May 20, 2020


Exactly the same journalism-destroying dynamic is driving the post-Russiagate media landscape. There is literally no accountability for the journalists and news outlets that spread falsehoods in their pages, on their airwaves, and through their viral social media postings. The Washington Post’s media columnist Erik Wemple has been one of the very few journalists devoted to holding these myth-peddlers accountable — recounting how one of the most reckless Russigate conspiracy maximialists, Natasha Bertrand, became an overnight social media and journalism star by peddling discredited conspiratorial trash (she was notably hired by Jeffrey Goldberg to cover Russigate for The Atlantic); MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow spent three years hyping conspiratorial junk with no need even to retract any of it; and Mother Jones’ David Corn played a crucial, decisively un-journalistic role in mainstreaming the lies of the Steele dossier all with zero effect on his journalistic status, other than to enrich him through a predictably bestselling book that peddled those unhinged conspiracies further.

Wemple’s post-Russiagate series has established him as a commendable, often-lone voice trying — with futility — to bring some accountability to U.S. journalism for the systemic media failures of the past three years. The reason that’s futile is exactly what Smith described in his column on Farrow: In “resistance journalism,” facts and truth are completely dispensable — indeed, dispensing with them is rewarded — provided “reporters swim ably along with the tides of social media and produce damaging reporting about public figures most disliked by the loudest voices.”

That describes perfectly the journalists who were defined, and enriched, by years of Russiagate deceit masquerading as reporting. By far the easiest path to career success over the last three years — booming ratings, lucrative book sales, exploding social media followings, career rehabilitation even for the most discredited D.C. operatives — was to feed establishment liberals an endless diet of fearmongering and inflammatory conspiracies about Drumpf and his White House. Whether it was true or supported by basic journalistic standards was completely irrelevant. Responsible reporting was simply was not a metric used to assess its worth.

It was one thing for activists, charlatans, and con artists to exploit fears of Trump for material gain: that, by definition, is what such people do. But it was another thing entirely for journalists to succumb to all the low-hanging career rewards available to them by throwing all journalistic standards into the trash bin in exchange for a star turn as a #Resistance icon. That, as Smith aptly describes, is what “Resistance Journalism” is, and it’s hard to identify anything more toxic to our public discourse.

The media has become a deadly virus infecting our body politic, and so far there’s no vaccine, treatment, or lockdown.

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