Fake news has been a hot topic this year. What the term actually means is different to different people, but a recent puff piece on Consumer Financial Protection Bureau Director Richard Cordray by CBS News falls into that category.
While the piece was not fake in the sense that CBS made up fake information, it was an egregious example of the liberal bias that is prevalent in the mainstream media. Howard Kurtz of Fox News pointed out the shoddy reporting on Fox’s “MediaBuzz” program on Sunday.
In the CBS piece, correspondent Erin Moriarty profiled Cordray, the first director of the agency created in 2010 at the urging of Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.). In the course of the piece, Moriarty interviewed four law professors who defended Cordray and attacked Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas) and his Financial Choice Act that would limit the power of the CPFB.
CBS did present both sides of the issue. Even though it was very sympathetic to Cordray, who Moriarty says “may be the best friend that the consumer has ever had,” she did interview Hensarling as well. So, what is the problem?
The issue is that the four professors interviewed for the piece, Christopher Peterson, Patricia McCoy, Kathleen Engel, and Adam Levitan, were not just random law professors who happened to be fans of the CPFB. In all four cases, the professors had professional relationships with Cordray and his bureau. The professors had either worked directly for the CPFB or had served on its consumer advisory board. CBS did not disclose these relationships in its report.
While it isn’t improper to interview former employees and associates of Cordray, it is improper to not disclose that they had worked for Cordray’s agency. The CBS report left viewers with the impression that the professors were objective, when it fact they were personally involved in the issue.
The internet version of the CBS report contains an “editor’s note” at the end of the article that says, “Some members of the panel of college professors and consumer advocates featured in this report also have previous work experience with or have served on advisory boards for the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.” The video report did not contain a similar disclosure and on the internet version there was no mention of the fact that the relationships were not disclosed in the original report.
The CBS report can be legitimately called fake news on the basis of its hidden bias. Either CBS failed to do due diligence on the background of all four professors or, more likely, the network chose not to disclose their relationships with Cordray. Either way, it was poor reporting of the sort that feeds the public distrust of the media.