Let’s look at a couple of perspectives regarding the recent rash of false reports being posted as news. Four incidents in a week have been demonstrated to be major gaffes by the press, all pertaining to President Trump in some way.
The first perspective is Press Secretary Sarah Sanders and by extension the White House itself. I highlights the pertinent parts:
“There’s a very big difference between making honest mistakes and purposefully misleading the American people. Something that happens regularly. You can’t say — I’m not done. You can’t say that it’s an honest mistake when you are purposely putting out information that you know to be false or when you’re taking information that hasn’t been validated, that hasn’t been offered any credibility and that has been continually denied by a number of people including people with direct knowledge of an incident. This is something that — I’m speaking about the number of reports that have taken place over the last couple of weeks. I’m simply stating that there should be a certain level of responsibility in that process.”
Now, let’s look at a portion of the response to these allegations by CNN Editor-at-large Chris Cillizza and by extension CNN itself:
There’s no question that Ross’ reporting was misleading. And that it was taken by lots of people who oppose Trump’s presidency as game, set and match on collusion. It was a big mistake made even worse by the fact that Ross relied on a single source rather than at least two sources, which is long-standing journalistic practice.
But, but, but. Nowhere in anything we know about Ross’ erroneous reporting is there even a whiff of intentionality. Where is the evidence that Ross purposely pushed out the Flynn-Trump report — knowing it was wrong — solely to make Trump look bad?
There is a massive difference between making an honest mistake — in this case trusting a source too much — and purposeful intent to deceive. A massive difference.
Both Sanders and Cillizza are making the case that their perspective is correct. Sanders (and President Trump) says the media is lying to make the President look bad. Cillizza (and CNN) says the media makes mistakes but doesn’t do it intentionally. Both are partly incorrect. It’s in merging the perspectives that we can actually get to the truth.
Intentional misleading by selective reporting
Humans see what we want to see. When it comes to the news, we pick and choose our sources based upon who presents the news in the light we want to see it. Perhaps a more accurate way of looking at it is we select the reporting we like based upon topics but we pick the reporters, commentators, and pundits we like based upon alignment with our perspectives. People who listen to Rush Limbaugh or watch Sean Hannity do so because they want to be told how to defend the Republican way they think. That sounds worse than it is, as if Americans want to be told what to think. They don’t, but the pundits they follow help them defend their own worldviews while keeping them informed on the appropriate dirt covering the opposite perspective.
This point needs to be hammered home for us to understand why CNN and the White House are both mostly wrong in their perspectives on the news. Whether they realize it or not, people who work for mainstream media outlets help craft the worldviews of millions of Americans. They do this by drawing in audiences who already share an interest in a basic worldview (Republican vs Democrat or conservative vs liberal, for example), then crafting the news to reinforce the details of that worldviews. Fox News attacks Democrats and liberals. MSNBC and CNN attack Republicans and conservatives. That’s the basis for how “the shows” appeal to their audiences.
Now, the reporting of news as it happens is slightly different. It’s not about pundits telling us how we should react to this or that. It’s supposed to be informing us about the facts pertaining to this or that. CNN would like us to believe they pick the news they report, the sources the use, the language pertaining to the details, and the prominence they give to the stories based upon a relatively pure and unbiased approach. Despite Cillizza’s heartfelt defense of his industry, this simply isn’t the case.
The example referenced by both Cillizza and Sanders was the Brian Ross incident. Sanders said it was intentional. Cizzilla said that’s balderdash. The reality is that Ross didn’t intentionally mislead, but his own worldview prompted him to believe a story and report it prematurely because he wanted it to be true. It wasn’t done out of spite as Sanders wants us to believe, but it wasn’t based upon unbiased reporting succumbing to an unfortunate mistake as Cillizza wants us to believe. If this exact situation surrounded President Obama instead of President Trump, Ross would have double- and triple- and possible quadruple-checked the facts before even hinting at the possibility that his favorite politician could have done something wrong.
What Cillizza won’t admit is that the press may not be actively intending to lie about President Trump, but their worldviews affect how, when, and sometimes if they’re going to report something. Their belief system dictates that they run with a poorly sourced story if it aligns with the narrative they believe to be correct. In this case, that narrative is that Trump is only in office because he cheated.
What Sanders won’t admit is that the press doesn’t lie for the sake of discrediting the President. There is no intention to falsify. They do allow their worldviews to affect the way they report, but very few of them (the bad apples, as Cillizza calls them) are willing to risk their own credibility and therefore their careers in an effort to smear the President. They’re careless because they desperately want the narrative they believe is true to actually be true.
Keep in mind that I’m not defending the press. The fact that they’ve been blinded in both directions with each of the last two Presidents is disgusting to me. They covered for President Obama as much as they possibly could. They raised every red flag they could against President Trump when there was a hint of possible wrongdoing. Obama could do no wrong and Trump can do no right int he eyes of most in mainstream media.
The lesson we need to learn in all of this is that the American public is caught in an onslaught of spin coming from both the White House and mainstream media. Neither are attempting to tell the whole truth. They’re both interested in pushing the truth that matches their worldviews and agendas. When both sides are wrong, it’s the American public that suffers the most.