President Trump did the unthinkable on Monday: he allowed the White House press corps to sit in on a cabinet meeting for an hour and 10 minutes, ushering in some of the very folks who hate him the most and want him removed from office.
Afterward, his press secretary, Stephanie Grisham, threw down the gauntlet in a tweet: “I hope we see honest reporting from today’s mtg.”
A fact-check story on CNN.com quoted her tweet and tartly replied: “We can honestly tell you that Trump’s remarks were highly dishonest.”
Oh snap! That is a lot of shade and in-your-face attitude for a story that supposedly offers an objective assessment of the accuracy of what President Trump said. I was a reporter and editor for 25 years, and I would have stopped my writers from committing the unfair offenses in this CNN.com story: petty, petulant nitpicking, a snide “gotcha” mentality, and transparent anti-Trump bias.
The CNN.com story is here: "Fact check: Trump made at least 21 false claims in angry Cabinet monologue." Even the headline itself is slanted: “false claim” sounds like insurance fraud, as opposed to “errors” or “misstatements.” As for “angry,” I watched the 70-minute clip on YouTube here, and President Trump never sounds angry to me.
The story quibbles over Mr. Trump’s descriptions of the size of Miami International Airport, the size of the crowds inside and outside the stadium at a recent Trump rally in Dallas, whether Mr. Trump is the only president to have donated his salary, and whether the whistleblower is “gone,” as President Trump said in a metaphorical way.
“There is no evidence,” CNN intones officiously, that the whistleblower “now somehow ‘gone.’” Nice sarcastic air quotes around “gone.”
CNN no longer tries to lay claim to being the august arbiter of objective and fairly told news. It no longer even tries to hide its anti-Trump slant. Apparently this network and its CEO, Jeffrey Zucker, detest @realDonaldTrump that much. #Sad.
That conclusion is all but inescapable given revelations last week from James O’Keefe and Project Veritas. His team surreptitiously filmed and recorded CNN internal goings-on.
Zucker himself is allegedly heard telling producers they must play up impeachment, that every new development should be framed as another step toward that inevitability. He ordered one show to skip a few ad breaks and stay on-air so the anchor could continue badgering Trump aide Kelly Anne Conway.
That is an unusual level of dictatorial intervention into news coverage by a senior executive. It is more intrusive — and more patently political and openly biased — than anything I saw in my many years at The Wall Street Journal, Forbes magazine, CNBC, and Fox Business. (Disclosure: I emailed Jeff Zucker about a possible job at CNN a few years ago, and he kindly referred me to a senior executive, who declined. Guessing that is unlikely to change now. Oh, well.)
Then again, the whole story may be news to you, because the mainstream media largely ignored the Project Veritas revelations. I searched the website of The New York Times, CNN’s co-host of the most recent Democratic debate, and failed to find a single mention of the Veritas story. Allies in slime.
CNN and other liberal media have been playing this fact-checking game with Mr. Trump for years. Search on Google for “CNN says Trump lied” (without the quotation marks) and instantly you get 111 million results. Some recent CNN.com broadsides:
Fact check: From Iran pre-conditions to the weather in North Carolina, Trump made 90 false claims last week (Sept. 19, 2019).
Fact check: Trump made 79 false claims last week. (Sept. 25).
Given the unmitigated animosity toward President Trump in much of the nation’s media, the standard goes pretty low for what constitutes a damnable lie in their eyes. Merely misstating the facts or figures should fall short of an outright “lie.” Yet CNN and the press view most any error by Donald Trump as if it were an intentional lie, and they label it as such. Continuously.
To me, a lie is a premeditated, calculated falsehood, which the teller knows to be false, told with a hidden agenda to benefit the teller and disadvantage the listener. Proving someone has told a bald-faced lie requires knowing the person’s inner thoughts and real intent; that something inaccurate was said is insufficient proof.
A lot of President Trump’s supposed “false claims” may be something else: bombast, self-affirmation, overdone optimism, a sloppy approach to facts and stats, and boasting (being justifiably proud of your real achievements) and bragging (being overly proud of things that fail to impress). Let other statesman go for the stentorian. For President Trump, who speaks to reporters like a luxury real estate developer trying to impress them over a few martinis, this all is part of the shtick.
But why let that stop CNN.com from smearing Donald Trump as a liar? Ratings, baby, ratings. The question is, who fact-checks CNN? Coming up next: a closer look at the CNN fact-check article on Trump’s extraordinary cabinet meeting.
This article is Part 1 of a forthcoming series.
Dennis Kneale is a writer and media strategist in New York. Previously he was an anchor at CNBC and at Fox Business Network, after serving as a senior editor at The Wall Street Journal and managing editor of Forbes. He helped write “Wealth Mismanagement: A Wall Street Insider on the Dirty Secrets of Financial Advisers and How to Protect Your Portfolio,” by Ed Butowsky, published in August 2019 by Post Hill Press. To read more of his reports — Click Here Now.
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