When I was a still youthful reporter at The (Montreal) Gazette, a top editor at the newspaper nabbed me in the hallway and suggested I do a story about the state of Canada’s banking industry. Two small western Canadian banks had recently failed, and the editor thought it wise to examine the health of the country’s bigger banks.
I proudly told the editor I had already done that story and that it was prominently featured on the business page of the Saturday edition, The Gazette’s biggest circulation day. I thought the editor, who previously worked at the New York Times, would be embarrassed being caught not reading his own newspaper.
“Let me give you some helpful advice,” the editor said as he put his arm around me and escorted me to my cubicle. “The worst thing you can have in this business is a long memory. Do the story again.”
Short-term memory loss is now rampant in journalism, which is fortunate because it spares reporters from the embarrassment that once accompanied writing stories that proved to be false or misleading. The media today is no longer focused on reporting facts but rather promoting rolling opinions and narratives that get revised or dropped without any acknowledgment of their prior existence. Orwell envisioned this sort of world, but he mistakenly thought the government would be responsible for information legerdemain.
The Washington Post’s Jennifer Rubin offers a case study of modern journalism practices. Rubin on June 12th wrote a column headlined, “Hope Hick’s testimony will be a crack in Trump’s wall.” In it she speculated that President Trump’s former aide agreement to appear before the House Judiciary Committee was a major breakthrough that could help bring Trump down.
“It cannot be stressed how damaging to Trump Hick’s testimony may be,” Rubin said. “As a close confidante, she would have had communications not only with him but others in the White House. If Trump made self-incriminating statements there is no more powerful witness than Hicks.”
The speculation was unfounded. Hicks didn’t answer most questions and didn’t provide any material information. So much for Hicks being a “powerful witness.” Rubin not only didn’t acknowledge her previously misinformed speculation, she insisted it was always assumed Hicks wouldn’t co-operate.
“Surely, House Democrats knew that Hicks would be blocked from answering questions relating to her time in the White House,” Rubin opined in a June 21 column.
The media’s coverage of Joe Biden is another example of media revisionism. The journalism sages initially wrote him off because he was an old white guy, and when that didn’t stick, because he was too touchy feely. After Kamala Harris delivered her rehearsed jab about Biden’s busing record during the debate of aspiring presidential Democrats, the media crowned it a “breakout moment” and declared Biden all but dead.
“I don’t know how Biden’s gonna survive this,” MSNBC’s Chris Matthews said, declaring Harris’s comment a “mortal blow.” The New York Times said Harris exposed Biden’s “vulnerability,” and his “tenuous perch atop the polls.” Washington Post media reporter Margaret Sullivan, a rare reporter with short-term memory recall, crowed about her earlier column calling out the media for its Biden “electability” delusion.
A Washington Post-ABC News poll of Democrats and Democratic-leaning candidates last week revealed that Biden was the preferred candidate of 21 percent of the respondents, a gain of eight points since last April. Bernie Sanders was second at 13 percent, up four points since April. Harris tied with Elizabeth Warren at 7 percent, a gain of three points since April.
The poll is also noteworthy because Beto O’Rourke, featured on the April Vanity Fair cover with the caption, “his road to 2020 begins,” ranked below one percent. Vanity Fair has since run a follow up article “How the Media Fell Out of Love with Beto O’Rourke.” The article is must reading if you want to understand the media’s arrogance, its self-absorption, its exaggerated sense of influence, and its mistaken belief that journalists ultimately decide the 2020 election.
Most telling is how media reporters, who are supposed to be industry watchdogs, manufacture false narratives. After it emerged that actor Jussie Smollett’s allegations about being subject to a racist attack were false, CNN media correspondent Brian Stelter said: “There was a rush to judgment, I think it was mostly in the celebrity press and among activists and among Twitter people. I think it was a really careful reporting by news organizations.” Breitbart provided its readers with screenshots of about a dozen reporters who immediately embraced and promoted the false story, including three of Stelter’s colleagues.
The conservative media argues that mainstream journalists are fundamentally dishonest. I prefer the explanation offered by President Obama’s former senior advisor Ben Rhodes, who bragged how easily it was for him to spin the media about the controversial Iran deal.
“The average reporter we talk to is 27 years old, and their only reporting experience consists of being around political campaigns,” Rhodes said. That’s a sea change. They literally know nothing.”