The partisan slant that has always been part of American media has gone into overdrive in the past four years. But the price of the wilful deception that major outlets commit for the “greater good” has never been starker than now. Two years after hoodwinking the media that a “senior official” was resisting the Trump Administration from the inside, the revelation that the New York Times’ “Anonymous” was actually a middling Homeland Security former staffer was greeted with groans by other members of the mainstream press. People had claimed that the person would be someone with a major profile, possibly even his own Vice President Mike Pence, as Nancy Pelosi herself suspected.
Professional media has bred its own class of narcissists who see themselves as would-be Lois Lanes and Clark Kents saving the world; yet consistently turn in work befitting Kent Brockman, the blowhard TV anchor from “The Simpsons.”
When a reporter is consistently so close to the spotlight that the audience begins to recognize him, it is easy to start taking advantage of this position for self-promotion. This is by no means a phenomenon unique to the Trump era; in 1986 Geraldo Rivera produced a live special where he for the first time revealed the contents of Al Capone’s vault. The sensationally promoted program became instant self-parody when the chamber ended up containing only “an old STOP sign and some empty gin bottles.”
Geraldo admitted years later that this humiliating turn of events made him the object of ridicule for years, but that the ratings bonanza that resulted from it became a permanent fixture in the history of news reporting.
In the 1980s trash TV would highlight oddball elements of society purely for entertainment purposes. But in 2020 the broader news media seek to misrepresent reality according to their perspective and portray the normal as bizarre. The viewer or reader looks up from what they just saw and instead of asking “Do you believe this sh–?” simply laugh and say “I don’t believe this sh–”.
The Miles Taylor saga is an excellent example of how the legacy media has become just an outgrowth of the lousy work of the Geraldos and Jerry Springers of yesterday. The New York Times’ “I Am Part of the Resistance Inside the Trump Administration” went viral at the time and gave the impression that within the halls of the White House, Pentagon, and other executive agencies a secret group of officials dedicated to upholding the values of the republic were resisting Donald Trump.
There was immediate criticism not only of the op-ed but of the decision to publish it anonymously. Kelly McBride, senior VP of the Poynter Institute—a journalistic ethics and standards think tank that is certainly no apologist for the White House—wrote that “if this had been a news story, we would have insisted on more details.” But the debate over the publication was empty of any teeth; there would be no consequences whether the Times’ peers “approved” or “disapproved” of it. They would continue to cite the “Gray Lady” as an authoritative source regardless of whether its own sources were credible or not.
The original publication was released in the week prior to when Bob Woodward’s bestselling book Fear: Trump in the White House dropped, possibly hoping to capitalize on the hype surrounding the Watergate reporter’s “insider” perspective.
A year after the op-ed its author wrote a book called A Warning that was timed to be released in November, just as the Ukraine controversy that would lead to Trump’s impeachment was at its zenith. Two months earlier Miles Taylor left the Department of Homeland Security. At the time of publication and until today its publisher never disclosed whether Taylor was still working in the administration or not, and until October 2020 he vehemently denied his authorship of both the op-ed and the book.
All of these vagaries surrounding Taylor are the walls of the new “Capone’s Vault” of the Times and likeminded media, but they didn’t care if there was anything inside or not.
CNN’s Brian Stelter last year gushed over A Warning’s blockbuster pre-order numbers, devoting some space near the end to addressing criticism of the continued anonymity of the author. Nowhere was there any focus on the key questions inherent to reporting the news: Is there really any substance to this story? It’s a question that Stelter, supposedly the “media correspondent” for CNN, has repeatedly failed to press sources on for many stories.
Such was the case with such anti-Trump luminaries as Michael Wolff, author of two other dubious “insider” books about the White House, and the now largely forgotten Michael Avenatti. Stelter admitted that Avenatti, a lawyer known largely for filing sensational and ultimately failed lawsuits on behalf of people like Trump’s alleged former mistress Stormy Daniels, was given airtime on his show and even considered a presidential candidate largely because he was on cable news so much.
