During a segment on “Reliable Sources,” CNN contributor David Frum said Sunday that factual errors in reporting stories are precisely why people should trust the news media.
Frum then launched into a bizarre metaphor about astronomers and reporters. The gist is that journalism is “a process” and that mistakes “occur in the process of exposing the lies that the liars then complain about the mistakes.”
You can watch the whole exchange yourself here. It’s something.
— Reliable Sources (@ReliableSources) December 10, 2017
“The mistakes are precisely the reason the people should trust the media,” Frum told Brian Stelter. “Astronomers make mistakes all the time because science is a process of discovery of truth. Astrologers never make mistakes — or at least they never own up to them. Because what they are offering a closed system of ideology and propaganda.”
He then proceeded to offer an obtuse explanation of what truth is and how reporting the truth works.
“Faced with wrong-doing, circled by lies, the process of piercing the lies to uncover the truth about the wrongdoing is inherently not only difficult but adversarial,” he said. “Because the people who are trying to find the truth are operating against bad faith actors engaged in concealment. They get partial pieces of the truth. In the process, there are going to be overshoots and undershoots.”
If the transcript reads like word salad, that’s because it is.
Here’s the context for @DavidFrum’s remark that “mistakes are precisely the reason the people should trust the media” — he’s saying corrections show journalists are trying to get to the truth — “journalism is a process” pic.twitter.com/rFC8DBCkP9
— Brian Stelter (@brianstelter) December 10, 2017
CNN has been dogged with criticisms after they incorrectly reported that Donald Trump Jr. got early access to a trove of documents hacked and compiled by WikiLeaks — which is suspected of connections to the Kremlin — before the nefarious website made them public. As it turns out, the basis of the story was completely false: Trump Jr. received an email about the documents after the documents went public, and there’s no evidence he read it. CNN was forced to correct the erroneous story after The Washington Post exposed the network’s mistake.
The entire story was based on one e-mail that CNN initially reported was sent September 4, 2016 — several days before WikiLeaks published e-mails they stole from Democratic National Committee officials. Yet that e-mail was actually sent September 14, 2016 — a day after WikiLeaks dumped the hacked DNC correspondence. Instead of retracting the story, CNN issued a correction that rendered the entire story false.
Later that evening, President Trump pointed out CNN’s mistake during a rally in Pensacola, Florida. He said the network had apologized for its shoddy reporting, a detail CNN’s Stelter decided to fact check. He made a point of correcting Trump by saying that the network did not apologize for its mistake, but merely issued a correction.
Trump: "Did you see all the corrections the media's been making?" He says "they've been apologizing left and right." Calls Brian Ross a "fraudster" who should have been fired. Says CNN "apologized" for today's mistake (CNN corrected it but did not apologize)
— Brian Stelter (@brianstelter) December 9, 2017
Stelter has also gone out of his way to make clear that unlike ABC’s Brian Ross — who was suspended after reporting an error-laden story — CNN’s reporter complied with the network’s editorial standards, which raises questions about their editorial standards.
In the aforementioned correction, CNN explained that The Washington Post was able to correct the network’s initial account of the e-mail because unlike CNN, The Post actually obtained the e-mail. This explanation raises more questions.
Did CNN run the story about the e-mail without seeing it first? If so, why did they think it was acceptable to print a story about a document they did not verify? The network has also kept the identity of its source a secret — a source Stelter insists has been reliable in the past. Who is this person that CNN has come to rely on so frequently that it ran a false story that seems to have been based on his or her word alone? And what is their agenda or goal in sharing tidbits of real — and in this case fake — news to CNN? These questions remain largely unanswered.