News & Politics

Overdrawn at the Credibility Bank

While nobody was watching — because the legacy media is still trying to figure out how they can have Donald Trump Jr hanged for treason for talking to Russian lobbyists for 20 minutes — the legacy media itself is starting to notice it’s gone way overboard. There were three pieces this weekend: from Snopes.com pointing out the lies that have been told about Trump; from Vox.com pointing out that the babble about Trump or Trump Jr, having “committed treason” was nonsense; and from The Week, pointing out the lack of content in the Russia outrage, and that, yeah, the fact that previous presidents and candidates have done something in the past does mean that Trump doing it is not unprecedented.

Honestly, the legacy media — CNN especially — has had a pretty bad six months. I won’t go through the whole list, but some of my favorites were when CNN reported breathlessly that Trump asked for two scoops of ice cream at luncheons in the White House; when CNN accused Trump of inciting violence by tweeting a pro-wrestling GIF and then, following the general finger-pointing and derisive laughter at their reaction, their open threats of doxing the guy they thought made the meme; and then when the Comey testimony was coming up, reporting that “sources” were saying Comey would refute Trump’s assertion he wasn’t under investigation, only to have to retract when Comey’s written testimony was released.

But then, CNN has been burned many times by anonymous sources, as have the New York Times and the Washington Post. I’ve practically made a hobby out of reporting the legacy media’s freak-outs, errors, and breathless revelations that turn out to be wrong. (It’s amusing to go back over my pieces on this and compare it to the Snopes.com story I linked above. They’re only about six months behind.)

I think those three pieces show something is happening, slowly and without a lot of fanfare. I think the legacy media has figured out that most people do actually want news from news networks.

Years ago, I was working on Wall Street as a consultant in IBM’s consulting practice, and I was having a “we need to talk” conversation with my boss. I had made a grievous error: I had unwittingly told the truth to a customer.

Now, I was relatively young, and even more naive — I’d just left graduate school. I asked some questions, but the one that was clearly unwelcome — and went unanswered — was this: As a consultant, isn’t our credibility with the customer what we have of value to offer? If the customer finds out we’re lying to them, why would they want to continue paying our (very high, this was IBM) rates?

It seems to me that question is ten, a hundred, a thousand times more important for a news network. Without credibility, what does CNN have to sell?