US President Donald Trump was vindicated last week, after CNN supervising producer John Bonifield was caught on a hidden camera admitting that his network has been peddling bogus reports about Trump’s alleged collusion with Russia.
Pressed by a Project Veritas undercover investigator about whether the thousands of items devoted to the Trump-Russia connection really were false, Bonifield replied: “Could be bulls**t. I mean it’s mostly bull**it right now. Like, we don’t have any giant proof. ...And so I think the president is probably right to say, like, look you are witch-hunting me. You have no smoking gun. You have no real proof.”
Bonifield then went on to make fun of “cutesy” journalistic ethics. “This is a business,” he said.
Video footage of this exchange emerged right around the time three senior CNN employees were forced to resign for publishing a story claiming that Congress was investigating a “Russian investment fund with ties to Trump officials.”
Though the piece was not broadcast on TV, it was posted last Friday on CNN’s website and shared on social media. Anthony Scaramucci, a Trump transition team member named in the report, complained that what was written about him was unfounded. Fearing a libel suit, CNN’s management deleted the story from the site, disabled the link and apologized.
The next day, Scaramucci issued a magnanimous response.
“CNN did the right thing. Classy move. Apology accepted,” he tweeted. “Everyone makes mistakes. Moving on.”
Trump has been less gracious. But then, it is his presidency that CNN and others have been defaming. Having failed to block him at the ballot box, the press has been engaged in an effort to topple him by other means, such as coming up with impeachable offenses.
In his characteristically indelicate way, Trump tweeted on Tuesday, “So they caught Fake News CNN cold, but what about NBC, CBS & ABC? What about the failing @ nytimes & @washingtonpost? They are all Fake News!”
He doesn’t know the half of it. For the past two decades, particularly since the advent of the Internet, the line between opinion and news has grown increasingly blurry. This is partly due to the lowering of standards that accompanied the rise of ethnic and gender quotas in every realm, beginning with college applications, and continuing with what students are taught once they get accepted to university. I have encountered journalism school graduates who are unable to tell the difference between a news story, a feature and an op-ed, let alone write any of them properly.
But it goes way beyond that. The availability of free content at one’s fingertips at any hour of the day and night, from all over the world, has taken a toll on newspaper sales. This, in turn, has led to severe staff and pay cuts. The only thing keeping some publications afloat is the willingness of many writers to pen opinion pieces without remuneration, and the desire of employees to be associated with a media outlet, particularly a well-known one, for the prestige it provides.
To compensate for a lack of manpower and compete not only against other publications but the blogosphere – which is unfettered by the constraints of deadlines or fact-checking – newspapers need to cut all kinds of professional corners. Chief among these is the virtually defunct practice of seeking out and researching original stories. Indeed, today, many reporters barely leave their desks. They are too busy surfing the web to read what other reporters have written or broadcast, in order to craft their own updated version, hopefully with a quote from an actual authority, rather than merely a spokesperson, secretary or – in many cases – a lackluster press release. This is why so many news items, when read in succession, are so identical that they reek of plagiarism, and why others include a tag line crediting the “contribution” of a wire service.
In Israel and other foreign countries, journalists often mistranslate pieces from English-language publications, without checking for factual or linguistic inaccuracies, and frequently fail to cite their sources. Not that doing so would matter, necessarily, since the sources themselves probably pilfered the material in the first place.
As in the “telephone game,” after traveling around cyberspace several times – from mouth to ear and back again, so to speak – reports get distorted. To top this travesty off, satire, which is hard these days to distinguish from serious coverage, sometimes slips inadvertently into the mix. Such bloopers wouldn’t be so bad if they remained contained in a single publication until corrected. But, due to the current method of generating content, errors develop tentacles and take on a life of their own.
This is also the case when false information is planted intentionally for political reasons. Once a lie is stated as fact by reporters at one media outlet, it is not only picked up by competitors trolling for stories to adapt, it is swallowed whole – especially if it comes from as prominent a source as CNN.
Which brings us back to Trump. His instincts are sound, though he, too, could use a lesson in the difference between hostile editorializing, which is legitimate, and activism disguised as reportage, which is not. Tragically, as he asserts, it is “all fake news.”The author is an editor at The Gatestone Institute.