Ed­i­to­ri­als: When any­thing goes

Robert Mueller warns the press to be­ware of fake news

The Washington Times Daily - - COMMENTARY -

If Robert Mueller ever needs work, we would be happy to com­mend him to a school of jour­nal­ism look­ing for a dean.

The spe­cial coun­sel, or pros­e­cu­tor, look­ing for ev­i­dence that Don­ald Trump con­spired with Vladimir Putin to cook the 2016 pres­i­den­tial elec­tion, warns edi­tors of news out­lets ped­dling hyped sto­ries to be­ware. “Many” ar­ti­cles about his in­ves­ti­ga­tion have been wrong.

“What I have been telling all re­porters is that many sto­ries about our in­ves­ti­ga­tion have been in­ac­cu­rate,” Mr. Mueller says through his spokesman. “Be very cau­tious about any source that claims to have knowl­edge about our in­ves­ti­ga­tion and dig deep into what they claim be­fore re­port­ing on it. If an­other out­let re­ports some­thing, don’t run with it un­less you have your own sourc­ing to back it up.”

Mr. Mueller, a man care­ful with his sup­ply of facts, did not cite a spe­cific story which might be based on a re­porter’s imag­i­na­tion, but his pointed warn­ing fol­lowed a story by the McClatchy news­pa­pers that the pres­i­dent’s per­sonal at­tor­ney, Michael Co­hen, did in fact travel to Prague to con­fer with un­named Rus­sians to cook the Amer­i­can elec­tion re­sults to a Rus­sian recipe. Per­haps the tim­ing of the Mueller ad­vice is mere co-in­ci­dence. Or per­haps not.

The gos­sip about Mr. Co­hen’s trip to Prague — which he has de­nied with heat, over and over again — was meant to con­firm de­tails in the in­fa­mous dossier put to­gether by a re­search firm called Fu­sion GPS for the Demo­cratic Na­tional Com­mit­tee and the Hil­lary Clin­ton cam­paign, which paid for it.

The dossier, in­clud­ing sala­cious but un­likely tales of naughty be­hav­ior by Mr. Trump, has been widely dis­counted right and left, even by some Democrats ea­ger to be­lieve ev­ery­thing bad about the pres­i­dent.

The story about Mr. Co­hen trav­el­ing to Prague de­fies credulity. For one thing, he de­nied under oath go­ing there, under penalty of per­jury, and on Satur­day, the day af­ter the McClatchy re­port, he tweeted an­other de­nial: “Bad re­port­ing, bad in­for­ma­tion and bad story by re­porter Peter Stone. No mat­ter how many times they re­port it, I have never been to Prague. I was in LA with my son.” If he’s ly­ing about it, the FBI could track his move­ments eas­ily and quickly.

Mr. Co­hen has pro­vided trip records to re­porters to show that he was, in fact, in Cal­i­for­nia dur­ing the time he was said to have been in the Czech cap­i­tal. The Prague trip emerged again in the wake of the Mueller raid on Mr. Co­hen’s home and law of­fice, with sug­ges­tions that the raid net­ted the smok­ing gun, or at least smok­ing doc­u­ments, con­firm­ing de­tails of the mys­tery trip.

If this episode was a re­sult of de­lib­er­ate in­ven­tion of fac­toids — fake news, in other words — it was a se­ri­ous mis­cal­cu­la­tion of time and place. Once the press makes a vil­lain of a pub­lic fig­ure, any­thing goes. Su­per­vis­ing edi­tors can dis­card due care. The same press that in­sists on call­ing Bashar As­sad’s chem­i­cal-weapons mas­sacre of his own peo­ple “an al­leged at­tack” is ea­ger to take ac­counts of Trump mal- and mis­fea­sance at face value. No need to use the weasel word.

The story that Mr. Co­hen went to Prague in be­half of “Trump trea­son” has been re­tailed to any­one who would lis­ten by Glenn Simp­son, co­founder of Fu­sion GPS, who told the House Per­ma­nent Se­lect Com­mit­tee on In­tel­li­gence that Mr. Co­hen may have trav­eled to Prague by a Rus­sian’s pri­vate plane or even a yacht. This is meant to ex­plain how Mr. Co­hen could have by­passed im­mi­gra­tion au­thor­i­ties and why there was no Czech stamp in his pass­port. Who then are skep­tics to be­lieve, Mr. Simp­son, or their own eyes?

The McClatchy re­porters with the Prague scoop re­ported in Jan­uary, as Rowan Scar­bor­ough re­minded read­ers of The Wash­ing­ton Times, that the FBI was in­ves­ti­gat­ing whether “mil­lions of dol­lars in Rus­sian funds” had wound up in the ac­counts of a po­lit­i­cal-ac­tion com­mit­tee of the Na­tional Ri­fle As­so­ci­a­tion. The NRA says it never hap­pened. The story was not con­firmed by any of the news out­lets al­ways on the scout for wrong­do­ing by the NRA and other hob­gob­lins that stalk the Wash­ing­ton swamp.

Trump De­range­ment Syn­drome has dam­aged many things in Wash­ing­ton, not least the cred­i­bil­ity of on­cere­li­able or­gans of the es­tab­lish­ment press. Robert Mueller’s warn­ing to cred­u­lous edi­tors and re­porters is much needed. This is not the era of hard-nosed edi­tors with no pa­tience with the sloppy or the dis­hon­est. In cer­tain news­rooms any­thing goes. Self-in­flicted wounds can be fa­tal, too.

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