Last Friday, CNN retracted a story that had appeared on its website incorrectly linking Trump confident and hedge-fund manager Anthony Scaramucci to a Russian investment fund supposedly under investigation by the Senate.
On Tuesday, (June 27), White House Deputy Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders wasted no time in calling this to the attention of all media at the (sometimes) daily briefing.
Reporter Brian Karem didn’t appreciate Sanders scolding tone.
“Six months of being bullied by this administration,” Karem writes (June 27), “being told we are the enemy of the people and how the administration supports the First Amendment – just not the people who practice it – and I’d had enough. So, I confronted Sanders about her statements.
“ ‘Any one of us are replaceable. And anyone of us, if we get it wrong, the audience has the opportunity to turn the channel or not read us. You’ve been elected to serve for four years at least. There is no option other than that. We’re here to ask you questions. You’re here to provide answers. And what you just did is inflammatory to people all over the country who look at it and say, “See, once again the President is right and everybody else out here is fake media,” and everybody in this room is only trying to do their job.’
“The fact is: I like Sarah Sanders,” Karem writes. “I like Sean Spicer. I like most of the people I’ve met who work in this administration. They’re personable and, as far as I can tell – with a few notable exceptions – decent people.
“But I don’t like bullies and I don’t like the entire institution of the press and free speech being castigated for no other reason than we either get stories wrong – which happens, and it should be then responsibly corrected – or because we report news the president doesn’t like – which seems to happen even more often than getting stories wrong.”
From and ethical standpoint, it’s instructive to contrast how CNN handled their retracted story with how Fox News handled a claim by Sean Hannity last month.
– CNN’s story on Anthony Scaramucci appeared on its website last Thursday.
– On Friday, CNN pulled the story from its site, saying that it “did not meet CNN’s editorial standards and has been retracted.”
– CNN issued an apology to Scaramucci.
“CNN did the right thing,” Scaramucci tweeted. “Classy move. Apology accepted. Everyone makes mistakes. Moving on.”
– On Monday, CNN announced the resignations of three journalists involved in the story.
Compare that to how Fox News and Sean Hannity handled a currently baseless, on-air conspiracy theory involving a DNC staffer who purportedly leaked the John Podesta e-mails regarding the Clinton campaign to WikiLeaks.
– As I wrote last month (May 26, Standards, What Standards?), “Despite being debunked by several sources, this is the story that Fox News host Sean Hannity continues to push on politically vulnerable viewers. Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich went on the May 21st episode of Fox and Friends to say that Democratic National Committee staffer Seth Rich ‘apparently was assassinated at 4 in the morning, having given WikiLeaks something like 53,000 emails and 17,000 attachments. … It turns out, it wasn’t the Russians.’
“You would think,” I wrote, “that Gingrich himself would question the reliability of a story that has enough holes to sink a ship, but reason and common sense are no longer coin of the realm in the current state where anything and everything is politicized.
“For the record,” I added, “Politifact rated Gingrich’s claim ‘Pants on Fire’ false.”
“You can see the partisan appeal,” New York Times reporter Jim Rutenberg writes regarding the Hannity theory. ‘If you don’t want to believe American intelligence assessments that the Russians were behind the breach — supposedly to help the electoral prospects of President Trump — and if you don’t like all the news about the investigations into the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia, well, there’s an alternative fact set to grab onto: Mr. Rich did it and paid for it with his life.
“ ‘The problem, of course, is that there’s no real evidence for the notion.’ ”
– After Fox News received calls from Rich’s family to retract the article from its website, they complied, saying in a statement, “that it had not gone through ‘the high degree of editorial scrutiny we require for all our reporting,’ and thus removed it from its website.
– Hannity, however, continued to push the story on his nightly broadcast until Fox executives told him to drop it.
– While acceding to the wishes of his bosses at Fox, Hannity dug-in on his radio program.
“I am not Fox.com or FoxNews.com. I retracted nothing.”
“For those accusing me of pushing a conspiracy theory, you are the biggest phony hypocrites in the entire world,” Hannity said. “If in fact, take Seth out of it, there was a whistleblower within the DNC — a truth-teller that was actually the source for WikiLeaks, not Russia — working with the Trump campaign.”
“Hannity has been arguing for days,” The Hill reported (May 23), “that heavy media coverage of the Trump-Russia investigation is hypocritical because no evidence has been found directly linking the campaign to Russia thus far.”
But pay close attention to what Hannity says next: “I’m not saying I have answers yet, but I’m digging deep, and I have a lot more information than all of you do at this point.”
First of all, there are three concurrent investigations looking into the Russian government’s meddling in the 2016 election: a bipartisan House Intelligence Committee, a bipartisan Senate Intelligence Committee and a Special Counsel Department of Justice investigation. All are on-going and incomplete. No evidence of collusion has been uncovered because all three investigations are on-going.
Second, Hannity, himself, admits that he has no answers regarding the Rich conspiracy theory. He then adds, “I have a lot more information than all of you do at this point.”
Excellent, Sean. What is it?
– Fox News continues to employ Sean Hannity. And the Premiere Radio Networks continues to syndicate Hannity’s radio program even as the conservative continues to talk about a story with no evidence.
And, as if that wasn’t enough, President Trump took to twitter, once again, to criticize two media hosts in a highly personal and boorish manner:
“I heard poorly rated @Morning_Joe speaks badly of me (don’t watch anymore). Then how come low I.Q. Crazy Mika, along with Psycho Joe, came…
…to Mar-a-Lago 3 nights in a row around New Year’s Eve, and insisted on joining me. She was bleeding badly from a face-lift. I said no!”
At the daily briefing, Sarah Huckabee Sanders defended the president’s words with a classic ethical rationalization:
“I don’t think it’s a surprise to anybody that he fights fire with fire.”
Really, Sarah, Really?
What’s even more inexplicable is the fact that Sanders — a woman — appears utterly unfazed by the man she works for attacking another woman based on her alleged physical appearance.
Immediately after the shooting of House Majority Whip Steve Scalise, President Trump said, “…we are strongest when we are unified…”
Mr. President, how does your vulgar, personal and public attack against a woman help unify the country? Is that the kind of example you want to set for your 11-year-old son, Barron, much less other young men in the country?
This has nothing to do with policy or partisanship. This is about a 71-year-old man who holds the highest office in the country, who continues to demonstrate that he has no self-control and lacks basic decency.
(Oh, by the way, just for the record, Sarah, the Time magazine cover with the president’s picture that appears at several of his golf clubs… FAKE.)