What a spectacle. The chattering news class, that collective gaggle of talking heads and news readers who can wax endlessly and eloquently (well, maybe not always so eloquently) about a snippet of unconfirmed and un-corroborated information, has some real soul searching to do. Great journalism requires determined vigor, not the lazy snatching of low hanging and often tasteless fruit.
The reader will recall that a few days ago the so-called news channels were ablaze, with hair-on-fire commentators reporting that Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller had damning evidence of President Trump suborning perjury. According to BuzzFeed, Special Counsel Robert Mueller had solid evidence that President Donald Trump had directed his personal attorney Michael Cohen to lie to Congress about his pursuit of business deals in Russia.
Now, BuzzFeed is a formidable, far reaching, internet media and news company notwithstanding a number of botched or questionable news stories. This news flash was then shouted from the media rooftops by the chattering classes as truly damning evidence of criminality by the President of the United States, probably constituting grounds for impeachment. There was only one problem. Two important people came forward to, essentially, deny the story. One was President Donald Trump. The other was Special Counsel Robert Mueller.
To be specific, Special Counsel Mueller’s office issued this rare and unprecedented statement, “BuzzFeed’s description of specific statements to the Special Counsel’s Office, and characterization of documents and testimony obtained by this office, regarding Michael Cohen’s Congressional testimony are not accurate.” Which, we assume, means BuzzFeed’s characterization was, well, inaccurate.
Now, when was the last time you, the reader, ever saw or heard a prosecutor deny a news story about the evidence he or she had about the target of an investigation. Well, more than likely, never. Prosecutors rarely comment about news stories, especially when the story is about the strength of the prosecutor’s case. It’s simply not their responsibility to confirm or deny the accuracy of press speculation. But, in this case, the Special Prosecutor apparently considered the BuzzFeed story so misleading, and the case at hand so important, that he felt compelled to issue a written statement characterizing BuzzFeed’s story as inaccurate.
Supposedly, BuzzFeed’s report was based on information from two law enforcement officials with “direct knowledge” of Mueller’s investigation. That’s it. Two mysterious, ethereal, law enforcement officials are the source of a “stop-the-presses” story that the Mueller investigation, essentially, calls wrong.
So, what do we really know? Well, essentially, nothing. The sensational BuzzFeed story advances our knowledge of the investigation not a nit. BuzzFeed’s retort to the Special Counsel’s smackdown was a rather anemic, “we stand by our story.” Well, that’s nice, but, it seems no one else who matters does stand by the BuzzFeed story, certainly not the unidentified “law enforcement officials.”
This sort of amateurish reporting of uncorroborated information provided by unidentified sources is destructive to meaningful public discourse. Worse, it provides ammunition to those who buy into the Trump narrative that the mainstream news is fake news and the enemy of the people. Here we have a scathing report about an apparently clear instance of presidential criminality disavowed by the one office charged with determining whether or not there has been criminal behavior by the President or his campaign.
What should CNN and MSNBC, Fox, the networks, and every newspaper in the country have done with this story. Absent corroboration, from more than the anonymous sources (and there was none) they should have ignored the BuzzFeed story. The potential for damage is simply too great not to demand corroboration when a story of this importance is set loose upon the body politic.
This spectacle of false information running rampant has a long pedigree. Over three hundred years ago, fellow essayist, Jonathan Swift, wrote, “Falsehood flies, and the truth comes limping after it. BuzzFeed might heed the advice of Benjamin Franklin who wrote, “Falsehood will fly, as it were, on the wings of the wind, and carry its tales to every corner of the earth; whilst truth lags behind; her steps, though sure, are slow and solemn and she has neither vigor nor activity enough to pursue and overtake her enemy.”
And so “the news” that the Special Counsel has evidence the President ordered his lackey, Michael Cohen, to lie to Congress has, more than likely, been embraced by many more people than has the disavowal of that story by Mister Mueller. Regardless of one’s opinion of President Trump, that is sad and certainly not in the interest of justice.
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