Clowns gather for a group picture during the sixth annual Latin American Clown Congress in Guatemala City, Tuesday, July 29, 2014. Clowns from Central America and North America have gathered for four days in the capital city to exchange ideas and attend workshops. (AP Photo/Moises Castillo)

How Easily the Press is Played

I want to provide four news stories for you and then ask you a simple question that really does need to be asked before we hear anymore about the North Korean situation or any further analysis of the Trump Administration.

On January 10, 2013, Kendrick Johnson died. His body was found in a rolled up gym mat in a high school gymnasium. The mat was an upright gym mat that could be rolled electronically. Johnson apparently reached down from a higher position to try to retrieve sneakers. He fell and became ensnared in the mat where he suffocated. It was a freak accident. His parents, however, were convinced he had been murdered.

They accused two teens of the murder, one of whom was the son of an FBI agent. They accused the sheriff and school superintendent and the superintendent’s daughter of being involved. They developed an elaborate conspiracy and then drew in reporters. A federal investigation got launched after national publicity. Major news networks covered the case. It made national newspapers as well. The allegations were serious. Did a white political establishment cover up the murder of a black youth in south Georgia? Was a potential murderer getting special treatment because his dad was an FBI agent? The Department of Justice and the US Attorney locally reviewed the matter.

The parents have been ordered by a judge to pay $300,000.00 in attorney fees to those falsely accused of murder. The Department of Justice under Barack Obama conducted a full review. It was a tragic, terrible accident. Kendrick Johnson was not murdered.

In January of 2015, NBC ran a terrible story about a fashion and beauty blogger whose wedding had been held hostage by a greedy photographer. The blogger, Neely Moldovan, and her husband had paid Andrea Polito thousands of dollars to photograph their wedding. But Polito demanded even more money to finally hand over the photographs. Instead of going along with the shakedown, the Molodvans took to social media and news outlets to let everyone know what had happened to them.

The story went viral. It was picked up by national news outlets and burned across social media. Ms. Polito tried to get out her side of the story, but NBC largely ignored her side of the story until after running the blogger’s side of the story. NBC even found an expert to go on camera and excoriate the wedding photographer for her business practices.

A jury has just ordered Neely Moldovan and her husband to pay Ms. Politio $1 million. It turns out all Ms. Polito wanted, pursuant to the paragraph in the photography contract written in bold face, was $150.00 to prepare Ms. Moldovan’s wedding album. Ms. Moldovan started a social media firestorm because she did not think the contract terms were fair. The expert NBC got on camera admitted to actually not knowing all the facts and later took Ms. Polito’s side.

The media coverage wiped out Ms. Polito’s business. Only two clients stayed with her. Her entire business had been built on word of mouth and salacious news reporters and their biased coverage destroyed her business.

Just this week, the New York Times claimed scientists had leaked to the newspaper a draft climate report. According to the Times, the climate report might have been buried by the Trump Administration and the scientists wanted the New York Times to shed light on it. But it turns out, despite the New York Times’s claims, the report has been public since January. The Trump Administration had made no effort to suppress it and simply would not comment on it because it was a not yet finalized draft.

While this was going on, various reporters were outraged by James Damore’s memo at Google. It was a “controversial anti-diversity memo,” one tech reporter wrote. Another described it as “sexist.” Others referred to it as an “anti-diversity screed” or an “anti-diversity manifesto.” At MSNBC, Katy Tur described Damore’s memo as “essentially … saying that there shouldn’t be this big effort underway to make sure that the workplace is diverse because women and men just don’t have the same set of skills.” Brooke Baldwin at CNN said the memo boiled down to James Damore saying “I don’t really like women anywhere near a computer.” Another CNN anchor said Damore “slammed his female coworkers.”

Had these reporters bothered reading Damore’s memo, they would know their characterizations of Damore’s memo grossly distorted both his intent and the plain text of his memo. “I strongly believe in gender and racial diversity, and I think we should strive for more. However, to achieve a more equal gender and race representation, Google has created several discriminatory practices,” Damore wrote in his memo. He offered a number of solutions by which Google could increase diversity without using race and gender exclusive programs that were not really helping. Only afterwards did it come out that Google had spent boatloads of money to improve diversity, but it was still 75% white and male. The reporters outraged by Damore never covered that.

Here are four stories where the press got basic facts wrong. In several cases, lives were ruined. Innocent victims were portrayed as victimizers. These people have no where to turn now to get their reputations back. One small business was destroyed.

Now ask yourself this question: if the press is willing to get so much wrong and shape stories with such a heavy hand, can you really believe their coverage about North Korea or the Trump Administration or pretty much anything else?

The American media used to report the news. Now it wants to shape the news and be a part of the news. Jim Acosta was not content to ask a question. He had to argue a point and make himself part of the story. He is not alone in this and Jim is actually one of the better reporters out there. The press is worried about Donald Trump’s systematic attempts to undermine press credibility. I would submit he is far less effective at undermining the press’s credibility than the press is itself.

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Erick Erickson

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