We've been following these controversies on an ad hoc basis, but I wanted to put this trifecta of examples all in one place. Each of the "big three" broadcast networks has run with a bogus or deeply misleading story in recent days, all of which were critical of prominent members of the Trump administration. As usual, the media's "mistakes" tend to cut in one partisan direction -- against the president, party and ideology that journalists largely detest and subtlely and actively undermine. Here's a quick and dirty review of these instant entries into the annals "fake news" -- a derisive moniker that the press too often earns:
(1) ABC's Jimmy Kimmel, a committed Democratic operative who sometimes does comedy, aired doctored video of Vice President Mike Pence. The clip purported to show Pence pretending to carry personal protective equipment (PPE) into a medical facility, prompting Kimmel to snark, "Mike Pence pretending to carry empty boxes of PPEs into a hospital is a perfect metaphor for who he is and what he's doing — a big box of nothing delivering another box of nothing." The clip went viral, racking up millions of views, with numerous 'blue checkmarks' on social media eagerly sharing it. But it was a lie, and Kimmel was forced to acknowledge it and apologize, albeit conspicuously unapologetically:
"[I]t would appear that @vp was joking about carrying empty boxes for a staged publicity stunt," Kimmel tweeted Friday afternoon. He then apologized while making it clear he still believed the event was "a staged publicity stunt." "The full video reveals that he was carrying full boxes for a staged publicity stunt. My apologies. I know how dearly this administration values truth," Kimmel said.
(2) NBC's Chuck Todd framed an entire "Meet the Press" discussion around an incomplete and context-free clip of Attorney General Bill Barr discussing the Justice Department's decision to drop Michael Flynn's prosecution. Todd played the abbreviated clip, calling Barr's response 'cynical' and asserting that Barr didn't seek to justify the department's decision as upholding the rule of law. Barr's full answer, which didn't make CBS' pressed-for-time televised news package -- but was made available online -- specifically spoke to the rule of law. Watch the juxtaposition, back to back:
Today on Meet The Press, @chucktodd wildly took context out of an answer AG Bill Barr gave about his decision to drop the case into Gen. Michael Flynn.— Greg Price (@greg_price11) May 10, 2020
I cut Todd's segment along with Barr's full answer together. Look at how blatantly dishonest this is. pic.twitter.com/tODOEwL48V
"Meet the Press" issued a brief Twitter apology, but this needs to be corrected more prominently, including on air. The show is regarded by many as the prestigious gold standard of Sunday morning political programs. It has a large staff, which prepares for one hour of television per week. This error is especially egregious within that context. It very much looks like NBC and Todd had a narrative they liked (Barr derangement has a sizable constituency), and didn't bother to check out whether the supposed evidence was legitimate.
(3) CBS' Scott Pelley, in the span of a few seconds, made a claim on "60 Minutes" that reflects Chinese propaganda, and unfairly smeared Secretary of State Mike Pompeo as a conspiracy theorist:
As the U.S. took the lead for illness and death from coronavirus, the White House moved the focus to the Chinese government. Last Sunday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo attempted to resurrect a debunked theory that the virus was man-made in China. https://t.co/MZbfe4LeXi pic.twitter.com/bIjTRfboTg— 60 Minutes (@60Minutes) May 10, 2020
One can only believe that the US is "in the lead" on these fronts if one believes China's transparently bogus statistics, which the US intelligence community has exposed as lies. Even if one wants to frame US coronavirus deaths as among the worst in the world, one at least owes it to readers to contextualize the data, which is actually far more favorable on a per-capita basis. And Pompeo did not endorse a "debunked theory that the virus was man-made in China." He appeared to inadvertently use 'man-made' as shorthand for 'not from wet markets,' and quickly clarified that he agreed with the intelligence community's assessment that the natural virus may have escaped from a Wuhan lab:
QUESTION: Do you believe it was man-made or genetically modified?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Look, the best experts so far seem to think it was man-made. I have no reason to disbelieve that at this point.
QUESTION: Your Office of the DNI says the consensus, the scientific consensus, was not man-made or genetically modified.
SECRETARY POMPEO: That’s right. I agree with that. Yeah, I’ve seen their analysis. I’ve seen the summary that you saw that was released publicly. I have no reason to doubt that that is accurate at this point.
QUESTION: Okay. So just to be clear, you do not think it was man-made or genetically modified
SECRETARY POMPEO: I’ve seen what the Intelligence Community has said. I have no reason to believe that they’ve got it wrong.
On this issue, the media has been weirdly obsessive about fact-checking a claim that the targets of the fact checks haven't actually made. The worst victim of this serial, dishonest conflation is Sen. Tom Cotton, coincidentally also a Republican.
(4) Not to be left out, here's a dishonorable mention for CNN. This point isn't a lie; it's just extraordinary lack of self-awareness regarding coverage of the Russia story. When the facts no longer fit the preferred script, suddenly we shouldn't be talking about the issue so much, it seems. From Russia, Russia, Russia, to don't we have more important things to cover? Amazing:
“Stop talking so much about the Russia investigation” says a host at...CNN. Brain-melting stuff. https://t.co/vVpZBka1J9— Guy Benson (@guypbenson) May 11, 2020
I'll leave you with my radio monologue on all of this, from earlier in the week:
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