Just one week after being named Time magazine’s “Persons of the Year,” a series of embarrassing missteps focus on the all-too fallible media industry and how their political biases color what they regard as truth.
Time used the grandiose title of “The Guardians” of the truth in describing a handful of journalists who were killed or jailed over the past year. The overheated language is designed to deliver a clear political message: “We journalists are the ones with a monopoly on the truth and we are in danger of being silenced by our critics you know, President Trump and his voters.”
The problem with holding yourself up as the one guardian of the truth is that you look pretty darn bad when you’re colleagues are shown to be lying hypocrites. And that’s just what happened this week.
Claas Relotius, a 33-year-old staff writer at Germany’s Der Spiegel magazine was discovered to be a serial fabricator in the spirit of The New Republic’s Stephen Glass and The New York Times’ Jayson Blair.
Der Spiegel delivered the news to its readers in unequivocal fashion. Mr. Relotius “falsified his articles on a grand scale and even invented characters, deceiving both readers and his colleagues. This has been uncovered as a result of tips, internal research and, ultimately, a comprehensive confession by the editor himself,” the German magazine said.
Mr. Relotius was named by none other than CNN as a “Journalist of the Year” in 2014. He has now resigned in disgrace. He lied. He literally wrote fake news.
Ironically, the story that first raised questions about Mr. Relotius’ fabulism was about a small town on the Arizona border and the local militia group committed to providing border security because their federal government refuses to do so.
Ironic because it brings us to one of the media’s other big failures this past week, their incompetent and dishonest coverage of the political debate over border security and the supposed government shutdown.
Most mainstream-media stories on this subject focused on the same decades-old template about the government being on the verge of a “shutdown” (it was not) and that the American people would blame Republicans thus harming them at the ballot box (it never has, Republicans actually benefit on election day after so-called “shutdowns.”)
What was sadly absent from this reporting was actual facts about the crux of the dispute over the funding of a border wall. The media, while declaring itself the “guardians of the truth” chose to focus on the political dogfight that they believed helped their political allies, the Democrats, rather than informing the American people of the facts.
Missing was the fact that Congress had already voted for hundreds of miles of border security (the type of barrier was up to the president’s discretion) in 2006. Those voting for the measure included Sen. Charles E. Schumer and then-Sens. Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. The matter of a border wall has been settled, the only question today is whether Congress will actually fund the thing they already voted to build.
Also absent from the reporting was the underlying rationale for a robust border fence or wall. As our current asylum laws stand, if a person touches U.S. soil and is apprehended, they can make an asylum claim and avoid immediate deportation. The reasons for asylum include persecution on the basis of race, religion, nationality, political opinion, or particular social group — not economic reasons or out of fear of violent crime in the applicant’s home country, the two overwhelming reasons the vast majority of people illegally cross the American border at this time.
Therefore, the vast majority of these cases result in a legal deportation order but by the time the deportation date is at hand, the asylum-seeker has already disappeared and are added to the ranks of the millions of immigrants living in America illegally.
If the media wants to be taken seriously as the guardians of the truth, it should spend less time on its own political agendas and more time on the actual facts surrounding the debate at hand.
Which brings us to our third embarrassing failure for our “Guardians of the Truth.”
This past week, a prominent American politician publicly attacked a reputable reporter and publication accusing them of making up a fake story with anonymous sources as “gossip masquerading as reporting.” Strangely, you didn’t hear from the preening “Truth Guardians” about how their profession and colleagues were under an outrageous attack.
Perhaps it’s because the prominent politician was media darling Rep.-elect Alexandria Ocasio-Corttez, New York Democrat.
“One disappointment about DC is the gossip that masquerades as ‘reporting,’” AOC tweeted while attacking a Politico story claiming she and an allied activist group would target Rep. Hakeem Jeffries with a Democratic primary challenge in 2020.
“This story has: - Not a SINGLE named or verifiable source, - Only ONE on-the-record comment, which is a denial. My dad had a name for junk articles like this: ‘Birdcage lining,’” she tweeted.
Missing was the wholesale condemnation of Ms. Ocasio-Cortez for attacking the media and equating their work product with animal excrement. The lack of outrage over AOC “attacking the free press” is yet a further example of journalists favoring their personal heroes.
Before contorting themselves into pretzels in an attempt to vigorously patting themselves on the back as “Guardians of the Truth,” the mainstream media would serve themselves (as well as their readers and viewers) by skipping their own political goals and focusing on reporting facts in an even, unbiased way. And leave the awards for Hollywood.
• Larry O’Connor writes about politics and the media for The Washington Times and can be heard weekday afternoons on WMAL radio in Washington. Follow Larry on Twitter @LarryOConnor.
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