It says a lot about the character judgment of CNN and Stelter that they suddenly dropped Avenatti like a hot potato when charges against him for defrauding clients and blackmailing Nike were revealed. Yet Avenatti once was almost a nightly fixture on their broadcasts.
The legacy media has juxtaposed itself against a variety of bogeymen: independent content creators like Mark Dice and Alex Jones who focus on the most bizarre news stories, anti-war left-wing dissidents like Glenn Greenwald and Matt Taibbi, and most of all Tucker Carlson and the rest of Fox News’ editorial programs. Mention any of these around Stelter or Anderson Cooper or their MSNBC counterparts like Stephanie Ruhle or Katy Tur and one will see their eyes flash and nostrils flare as if they were in a dream and Freddie Kruger was chasing them.
The media outlets see alternative news sources as a threat to their credibility, so much so that apparently they find an irresistible tug to hire their talent such as Megyn Kelly, Shepard Smith, and Greta Van Susteren for shows on NBC/Comcast networks.
Is it any surprise that once again a story like the revelation of Taylor’s identity coincided with the climax of the 2020 election and the deliberate smothering of the Hunter Biden laptop scandal? If he was expecting gratitude from his chosen camp, Taylor must be sadly mistaken by now. After two years of fantasizing that perhaps Trump was being thwarted by a suave mole from within the halls of his own house thereby affirming his ineptitude, the vultures of the anti-Trump media are more than aware that they were hustled by a simple con game. The New Yorker’s Masha Gessen responded in an article titled “If We are Going to Recover from Trumpism, We must Deny Charity to Trump’s Henchmen.” Gessen’s message was that association with Trump taints one irreparably, a clear moral condemnation coming from someone who herself was an unrepentant Russiagater. But Gessen makes the point that Taylor’s writings of “resistance” were made with a wholly self-serving motive in the hope of preserving or even furthering his career in the event that his gamble of a Trump loss came true.
When all the votes are counted this week, Americans likely will go to sleep realizing that no matter the result, many of the news stories hyped over the past four years are likely to be forgotten. At the time of publication Taylor and the Times were trying to recreate the mystique of the famed mole “Deep Throat” who fed details about the Watergate break-in to Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein of the Washington Post in 1973. But that scandal became what it is today because of the actual wrongdoing and cover-up involved. The identity of Deep Throat, revealed in 2005 to have been former FBI higher-up Mark Felt, was a footnote rather than the focus.
Woodward and Bernstein themselves haven’t lived up to their standing as titans of the profession. In 1981 as the Post’s Metro desk editor Woodward was suckered by a young reporter named Janet Cooke who submitted a fabricated story called “Jimmy’s World” about an eight year-old heroin addict. Thanks to Woodward and others, Cooke earned a Pulitzer that had to be returned. Meanwhile Bernstein is known by commentators as the “worse than Watergate guy” for his trademark statement of outrage about figures and events that he finds scandalous.
What’s “worse than Watergate” is that as the United States nears the 50-year anniversary of the journalistic scoop that brought down a president, the press is now the protector of the powerful rather than their tormentors. While Taylor peddled his vapid and useless drivel through them, they ignored the work of Peter Schweizer, an investigative journalist who helped expose the dark money connections of many powerful political families on both sides of the aisle. Despite having several New York Times bestselling books, having been an authoritative source for 60 Minutes reporting on insider trading by elected officials, and an impeccable record of accurate journalism, his warnings about Hunter Biden’s dealings with Ukraine through Burisma as well as in China through Rosemont Seneca have largely been ignored.
While the Democratic House sought to impeach Donald Trump for a legal phone call with Ukraine, Schweizer made the case in the New York Times that the Bidens were engaged in activities there that, thanks to the loose laws and enforcement concerning the conduct of presidential family members, amounted to legalized bribery.
If Biden enters the White House this winter, the four years of hyperactive “keep them honest” journalism will suddenly go back into Obama-era cruise control. At least as far as the Oval Office is concerned. Perhaps the Times, nevertheless, will continue patting itself on the back for its big Miles Taylor scoop. Great work Gray Lady!