Accuracy in Media

Now that special counsel Robert Mueller’s report has declared President Donald Trump and his campaign did not collude with the Russians in any way before or after the 2016 presidential election, the media has some serious explaining to do, according to Matt Taibbi.

Taibbi, an award-winning reporter for Rolling Stone and others, charged that the media ignored its own rules, stepped outside its job description to become advocates rather than informed observers, and repeatedly “connected too many dots that do not really add up.”

“It’s official: Russiagate is this generation’s WMD” – subhead: “The Iraq war faceplant damaged the reputation of the press. Russiagate just destroyed it,” read the headlines on Taibbi’s piece, which he published in the runup to release of his upcoming book, “Hate Inc.”

Taibbi accused the press of covering the Mueller investigation not as a “neutral fact-finding mission” but as something closer to “religious allegory, with Mueller cast as the hero sent to slay the monster.”

He pointed to a piece on Sunday by Peter Baker of the New York Times that “tried to preserve Santa Mueller’s reputation” – Baker reported Attorney General William Barr said he “never had to intervene to keep Mr. Mueller from taking an inappropriate or unwarranted step” – and had added the seemingly obligatory list of “Trump-Russia ‘contacts,’ inviting readers to keep making connections.”

But he pointed to a Baker quote: “It will be a reckoning for President Trump, to be sure, but also for Robert S. Mueller III, the special counsel, for Congress, for Democrats, for Republicans, for the news media and yes, for the system as a whole.”

Baker was trying to prepare readers for the question of whether journalists had connected too many dots that didn’t add up, Taibbi wrote, and the consequences for the 2020 election and beyond could not be larger.

“Nothing Trump is accused of from now on by the press will be believed by huge chunks of the population, a group that (perhaps thanks to this story) is now larger than his original base,” Taibbi wrote. “As Baker notes, a full 50.3 percent of respondents in a poll conducted this month said they agree with Trump the Mueller probe is a ‘witch hunt.’”

Taibbi pointed to stories in recent months warning the Mueller report might “leave audiences ‘disappointed,’ as if a president not being a foreign spy could somehow be bad news.”

The press, he wrote, doesn’t even realize how bad it looks when it uses such language, particularly when “news does not match audience expectations you raised.” He called it the “journalistic equivalent of walking outside without pants.”

He recounted some of the now-apparent lies media told about the president.

The New York Times said Trump had “repeated contacts” with Russian intelligence; the Wall Street Journal said spy agencies were withholding intelligence form the president out of fear he was compromised; CNN said Trump officials had been in “’constant contact’ with ‘Russians known to U.S. intelligence’ and gobbled it up when former CIA director John Brennan suggested the president was guilty of high crimes and misdemeanors and was committing acts “’nothing short of treasonous.’”

The Steele dossier itself was not sufficient for a story – its contents were bizarre, extreme and unproven. But once it had changed hands – once then-FBI Director James Comey had warned President Trump about its contents – then stories could be written saying, as CNN did, that “classified documents” were “presented last week to Trump.”

“The reports surrounding Steele technically weren’t about the allegations themselves, but rather the journey of those allegations, from one set of official hands to another. Handing the report to Trump created a perfect pretext,” Taibbi wrote.

This led to an outbreak of what is known as “’stove-piping,’ i.e. officials using the press to ‘confirm’ information the officials themselves fed the reporter,” Taibbi said.

“There has been a consistent pattern throughout #Russiagate,” Taibbi noted. “Step one: salacious headline. Step two: days or weeks later: news emerges the story is shakier than first believed. Step three (in the best case) involves the story being walked back or retracted by the same publication.”

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