by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
I did not go to journalism school, but I find it hard to believe that even the least prestigious among those institutions teaches that the correct way to respond to explosive, unsourced reports that just happen to match your political priors is to shout “Boom” or “Bombshell” or “Big if true” and then to set about spreading those reports around the world without so much as a cursory investigation into the details. And yet, in the Trump era, this has become the modus operandi of all but the hardest-nosed scribblers.
The pattern is now drearily familiar. First, a poorly attributed story will break — say, “Source: Donald Trump Killed Leon Trotsky Back in 1940.” Next, thousands of blue-check journalists, with hundreds of millions of followers between them, will send it around Twitter before they have read beyond the headline. In response to this, the cable networks will start chattering, with the excuse that, “true or not, this is going to be a big story today,” while the major newspapers will run stories that confirm the existence of the original claim but not its veracity — and, if Representative Schiff is awake, they will note that “Democrats say this must be investigated.” These signal-boosting measures will be quickly followed by “Perspective” pieces that assume the original story is true and, worse, seek to draw “broader lessons” from it. In the New York Times this might be “The Long History of Queens Residents’ Assassinating Socialist Intellectuals”; in the Washington Post, “Toxic Capitalism: How America’s Red Hatred Explains Our Politics Today”; in The New Yorker, “I’ve Been to Mexico and Was Killed by a Pickaxe to the Head”; in Cosmopolitan, “The Specifics Don’t Matter, Men Are Guilty of Genocide.”