The Media Today

The media today: Journalism’s terrible, horrible, no good, very bad week

December 11, 2017

Last week began with analysis of one embarrassing correction by a major news outlet and ended with President Donald Trump on stage in Florida railing about “all the corrections the media has been making.” Trump’s verbal assaults on the press are nothing new, but after three major mistakes in eight days on the Trump-Russia investigation, he had some new ammunition to work with.

First, a brief refresher on what went wrong:

  • On December 1, ABC News’s Brian Ross rushed to air with a bombshell report: Michael Flynn was prepared to testify that he had been instructed by then-candidate Donald Trump to initiate contact with Russian officials. Later that day, Ross corrected his reporting, stating that it was shortly after the election that the directive was issued. He was suspended by ABC for four weeks and will no longer cover stories involving the president.
  • Last Wednesday, several financial news outlets, including Reuters and Bloomberg, walked back their reports that special counsel Robert Mueller had issued a subpoena for President Trump’s personal bank records after The Wall Street Journal reported the subpoenas were for “people or entities affiliated” with the president.
  • On Friday, CNN, CBS, and MSNBC all reported on an email that seemed to prove the Trump campaign had advanced notice about emails hacked by Wikileaks. The story soon fell apart, however, because the email in question was sent 10 days after CNN and others reported, meaning it appeared in Trump’s inbox after the Wikileaks information was public.

With a president eager to paint the press as his enemy, and at least part of the nation ready to believe him, the stakes for getting the story right are high. Reporters make mistakes, of course, and when they do, they correct, explain, and move on. Three mistakes that all erred in the same direction—that is, the initial, incorrect reporting was worse for Trump than what actually happened—won’t help journalists regain the trust among Trump’s supporters, many of whom believe that the media is out to get him.

Any way you look at it, last week was a bad one for “the media” at large. The corrections, reflection, and at times over-the-top hand-wringing are all being adjudicated in the public eye, and it seems more people are paying more attention than ever before. Below, more on the reaction to a rough week for journalists.

  • Tough criticism: The Intercept’s Glenn Greenwald offered a harsh critique of the way the mainstream press has covered the Trump-Russia story.
  • Analyzing the error: CNN’s Oliver Darcy reports on his own outlet’s handling of their erroneous story. Neither journalist on the story will be disciplined, Darcy reports, because they “followed CNN’s editorial standards process.”
  • More corrections: Fox News corrected a story in which it claimed that one of Roy Moore’s accusers had “forged” evidence against him.
  • Fuel for Trump’s attacks: The New York Times’s Michael Grynbaum and Sydney Ember summarize a rough week for reporters “at a time when news organizations are confronting a skeptical public, and a president who delights in attacking the media as ‘fake news.’”
  • A worthy project: Recognizing a gap between the way reporters and the public understand journalistic methods, The Washington Post’s Margaret Sullivan explains how anonymous sourcing works.


ICYMI: MSNBC makes the right call

Sign up for CJR's daily email

Other notable stories

  • The Boston Herald has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, and will be sold to Gatehouse Media, LLC.
  • MediaFile’s Shira Hanau examines The New York Times’s Reader Center experiment. The project was pitched as a replacement for the public editor position that the Times cut last spring, but Hanau finds frustration with an operation that, as former Public Editor Dan Okrent tells Hanau, can explain, but “never indicts.”
  • Robert McFadden writes the Times obituary for Simeon Booker, a pioneering African American journalist for Ebony and Jet, and The Washington Post’s first black reporter.
  • Sports Illustrated’s Richard Deitsch catalogs more than 100 of his favorite stories, both sports and non-sports, published in the past year.
  • Steve Bannon is headed back to satellite radio, and that’s caused a backlash against Sirius XM among left-leaning celebrities, CNN’s Jackie Wattles reports.

Correction: An earlier version of this article misstated how long Brian Ross’s suspension lasts. It is four weeks, not four months.

Pete Vernon is a former CJR staff writer. Follow him on Twitter @ByPeteVernon.