How Do Big Media Outlets So Often “Independently Confirm” Each Other’s Falsehoods?
All of this prompted the obvious question: how could MSNBC and CBS News have both purported to “independently confirm” a CNN bombshell that was completely false? The reason this matters is because the term “independently confirm” significantly bolsters the credibility of the initial report because it makes it appear that other credible-to-some news organizations have conducted their own investigation and found more evidence that proves it is true. That is the purpose of the exercise: to bolster the credibility of the story in the minds of the public.
But what actually happens is as deceitful as it is obvious. When a news outlet such as NBC Newsclaims to have “independently corroborated” a report from another corporate outlet, they often do not mean that they searched for and acquired corroborating evidence for it. What they mean is much more tawdry: they called, or were called by, the same anonymous sources that fed CNN the false story in the first place, and were fed the same false story. And just as CNN did — repeated what they were told (almost certainly by Democratic Congressional members and/or their staff) without independently investigating it, because they knew any anti-Trump story would please their partisan audience — NBC News pretended they had obtained “independent confirmation” when all they had done was speak to the same sources that fed CNN.
This episode is so worth recalling not only because it is one of the most stunning and pathetic media humiliations of the Trump era — though it is that — but also because the shoddy tactic that drove it is still in full use by the same media outlets. We just saw proof of that again with a major Washington Post “correction” — which should be called a retraction — of one of the most-discussed news stories of the last six months: the Post’s claims about what Trump said when he called a Georgia election official while he was still contesting the 2020 election results.
On January 9, The Washington Post published a story reporting that an anonymous source claimed that on December 23, Trump spoke by phone with Frances Watson, the chief investigator of the Georgia Secretary of State’s office, and directed her that she must “find the fraud” and promised her she would be “a national hero” if she did so. The paper insisted that those were actual quotes of what Trump said. This time, it was CNNpurporting to independently confirm the Post’s reporting, affirming that Trump said these words “according to a source with knowledge of the call.”
But late last week, The Wall Street Journal obtaineda recording of that call, and those quotes attributed to Trump do not appear. As a result, The Washington Post — two months after its original story that predictably spread like wildfire throughout the entire media ecosystem — has appended a correction at the top of its original story. Politico’s Alex Thompson correctly pronounced these errors “real bad” because of how widely they spread and were endorsed by other major media outlets.”
Jenny Marie Hatch
A few tweets from Glen about his piece…