AMU Homeland Security Opinion Original

Recent Media Blunders Say a Lot about Today's Journalists

Note: The opinions and comments stated in the following article and views expressed in any article or by any contributor to In Homeland Security, do not represent the views of American Military University, American Public University System, its management or employees.

By John Ubaldi
Columnist, In Homeland Security

A major pillar of journalism is the accuracy of one’s writing and one’s sources. However, many in the media often recklessly abandon this pillar when they seek out news that might embarrass President Trump or implicate him in a crime. A recent BuzzFeed story about special counsel Robert Mueller is a great example.

BuzzFeed reporters Jason Leopold and Anthony Cormier wrote on Jan. 18 that special counsel Robert Mueller had corroborating evidence that President Trump instructed his former attorney, Michael Cohen, to lie to Congress. The lie concerned a commercial hotel project in Moscow.

The main problem with this story was that it was based on two anonymous sources within the FBI. There were no citations to any evidentiary material like an email, a text or a document. In short, the allegation was not corroborated.

Anyone who fully examined the BuzzFeed story would realize that the two reporters never actually spoke with Cohen, who has pleaded guilty to lying to Congress over the Russian Trump Tower project. Cohen faces a three-year federal prison term for this and other serious charges.

Special Counsel’s Office Issues Rare Rebuke

All the allegations in BuzzFeed were based on documents that were later shown to be nonexistent. The New York Post reported that Mueller’s office issued a rare and unexpected rebuke of the story.

“BuzzFeed’s description of specific statements to the Special Counsel’s Office, and characterization of documents and testimony obtained by this office regarding Michael Cohen’s congressional testimony are not accurate,” Peter Carr, a spokesman for Mueller’s office, said in a statement reported by CNN.

Soon after the BuzzFeed article appeared, many media outlets seized on the story as the smoking gun they sought as proof that President Trump committed a serious and impeachable crime. They were wrong to do so.

Students versus American Indians Story Misreported by Media

On Jan. 19, the media pounced on another story to create another journalistic mess. Some Catholic high school students from Kentucky, who were participating in the “March for Life” in Washington D.C., wore “Make America Great Again” caps. A video on social media later showed the students allegedly taunting a Native American named Nathan Phillips.

Phillips was banging a native drum in the students’ presence. He described these students as surrounding him and mocking his ancestry.

“I heard them saying, ‘Build that wall. Build that wall,’” Phillips says in the video, which went viral. “This is indigenous land. We’re not supposed to have walls here.”

With the story rapidly unfolding, the media failed its due diligence by not getting all the facts first. In their zeal to embarrass Trump, they failed Journalism 101.

When the full contents of the video later surfaced, it showed that the high school students were not spoiling for a fight, but were in fact yelling over Phillips. They were trying to drown out a second group of people, who were the real instigators of the incident.

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That group, which calls itself the Black Hebrew Israelites, incited vile opposition to the students by taunting them with racial epithets and incendiary homophobic language. It was at this point that Phillips approached the students, not the other way around.

The world, however, first saw a “screenshot” of a smirking teen in a “Make America Great Again” cap supposedly verbally abusing an American Indian. And more fake news was born.

Throughout this episode, there was no evidence that any student shouted “Build that wall!” as suggested in the original video. However, when subsequent videos became available, they showed that it was members of the Black Hebrew Israelites who chanted “build the wall” at the students.

In its coverage of both stories, the media broke another key tenet of journalistic ethics: Avoid all appearances of any conflicts of interests, real or perceived.

Since the election of Donald Trump as president, some journalists have apparently decided to “get Trump at any cost.” In doing so, they have tossed aside all objectivity and fairness. They have clearly shown that they are not arbiters of the truth or accurate, fair and thorough in their profession. Instead, these journalists demonstrate a partisan, anti-Trump bias with a strong alignment with one political party.

Trump Wrong to Call Media ‘Enemy of the People’

That said, President Trump is completely wrong in calling the media “the enemy of the people.” It’s not his role to decide what is or what is not a legitimate news outlet; that is for the American people to decide. The United States will always have far bigger and more dangerous enemies to combat than its own media.

But when a majority of journalists constantly seeks to find corruption within one political party and its president, then our country is in serious trouble. Something needs to change.

John Ubaldi is a 30-year retired veteran of the United States Marine Corps with three combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. He is president and founder of Ubaldi Reports, which provides credible, political content, addressing domestic and global issues. John authored the book, "The New Business Brigade: Veterans Dynamic Impact on U.S. Business," currently available on Amazon. John has a Master’s Degree in National Security Studies from American Military University (AMU) with a concentration in Middle Eastern Studies, and a Bachelor’s degree in Government from California State University, Sacramento.

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