Last week The Federalist published the perspective of a Roy Moore voter in Alabama, who seemed to offer a defense of pedophilia. His defense of Moore is, as I’ve gathered from talking to Moore supporters online, not typical.
While some folks claim chasing a 14-year-old isn’t pedophilia, and even fewer claim they’d be okay with a grown man making a play for their young teen daughter, it is far more common for his supporters to disbelieve the Washington Post story breaking these allegations while explaining why they still support Moore. A new poll from CBS News indicates 71 percent of Alabama Republicans believe the allegations are false.
A new CBS News poll finds 71% of Alabama Republicans say the allegations against Roy Moore are false, and those who believe this also overwhelmingly believe Democrats and the media are behind those allegations. https://t.co/CaYpOk3HqJ pic.twitter.com/HRwnNOUC3j
— CBS News (@CBSNews) December 3, 2017
In the last year, it’s become easier to understand how an entire subsection of Americans disbelieve everything that comes out of the media. In their quest to tarnish the reputation of President Trump and try to remove him from office, the media has become particularly adept at getting more than a few things wrong.
Sometimes the mistakes are purposeful, sometimes they err amid their haste to disseminate harmful information about the president. The claims are inaccurate or exaggerated so often, my instinct when a news story breaks is to wonder aloud, “Interesting story; wonder if it’s true.”
Consider Last Week’s Reporting on the Flynn Arrest
Last week, former President Trump advisor Michael Flynn was arrested in connection with the Russia probe on charges of lying to the FBI. The charge was relatively minor, considering what many in the media believed it could have been, and instantly fostered speculation the guilty plea may have been part of a plea deal.
Writing on the debacle, Oliver Darcy of CNN explains, “Citing a single anonymous source, [Brian] Ross told viewers during an ABC special report on Friday morning that Flynn was prepared to testify that Donald Trump, as a candidate for president, told him to contact Russians.” It turned out Trump had Flynn to contact the Russians after the election. That’s a big difference, given the reasoning easily could have been to ease the Trump team’s transition into the White House.
The response was immediate on Wall Street, with the stock market taking a dive. The Flynn arrest became inexorably linked to the Ross exclusive. But then, hours after it should have, ABC issued first a clarification, and later admitted Ross committed a “serious error.” In response, they suspended Ross for a month without pay.
Ross’s colleagues in the media were, rightfully, none too pleased with the Trump “fake news” narrative being proved correct on such a big story. Aaron Blake of the Washington Post tweeted:
This is making all of our jobs more difficult. https://t.co/Kd6PTfrHVG
— Aaron Blake (@AaronBlake) December 2, 2017
Some gave ABC props for moving so quickly on Ross’s suspension:
More news outlets should do this when their reporters do a bad job of reporting the news. https://t.co/49YH7GeKLu
— Frank Luntz (@FrankLuntz) December 2, 2017
But in no other industry except the media, the opposite of a meritocracy in many ways, would Ross still have been employed in the first place. Former White House press secretary Ari Fleischer shared a tale of his experience of Ross running with a story he knew was incorrect during the George W. Bush administration:
Mr. Lima – You should correct the last sentence of this story. Brian Ross was told he was wrong BEFORE he aired his story about Saddam being behind the anthrax attack. Your story says he was told that after. I’m the person who told ABC not to air it. cc:@TerryMoran https://t.co/TzmdPqA29F
— Ari Fleischer (@AriFleischer) December 2, 2017
James Hasson shared on Twitter multiple other instances of Ross errors:
Brian Ross has blown "major stories" in 2001 (Saddam behind Anthrax attacks); 2006 (Abramoff prosecuting Hastert); 2007 (Waterboarding story); 2010 (Toyota Prius defect footage); 2012 (Tea Party Aurora Shooting); 2017 (Trump Collusion)
In any other industry he'd be canned by now pic.twitter.com/F6pHJdaGla
— James Hasson (@JamesHasson20) December 2, 2017
Between Ross’ errors, his company’s delayed response, the fact that he still has a job, and his media cohorts not decrying that last fact, is it any wonder so many Americans disbelieved the Washington Post story about Moore?
That Doesn’t Negate All Reporting, Of Course
After conservative filmmaker James O’Keefe’s attempted sting of the Washington Post, which the Post then turned around on him, Media Matters’ Matthew Gertz tweeted:
The bad faith effort by conservatives to smear the press by taking advantage of the media illiteracy of their base goes well beyond the line of James O'Keefe.
— Matthew Gertz (@MattGertz) December 1, 2017
How exactly are ordinary citizens supposed to tell the difference between the credibility of one story in the mainstream media and another? Hint: It’s not our illiteracy at the root of why conservatives and the president find hating on the media such a popular talking and fundraising point.
Strangely, one of the only instances where the media has earned back credibility in the last few months was in its handling of the latest attempted O’Keefe sting. O’Keefe (disclosure: an old friend from college) had an operative approach the Washington Post with an incredible story about being raped by Moore as a teen in an attempt to prove the paper would publish any negative story about the would-be senator, no matter how unsubstantiated. Not only did the Post not publish her story, but it realized she was an O’Keefe operative, and soon turned the tables and began investigating her.
In publishing the original Moore story, those at the Post put together an incredible piece of journalism considering how old the allegations were, and how seemingly unprovable. Dozens of sources were used, and decades-old court documents consulted to verify Moore was at a courthouse the same day as one of his teenage targets.
If the rest of the media took their jobs as seriously and worked as diligently as the Post had with this article, if they would also spend some resources covering and trying to uncover stories about an already sitting senator (Al Franken), if they would more loudly decry their colleagues’ breach of public trust, perhaps, just perhaps, our distrust would begin to wane.
It’s not that those who distrust the media can’t tell the difference from fact and fiction; it’s that given the material we’re given, we’ve stopped bothering to try. There is a direct correlation between the loss of trust in the media and a loss of their integrity.