News & Politics

After Another CNN Trump-Russia Debacle, Should Reporters Caught Pushing Fake News Get 'Benefit of the Doubt'?

News reporting is about truth-telling, but there are no claims to infallibility because stories themselves can be no more infallible than the people who tell them. People misremember and forget, and sometimes sources can act maliciously.

But in the high-stakes world of political reporting, where false stories can crash the financial markets (as one did just a week ago) or media can destroy people’s lives with the press of a “publish” button, should those reporting fake news be given the “benefit of the doubt”?

That’s the question after CNN completely botched yet another story attacking President Trump and his family while pushing the Trump-Russia collusion narrative.

The CNN story yesterday morning claimed that Donald Trump, Jr. had received an email on September 4, 2016, with a link to the WikiLeaks archive of the DNC hack more than a week before the hacked emails were made public.

This was then presented as proof that the Trump campaign had colluded with WikiLeaks during the campaign, and thus Russian intelligence. The “Trump colluded with Russian intelligence” angle was pushed hard by CNN analysts:

Other national news outlets, including NBC and CBS, claimed to have independently confirmed CNN’s report.

CNN pushed the story heavily at the top of the hour through lunchtime. But at around 1:00 p.m. the Washington Post and then The Daily Caller lowered the boom: the email, sent by some random Trump fan, was sent on September 14 after the DNC hack archive had already been made public.

The Daily Caller published the actual email clearly showing that CNN had the date — and thus the entire story — wrong.

But CNN had cited “multiple sources” as confirming their story, and invoked that even when they finally corrected their story more than two hours after it had come apart.

When CNN reporter Manu Raju went on air with their correction, he divulged that they had not even seen the email before they ran with the story.

And more evidence appeared that CNN had been careless with how they had handled the story.

That notwithstanding, CNN’s Brian Stelter — host of the ironically named “Reliable Sources” program — began to circle the wagons on behalf of his colleagues.

And other media cartel associates rushed to defend Raju and CNN’s credibility.

Erik Wemple, the Washington Post’s media reporter, said that Raju should be given the “benefit of the doubt”:

The problem is that Raju, Wemple, Stelter, Tau and the whole media cartel are not in the “benefit of the doubt” business.

Each and every day, whether fairly or unfairly, the media cartel targets people, potentially destroying careers, families, and lives, without the slightest thought of giving them the “benefit of the doubt.”

So why should the media cartel be held to a more self-serving benevolent standard?

And given their lackluster performance (putting it charitably) in pushing the Trump-Russia narrative over the past year, the media cartel has completely exhausted their credibility without any serious ramifications.

Consider CNN’s own performance before yesterday’s debacle:

CNN has gone out of their way to invoke the “Facts First” mantle, and its on-air personalities have angrily pushed back on the president’s “fake news” attacks:

Yet this is not even the only story CNN has botched in the past 24 hours:

And the rest of the media cartel has not exactly covered itself in glory either:

So, given how reckless the media has been in covering this administration, and in particular the Trump-Russia narrative, why should anyone in the viewing public be willing to give the media cartel the “benefit of the doubt,” as Erik Wemple maintains?

The repeated missteps and outright fake news constantly tear at the fabric of our collective political life and institutions. In light of their reckless behavior, their pleas for us to give them the “benefit of the doubt” increasingly fall on deaf ears.

And when their attitude is “give no quarter,” why should anyone else be willing to give them any in return?