December 29, 2017

THE SELF-CORRECTING INSTITUTION VS. THE IGNORAMUS:

Who's Winning Trump's War With the Press? (JACK SHAFER December 27, 2017, Politico)

Being the most mistake-prone president in history hasn't prevented Trump from capitalizing on the press corps' recent errors. First he ripped ABC News' Brian Ross for a botched piece that reported Russian collusion during the campaign and then he scalped CNN, his favorite whipping boy, for reporter Manu Raju's monumental goof about the alleged special access that Donald Trump Jr. had been given to a WikiLeaks dump--a dump that was already in the public domain. No press slight has been too minor for Trump to howl about. When a tweet by the Washington Post's Dave Weigel incorrectly captioned a photo from one of Trump's rallies--only to 'fess up to the error shortly afterward--Trump went all Old Testament on journalists. "They are out of control," Trump tweeted of the press. "Major lies written, then forced to be withdrawn after they are exposed...a stain on America!" Trump wants Weigel and Ross fired for their mistakes, and his press secretary has called for the sacking of ESPN anchor Jemele Hill for calling him a bigot.

These miscues in Trump coverage don't necessarily mean that the press has a special vendetta against him, and one suspects he knows that. The making of mistakes cannot be divorced from the making of journalism. As historian David Greenberg notes in Republic of Spin, mistakes littered the coverage of the Watergate scandal. Greenberg writes:

Reporters, swept up in the chase, made mistakes that they failed to correct. In May 1973, Walter Cronkite opened the CBS Evening News with an item erroneously implicating a Bethesda bank run by Pat Buchanan's brother in Watergate money-laundering. The AP falsely reported that [John] Ehrlichman was present at a key cover-up meeting among Nixon, Haldeman, and Dean. ABC's Sam Donaldson wrongly asserted that James McCord had implicated departed aide Harry Dent in the White House sabotage efforts; Donaldson was forced to apologize. News outlets also overplayed trivial items, as the New York Times did by placing on the front page a three-column story about the possibility that Nixon's campaign had received gambling money from the Bahamas. As [Washington] Post editor Robert Maynard conceded, there was "a lot of fast and loose stuff being printed."

Additional Watergate screw-ups: The Washington Post's Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein "committed two critical mistakes" in their reporting on the scandal, as Craig Silverman showed in a 2011 Columbia Journalism Review piece.

I dredge up Watergate as a point of comparison not because it was especially flawed, but because it wasn't. I dredge it up because, like the current Trump coverage, it was closely scrutinized and whenever the news is closely scrutinized, more errors will be discovered. That's why the New York Times publishes more corrections than any other newspaper--because it's the most heavily analyzed (and, of course, because the Times believes in error correction). Maybe somebody should explain to our presidential press critic that the news organizations he so disparages do the most aggressive policing of media miscues, especially if the miscues appear in a competing outlet.

As the Press is defined by its eagerness to correct errors--especially each others--Donald is defined by his repetition of falsehoods.
Posted by at December 29, 2017 5:37 PM

  

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