Following criticism of a story in which anonymous sources claimed Donald Trump called dead soldiers “losers,” one reporter pushed back, claiming journalists “don’t make stuff up” – which prompted a quick education lesson for her.
Sun, 06 Sep 2020
“Contrary to popular belief, journalists don’t just make stuff up,” Louisville Courier Journal education reporter Olivia Krauth tweeted in response to a conservative outlet blasting the use of anonymous sources.
Krauth doubled down and then defended the granting of anonymity to sources, asking “why a journalist would risk their career” by inventing a source.
Given there are numerous examples of prominent journalists being accused of or even caught lying, Krauth got her answer – along with plenty of examples that disprove her “journalists don’t make stuff up” argument.
One such example was Brian Williams, a still-employed chief news anchor at MSNBC, who admitted to falsifying a story about being in a helicopter under enemy fire while in Iraq.
Dan Rather was another journalist referenced by Krauth’s critics. The newsman was fired from CBS in 2006 over a report that former President George W Bush went AWOL during his time in the Texas Air National Guard. The documents at the center of the report could not be verified, and the administration blasted them as false. Rather has defended the story in recent years, but admits he made “mistakes” – though he claims they didn’t “change the truth of what we reported.”
A more recent example cited was Der Spiegel writer Claas Relotius, who resigned after it was discovered he’d committed journalistic fraud on a “grand scale,” according to the German newspaper. Numerous stories he’d penned over the years were found to be “made up” and to have featured “invented protagonists.”
Relotius had been celebrated by the mainstream media as far afield as the US, where he won CNN’s Journalist of the Year Award in 2014. Notably, the fraud was not discovered by the publisher until two disgruntled Minnesotans confronted Der Spiegel over the utterly falsified reporting about their town – which included the journalist having described a “Mexicans, keep out!” sign that wasn’t there – forcing the paper’s editorial team to start an investigation.
CNN itself has been accused of plenty of lying by the president and others. The network had to settle a defamation lawsuit with then-high school student Nick Sandmann, after it reported on an edited video that appeared to show the teenager harassing a Native American activist in Washington, DC. Despite the full video being widely available, which showed Sandmann and his friends themselves being harassed, anchors such as Brian Stelter continued to report on the shorter clip, portraying Sandmann as an antagonistic young conservative.
Under the presidency of Trump, reporting that’s reliant on either anonymous sources or second- or third-hand accounts has gotten worse, with stories about Russia being particularly pointed to as an example of journalistic standards having been compromised.
Plenty of outlets have a history of fast-and-loose stories when it comes to Russia – the questionable Steele Dossier and unproven claims Trump worked with the country to somehow rig 2016’s presidential election among them. The Washington Post was accused of peddling “fake news” after it rewrote a 2017 story claiming Russians had hacked a US power grid. The entire claim turned out to be false, and the paper had to make a correction to its ‘explosive’ exposé. The Post also had to settle a defamation lawsuit with Nick Sandmann for its coverage of his DC encounter.
Others have similarly fear-mongered about the ‘threat’ of Russia. MSNBC anchor Rachel Maddow has heavily covered Russiagate, and even ran a controversial report last year on the ‘what if’ possibility of Russia “killing” the US’ power grid amid extreme winter conditions for no other reason than just to prove it could do it.
To list journalists’ lies is to disappear down a seemingly never-ending rabbit hole, and Krauth was given plenty of other examples, some of which were collected into a handy video by the original conservative outlet she responded to.
Krauth has not replied to any of the tweets disproving her claim that all journalists are good and honest, but she has continued to criticize Trump.
The president himself has regularly blasted the use of anonymous sources being used in stories about him, and has categorically declared false The Atlantic’s report about his having disparaged military service members who died in combat.