The volume of sustained, emotive, one-dimensional reporting on the Trump collusion with Russia story has no parallel. It occupied every platform, from the smallest blog, to Twitter, Facebook, cable news, newspapers and mainstream broadcasters (in Canada as well as the U.S.), almost every day for nearly three whole years.
If its underlying premise was correct this was perfectly justified. For since the founding of the greatest republic in the world, the United States of America, there has never been such a charge brought against a sitting president — that he was an agent, an instrument of, a conspirator with the leader of its principal enemy. Such was the charge against Donald Trump. That he was a tool of Russia’s grim leader, Vladimir Putin, that Putin with sovereign deviousness had infected U.S. democracy, and with serpentine brilliance installed into the absolute highest office of the world’s most powerful country a pawn and a stooge.
This carried the corollary that Trump, by all and every standard, was the most conniving, greedy and utterly despicable human being ever to have exited the womb of an American mother. Compared with Trump, Benedict Arnold was a Boy Scout, Eagle class.
Compared with Trump, Benedict Arnold was a Boy Scout
And it was all garbage. Collusion was a delusion. A willing delusion, I would maintain. Willing because every bien pensant journalist felt not just driven, but authorized by his or her social, intellectual and moral superiority to the vulgar Donald Trump, to find and scatter every hint, rumour, leak and — in some cases — outright lies that could lead to his political and personal ruin.
All the journalists who bought into this fable, and they were the majority, were wrong. They were dead wrong. The collusion story has proven to be a hoax. It has collapsed. It is not just Monty Python’s famed dead parrot — (E’s kicked the bucket, ‘e’s shuffled off ‘is mortal coil, run down the curtain and joined the bleedin’ choir invisible!) — it is a whole flock of dead parrots. It is as dead, as Dickens declared of Marley, as a door nail.
To put a cap on it, the establishment press and all its satellites got the biggest, most explosive story of the past century — Donald Trump was a Russian operative — wrong. It is the journalistic failure of our time.
So, where are the acknowledgements of this calamitous fiasco? The press leaps upon political failures, ineptitudes or malfeasance like a hungry tiger on a stray fawn. It demands commissions and inquiries and hearings “so this kind of thing will never happen again.” It demands penalties, and exposure, and a full record of which things were wrong.
Well what’s sauce for the political goose should be sauce for the journalistic gander. Let’s have a commission of inquiry into how the media got the story so wrong.
What’s sauce for the political goose should be sauce for the journalistic gander
The ineptitude and failure here was a continuous three-year run in the opposite direction from the actual truth of the story. How many papers have repented in public of their obsessional fascination with Trump the Colluder? How many reporters, who won awards, earned front pages, membership on political panels, conference attendance, and book deals telling the world how Trump and Putin “stole the election,” have come out with their mea culpas, with even a plaintive bleat of “sorry, I guess we had it wrong?”
Anti-Trump protesters rally in downtown Chicago on Oct. 28, 2019.
Here I agree with Intercept journalist, Glenn Greenwald — a most unlikely harmony and one I hope that does not injure his reputation — who argues: “Ever since Donald Trump was elected, and one could argue even in the months leading up to his election, journalistic standards have been consciously jettisoned when it comes to reporting on public figures who … are ‘most disliked by the loudest voices,’ particularly when such reporting ‘swim(s) ably along with the tides of social media.’ Put another way: As long the targets of one’s conspiracy theories and attacks are regarded as villains by the guardians of mainstream liberal social media circles, journalists reap endless career rewards for publishing unvetted and unproven — even false — attacks on such people, while never suffering any negative consequences when their stories are exposed as shabby frauds.”
It’s a perspective that received a fine echo from a National Review (not a wildly pro-Trump publication) piece: “The Russia–Trump collusion yarn is perhaps the most-promoted false conspiracy theory in American history: Major figures who advanced the theory have now conceded that they had no evidence for it, and yet leading media personalities who hyped it are expressing no shame or remorse whatsoever.”
Likewise, from a Ben Shapiro tweet — he’s being ironic: “I for one, think it’s totally fine that the rest of the media spent three years covering a complete non-story with salivating gusto, and now are very angry that anyone would cover the complete collapse of that story.”
By way of a finale I would add that a particular journalist’s grief over who lost an election (Hillary Clinton), or contempt over the candidate who won (Donald Trump), do not amount to (let me use a Chinese expression) a “mandate from heaven” to wander into the boglands of conspiracy theory because it serves to deepen that grief and expand that contempt.
The story of how they got the story wrong should be getting at least some documentary
Nor is it a warrant to abandon objectivity and skepticism, nor a free pass, for when the theory has exploded, to not confess and repent of his or her part in furthering that theory.
I pick the hectoring leftist Rachel Maddow as the prime exemplar here, a full anchor on MSNBC, so passionately anti-Trump that her three years on the “story” should be added as a stand-alone chapter in every journalism school chapbook as a horror account of manic reportage.
Finally, the story of how they got the story wrong should be getting at least some documentary and long-form explication and repentance. But, as no Bible says “From those who most demand accountability shall no accountability be expected. Blessed are they who are righteous on Donald Trump, for they have shall have (and had) their fill.”