Red Scare Mania!

In the Age of Trump it is customary for the media to regularly load a few shells of triple-aught buckshot and summarily shoot itself in the face. With no subject is this more evident  than the ongoing Russian scandal, a Trollopian public narrative that has, at this point, largely ceased to mean anything substantive at all. Everyone “knows” that there’s some sort of Russian thing going on, somewhere, involving…somebody…but nobody’s really quite clear on the specifics, and all of the stuff they continuously tell us is treasonous grounds for impeachment always ends up being, well, nothing at all.

The circus rolled on last week, when CNN was forced to issue a wholesale retraction for an article on its website linking Trump transition team member Anthony Scaramucci to the Russian probe. In an utterly shocking turn of events that nobody anywhere could have foreseen in a million billion years, it turn out that the entire story was poorly-sourced bunk, and CNN wasn’t happy about it:

CNN announced on Monday afternoon that three network officials are leaving their jobs over the incident: [Thomas] Frank, the reporter on the story; Eric Lichtblau, a recent CNN addition from the New York Times who edited the piece; and Lex Haris, the executive editor of “CNN Investigates.” The moves follow an investigation carried out by CNN executives over the weekend, with the conclusion that longstanding network procedures for publishing stories weren’t properly followed. “There was a significant breakdown in process,” says a CNN source. “There were editorial checks and balances within the organization that weren’t met.”

“There was a significant breakdown in process.” “There were editorial checks and balances that weren’t met.” These are technically true. Yet it is worth reflecting on the subtly dishonest nature of the characterization here. The media since early November of last year has experienced a more-or-less industry-wide “breakdown in process,” with a general abdication of the “editorial checks and balances” system. But that makes it all sound very institutional, mechanical, hum-drum, the kind of thing that can just be fixed by tightening a lug nut or greasing a crank shaft or two. The problems with our media are not related to “process;” they’re related to people, the men and women who have allowed a hatred for Trump and an unchecked political bias to get in the way of doing their jobs.

This was a particularly egregious example of the media’s allowing their feelings about Trump to usurp their better judgment. When it’s this obvious, of course some people are going to have to lose their jobs. The larger problem, however, is the more workaday media malfeasance, the kind of low-grade incompetent fever running throughout most of the mainstream media industry these days: this stuff rarely costs anybody his job, but it is as frequently as false, misleading and/or incompetently managed as the Scaramucci story.

Will CNN learn from its mistakes? Maybe. Then again, maybe not:

James O’Keefe’s Project Veritas has struck again: This time, a senior CNN producer was caught on camera by one of O’Keefe’s investigators admitting that the network’s relentless bashing of President Donald Trump with the Russia scandal lacks proof.

“Could be bullshit. I mean, it’s mostly bullshit right now,” the CNN producer, John Bonifield, said in a video O’Keefe’s Project Veritas released on Tuesday, when asked about his thoughts on the Russia investigation. “Like, we don’t have any giant proof. Then they say, well there’s still an investigation going on. And you’re like, yeah, I don’t know. If they were finding something we would know about it. The way these leaks happen, they would leak it. They’d leak…

Allowing for the possibility that this video is inauthentic in some way, this is, nevertheless, an accurate assessment of the Russia story: “We don’t have any giant proof.” It rather beggars belief that, after all this time, and with a demonstrably corrupt and compromised national intelligence apparatus leaking like a sieve, we would not yet have “giant proof” regarding Trump’s collusion with Russian agents in last year’s election. The same people who insist that the proof is forthcoming are not able to explain why it hasn’t come yet. The most likely explanation, the one that CNN officials are willing to admit behind the scenes at the very least, is: the proof has not come yet because it does not exist.

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