WASHINGTON – Defending the media against charges of pushing fake news, CNN White House correspondent Jim Acosta exclaimed, “Can’t reporters make mistakes?”
It was a slice of deja vu for Acosta who, once again, was at ground zero in the battle between the Trump administration and the media over fake news.
Almost half a year ago, on Jan. 11, President-elect Trump, looked down from a podium and told the CNN reporter, “You are fake news.”
On Tuesday, Acosta picked up the argument again, touching off a heated back-and-forth between reporters by asking Press Secretary Sean Spicer: “Can you give an example of fake news, Sean? Could you give us an example?”
Responding, “Yeah, absolutely,” Spicer cited an inaccurate tweet from a reporter, soon to be joining the New York Times, that stated President Trump had disrespected the Italian prime minister on his just-concluded first trip overseas.
When Acosta pleaded, “Can’t reporters make mistakes?” Spicer replied it wasn’t just a mistake, “That’s just fake.”
New York Times reporter Peter Baker then came to the defense of his paper, complaining, “You’re making something out of one tweet instead of the vast majority of the coverage.”
After a little more back-and-forth, CBS News reporter Chip Reid lectured Spicer: “That’s something insignificant, though. That’s just so minor.”
The presidential spokesman replied, “Well, with all due respect, I think when you see instances like that get perpetrated over and over again, that is frustrating.”
After reporters pressed Spicer for bigger examples of fake news, the press secretary ended the briefing, to loud complaints.
But they might not have complained so loudly if they had stopped to consider a tally of the sensational stories targeting the Trump administration that have turned out to be simply not true in just this month, alone:
- May 5: Rape would be a pre-existing condition under Trump health care plan
- May 10: FBI Director Comey requested more resources for Russia probe just before he was fired
- May 10: Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein threatened to quit after the Comey firing
- May 15: President Trump leaked classified information
- May 17: GOP leader claimed President Putin paid President Trump
And, it’s not just the White House that is accusing the media of playing fast and loose with the facts.
One of the most iconic reporters of all time is also sounding the alarm.
The Washington Post’s most accomplished and famous reporter, Bob Woodard, warned the media: “I think it’s time to dial back a little bit because there are people around … who are kind of binge drinking the anti-Trump Kool-Aid. And that is not going to work in journalism. Let the politicians have that binge drinking.”
Speaking on MSNBC on May 19, Woodward advised journalists, “Stick to the reporting.”
Perhaps Woodward has been sobered by how many of the sensational anti-Trump stories coming from his own newspaper have turned out to be not true.
The Washington Post’s May 5, story that the Trump health care plan, the American Health Care Act, “allows insurers to classify rape as a pre-existing condition” was shredded by even the paper’s own fact-checker.
The very next day, the Post’s “Fact Checker Analysis” declared, “Despite critics’ claims, the GOP health bill doesn’t classify rape or sexual assault as a preexisting condition.”
The Post’s fact-checker explained why it gave a story run by its own paper “Four Pinocchios,” the worst-possible rating for an incorrect story:
“Both media coverage and hyperbole among advocates are at fault for creating a misleading representation of the House GOP health bill. We wavered between Three and Four Pinocchios, but the out-of-control rhetoric and the numerous assumptions pushed us to Four Pinocchios.”
The day after Trump fired FBI Director James Comey for subverting the authority of the Justice Department in his handling of the Hillary Clinton email scandal, the New York Times ran a story that cited congressional officials who claimed the director had asked for more resources for the Russia investigation just days earlier.
A Washington Post story said two anonymous officials made the same claim.
But, as WND reported, the very next day, interim FBI Director Andrew McCabe shot down those reports, saying, “I’m not aware of that request, and it’s not consistent with my understanding of how we request additional resources.” He added, “I strongly believe the Russia investigation is adequately resourced.”
The Washington Post, quoting a source it described only as a “person close to the White House,” reported that Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein had “threatened to resign after the narrative emerging from the White House on Tuesday evening cast him as a prime mover of the decision to fire Comey.”
As WND reported, the very next day, Rosenstein said that simply was not true.
The Washington Post reported, “President Trump revealed highly classified information to the Russian foreign minister and ambassador in a White House meeting,” citing as sources “current and former U.S. officials,” meaning it was relying, in part, on former Obama officials.
Similarly, the New York Times used “a current and a former American government official” as its anonymous sources in charging, “President Trump boasted about highly classified intelligence in a meeting with the Russian foreign minister and ambassador last week, providing details that could expose the source of the information and the manner in which it was collected.”
