A Word About NYT Journalistic Ethics

The New York Times blockbuster claiming that former FBI Director Comey wrote a memo detailing a conversation with President Trump in the Oval Office is certainly damaging–if not fatal–to Trump’s presidency, if true.

Let’s focus on the “if true.”

It’s one thing for President Trump to imply the existence of taped conversations with Comey in the White House. From the first day of Trump’s presidency, he’s played fast and loose with (“untethered from” might be a better term) the facts. Therefore the press knows they have to do their homework with Trump.

But they’re not only diligent to do that work, they are also rather joyful to expose every lie, malicious rumor, or disputed fact about the Trump White House. Even to the point of changing slogans (WaPo’s “Democracy dies in darkness”) and orienting their entire organization to bringing down a man who called them an “enemy of the American people.”

Regarding the NYT’s decision to publish this bombshell, this paragraph is the most troubling.

Mr. Comey shared the existence of the memo with senior F.B.I. officials and close associates. The New York Times has not viewed a copy of the memo, which is unclassified, but one of Mr. Comey’s associates read parts of the memo to a Times reporter.

Did Comey share the existence of the memo with the NYT? Was the existence of the memo only learned when the source read the memo to a Times reporter and told his story? If so, this is hearsay of the highest order. It’s not just hearsay that “sources close to” reported something happened, it’s hearsay that a person both claimed Comey shared the memo’s existence, context, and the memo’s contents with a reporter, without sharing the physical memo itself. Are there no fax machines at the FBI?

Journalistic ethics generally requires some corroboration of something this big. You don’t just hit the “publish” button on a story that, if true, could take down the president. That is, unless you have an overwhelming desire to take down the president.

If it turns out that this memo doesn’t exist, doesn’t say what the NYT wrote it says, or is offered in a different context (i.e. maybe Comey didn’t write it, but someone else summarized remarks Comey made verbally about the meeting), then the NYT has destroyed its journalistic integrity.

If this story is true, Trump is in trouble, with Congress, with the American people, and with an increasingly rabid press. But if the story is false, the NYT, along with much of the rest of the MSM that has bought into the story, will hang their heads in shame for many years. This will make Dan Rather’s Bush memo look like a Brian Williams bar story.

If true, this is one of the worst scandals of abuse of presidential power since Nixon. If false, it’s one of the worst betrayals of journalistic ethics in modern history.

As David French noted today in National Review:

The bottom line is that Americans need to see the memo, if it exists. The gravity of the accusation demands immediate Congressional action. Burr’s committee should subpoena that memo and every memo or other document reflecting the content of conversations between Comey and President Trump. Do it today. Burr told reporters that the “burden is on the New York Times” to produce the memo, but that’s absurd. The Times doesn’t have the ability to compel its production. House and Senate committees do, and they need to do their job.

Either the memo exists and is everything the NYT claims it is, or it isn’t. America, led by Congress, must see the memo. Once again quoting French, “It’s time for the truth.” Amen, brother, and the truth shall set us free.

About the author

Steve Berman

The old Steve cared about money, prestige, and power. Then Christ found me. All at once things changed. But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things!

I spent 30 years in business. Now I write and edit. But mostly I love. I have a wife and 2 kids and a dog and we live in a little house in central Georgia.

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