It’s been claimed that the news media embarrassed and discredited itself by advancing the Russian collusion conspiracy theory. I totally disagree. The news media cannot embarrass itself for the same reason that unicorns can’t embarrass themselves. A thing must exist in order to be embarrassed. The news media do not exist. There is no such thing.
The people who spent the past two years amplifying every incredible rumor about Trump and Russia, and who announced over and over again that the end was nigh for Trump, and who repeatedly used phrases like “bombshell” and “the beginning of the end” and “impeachment” when discussing the issue, are not news anchors or journalists. They are propaganda merchants, narrative crafters, agents of an ideology. And we can add one other job title to their resume: Entertainers.
The Russian collusion narrative was not only ideologically convenient but also cinematic. Secret dossiers, clandestine meetings in Prague, shadowy Russian agents — it was all quite dramatic and fascinating despite, of course, its being completely bogus. The media couldn’t help themselves. Grab ratings and exact vengeance on a Republican president? They couldn’t pass up that opportunity. Just as they couldn’t pass up the opportunity to amplify and legitimize extraordinary rumors about a conservative Supreme Court nominee participating in drunken gang rapes. Just as they couldn’t pass on the Covington Catholic hoax, or the Jussie Smollett hoax, or the Duke lacrosse hoax, or the UVA fraternity hoax. Ideology and ratings trump truth and discernment every time. Without fail.
The media doesn’t itself fabricate stories. It lets other people — the Clinton campaign, the DNC, Michael Avenatti, whoever — do the fabricating. It simply disseminates what lies the liars cook up. Whatever else you want to call this process, you certainly cannot call it “news.” We do get some real news from the news media on occasion, but that is entirely incidental. We can generally trust them when they tell us about a hurricane in Florida or a plane crash in Ethiopia, but when the story is more complicated — when it becomes hard to see the facts through the smoke, and there is ideology and politics even further obscuring the truth — that is when we can count on the news media to fail us.
It is on issues like the collusion investigation, or the Kavanaugh accusations, or the Covington debacle, where hard-nosed, responsible, and objective news reporting is really necessary. Yet that is precisely when they transform from journalists into reality-TV hosts and DNC spokesmen. They’re like doctors who know how to prescribe painkillers but always misdiagnose the more serious maladies. We couldn’t really call that kind of doctor a doctor at all, given that doctoring is the one thing he doesn’t do. Likewise, journalists are very reliable in all respects, except when it comes to journalism.
Trump is right to call them fake news. But that might be overly generous. The fraud is too obvious to even be called fake. And I’m not sure that the media are trying very hard to hide their true colors at this point. We should think of a different name — any name will do, as long as it doesn’t have the word “news” attached to it.