James Freeman asks:
Are American consumers in the containment phase or the mitigation phase as they try to limit the spread of misinformation in their daily news intake? Getting the straight story on yet another FBI abuse has been particularly challenging.
David Bauder of the Associated Press reports:
NBC has apologized for “inaccurately” cutting a portion of an interview with Attorney General William Barr that left a false impression with viewers of “Meet the Press.”
The trouble began when program host Chuck Todd introduced an excerpt of a CBS interview with Mr. Barr. The interview concerned last week’s decision by Mr. Barr’s Justice Department to drop its case against former Trump national security adviser Michael Flynn, who had been wrongly targeted by the FBI. According to the A.P. report:
When Barr was asked by reporter Catherine Herridge what history would say about the decision, Barr replied that “history is written by the winner. So it largely depends on who’s writing the history.”
Todd said that he was struck by the cynicism of that answer.
“It’s a correct answer,” Todd said. “But he’s the attorney general. He didn’t make the case that he was upholding the rule of law. He was almost admitting that, yeah, this is a political job.”
However, “Meet the Press” didn’t include Barr’s full answer to Herridge’s question. He went on to say: “But I think a fair history would say that it was a good decision because it upheld the rule of law. It upheld the standards of the Department of Justice, and it undid what was an injustice.”
The Trump era has been a particularly challenging one for Mr. Todd. He was deceived for years by Rep. Adam Schiff (D., Calif.), who claimed on Mr. Todd’s show to have seen evidence of Russian collusion but then never produced it—either on “Meet the Press” or anywhere else.
Mr. Todd isn’t the only one who has struggled to make sense of this unique era. Other highly esteemed journalists also failed as they pursued the collusion theory beloved by Trump critics. Amazingly, after failing to grasp the historic abuse of federal investigative powers directed against Trump associates and being led astray by anonymous sources, a number of these journalists even shared a Pulitzer Prize in 2018 for “national reporting.”
People in the journalism industry are not particularly known for self-reflection. Anyone hoping the 2018 awards season would persuade the industry’s leading lights to renew their commitment to accuracy and fairness has perhaps been disappointed.
Recently the 2020 Pulitzer Prize for commentary went to a New York Times essay which includes these notes at the bottom:
Correction August 15, 2019
An earlier version of this article referred incorrectly to the signing of the Declaration of Independence. It was approved on July 4, 1776, not signed by Congress on that date. The article also misspelled the surname of a Revolutionary War-era writer. He was Samuel Bryan, not Byron.
Editors’ Note March 11, 2020
A passage has been adjusted to make clear that a desire to protect slavery was among the motivations of some of the colonists who fought the Revolutionary War, not among the motivations of all of them.
Other than that the story was accurate? The Times called this last amendment a “clarification” rather than a correction. If one wanted to get really depressed about the state of journalism, one could conclude that this year’s submissions were so bad that Pulitzer judges felt they had no choice but to honor a piece that had been significantly amended. But they seem to have really liked it.
Even fixtures of the media establishment cannot take their status for granted. The Pulitzer board surely understands that people can choose to ignore its judgments if they conclude the competition is becoming a celebration of the craft of political storytelling.
This year’s winning essay was part of a larger Times collection of stories called the “1619 Project.” After the project was rolled out last year, several historians, including previous Pulitzer winners, wrote to say they were “dismayed at some of the factual errors in the project and the closed process behind it.” They added:
These errors, which concern major events, cannot be described as interpretation or “framing.” They are matters of verifiable fact, which are the foundation of both honest scholarship and honest journalism. They suggest a displacement of historical understanding by ideology. Dismissal of objections on racial grounds — that they are the objections of only “white historians” — has affirmed that displacement.
On the American Revolution, pivotal to any account of our history, the project asserts that the founders declared the colonies’ independence of Britain “in order to ensure slavery would continue.” This is not true. If supportable, the allegation would be astounding — yet every statement offered by the project to validate it is false.
Here’s hoping that consumers don’t just decide to give up on news organizations altogether. Extreme media distancing wouldn’t be healthy either.