- Thursday, August 31, 2023

Our national news media were already broken before former President Donald Trump ran for office, but they are undeniably worse now.

Ideological bias, whether intentional or unintentional, is one thing, but defiantly sticking to stories that have been proved false is something else. That’s where we are now, and it’s why public trust in the corporate press, formerly known as mainstream, is at an all-time low.

George Washington University law professor Jonathan Turley this week posted an incredible piece on his website, in which he described an email he received from The Washington Post, sent to him in response to criticisms he’d written in The Hill about Philip Bump, an alleged journalist at the Post.

“The Washington Post stands by Philip Bump’s reporting, and your characterization of his articles as ‘false’ is incorrect,” the Post wrote to Mr. Turley.

One of Mr. Bump’s stories Mr. Turley had critiqued was about the famous clearing of protesters from Lafayette Square near the White House in June 2020. Mr. Bump, among other journalists, desperately wanted to believe that the park had been cleared to make way for Mr. Trump to walk through for a photo op.

But it wasn’t true.

An inspector general investigation found that federal officers had “cleared the park to allow a contractor to safely install antiscale fencing in response to destruction of Federal property.” The IG report concluded that U.S. Park Police “had begun implementing the operational plan several hours before they knew of a potential Presidential visit to the park.”

Mr. Turley also cited Mr. Bump’s mocking of claims that the Obama administration had conducted surveillance on the 2016 Trump campaign, which actually did happen. And Mr. Turley noted that Mr. Bump was still claiming as recently as this past May that Hillary Clinton’s campaign was not responsible for the lie that the Trump campaign had conspired with Russia to influence the 2016 election.

But it was.

All of these things are provably false — and other news organizations have reported them as such — yet the Post declared that Mr. Bump was not wrong about any of it. It would be flabbergasting if it were not so completely expected and in line with other major outlets.

In 2018, for example, both the Post and The New York Times won Pulitzer Prizes for “deeply sourced, relentlessly reported coverage in the public interest that dramatically furthered the nation’s understanding of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election and its connections to the Trump campaign, the President-elect’s transition team and his eventual administration.”

Except the Russia hoax still isn’t true. Yet the awards have not been returned by the publications, nor have they been revoked by the Pulitzer Prize Board.

OK, so withdrawing awards after the fact would be a big deal, and maybe it’s too tall a hill to climb for the heavies who hand out those prizes. But it shouldn’t be that hard to correct or retract a story after it’s been exposed as false, right?

Apparently, at Politico, it is.

On Oct. 19, 2020, reporter Natasha Bertrand broke the news that 51 former intelligence officials believed that a laptop belonging to then-candidate Joe Biden’s son Hunter was actually part of a Russian plot to influence that year’s election. A letter signed by the group was leaked to Ms. Bertrand to give the former vice president cover from damaging information about his connection to his son’s illicit business practices. 

These claims of Russian interference were not true, the laptop was authentic, and Politico’s story has never been corrected. It sits there on Politico’s website to this day, completely untouched and just as wrong as it was the day it was posted almost three years ago.

Ms. Bertrand’s reward for participating in this gigantic act of dishonesty was a promotion to CNN, where she is now a White House national security reporter.

These stories aren’t cherry-picked examples of bias to make a point. These were major stories, covered to deafening levels by media determined to exert their own influence over elections while accusing others of doing the same.

I was a local television reporter years ago, and the thing I feared most every day was getting something wrong in a story. It’s obvious that many of today’s journalists are not concerned about that as long as they are still targeting the correct people.

It’s a prime reason why trust in the media has fallen to such depths that a Gallup survey this year showed that exactly half of Americans believe that news outlets deliberately mislead their audiences.

And if they’re not doing it on purpose, what’s their excuse for not correcting themselves when their mistakes are obvious?

• Tim Murtaugh is a Washington Times columnist and vice president for communication strategy at National Public Affairs, a political consulting firm.

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