium One playbook,” she wrote.

Further, Benkler told her “that when a publication with the Times’ credibility pays any attention to a fringe conspiracy theory, it ‘provides enormous validation’ just by covering the story. ‘I don’t fault the Times for doing a story,’ he said. But there’s “’a new editorial responsibility to be much more careful and not bury the denial.’”

Mayer also was concerned with a chapter in the “Secret Empires” book entitled, “Bidens in Ukraine,” which has gained a lot of attention in recent weeks as Democrats attempt to marshal support to impeach President Trump based on a conversation he had with Ukraine’s president in which he asked the president to investigate corruption in his country, including CrowdStrike, a tech firm said to be at the center of accusations by Democrats that Russia meddled in the 2016 presidential election to help Trump, and the Bidens.

According to Mayer, the “Bidens in Ukraine” chapter “laid out the conflicts of interest posed by the wheeling and dealing of Biden’s son, Hunter.”

The New York Times and Wall Street Journal already had run stories “on the same unethical-seeming morass,” Mayer wrote, but the New Yorker had published a piece on the Bidens last summer “that dismissed allegations of any illegality in the Ukraine matter but included some concerns from Obama administration officials that Hunter could potentially undermine his father’s work.”

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