Accuracy in Media

The first few stories that alleged President Trump was planning to fire Special Counsel Robert Mueller involved a few equivocations.

The New York Times’ most recent story, however, cited four anonymous sources, that, as the Mueller probe runs out of steam and accusations of misdeeds by the Department of Justice and FBI reach a crescendo, revealed that in June, the president threatened to fire the special counsel, but the president’s lawyers threatened to quit if he went through with it.

“Trump moved to fire Mueller, but counsel balked,” was the lead headline on the front page of the Washington Post on Friday.

“President Trump sought the firing of Robert S. Mueller III last June, shortly after the special counsel took over the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election, and he backed off only after White House Counsel Donald F. McGahn threatened to resign over the move,” the Post reported.  

No equivocation. No “according to sources.” Simply, “This happened.” The Post admitted the New York Times had broken the story but said it had confirmed it with two people – also unnamed, of course.

By the afternoon, the paper added sidebars, including, “Trump’s handling of the Russia investigation has never looked more like a cover-up” and “These are probably the media reports that made Trump want to fire Mueller.” But there was still no evidence Trump ever intended to fire Mueller.

USA Today also relied on unnamed sources..

“President Trump and aides found themselves grappling Friday with yet another damaging report on the Russia investigation. He talked about dismissing Special Counsel Robert Mueller in June, just a month after his appointment.”

But the USA Today story did admit to uncertainty.

“The officials, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss internal matters, said they did not know if Trump issued a specific order or if White House Counsel Donald McGahn threatened to quit over it.”

Trump denied he sought to fire Mueller and has repeatedly said that he never had intentions to fire him.

“Fake news, folks. Fake news. Typical New York Times fake stories,” Trump said to reporters before giving a well-received speech at the World Economic Forum in Davos.

Indeed, according to the Los Angeles Times, the Trump administration has turned over 20,000 pages of records to the special counsel and his campaign turned over 1.4 million records.

More than 20 White House staffers have been interviewed by the special counsel – eight of them from the White House counsel’s office. In addition, 28 people connected with the campaign have been interviewed by the special counsel in what John Dowd, Trump’s attorney, called “an unprecedented display of cooperation with Mueller’s investigation.”

The president has offered to be interviewed by Mueller under oath and has predicted he will be exonerated.

“I think that Bob Mueller will be fair, and everybody knows that there was no collusion.”

If McGahn won’t confirm that Trump threatened to fire Mueller, and that he threatened to quit if Trump went through with it, and Trump continues to deny it, then the newspapers must admit they don’t know the truth.

The assumption otherwise is that they and their unnamed sources are not just more believable than the president but so much more believable that his denial, other than in the USA Today story, need not even be included.

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