Coverage of Trump has caused mainstream news media to deviate from standard journalistic norms on too many occasions to count, but nowhere was their Trump Derangement Syndrome more in evidence than in Wednesday’s coverage of Attorney General William Barr and his testimony on the Mueller report.
A major cable news network cut away from coverage of the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing in order to ‘fact-check’ the Senate Judiciary Chair and to call the Attorney General a liar. Apparently, this political analysis had to be done in real time, interrupting testimony from one of the nation’s most powerful senators.
The words that got MSNBC so riled up were uttered when Senate Judiciary Committee chair Lindsey Graham said, ‘No collusion. No coordination. No conspiracy between the Trump campaign and the Russian government regarding the 2016 election.’
Just then, MSNBC mutes the Senate testimony, and MSNBC anchor Brian Williams appears on a split screen to tell viewers, ‘We’re reluctant to do this, we rarely do, but the chairman of the Judiciary Committee just said that Mueller found there was no collusion. That is not correct…’
Williams then throws it to MSNBC political analyst Nicolle Wallace, who abandons all pretense of journalistic impartiality: ‘…I’m sorry, Lindsey Graham, but your defensiveness is showing. To talk about everything that went into it and in the next breath distort it is a stunning, stunning mischaracterization of what the whole exercise is supposed to be about.’
Apparently, this analyst’s characterizations are more important than the actual testimony from the Senate Chairman. But it gets worse.
Later in the hearing, Williams again appears in a split screen. With the Senate proceedings muted, he delivers this bit of 1984-like doublespeak:
‘Our intention always is to bring as much of this uninterrupted to you, as possible …but so much has been said here and placed on the record by the Attorney General, that starting with Nicolle Wallace, we want to correct some of the record against, of all things, what it says in the Mueller report.’
‘So I’m not going to dance around this. He’s lying,’ said Nicole Wallace. ‘He’s lying about what the Mueller report finds around one of the critical flash-points in the obstruction investigation.’
Williams wraps up with, ‘Again, we do this reluctantly.’
MSNBC then proudly emblazoned the segment throughout its website, with the headline: ‘Nicolle Wallace fact checks AG William Barr’s testimony against what is actually in the Mueller report.’
Never mind that what MSNBC calls ‘fact-checking’ is a complete mischaracterization of the Mueller report and its conclusions.
Who really thinks it serves the public to interrupt Senate proceedings, where viewers can decide for themselves the truth of what they are hearing? Do Williams and Wallace imagine that their ‘analysis’ and ‘fact-checks’ are more important than the real-time words of our highest government officials? Whatever happened to ‘show, don’t tell?’
The non-profit school for journalism the Poynter Institute asks: ‘If the point of a network airing a Senate or congressional hearing is to give its audience an unfiltered and unedited view of government proceedings, interrupting it with commentary defeats that purpose. Viewers should be able to watch without disruption. There’s plenty of time later for networks to revisit and critique the pivotal moments. First, however, viewers should have the complete story – or, this case, the complete testimony…also, if MSNBC establishes the precedent of calling out Barr, does it then have an obligation to cut in every time anyone lies or mischaracterizes something for the rest of these particular proceedings?’
A truly impartial media would extend this standard not only to these particular proceedings, but also to proceedings under Democratic administrations. Where was the chyron for the falsehoods of the IRS targeting scandal, Lois Lerner? What about interruptions during the testimony of Obama’s DoJ attack-dog Eric Holder?
Journalism schools and editorial boards used to proclaim that statements could be called ‘untrue’ or ‘misleading,’ but that journalists must not call something a ‘lie’ – unless they know the speaker’s motive. The media tossed that standard out the window after Donald Trump’s election.
The complete implosion of the Russiagate narrative – that the Mueller report would reveal all Donald Trump’s dastardly dealings with Russia – seems to have brought the media to a new low. In the face of the ‘collusion’ theory’s epic collapse, the only way they can manage public perception is to mute the live proceedings and sputter ‘analysis’ at odds with the facts.