- - Wednesday, January 23, 2019

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Trump Derangement Syndrome, which has most closely been associated with progressive activists and certain members of Congress over the past two years, is now clearly diagnosable in the national media.

Late last week, just in one 48-hour period, undeniable media bias was on full display.

First, BuzzFeed News, a site more widely known for listicles and cat photos, published a story with the explosive headline, “President Trump directed his attorney Michael Cohen to lie to Congress about the Moscow Tower project.”

The story caused a feeding frenzy. High-ranking Democratic members of Congress pledged investigations. Several said the allegation was grounds for impeachment would be impeachable, carefully hiding behind a lazy “if true” disclaimer.

There was only one problem. The story wasn’t true.

In an unprecedented step, special counsel Robert Mueller’s office denied the story’s accuracy with the release of a public statement that read: “BuzzFeed’s description of specific statements to the Special Counsel’s Office, and characterization of documents and testimony obtained by this office, regarding Michael Cohen’s congressional testimony are not accurate.”

That statement was released late Friday — after an entire day’s worth of media frenzy and frothing.

CNN and MSNBC covered the BuzzFeed story around the clock. Democratic members of Congress took to Twitter.

Did anyone stop to ask: Why was no other media organization able to confirm BuzzFeed’s report?

Perhaps a rush to push one single story, which was unconfirmed and relied on two unnamed sources, was imprudent. Professional journalism requires patience, a commitment to fairness and a willingness to slow down and ask the hard questions.

BuzzFeed’s editors appeared to have failed badly in their responsibility to oversee this article before publishing. They put clicks ahead of accuracy.

Had the reporters seen the evidence that the two “federal law enforcement” sources claimed existed? Had the editor seen the evidence?

This is not the first time the online news site lowered its standards. It was BuzzFeed that published the unverified Steele dossier on candidate Donald Trump’s alleged Russia ties which once before set off a media feeding frenzy.

Much of the national media desperately wanted the BuzzFeed scoop to be true, so many of them suspended their better judgment to aggressively push the story with the goal of damaging the president.

There were some exceptions. More mainstream news organizations — including The New York Times and The Washington Times — could not verify the information and refused to run the BuzzFeed scoop. Good for them. Perhaps those individuals should have stood up when the frenzy was occurring and urged the lemmings to slow down.

A second national media embarrassment followed not 24 hours later when a group of high school students wearing hats supporting Trump had a fateful encounter with an American Indian elder and activist on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. The first, brief video of the incident appeared to show the students laughing and being disrespectful.

But — as you may have heard in the flood of corrective coverage ever since — different angles of the video came to light, and the reality proved much more complex than the original, anti-student narrative. That, of course, didn’t stop celebrities and pundits from rushing to judgment, urging expulsion and even violence toward the young men captured in the video.

Public confidence in the national media is at an all-time low and these two episodes help explain why. It’s indisputable that the vast preponderance of political journalists in Washington and New York privately harbor liberal views and despise President Trump. A rare few truly attempt to be fair, report both sides, check facts, and hold both parties accountable.

On Monday, New York Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, the fourth-ranking Democrat in the House, called Mr. Trump “the grand wizard of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue,” a shocking and offensive slander comparing the president to a KKK leader. Consider the meager attention that story got to the massive coverage surrounding recent comments about white supremacy from a Republican, Rep. Steve King of Iowa.

I work with journalists every single day and respect many of them. Their job is not easy, and their industry is rapidly changing.

The best journalists refuse to chase click bait, refuse to carry water for either side, and doggedly pursue the truth. Their reputations are earned over lifetimes and can be ruined with one false story.

Straight-news journalists should not have an agenda. But many of them in Washington clearly do.

At a time when Pew researchers report that 92 percent of the media coverage of President Trump is negative, the half of the country which supports him wonders how their side of the story can ever be fairly presented.

Will the offending press outlets and websites learn from these recent failures? Will they begin to treat the current administration more fairly? Will the rush to push anonymously sourced stories which damage Mr. Trump continue?

President Trump did not create widespread distrust of the national media. They did it to themselves. And they keep doing it.

• Matt Mackowiak is president of Austin, Texas, and Washington, D.C.-based Potomac Strategy Group. He’s a Republican consultant, a Bush administration and Bush-Cheney re-election campaign veteran and former press secretary to two U.S. senators.

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