The news that wasn’t

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Ever since Donald Trump stepped into the White House in January of 2017, the mainstream US media seems to spend every waking moment slamming him. The latest effort to take Trump down came on Thursday when the website BuzzFeed alleged that Trump “personally instructed” his then-attorney Michael Cohen to lie to Congress about talks to build a Trump Tower in Moscow, a real estate deal that was being discussed during the 2016 campaign.

It was a shocking allegation, leading Democratic members of Congress to begin pointing to the report as grounds for the president’s impeachment. The report also had the media howling for Trump’s head. The clamor grew throughout the day and into Friday night.

But the political and media frenzy detonated by the BuzzFeed story fizzled by Friday evening when the office of special counsel Robert Mueller, which is tasked with investigating whether there was any collusion between Russia and the Trump team during the campaign, and which almost never comments on news stories, poured cold water on the BuzzFeed story, issuing a statement basically calling it inaccurate.

It was a bad day for American journalism. Even though the story caused every mainstream journalist who quoted it to preface their remarks with the statement, “If true,” the media smelled blood and rubbed their hands in glee in the belief that they had finally got something on Trump that would rise to the level of impeachment or indictment.

Though most news outlets said they could not independently verify the report, every single mainstream media outlet ran with BuzzFeed’s report. It was simply too good to be true. They threw caution to the wind and cast their lot with the incredible story. Impeachment passions were ignited until Mueller doused the fire.

BuzzFeed responded to Mueller with its own statement standing behind the report. It cited “interviews with multiple witnesses from the Trump Organization and internal company emails, text messages, and a cache of other documents” as the basis for its story, in addition to Cohen’s interviews with the Mueller office.

But not so fast. What kind of documents? Who created them? What do they say? How do they prove perjury? BuzzFeed provided nothing. Its report did not pass the smell test.

And if indeed wrongdoing was committed, would Trump and Cohen really leave a paper trail of their alleged crime? Trump is well known to be distrustful of sending even emails.

No amount of wishful thinking should ever trump good basic journalism. But that’s what happened. The BuzzFeed fiasco reinforces every bad stereotype about the mainstream media. Journalists and editors no longer seek proof, only confirmation bias.

Some members of the media seemed almost saddened that Mueller had disputed the story. But whose fault is it that the media now looks even less credible than before?

In this story, Trump comes out the winner, reinforcing his “fake news” mantra. The lasting damage will not be to Trump, but to the media which will now be subject to renewed cries of fake news.

No wonder Mueller issued a rare statement because soon, when his report comes out, he will want to be believed. All his efforts will soon be released in an environment where Trump, the Republicans, his loyal base of supporters and the conservative media will try to tear down the report as well as Mueller’s reputation. Mueller wants his evidence to be based on critical thinking, not hyperbole.

If the BuzzFeed story were true, the news would have been devastating. Both Presidents Nixon and Clinton were charged as part of their impeachment proceedings for coaching witnesses to make false testimony.

However, it turned out to be false, but not before the media had set off a four-alarm fire. One is innocent until proven guilty but in this case the BuzzFeed story needed to be presumed false until shown otherwise.


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