A bad week for journalism

If I were paranoid (which in this environment, I might soon officially become), I’d think that that world is conspiring against every profession in which I have ever worked. The levels of stupid coming out of various parts of our universe make it almost impossible to touch on everything that is killing us at this point, but I’ll spend this post talking about the drive-by shooting against my original profession: Journalism.

Speaking of things that happen quickly and painfully…
President-elect Donald Trump and his posse spent much of the week in the news, thanks to his quick movement through confirmation hearings, allegations that Russia could blackmail him and a press conference that made the WWE’s Vince McMahon go, “Dude, show some dignity.”

The confirmation hearings were laughable at best, except for the moment where the vast throngs of freedom-loving, justice-warriors took to the internet to confirm that all Asians look alike.

A video and several photos surfaced of a woman who was said to be taking photos of Rex Tillerson’s notes during a break in his confirmation hearing. The video is speculative at best, given that it looks like she’s just screwing around on her phone. (I would give almost anything for this woman to come forward and say she was playing Candy Crush at that point in time.) What made this even worse was when every Twidiot out there decided that the woman was not only a Chinese spy, but that she was Margaret Cho Constance Wu Tricia Takanawa Washington Post homepage editor Doris Truong.

Turns out Truong was off that day and didn’t know what was going on until someone reached out to her for a comment about the incident. By the time she got her shoes tied on this one, the trolls had run this bullshit around the world. People swore they had used “facial recognition software” to demonstrate it was clearly her. They also, naturally and rationally, called for her arrest, prosecution and so forth because after all, if it’s on the Internet, it’s obviously true.

HERE’S THE PROBLEM: When people ask why we need journalism or why certain blogs, social media and other shit isn’t just as good as a local newspaper or a national network newscast, this is Patient Zero.

It took almost no time for everyone to climb all over this story and shit all over Truong. Forget for a moment that no one could actually demonstrate that a) this was someone taking a photo of his notes, b) if this was some sort of crime or c) that Tillerson didn’t actually just have this on those pages. The biggest issue is that no one gave a shit if these people were right or wrong and just passed along the information.

In fact, it ended up coming across like a group of third-graders arguing on the playground: “My dad says we’re going to watch the Packers this weekend.” “Oh yeah? My Dad says we’re going to the game!” “Oh yeah, well MY dad says we have front-row seats at the game!” “OH YEAH?!?!? MY dad knows Jerry Jones and we’re going to be in his luxury box drinking Cristal!” “OH YEAH!?!?!?! WELL MY DAD….”

Some asshole said the woman was taking photos (no proof).

The next asshole said they knew it was Truong (wrong).

The third asshole swears that they used facial recognition software to confirm it’s her (lying and wrong).

The asshole after that swears they know it’s Truong and that she’s a spy for China because his friend works in the state department or something (wrong-ass, lying-as-fuck motherfucker).

Of course, by the time the potty-trained media got around to figuring out what the Insane Posse of Clowns was talking about, all the “no, it’s not her, you fucking idiots” reporting in the world couldn’t put out the forest fire of bullshit.

Speaking of the Internet…
Buzzfeed news stirred up a great amount of shit when it released a 35-page dossier of negative shit Russia supposedly had on Trump. Publishing source documents is nothing new in the field of media. The Pentagon Papers case centered on the issue of publishing source documents regarding the United States and the Vietnam War. The Progressive fought to publish the instructions for an H-Bomb. WikiLeaks is nothing but a series of documents that reveal a lot of unsavory things people have done behind closed doors.

And when it comes to leaks, unsavory things and closed doors, it’s the allegation that Trump hired two hookers in Russia to piss all over a bed that Obama supposedly liked. This sent journalists into a firestorm of debate, most of it centering on the AP style rules pertaining to “golden showers.”

The thing that makes this reveal more controversial than others is that Buzzfeed acknowledged what everyone else who was working on these documents knew about them: They were unverified. In short, they could be true or they could be false, but nobody knows for sure. So, yeah, here you go. Enjoy.

CNN reported on the documents as well, without releasing them, but that didn’t stop Trump from shit-ripping the network, calling them out in public and refusing to let them ask a question, noting CNN was “fake news.”

HERE’S THE PROBLEM: Most of my friends in the media are going back and forth on whether Buzzfeed should have released this or not as it wasn’t verified information. Some argue that this was nothing but a document dump, not real journalism, as it lacked the veracity of information we have come to expect with these things.

