Jour­nal­ism is dead; what­ever these guys are do­ing isn’t jour­nal­ism

The Washington Times Daily - - POLITICS - BY JOSEPH CURL Joseph Curl has cov­ered pol­i­tics for 25 years, in­clud­ing 12 years as White House cor­re­spon­dent at The Wash­ing­ton Times. He can be reached at josephcurl@gmail.com and on Twit­ter via @ josephcurl.

Pres­i­dent Trump gives Chief of Staff Reince Priebus “un­til July 4th to clean up White House.” Trump ad­viser Kellyanne Con­way “is caught mock­ing Trump staffers.” Trump tells U.K. Prime Min­is­ter Theresa May he won’t go to Bri­tain “un­til the Bri­tish pub­lic sup­ports him com­ing.”

What do all of these sto­ries have in com­mon? They’re com­pletely un­sourced. No names. No real peo­ple. Just claims that come from, in or­der, “two ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cials and three out­side ad­vis­ers fa­mil­iar with the mat­ter,” an anony­mous tweeter who set up a dummy Twit­ter ac­count, and “a Down­ing Street ad­viser.”

None of the lat­est sto­ries have any­one on the record mak­ing the ac­cu­sa­tions. In­stead, the “news” sites that posted the sto­ries — Politico, the Daily Mail and the Guardian — sim­ply make the sur­pris­ing claims and cite anony­mous sources. The sub­jects of the anony­mous slurs have no re­course what­so­ever, no right to face their ac­cusers, no way to fight back. The ac­cu­sa­tion streams out onto the in­ter­net, where it lives for­ever — whether it’s true or not.

And the Trump haters will lit­er­ally run any­thing they claim to get their hands on.

Case in point: The White House staff sto­ries. We’ve been see­ing these al­most since the day Mr. Trump took of­fice. Ms. Con­way was out, Steve Ban­non was out, Sean Spicer was about to be fired, Mr. Priebus has lost all of his clout and has to sit in the broom closet dur­ing Oval Of­fice meet­ings. (I made that last one up.)

None of these sto­ries have been true. Not one. Google “White House shake up” and you get 40,200 sto­ries — ev­ery one of them false. Has there been a shake-up? No.

“News” sites just write around that glar­ing con­tra­dic­tion, as Politico did in its June 11 re­port.

“While Trump has set dead­lines for staff changes be­fore, only to let them pass with­out pulling the trig­ger, the pres­i­dent is un­der more scru­tiny than ever re­gard­ing the sprawl­ing Rus­sia in­ves­ti­ga­tion, which is in­ten­si­fy­ing the pres­sure on his White House team.

“Days af­ter his re­turn from his first for­eign trip late last month, Trump be­rated Priebus in the Oval Of­fice in front of his for­mer cam­paign man­ager Corey Le­wandowski and deputy cam­paign man­ager David Bossie for the dys­func­tion in the White House, ac­cord­ing to mul­ti­ple sources fa­mil­iar with the con­ver­sa­tion,” Politico wrote.

Well, “mul­ti­ple sources fa­mil­iar with the con­ver­sa­tion.” How can you ar­gue with that? It’s gotta be true!

The writer even at­trib­uted di­rect quotes to Trump.

““I’m giv­ing you un­til July 4,’ Trump said, ac­cord­ing to a per­son with knowl­edge of the con­ver­sa­tion. ‘I don’t want them to come into this mess. If I’m go­ing to clean house, they will come in as fresh blood.’”

The Con­way story in the Daily Mail was even more egre­gious.

“Kellyanne Con­way has been caught at a glitzy Wash­ing­ton DC party al­legedly dish­ing the dirt on her fel­low Team Trump col­leagues. The 50-year-old was outed on a ded­i­cated Twit­ter ac­count, @Kellyan­neLeaks, in real time as she went af­ter Chief of Staff Reince Priebus, leg­isla­tive af­fairs di­rec­tor Marc Short, and oth­ers dur­ing a party on Thurs­day night.

“‘Kellyanne was at an em­bassy party last night, leak­ing sen­si­tive Priebus and Trump White House con­ver­sa­tions to @wash­ing­ton­post re­porters,’ the first tweet read.”

But wait. This vi­o­lates all kinds of hith­erto ad­hered to rules. While re­porters some­times use un­named sources (this re­porter has), they must, of course, know who they’re talk­ing to. And, also a re­quire­ment, they must work hard to find a sec­ond source to cor­rob­o­rate. In the old days, if they couldn’t, they didn’t go with the story (See “All the Pres­i­dent’s Men”).

Yet in this case, the pa­per sim­ply went with an anony­mous tweeter who claimed to have over­heard Con­way at a party. While the Twit­ter feed in­cluded a photo of Con­way — the tweeter was, then, at the “em­bassy party” — what Ms. Con­way said is any­body’s guess.

While Ms. Con­way on Mon­day de­nied the story, it’s too late: It’s al­ready out there and be­ing re­peated. The han­dle @kellyan­neleaks now has thou­sands of fol­low­ers and the tweets have been retweeted thou­sands of times.

The who-what-when-where-why con­struc­tion of news sto­ries is also an ar­ti­fact of a dif­fer­ent, more re­li­able news era. Take this ex­cerpt from The Guardian story:

“Don­ald Trump has told Theresa May in a phone call he does not want to go ahead with a state visit to Bri­tain un­til the Bri­tish pub­lic sup­ports him com­ing. The US pres­i­dent said he did not want to come if there were largescale protests and his re­marks in ef­fect put the visit on hold for some time. The call was made in re­cent weeks, ac­cord­ing to a Down­ing Street ad­viser who was in the room. The state­ment sur­prised May, ac­cord­ing to those present.

“The con­ver­sa­tion in part ex­plains why there has been lit­tle pub­lic dis­cus­sion about a visit,” the Guardian wrote.

The call was made “in re­cent weeks”? Why didn’t the re­porter try to nail that down?

This story wasn’t true, ei­ther. “Her Majesty ex­tended an in­vi­ta­tion to the pres­i­dent,” White House press sec­re­tary Sean Spicer told re­porters. “He’s ac­cepted that in­vi­ta­tion. And we look for­ward to sched­ul­ing that trip.”

Eh, it doesn’t mat­ter. The story spread like wild­fire and will now be re­peated by any­one and ev­ery­one as if it’s fact.

It isn’t. But that no longer counts.

And that should ter­rify you.

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