This is almost too good to be true: Several American journalists will be in Times Square on Monday night to drop the New Year’s Eve ball and signal the end of 2018. The “esteemed group comprises a broad spectrum of journalists to be honored as the international event celebrates press freedom and journalism,” gloated the official press release. CNN anchor Alisyn Camerota, NBC News host Lester Holt, and Time editor-in-chief Edward Felsenthal are among the prestigious ball-droppers.
The symbolism is perfect—but not for the reasons these self-promoters think.
After another year of embarrassing and sometimes bizarre behavior, the American news media will shamelessly celebrate themselves as 2018 draws to a close. The irony of people representing media outlets that have polluted our public discourse with some of the most flawed, biased, and conspiratorial news coverage in modern times dropping a ball together in midtown Manhattan is delicious.
And their lack of self-awareness makes it even more spectacular. “It is fitting to celebrate free press and free speech as we reflect on where we’ve been during the past year and what it is we value most as a society,” puffed one of the event’s organizers.
So, let’s indulge these self-indulgent preeners and recall a few of the many times when the news media dropped the proverbial ball in 2018. (A full accounting of all the journalistic mishaps and misdeeds of this year would require a bookshelf-length treatment):
The Canonization of Jamal Khashoggi: Another prestigious guest at the ceremony tonight is Karen Attiah, Jamal Khashoggi’s editor at the Washington Post. Attiah, according to an October profile in the New York Times, “led a chorus of grief, protest and demands for answers about the fate of [Jamal] Khashoggi, a dissident Saudi journalist and Virginia resident.”
The news media went into overdrive after Khashoggi’s murder in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on October 2. Thanks to nearly hourly rantings in the Post, Khashoggi’s killing dominated press coverage, led some lawmakers to demand retribution against the House of Saud and, of course, blamed Trump for not caring enough.
“Congress should launch its own investigation, including of whether the Trump administration is conspiring with Saudi officials to cover up the murder of a distinguished journalist,” insisted the Post’s editorial board. From her lofty editorial perch, Attiah claimed the Trumps were “running PR for the Saudi regime.”
Time magazine featured Khashoggi, along with other journalists, on its cover as the 2018 Person of the Year. It was the first time a dead person has earned the magazine’s annual honor. “But it is also rare that a person’s influence grows so immensely in death,” the editors solemnly explained.
But not so fast. Turns out this so-called distinguished journalist was a mouthpiece for Qatar and Turkey. (Our friends Nick Short, David Reaboi, and Jim Hansen at the Security Studies Group recognized this early on.)
A few days before Christmas, the Post disclosed Khashoggi’s ties to interests representing Qatar, Saudi Arabia’s nemesis. The Qatari group “shaped the columns he submitted to the Post, proposing topics, drafting material and prodding him to take a harder line against the Saudi government. Khashoggi also appears to have relied on a researcher and translator affiliated with the organization.” His involvement not only violated every journalistic standard but could also have violated foreign lobbying rules.
Guardians of the Truth? Not so much.
The Attempted Political Destruction Brett Kavanaugh: The orchestrated media attacks against Justice Brett Kavanaugh could go down as one of media’s most despicable moments in history. Never before have so many unsubstantiated and dangerous accusations landed on the front pages of elite newspapers and discussed on serious news programs, all in an effort to destroy the nomination and reputation of Donald Trump’s second Supreme Court justice nominee. There should be a Hall of Shame wing added to the Newseum in Washington, D.C., just to remind Americans and aspiring journalists what went down in this country during September and October 2018.
Again, there are too many offenses here to list, but let’s run down a few gems: MSNBC reporter Kate Snow’s lengthy interview with Kavanaugh accuser and stone cold lunatic, Julie Swetnick; uncorroborated stories by Ronan Farrow and Jane Mayer about a second accuser; a New York Times article that claimed Kavanaugh threw ice at someone in a bar in 1985; a CNN report about anonymous sources who accused Kavanaugh of sexually assaulting them in the mid- and late-1980s.
A media watchdog group assessed that 90 percent of the news coverage on Kavanaugh was negative. He was confirmed by the Senate on October 6; a few Republicans received death threats and other insults for supporting the nominee, thanks to the relentlessly negative media reporting.
Trump-Russia Election Collusion: It is nearly impossible to measure the amount of broadcast time and column inches that have been devoted to one of the biggest political hoaxes in history: The claim that Donald Trump’s presidential campaign team colluded with the Kremlin to influence the outcome of the 2016 election.
Special Counsel Robert Mueller, 20 months since he was appointed, has yet to indict or convict one Trump associate for the alleged crime of “election collusion,” but that hasn’t stopped fabulists in the media from believing and promoting this fairy tale. The New York Times has published more than 2,600 articles, columns, editorials and tidbits about Trump-Russia collusion in 2018 alone. The Washington Post has run nearly 1,300 stories this year on election collusion.
Underscoring how ridiculous and desperate the media are to believe this hoax, look no further than a few days ago when reporters and commentators were in a swoon about another Michael-Cohen-went-to-Prague story based on an alleged cell phone signal. Even that was too much for Trump’s criminal ex-lawyer, who denied the accusation on Twitter.
At the same time, the media has either overlooked or excused the real political scandal: How Obama’s Justice Department used the most powerful law enforcement and intelligence apparatus in the world to spy on a rival presidential campaign and how the constitutional rights of people like Carter Page were trampled in the process.
CNN’s “Town Hall” Meeting on Parkland Shooting: Exploiting the heartbreaking murder of 17 high school students and teachers at Marjory Stoneman High School on February 14, CNN hosted what it called a town hall meeting one week later. In reality, the event was a media lynching of anyone opposed to strict gun control. High schoolers berated NRA officials and Senator Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), including one who compared the senator to the shooter. Most outrageously, the network gave cover to Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel, a coward and liar who did nothing to stop the mass murder. CNN’s wall-to-wall coverage of the crime lasted for weeks and catapulted grandstanding teenage-activists such as David Hogg and Emma Gonzalez to instant fame.
Aside from the most obvious media malfeasances, there were plenty of others. CNN’s Jim Acosta beclowning himself and tussling over a microphone with a young White House intern; the nonstop bullying coverage of former EPA administrator Scott Pruitt, including a corrected hit piece in the New York Times about his daughter; a phony Times story about pricey curtains purchased by U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley that the paper eventually had to admit created “an unfair impression about who was responsible for the purchase in question”; CNN and Stormy Daniels publicly discussing the president’s private parts; the media blaming Trump not just for causing hurricanes but also for purported deaths of 3,000 people in Puerto Rico after that hurricane on the basis of flawed data; giving itself an award for airing a damaging story about Trump and the fictitious dossier that was a set-up by Obama holdovers.
The entire White House Correspondents’ Dinner.
And then there is the case of James Wolfe, the former staffer for the Senate Intelligence Committee, who just pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about his illicit affair with a much younger reporter to whom he was also illegally leaking classified information about Trump campaign associates. Ali Watkins, his ex-girlfriend, enjoyed a meteoric rise from press intern to New York Times reporter in less than four years thanks to her sex-for-scoops strategy.
I could go on.
There is no indication that the press will behave any better in 2019 than it did in 2018 . . . or in 2017 or in 2016, for that matter. The ball that our media overlords will drop at midnight should be a reminder of their plummeting credibility and inexorable descent into irrelevance—not a celebration of their imagined success.
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Photo Credit: Theo Wargo/WireImage