A popular theme in the Twitterverse this week is “Journalism is dead.” Two events apparently driving the disgust du jour with media incompetence and dishonesty are BuzzFeed’s story about President Trump allegedly asking Michael Cohen to commit perjury, and the group of boys from Covington Catholic High School in Kentucky accused of racist behavior at the March for Life in Washington, D.C.
The BuzzFeed “bombshell” was defused when special counsel Robert Mueller’s office issued a statement flatly contradicting the story. Authors Anthony Cormier and Jason Leopold admitted that they had not personally seen the documents they referenced. Additional doubt has been cast on the story’s credibility by Leopold’s record of inaccuracies and outright falsehoods.
But the BuzzFeed bust is nothing compared with the Covington Catholic conflagration. A group of boys from the high school were caught on video smiling and chanting as Native American Nathan Phillips -- said to be a Vietnam veteran -- drummed in front of them. A since-changed New York Times headline read, “Boys in ‘Make America Great Again’ Hats Mob Native Elder at March for Life.” Predictably, the social media mobs piled on, accusing the boys of Trump-inspired racism and white supremacy, calling for them to be doxxed, punched in the face, fed into a woodchipper and burned alive in their school. Covington Catholic High School was forced to close in the face of threats. In a particularly absurd twist, the family of a young man who resembles Covington student Nick Sandmann (front and center in the video) was targeted and threatened with violence.
Not long after the initial video went viral, however, additional information emerged, and the popular narrative began to unravel: A longer video showed the Covington students being verbally assaulted by a group of Black Hebrew Israelites who called them “crackers,” “dogs” and “a bunch of faggots made out of incest.” The Covington students did not “mob” anyone; Phillips and his group approached them. It was Phillips who drummed only inches from Sandmann’s face. And, as it turns out, Phillips did not serve in Vietnam.
Sandmann released a statement and appeared on the “Today” show to defend himself, saying that he stood quietly and smiled to keep a frightening situation from escalating. He denied reports that his classmates were chanting, “Build the wall,” saying that they were loudly chanting school spirit chants only to drown out the insults.
People are justifiably outraged. Yes, it has been a bad week for the media, which is already suffering from record-low credibility. But the notion that media bias or deceit is a recent phenomenon is a sad delusion.
In fact, our national media has a long history of coloring events -- or not reporting them at all -- to shape public opinion.
Infamous New York Times reporter Walter Duranty deliberately lied about Soviet dictator Josef Stalin’s brutal policies, the famine he created in Ukraine and the millions who died as a result. Duranty won a Pulitzer Prize for his reporting -- which the Pulitzer organization refuses to revoke.
The press kept a “gentleman’s agreement” to hide -- or downplay -- President Franklin Roosevelt’s paralysis from polio. Nor was the public made aware of how desperately ill FDR was when he met with Stalin at Yalta and conceded China to the communists.
The press reportedly knew about President John F. Kennedy’s rampant infidelities and kept them from the public.
That paragon of press impartiality, Walter Cronkite, lied to the American public about the Tet Offensive during the Vietnam War, characterizing it as a victory for the communist Viet Cong, rather than the defeat that it was.
Just as they had done with JFK, the national media covered up for President Bill Clinton’s insatiable sexploits; it was the nascent Drudge Report that broke the Monica Lewinsky story. They also refused to report on the “open secret” of then-presidential candidate John Edwards’ affair with Rielle Hunter; the National Enquirer had reported in 2007 that Edwards had fathered a child with Hunter while his wife was dying from cancer.
The national media routinely parroted President Barack Obama’s lies knowing they were lies (Obamacare, Benghazi, the Iran deal) and, to this day, do not insist that he release information to the public that he refuses to (like his academic records).
In perhaps the press’s most embarrassing display of bias, it propped up Hillary Clinton’s abysmally bad presidential campaign in 2016: It downplayed her many lies; inflated the small crowds she drew; ignored her obviously poor health, her manipulation of the primary process and her financial strangulation of the Democratic National Committee.
The press’s deceit may not be worse today; it’s just more overt. For example, instead of being appalled that federal law enforcement was actively working with one political party to smear and bring down a political candidate -- now a duly elected president, Donald Trump -- the press denies it and broadcasts lies about Trump 24/7 in the hopes that repetition will make the lies true, or at least make the public believe them.
In other words, journalism has been dead for a long time, folks. But the zombies that pass for journalists still walk among us. And instead of wanting to eat your brains, they’re hoping you don’t have any.