Everything wrong with journalism and our media was on display last week at the University of Chicago, where the Atlantic held what they threatened would be an annual conference on “Disinformation and the Erosion of Democracy.”
The roster at the conference included Atlantic editor Jeffrey Goldberg, who has yet to follow up on anonymous accusations against Donald Trump that he published two years ago. According to the Atlantic, Trump called soldiers who died at Normandy “suckers and losers.” After the story was challenged, Goldberg promised more reporting and sourcing, yet nothing else was ever released.
Also appearing at the conference was Atlantic writer Anne Applebaum, who was confronted by students during a question and answer session on her prior dismissal of the Hunter Biden laptop investigation, a story that Twitter subsequently blocked. Applebaum said she still isn’t interested in the laptop, despite recent polling that shows 52 percent of the country believes it is an important story that the media attempted to suppress on the eve of a national election.
The press’s treatment of the Hunter Biden revelations was itself a massive disinformation campaign, even as White House press secretary and future MSNBC host Jen Psaki labeled it Russian disinformation. Yet Psaki has still not addressed this — and don’t expect anyone at the Atlantic to confront her about it anytime soon.
Also appearing at the conference, on a panel alongside the Dispatch’s Stephen Hayes, was the one and only Brian Stelter from CNN, who was confronted by another sharp student on several stories his network had either gotten wrong or pushed into an agenda narrative. The student cited the Jussie Smollett hate crime hoax as one example. Another was CNN’s settled lawsuit with Covington Catholic High School student Nicholas Sandmann, and another was the network’s addiction to fabulist anti-Trump lawyer Michael Avenatti. Stelter refused to address any of these stories, instead pivoting to recently deceased Fox News cameraman Pierre Zakrzewski, who was killed in action in Ukraine.
The next day saw a discussion with Dispatch editor Jonah Goldberg, who also waved away the Hunter Biden laptop story, which he later stated on Twitter that he did not believe “on it’s face.” Goldberg’s flippant attitude and smug gatekeeping was a perfect example of how so many pundits and thinkers are now more interested in hearing what each other have to say and bathing in self-satisfied pontifications rather than in serving their audiences.
But the ultimate irony is that former President Barack Obama was a special guest, appearing onstage alongside Jeffrey Goldberg. Breitbart reporter Charlie Spiering later summed up his comments on Twitter: “At Atlantic forum, Obama defines ‘disinformation’ as ‘a systematic effort to either promote false information, to suppress true information, for the purpose of political gain, financial gain, enhancing power, suppressing others, targeting those you don’t like.’”
That’s true and it should have been a rare moment of self-introspection for the former president. Among Obama’s own disinformation campaigns were blaming the Benghazi terror attacks on a video and Politifact’s lie of the year that “if you like your plan you can keep your healthcare plan. If you like your doctor, you can keep your doctor.” Yet no one from the Atlantic, CNN, or the Dispatch saw the deep irony in appearing alongside Obama at a conference about the dangers of disinformation.
The media’s full-fledged embrace of Obama as a sage old rock star is everything that’s wrong with journalism today. And while mainstream reporters might be expected to nod along with him as they have for years, the depressing part is that they are now joined by former conservatives.