Others argue that instead of bitching about being scooped, the media outlets should go out there and do their jobs in reporting on this kind of shit.

You aren’t really getting scooped if you’ve chosen not to publish something because you don’t think it should be published. That’s more of an editorial choice. That said, pissing and moaning because others made different editorial choices doesn’t make you the stalwart emblem of dignity either.

I’m on the side that says don’t run this until you’re sure, primarily because a) I’m more conservative and b) I can’t tell you how much shit I’ve seen as a reporter that turned out to be total bullshit. We’re not all Dan Rather who can bounce back after shit goes south and it turns out we were wrong.

I’ve always espoused two philosophies when it comes to publishing: 1) If your mother says she loves you, go check it out. 2) I’d rather be late than wrong.

If you think all the shit in that file is real, go get enough verification that you feel comfortable saying, “Here’s what we did and we feel we met the burden of accuracy.” Don’t be like the mechanic who says, “We think we fixed the brakes, but you’ll figure that out soon enough.”

Speaking of the Trump press conference…
It looked more like a slightly toned down version of President Camacho’s address to Congress than what we’re used to from the Oval Office occupant. The president-elect had several people build him up before he arrived, like those shitty local bands that precede the main act at Summerfest. Upon his arrival, he gave a speech with the laser-like focus of a seizure-prone toddler with ADD who had just smoked a pound of meth. The speech included sentences like this one, which would have given Sr. Mary Kenneth a coronary if she had to try to diagram it:

But I do have to say that — and I must say that – I want to thank a lot of the news organizations here today because they looked at that nonsense that was released by maybe the intelligence agencies — who knows but maybe the intelligence agencies, which would be at tremendous blot on their record if they in fact did that, a tremendous blot.

(Side note: I couldn’t listen to the speech, as a) I had a class to teach and b) I was afraid of what it might do to my three remaining brain cells. Instead, I read the transcript that NPR put out on this. The level of annotation is incredible in here. We honestly just need to start giving the media red “challenge” flags they can throw.)

When he attacked CNN for running something they didn’t actually run (they reported on the dossier but did not reveal the gross shit and illegal shit inside), CNN asked for an opportunity to ask a question. Here’s what came next:

SPEAKER

Since you’re attacking us, can you give us a question? Mr. President-elect —

DONALD TRUMP

Go ahead.

SPEAKER

Mr. President-elect, since you are attacking our news organization…

DONALD TRUMP

Not you.

SPEAKER

Can you give us a chance?

DONALD TRUMP

Your organization is terrible.

SPEAKER

You are attacking our news organization, can you give us a chance to ask a question, sir? Sir, can you…

DONALD TRUMP

Quiet, quiet.

SPEAKER

Mr. President-elect, can you say…

DONALD TRUMP

She’s asking a question, don’t be rude. Don’t be rude.

SPEAKER

Can you give us a question since you’re attacking us? Can you give us a question?

DONALD TRUMP

Don’t be rude. No, I’m not going to give you a question. I’m not going to give you a question.

SPEAKER

Can you state…

DONALD TRUMP

You are fake news. Go ahead.

SPEAKER

Sir, can you state categorically that nobody —

DONALD TRUMP

Go ahead.

(APPLAUSE)

HERE’S THE PROBLEM: Even people like Nixon, who clearly hated the press and had an “enemies list,” didn’t treat the media like this in public. You who does? Putin.

And that’s not just my opinion. Read this piece from Alexey Kovalev, a journalist who spent more than a decade dealing with this dead-eyed despot, and you’ll see some pretty freakish parallels with this Trump presser.

Next, as Kovalev points out, nobody in the gaggle stepped out to help CNN at this point. I’m all for competition and trying to gain an edge with sources, but this is like watching a bully kick the shit out of a kid at the playground and not doing anything about it.

I’m not saying they should go all “Ray” from Season 2 of “True Detective” at this point, but if you get called on next, what’s wrong with, “Mr. President-elect, why do you see CNN as fake news and why are you afraid to give this reporter a question?” First they came for CNN, but I did not speak up because I was not CNN…

The only media that seem to be standing up to Trump at this point are the newspapers, particularly the old guard ones. For all the talk of newspapers dying in this country, some of them appear to be dying like Walt Kowalski: They’re old, angry and yet willing to fuck you up when you think you’re a bad ass.

It’s been a long week for the media and here’s the worst part: His term hasn’t even started yet.

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