by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
Since Trump took office, the willingness of journalists to mix opinion with news reporting has grown. Opposition to Trump and his policies is now seen as justifying any breech of the church-state divide between news and opinion. Any efforts to rein in this bias is denounced as buckling under to Trump’s intimidation even if those doing so are merely asking the press to play it straight rather than to signal their disgust and opposition to the president.
Such charges have been frequently lodged against a network such as CNN whose coverage of Trump sometimes tends to consist of non-stop panels of talking heads competing with each other to mock and denounce the president. But while opinion is one thing — even on shows where there is no longer a semblance of balance with respect to the voices arrayed against Trump — letting that same spirit insinuate itself into investigative reporting is quite another. Groupthink in which negative stories about Trump are assumed to be true until proven false and even then are allowed to linger in the public imagination (such as the claim that a wave of bomb threats at Jewish Community Centers was inspired by Trump even though the crime was the work of a disturbed Israeli teenager).
In the case of the Scaramucci story that cost Frank and his colleagues their jobs, the Dan Rather example seems to have prevailed. The story was rushed through the fact-checking process without much serious scrutiny and even though their one anonymous source — the flimsiest of foundations for a major investigative piece — was far from solid, nothing shook their determination to run it. But as the Times notes, Frank and others at the network were undaunted since they were convinced the claim that Scaramucci was under investigation for some sort of dirty dealing with the Russians was true even if their reporting couldn’t back it up. Though a big part of the problem is the contemporary culture of Internet journalism in which getting the story published fast even before it has been checked is considered more important than accuracy, the spirit of fake but accurate that was first popularized by Rather appears to have prevailed at CNN.