By William H. Freivogel
Two stories by mainstream media – an excellent one by the Washington Post and a terrible one by CNN – have provided President Trump more material for his fairy tales on Twitter.
The Post reported a heavily sourced and deeply researched story showing that President Obama reacted cautiously to the high-grade intelligence he received last August showing “Russian President Vladimir Putin’s direct involvement in a cyber campaign to disrupt and discredit the U.S. presidential race and help elect….Donald Trump.” The story reported Obama was slow releasing the information because he did not want it to appear he was trying to help Hillary Clinton win the election. https://www.washingtonpost.com/graphics/2017/world/national-security/obama-putin-election-hacking/?utm_term=.1c2d1b0eadff
Meanwhile, CNN retracted its story suggesting contact between a Trump associate and the Russians. The story has just one source. Three reporters and editors have now submitted their resignations for their involvement in the poorly sourced story, including Eric Lichtblau who won a Pulitzer Prize at The New York Times.
Trump pounced. Using his talent for semantic jujitsu, Trump tweeted that the Post story showed it was Obama who had failed to respond to Putin’s cyber attack and was guilty of collusion and obstruction – not he.
The president tweeted, “The reason that President Obama did NOTHING about Russia after being notified by the CIA of meddling is that he expected Clinton would win…and did not want to ‘rock the boat.’ He didn’t ‘choke,’ he colluded or obstructed, and it did the Dems and Crooked Hillary no good.”
This was an extraordinary switch of positions for a man who called during the campaign for Putin to hack Hillary Clinton’s emails, who suggested at a presidential debate the culprit may have been a 400-pound hacker or China and who, as president has called the Russia investigation a “witch hunt,” “phony” and a “Dem HOAX.”
About a week ago, Press Secretary Sean Spicer said he couldn’t say whether the president thought Moscow interfered in the election. “I have not sat down and talked to him about that specific thing.” Later Spicer said the president had accepted that there was some Russian involvement in the election but wouldn’t say whether he agreed with the intelligence assessment that Putin wanted Trump to win. Other countries might have been involved in the hack, Spicer said, without providing proof.
So we have the remarkable spectacle of a president who has been in full charge of the government for five months still hedging on the unanimous intelligence assessment that Putin tried to help Trump win. And we have a president who has done nothing to respond to the Russian interference in the election criticizing his predecessor for not having responded forcefully enough.
When late last week CNN retracted its story linking a Trump transition official to the Russia investigation, Trump tweeted it showed the mainstream media was peddling fake news.
“Wow, CNN had to retract big story on ‘Russia,’ with 3 employees forced to resign,” he tweeted. “What about all the other phony stories they do? FAKE NEWS!”
He followed with another Tweet taking after other mainstream news organizations. “They caught Fake News CNN cold, but what about NBC, CBS & ABC? What about the failing @nytimes & @washingtonpost? They are all Fake News!”
CNN definitely violated important standards of journalism in publishing the story based on one source. It deserves the criticism.
But the New York Times and the Washington Post have provided strong, traditional investigative reporting, including the Post’s report revealing that Michael Flynn had talked to the Russian ambassador last December about easing sanctions, even though Flynn had denied it. The Post story led to Flynn’s resignation as national security adviser and the president’s improper request to then-FBI Director James Comey to let go of its criminal investigation of Flynn. That, in turn, is an important part of a possible obstruction of justice case against Trump.
Trump’s twisting of the truth into convenient fairy tales recalls a quote attributed to Abraham Lincoln. “You can fool all of the people some of the time, and some of the people all of the time, but you cannot fool all of the people all of the time.”