Major Errors by Major Networks

For anyone who cares about accurate reporting, the past week was truly disastrous.

Since democracy depends on transparency and some measure of justified trust in our basic institutions, these journalistic failures are damaging to the country.

The misreporting comes on top of well-documented sexual harassment and abuse allegations that led to Matt Lauer’s firing and raise questions about how much his bosses knew and covered up over the years. One, Andrew Lack, is still at NBC. The other, Jeff Zucker, runs CNN.

We also heard Cokie Roberts, long-time reporter for ABC News, say on the air that female reporters knew not to get into elevators alone with some Congressmen and Senators. She didn’t seem to notice that neither she nor anyone else considered that worthy of investigating or reporting.

As for last week’s errors, Glenn Greenwald cites chapter and verse here:

The U.S. Media Suffered Its Most Humiliating Debacle in Ages: Now Refuses All Transparency Over What Happened (The Intercept)

CNN also illustrates how these organizations offered only lame apologies for BIG errors:

Misreporting the date, which both CNN and ABC did, was not a minor matter. It went to the heart of charges that candidate Trump worked with Russia and Russian-backed organizations to win the election. In fact, the accurate dates were after Trump was elected.

Some people have attributed the errors to sloppy reporting, others to deliberate efforts (presumably by the leakers) to harm either Trump or the networks that reported.

There is no doubt the reporting was sloppy, the retractions mealy-mouthed.

But I have an additional observation, albeit purely speculative. First, note that the leaks came from classified settings, such as the House Intel Committee. Second, we know that the Department of Justice has established a high-priority task force to identify the sources of classified leaks. So, I speculate, could DOJ (working with US intel agencies) given specific people some documents seeded with misinformation to see if that identifiable info was leaked? If it was, then the source would be obvious to DOJ or the CIA.

That technique is a familiar one. Intelligence agencies sometimes alter each document slightly for each individual recipient. That way, if some portion ends up in the newspaper, it might be possible to identify which recipient leaked it. I wonder if that’s what happened here? The fact that two sources confirmed CNN’s erroneous story makes me wonder if a Congressman or two received a deliberately altered document.

News You Can Trust, From Reporters You Can Rely On: The Brian Action Team

When big national news breaks, I turn to Brian Ross and Brian Williams.

If anybody can break the news, it’s those two inventive reporters. –Ted Baxter

 

In all three, the fake is mistaken for the real. But there’s a crucial difference. In The Life of Brian, our hero has integrity. He is committed to telling the truth, even when the public doesn’t want to hear it. Ross and Williams could learn from that.