On MSNBC Live with Katy Tur, the eponymous host followed up Monday’s White House press briefing by directly responding to Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders’s assertion that some members of the U.S. press are “purposefully misleading the American people.”
Clearly upset by how Sanders portrayed some of the serious failures of journalists to provide accurate information to the public (which is theoretically their primary job), Tur was inspired to defend her colleagues:
Let's be clear about something. Reporters make mistakes. We're human. Sometimes our sources aren't as good as they should be. Sometimes we speak too soon. Sometimes we mess up. And when the mistake is serious enough, we are suspended or we're fired. The President and this White House have mislead the American public multiple times from things as innocuous as crowd size to retweeting misleading videos meant to sow division and fuel fear. Hello, Britain First. In fact, The New York Times has compiled a handy list of 1,628 false claims the President has made since taking office. That is five and a half false statements or lies per day. We're waiting for the apology on all of those.
So when high-status journalistic outlets like ABC or CNN get the key facts of a story wrong, Tur assures us that it's just a mistake. Never mind that these “mistakes” almost always seem to make Trump, Republicans, or the political right look bad. However, whenever Trump says something incorrect, it is immediately dubbed “misleading” or a “lie.” That’s pretty convenient.
But it gets worse than blatant double standards. The list of Trump “lies” that Tur referred to is actually from The Washington Post, not the Times (an error that Tur corrected later on). However, more importantly, Tur also misrepresented the nature of The Post’s list. It isn’t just a compendium of “false claims” or “false statements” made by the President. In fact, it includes many statements by Trump that are true by The Post’s own admission, but were labelled as being “misleading” for a variety of reasons, some of which appear to include Post reporters engaging in clairvoyance.
Take this recent Trump “lie” as an example: “By the way, Hillary Clinton had the reset button. She wanted to get back together with Russia. She even spelled 'reset' wrong. That's how it started, and then it got worse.”
Trump’s statement here was a perfectly reasonable, albeit brief, layman’s summary of the failed Russia reset policy of President Obama and Secretary Clinton, which did include somone in her department embarrassingly and incorrectly mistranslating the word “reset” into Russian for a symbolic button-pressing ceremony. So, what exactly did the defenders of democracy at The Post have to say in their evaluation of the above statement? Here is their full explanation:
Trump suggests a translation flub led to a decline in relations with Russia. Much like the Trump administration, the incoming Obama administration wanted to reset relations after the George W. Bush [sic] had reacted negatively to Russia's attack on Georgia. The Obama outreach coincided with Vladimir Putin stepping back from the presidency for a term. Relations improved while Dmitry Medvedev was president, but then soured again when Putin reclaimed the presidency.
According to PBS and Foreign Policy, this blurb from The Post is extremely misleading itself. There is a substantial (and lengthy) case to be made that U.S.-Russian relations did in fact get much worse not only while Medvedev was the President of Russia, but as a direct result of Secretary of State Clinton’s public support for anti-Putin protesters during Russia’s 2011 parliamentary elections as well as her support for the overthrow of Muammar al-Qaddafi in Libya (among other incidents; see the Foreign Policy article for more details).
In any case, I think it’s safe to say that The Washington Post’s evaluations of what is and is not “the truth” are not exactly indisputable, especially given that their basic assertions of fact are contradicted by the reporting of other mainstream news organizations.
Later in the same segment, Tur came back to the topic of Trump and Sanders’s dismissal of “fake news” purveyors by calling Trump’s “elevation” of the “fake news movement” both “dangerous” and “incredibly problematic” not just for America, but the entire world:
TUR: I don't wanna give too much credence to this, but we did start this, um, this block after Sarah Huckabee Sanders with this idea that journalists spread fake news and the White House doesn't. Uh, Mike Schmidt, one quick correction on my part – it was The Washington Post that did that list, not The New York Times. My mistake, I'm sorry. [chuckles, amused smile] Uh, but when you, when you hear that sort of thing coming from, from Sarah Huckabee Sanders -- I mean, are we missing the forest for the trees here? Is this just incredibly dangerous and incredibly problematic going forward, not just a year or a few months from now, but decades seeing how this whole movement, this whole fake news movement that's been elevated by this president, is spreading around the world?
MICHAEL SCHMIDT: No, the fact that the President has the megaphone that he does has had an impact on the media. And the fact that he comes back to it time and time again -- you know, it’s, you know, his narrative isn't true, but it has had some staying power and it has had an impact. This is an incredibly difficult story to cover. A lot of the information is classified. A lot of it is confusing. No one wants to talk about it on the record. And it's very politically charged. So because of that, when there are mistakes, they, uh, they get an enormous amount of attention and they allow, you know, one side or the other to use it. And in this case, the President uses it against the media. And it's been, you know, a good distraction from him, ‘cause he has had some news in the past few weeks on, in regard to the Russia investigation that is not, uh, not very good.
Perhaps if the media stopped getting so many “bombshell” stories wrong, Trump wouldn’t have a rhetorical leg to stand on. Almost a year after ascending to the presidency, Trump’s “fake news” message still has an audience because the press seems determined to prove him right every day.