However, all three U.S. officials in the room with the president at the time of the meeting flatly called the story false.
“I was in the room — it didn’t happen,” said National Security Adviser Lt. Gen. H. R. McMaster.
Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson said the same thing.
And Dina Powell, deputy national security adviser for strategy, said, “This story is false.”
Additionally, as many, including the Daily Wire’s John Nolte observed, “The president of the United States cannot leak classified information. The president has full discretion when it comes to what is and is not classified.”
Judging by the transcript, the context and the explanations, it appears the Washington Post, in its zeal to pursue the Russia collusion narrative, overlooked the seemingly obvious and reported a joke as fact.
Calling it “a politically explosive assertion in a private conversation on Capitol Hill with his fellow GOP leaders,” the Post asserted House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy had confided to colleagues on June 15, “I think Putin pays Trump.”
A spokesman for House Majority Leader Paul Ryan told the paper, “This entire year-old exchange was clearly an attempt at humor. No one believed the majority leader was seriously asserting that Donald Trump or any of our members were being paid by the Russians.”
McCarthy said, “No one believes it to be true from any stretch of fact,” adding, “You don’t have a sense of humor anymore?”
And, given all the laughter recorded in the transcript of the conversation, it appears clear McCarthy was joking:
McCarthy: The Russians hacked the DNC and got the opp research that they had on Trump.
Ryan: The Russian’s hacked the DNC…
McHenry: … to get oppo …
Ryan: … on Trump and like delivered it to … to who?
McCarthy: There’s … there’s two people, I think, Putin pays: Rohrabacher and Trump… [laughter] … swear to God.
Ryan: This is an off the record … [laughter] … NO LEAKS … [laughter] … alright?!
Ryan: This is how we know we’re a real family here.
Scalise: That’s how you know that we’re tight.
Ryan: What’s said in the family stays in the family.
Perhaps the mother of all fake news stories targeting Trump was the one that seems to have set in motion the entire narrative pushed by Democrats that his campaign colluding with the Russian government.
It’s a charge that has never been backed by any evidence, even though it continues to dominate mainstream media headlines.
And, it was that story that caused Trump to call Acosta’s employer, CNN, “fake news.”
A dossier compiled by former British spy Christopher Steele, who worked for an opposition research firm that had connections to Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign, was used by the FBI during the Obama administration to obtain a FISA warrant to allegedly spy on Trump associates.
CNN reported in January that the dossier alleged, “That the Russian government has been ‘cultivating, supporting and assisting’ President-elect Donald Trump for five years and gained compromising information about him – even obtaining compromising information in an effort to blackmail him.”
CNN claimed the intelligence community presented classified documents to both President Obama and Trump “including allegations that Russian operatives claim to have compromising personal and financial information about Mr. Trump.”
However, a few days later, NBC published a report effectively debunking the CNN claim: “President-elect Donald Trump was not told about unverified reports that Russia has compromising information on him during last week’s intelligence briefing, according to a senior intelligence official with knowledge of preparations for the briefing.”
NBC also reported that officials had merely prepared a two-page summary of the dossier, and that it had come from “opposition research by anti-Trump Republicans and then shopped by Democrats.”
NBC reported another contradiction of the CNN story: “Intel and law enforcement officials agree that none of the investigations have found any conclusive or direct link between Trump and the Russian government, period.”
Additionally, the dossier’s sensational allegations have been since discredited or left unproven.
But at one point during a January press conference, Trump got into a war of words with Acosta over the dossier.
“Since you are attacking us, can you give us a question?” asked the CNN reporter.
“Not you,” Trump said. “Your organization is terrible!”
“You are attacking our news organization, can you give us a chance to ask a question, sir?” replied Acosta.
“I’m not going to give you a question. I’m not going to give you a question. You are fake news!” Trump responded.
“Now, Mr. President-elect, that’s not appropriate!” declared Acosta.
However, Woodward found it was CNN’s reporting that was not appropriate.
“That is a garbage document. It never should have been presented in — as part of an intelligence briefing,” the legendary reporter said on Jan. 15.
“And I think if you look at the real chronology and the nature of the battle here, those intelligence chiefs who were the best we’ve had, who were terrific and have done great work, made a mistake here. And when people make mistakes, they should apologize.”
“Thank you to Bob Woodward,” Trump tweeted, adding, “Media should also apologize.”