In the aftermath of the release of Inspector General Horowitz’s report the predictable has happened. Opponents of President Trump, eager to distance themselves from a full three years of mad accusations of collusion between Moscow and the Trump campaign in the 2016 election have pointed the finger at the FBI. This was not a coup. This was not a political power play. This was simply FBI agents run amok and abusing the system.
Tighten some rules. Pass a few new laws. Require more process. Move on.
One suspects that tune will change dramatically when the report of U.S. Attorney Durham lands in a few months and indictments are handed down. In the meantime, though, let’s consider another angle to this debacle.
Where was the press, and where is it now?
We have been told since the birth of this great nation about the importance of the “fourth estate” in the functioning of a free and fair democracy.
“Our liberty depends on the freedom of the press, and that cannot be limited without being lost.”
“The Founding Fathers gave the free press the protection it must have to… bare the secrets of government and inform the people.”
Justice Hugo Black
“Freedom of the press is not just important to democracy, it is democracy.”
And, yet, from the inception of this witch hunt the majority of the so-called “mainstream” media outlets have exercised no true journalistic function whatsoever. Staffed by individuals ideologically aligned with Hillary Clinton and the liberal wing of the Democratic Party they have simply lapped up every bizarre claim and accusation and repeated them into a megaphone without any attempt whatsoever to vet the information they were printing or broadcasting.
The New York Times ran a headline above the fold on its front page on February 14, 2017, over two and one-half years ago, telling us that “Trump Campaign Aides Had Repeated Contacts with Russian Intelligence.” Three separate reporters were on the byline for that story alone. Nothing the story said has turned out to be true.
The New York Times ran a front page story on April 19, 2017 telling us “Trump Adviser’s Visit to Moscow Got the F.B.I.’s Attention.” That advisor would be Carter Page, who it turns out was on the CIA’s books as a source, our source, reporting on the Russians not working with them.
These are, of course nothing more than representative samples of a non-stop blizzard of media stories that all adhered to the same narrative. Trump was elected only because of Russian interference in the 2016 election. He was a stooge of the Kremlin. Hillary Clinton was robbed.
As of the summer of 2019 the New York Times, Washington Post, CNN and MSNBC had combined to run 8500 stories on the “Russian Probe.” There had been at least 530,000 web articles written on the topic, which resulted in 245 million online interactions, including likes, comments and shares, on social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook. This is the work of a propaganda machine of historic proportions.
But, perhaps attributing all this simply to ideological bias is being too kind. As long ago as the summer of 2017 the folks at Project Veritas turned up some pretty convincing evidence that money and ratings were at least as important in driving the non-stop “Trump is Putin’s Stooge” narrative. Having noted that CNN had already mentioned Russia an astounding 15,694 times in their coverage of the President, Project Veritas sent an investigative team to Atlanta to speak to CNN’s supervising producer John Bonifield, who, caught on a hidden camera, was remarkably candid in saying that the network had no real proof of collusion but that the story was great for ratings.
Asked directly by a Project Veritas reporter why the network was pushing the Russia story, Bonifield had this response:
“Because it’s ratings. Our ratings are incredible right now.”
Later in the video, the Project Veritas reporter returned to the Russia angle “but honestly, you think the whole Russia story is just bulls**t?
“Could be bulls**t. I mean it’s mostly bulls**t right now. Like, we don’t have any giant proof,” replied Bonifield, who added that he believed if there were proof his sources within the Trump administration would have given it to him by now.
Bonifield then continued, “And so I think the president is probably right to say, like, look you are witch-hunting me. You have no smoking gun. You have no real proof.”
“But, all the nice cutesy little ethics that use to get talked about in journalism school, you’re just like, that’s adorable. That’s adorable. This is a business, Bonifield added.
Walter Cronkite, the dean of American journalists, already quoted once above, had this to say on the issue of journalistic ethics and bias: “The ethic of the journalist is to recognize one’s prejudices, biases, and avoid getting them into print.” Apparently, that ethic is sorely missing in today’s journalistic community. What both the Mueller report and the IG report show is that not only was there no evidence of Trump-Russian collusion but that there never was anything, which should have even sparked a serious investigation.
Everything the FBI actually uncovered in its investigation, for instance, was exculpatory. Every single thing. None of the allegations against the Trump campaign were ever substantiated. None. None of the inflammatory accusations contained in Christopher Steele’s pornographic comic book of a dossier passed even the most cursory review.
Where were the investigative journalists in all this? Where were the guardians of liberty and justice determined to ferret out the truth as day after day the citizens of the United States were fed a diet of lies, innuendo and slander? If the fourth estate is the guardian of our democracy and the check on propaganda and lies, where was it as an entire nation was buried in falsehoods and disinformation?
Perhaps Mark Twain, speaking a long time ago, said it best. “There are laws to protect the freedom of the press’s speech, but none that are worth anything to protect the people from the press.” Perhaps we need some.