Pillars of the old-line media once against were forced to issue significant retractions on reporting regarding Russia over the weekend in their quest to punish former Trump lawyer, federal prosecutor and New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani.
The New York Times, Washington Post and NBC each retracted allegations on Sunday that Rudy Giuliani received defensive briefings from the FBI about attempts by Russia to run disinformation campaigns against him.
The media outlets each relied on the dubious practice of using anonymous sources for the assertions in the stories, which were later confirmed to be false.
“The corrections,” according to CNN, “are black eyes to the newsrooms, which have aggressively reported on Giuliani’s contacts with Ukrainians in his attempts to dig up dirt on then-presidential candidate Joe Biden.”
The investigations by the media, in fact, are aggressive attempts to dig up dirt on Giuliani and President Donald Trump over Trump’s firing of U.S. ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch, which precipitated an impeachment inquiry against the then-president.
Trump was acquitted of the charges of “abuse of power,” in that impeachment, 53-47, falling short of the two-thirds requirement by 13 votes.
Not content with the previous impeachment, the FBI executed search warrants against Giuliani last week, attempting to discover “whether he broke lobbying laws, according to people with knowledge of the matter,” says the New York Times.
The federal government is seeking to discover if Giuliani lobbied on behalf of the Ukrainian government in the firing of Yovanovitch, without registering as a foreign agent, a violation of the Logan Act.
Recently, current Climate Change ambassador and former Secretary of State, John Kerry, was also accused of violating the Logan Act for lobbying on behalf of the Iranian government, charges which he denied.
Previously, General Michael Flynn pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI in investigations that he violated the Logan Act by failing to disclose work for foreign lobbyists including those from Russia and Turkey.
There are several troubling aspects of the story beyond the inability of major news services to get a major story right.
The use of the Logan Act seems to be a one-way street, used as a bludgeon against Trump supporters and as a shield for supporters of any Democrat.
Even more, the use of anonymous sources by the press is an abuse of trust, as this story from FiveThirtyEight makes clear.
“I wrote this piece because of all the Trump-Russia stories,” FiveThirtyEight’s Perry Bacon wrote about the multiplicity of anonymous sources in the Trump Russia story. “but the rules, terms and designations apply to other Washington stories as well.”
In fact, there is probably no story that was reported as poorly as the Trump Russia stories in an effort to “get” Trump or his supporters under a guise of anonymity.
And, as last weekend’s retractions make clear, it was a lesson poorly learned by journalists who are intent on being federal prosecutors and activists instead of reporters.