Collusion Delusion

Piers Morgan savages news outlets for “an obsessively unrelenting campaign to bring [Trump] down as President”

Whether the mainstream news media has any shred of credibility left after the dust settles from the Mueller Report remains to be seen, but right now, it looks bad for the hundreds of journalists and pundits who staked their careers on the Russia collusion conspiracy.

To be completely fair, a negative result of an investigation doesn’t necessarily repudiate the investigation itself. If prosecutors bring evidence to a grand jury, but the jurors aren’t convinced a crime was committed and the case is dropped, we don’t attack the prosecutors for simply doing their job.

There was a legitimate case to be made that the Russian government, or at least elements or agents of it, tried to disrupt and influence the 2016 presidential election. Mueller’s investigation uncovered mountains of evidence to support that and appropriate indictments were handed down.

But actual Russian interference in the election was a secondary concern to many journalists and political pundits, who seemed to have an unusually personal stake in proving President Trump committed “high crimes and misdemeanors.” They were all-too-eager to report speculation, rumor, and innuendo as fact, with none of the usual qualifiers.

I have never seen journalistic malpractice on this scale, and I lived through coverage of the Iraq War. “The Iraq war faceplant damaged the reputation of the press. Russiagate just destroyed it,” Rolling Stone writer Matt Taibbi concluded. But British broadcaster Piers Morgan wrote a blistering rebuke in the Daily Mail that summarizes it much better than I ever could:

“…all the people who’ve spent the past two years telling the world ‘Trump’s going down for Russia collusion’ look very stupid and have their reputations for impartiality irrevocably ruined.

Once revered newspapers like The New York Times and Washington Post are effectively finished as credible purveyors of fair and balanced news.

Their sustained, often viciously partisan Russiagate coverage has been dictated not by any ‘higher purpose’ journalistic rigour but by commercial greed: the more they hammer the President, the more copies they sell and website clicks they attract, and the more money they make.”

Sadly, if it was just commercial greed, that would be bad enough, but tabloid journalists have long trafficked in sensationalism to turn a profit. No, the worst thing is the partisan rancor with which journalists have pursued these stories, casting all pretense of objectivity to the wind. It’s not news, it’s naked propaganda.

Morgan continues:

“At MSNBC, hugely popular anchors like Rachel Maddow pumped out the Russia line with increasingly intense, emotional nightly detail, convincing themselves and their viewers in the process that they were exposing the new Watergate. But they weren’t. They were just exposing their own bias and news-judgement-twisting hatred of Trump.”

Public confidence in news outlets was already in the gutter. In 2018, Gallup polling found 38 percent of Americans have “very little” confidence in newspapers. That percentage has never been higher in the history of Gallup’s poll, which started in 1973. Similarly, 41 percent said they have very little confidence in television news, also the highest percentage since 1993.

Also in 2018, Pew Research Center found 58 percent of US adults feel “the news media do not understand people like them.” Seventy-three percent of Republicans agreed with that statement.

Those are incredible numbers, and likely to increase in the wake of the “Russiagate” debacle. It’s sad, because a free and probing press is essential to maintaining a free society. The public should be confident that journalists are pursuing stories relevant to the public interest, and not pursuing conspiracy theories to advance their own political agenda.

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