Saunders: Buzzfeed, Twitter leave media with two black eyes

Buzzfeed’s failed scoop and the Twitter rampage over MAGA-hat-wearing teens were media failures.

By Debra J. Saunders

Syndicated columnist

First, Buzzfeed News ran a story Jan. 16 that asserted President Donald Trump told his long-time private attorney Michael Cohen to lie to Congress about talks with Russia about a Trump Tower in Moscow. The sources? Two anonymous federal law enforcement officials.

By Friday of that week, a thin gruel of a story had put cable news in a ferocious feeding frenzy as pundits breathlessly pronounced that, “if true,” Trump should be impeached. Yes, they jumped on an anonymously sourced story that they wanted to be true, then cagily waved the “if true” disclaimer just in case reality intruded.

They would have continued to say “if true” for days, even as no other news organization could verify the Buzzfeed piece, had not Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s office ended their glee by issuing a statement roundly refuting it.

To recap, the story was wrong and the only reason to give it credibility was runaway bias. While many journalists hung back and waited to learn more, the public saw an endless spool of anti-Trump pundits who were rewarded for their poor judgment with on-air time and knowing nods.

The next day, another epic media fail was born.

A brief video clip of a white male high school student in a Make America Great Again hat staring silently as a Native American activist stood before him beating a drum and chanting was unleashed on Twitter. A rush to ill-informed judgment followed.

The left dusted off every stereotype in its vault. Twitter users described the moment as a confrontation between smug privileged white teens and a besieged Vietnam veteran proud of his Native American heritage.

CNN contributor Reza Aslan tweeted, “Honest question: Have you ever seen a more punchable face than this kid’s?”

In a classic case of confirmation bias, mainstream news outlets went with that narrative that placed the blame on teens in MAGA hats. The Washington Post reported that the high schooler was wearing a “relentless smirk.” The story reported the assertion of Nathan Phillips, the Native American drummer, that the kids were shouting, “Build that wall,” even though, the story noted, there was no video of the students chanting about a wall. Standards?

The Post story also framed Phillips as he wanted to be framed, the hapless “man in the middle” who was forced into unwanted confrontation.

Later, conservatives posted a video that showed that Phillips, rather than being surrounded by students as he had claimed, actually had approached the students.

The paper also ran a correction on its reporting that Phillips served in Vietnam. He did not.

Nick Sandmann, the MAGA-hat wearing teen, released a statement in which he denied smirking and maintained that he chose to remain silent and expressionless because he didn’t want to inflame a tense situation.

Many who posted nasty tweets about the students from Kentucky’s Covington Catholic High School deleted them. Some even apologized.

Alas, others argued that white Catholic teens were not entitled to the benefit of the doubt. When White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said she’d never seen people “so happy to destroy a kid’s life,” an unrepentant Aslan tweeted, “She means a white kid. Brown kids? Well, they belong in cages.”

Actress Alyssa Milano refused to walk back the tweet she had posted on the standoff by the Lincoln Memorial: “The red MAGA hat is the new white hood.”

Noting that the students were on the Washington Mall waiting for a bus after participating in the anti-abortion March for Life, Milano argued, “Let’s not forget — the entire event happened because a group of boys went on a school-sanctioned trip to protest against a woman’s right to her own body and reproductive healthcare.”

Translation: Conservatives are fair game.

Conservatives are fair game for virtue-signaling conservatives. Twitter has turned into a forum in which people prove their goodness by berating others as unworthy, and conservatives also trash-talked the students from Kentucky’s Covington Catholic High School.

In the heat of the pile-on, the National Review’s Nicholas Frankovich tweeted, “As for the putatively Catholic students from Covington, they might as well have just spit on the cross and got it over with.” Frankovich later apologized, rightly copped to being “preachy and rhetorically excessive,” and deleted the tweet.

When Trump first entered the White House, there was a concerted move to keep him off Twitter because even his own staff was concerned that his often combative bursts on Twitter were, well, unpresidential. Like Aslan today, he would make assertions of questionable accuracy, but stand by them anyway. Two years later, we are all unpresidential and social media in reality is anti-social.

Email Debra J. Saunders at dsaunders@reviewjournal.com. Follow her on Twitter @DebraJSaunders.

Talk to us

More in Opinion

toon
Editorial cartoons for Friday, Oct. 30

A sketchy look at the news of the day.… Continue reading

Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts, right, and Associate Justice Brett Kavanaugh, left, arrive before President Donald Trump delivers his State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Feb. 4, 2020. (Leah Millis/Pool via AP)
Comment: Justice Kavanaugh could become powerful swing vote

Kavanaugh remains a conservative, but moderation could allow him greater say in the outcome of cases.

john lewis vote
Editorial: A recap of our general election endorsements

Get your ballot in by mail or drop box soon to make sure it counts in the Nov. 3 election.

Kevin Duncan puts his ballot in the ballot drop box outside of the Arlington Library on Tuesday, Feb. 11, 2020 in Arlington, Wash. The Arlington school District has three measures on the February ballot, including one to replace Post Middle School. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Commentary: Get your ballots in early by mail or drop box

To make sure your ballot is counted and your voice heard get your ballot in; the earlier, the better.

GOP’s flip-flop shows it’s desperate to retain power

We’ve all seen Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., solemnly stating in 2015 that… Continue reading

Trump will reap what he sowed with covid

There are many assumptions that we have to make after the White… Continue reading

Why aren’t there security cameras for walkway elevator?

OK, help me understand something: $20 million is spent on improving access… Continue reading

Bill in Congress would end slaughter of wild horses

I am writing to you today to raise awareness about the brutal… Continue reading

Election vote icon for general use.
Editorial: Approve 8212 to make most of long-term care fund

Approval would allow the fund — supporting care services — to be carefully invested by a state board.

Most Read