President Trump, along with his state-run media lapdogs, are taking a victory lap over CNN announcing that three news staffers have resigned because of a retracted story related to the ongoing “Russian influence on the 2016 campaign” investigation. The reality, as it so often is in the post-truth era of Trump, should be almost exactly the opposite (though I must admit that Tucker Carlson’s charge that CNN is on a “campaign with a political mission” must be taken seriously given how expertly Fox News has implemented the exact same tactic).
Trump has already inoculated himself against any real damage from most of the Russia investigation by using “conservative” mistrust of the news media to his advantage with random cries of “Fake News!” Now, he and his media sycophants see the CNN retraction and resignations as a way to drive a stake through the heart of the overall story among at least 35-40% of the overall adult population, which sees the media as the enemy and automatically wrong about anything which makes them feel the slightest bit uncomfortable.
Thanks to the news media, including specifically CNN, having already squandered much of their fading credibility over the past decade or so — the Malaysian plane embarrassment, and their overt cheerleading for Barack Obama immediately come to mind — Trump and his cronies will surely be effective in this cynical and self-serving ploy. However, that doesn’t mean this result will be remotely based in any real truth or legitimate logic.
First of all, in a fantasy world where rationality still had any tangible influence over the public discourse, the fact that CNN took such swift and dramatic action to correct a relatively tiny portion of the overall Russia story, should actually greatly ENHANCE their trustworthiness on this topic. Colby Hall here at Mediaite has already cogently articulated why this is so obviously the case.
I have been extremely critical of CNN in the past on many issues and have personally had multiple run-ins with them, which I strongly believe where born out of their occasional lack of journalistic ethics. In general, however, I think their journalism on “Trump/Russia” has been, while hardly perfect, actually pretty darn good, especially when you consider the inherent difficulty in reporting on an issue like this involving this many anonymous sources and so much potentially classified information.
But let’s remove CNN from this “Trump/Russia” equation for a moment and evaluate whether the Trump case that this story is “Fake News!” even passes the laugh test (Spoiler Alert: It does not).
Here is what we know to be true about this situation, because Trump and/or his White House have either confirmed it, or at least not disputed that the reports were true:
- Russia, as directed by Vladimir Putin, actively committed crimes in an overt attempt to get Donald Trump elected as President of the United States.
- Trump never criticized Putin during the campaign and even publicly urged WikiLeaks to keeping hacking DNC emails.
- Trump, despite numerous promises to do so, never released any of this tax returns, even after he was elected.
- Trump was forced, only after over two weeks of public pressure, to fire his National Security Advisor Michael Flynn because he lied about the nature of his contact with Russia.
- Attorney General Jeff Sessions was forced to recuse himself from the Russia investigation because, on multiple occasions, he misled the Congress about his contact with top Russian officials.
- Trump fired FBI Director James Comey, tried to concoct a fake cover story as to why, and then immediately told NBC, and a top Russian spy (while in the Oval Office!), that he did it because he wanted to end the Russia investigation.
- Trump, in his bizarre attempt to not admit to lying about having taped his conversations with Comey, confirmed that (thanks to him!) the former FBI Director had actually been forced to testify truthfully. This means that we now know that Trump tried to get Comey to end the Flynn investigation and fired him because he refused to exhibit the personal “loyalty” he had (at best) inappropriately asked of him.
These are just the most very basic facts which are now effectively not disputed. Do they prove that Trump or his campaign colluded with Russia? No. Do they prove that Trump obstructed justice, possibly by covering up a crime which never actually happened? Pretty much. But they absolutely prove that this story is NOT “Fake News!”
Furthermore, I would suggest that simply relying on the mantra of “Fake News!” instead of actually answering legitimate questions about this situation (you know, from genuine journalists as opposed to whatever we should be calling Trump’s Twitter pals at “Fox and Friends”) lends further credence to the theory that there is something potentially very real here. I am 100% certain that if these exact same facts where already in evidence about Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton, that the very same Trump media suck-ups blindly defending him now (this means you Sean Hannity) would already be at a level ten of outrage which would never end.
The reality is that Trump only attacks the media if and when it is in his own self-interest. He does not do so substantively because he simply can’t. It is just a catchy, Twitter-friendly, phrase (just like “Lyin Ted,” “Little Marco,” and “Low-energy Jeb”) meant to make the cheers from his cult drawn out the noise from our fourth estate, which has become essentially powerless in their efforts to hold him accountable for almost anything.
John Ziegler hosts a weekly podcast focusing on news media issues and is documentary filmmaker. You can follow him on Twitter at @ZigManFreud or email him at email@example.com.
This is an opinion piece. The views expressed in this article are those of just the author.