The American media has seemingly spent the entirety of 2019 so far moving from one monumental misstep to another.
In just less than three months, four major news stories have proven either to be wildly distorted or flatly false, and one major media figure who was a featured guest on many major networks has come under indictment.
The fake news stories.
The BuzzFeed bombshell.
On Jan. 17, 2019, BuzzFeed News reported that Trump directed attorney Michael Cohen to lie to Congress about the timing of plans to build a Trump Tower in Moscow. Citing two anonymous law enforcement sources, the outlet claimed that Cohen had admitted this to Mueller during the course of the investigation.
Mueller, however, did not appear to agree; in an unprecedented move, his typically silent office made a public statement refuting the central claims in BuzzFeed’s report. (RELATED: Mueller’s Office Disputes BuzzFeed’s Report)
The Covington Catholic students.
Just one day later, on Jan. 18, 2019, multiple outlets and personalities jumped on another story that would eventually turn on them.
A 45-second video of a confrontation between a group of high school boys in MAGA hats and a Native American elder, Nathan Phillips, went viral. Within hours, Nick Sandmann and his classmates from Covington Catholic High School in Kentucky had become the new faces of American bigotry because, as so many noted on social media, they should have known what they were getting into when they put on those hats.
Some pundits called for the boys to be punched in the face (and worse). Celebrities like Alyssa Milano argued that the red MAGA hat was “the new white hood.” Children too young to vote received death threats, and were doxxed and harassed by adults. (RELATED: Nathan Phillips And Other Protesters Storm DC Basilica, Demand Punishment For Covington Boys)
Then came the context, which was around two hours of video in which those same students showed remarkable restraint in the face of verbal abuse from a group called the Black Hebrew Israelites before the confrontation. Multiple angles also showed that Phillips had approached the boys rather than the other way around. And further digging revealed the fact that he was not a Vietnam veteran, as he and multiple news outlets reported.
So far, the Washington Post and CNN have been hit with massive lawsuits — $250 million and $275 million, respectively — for their coverage of the debacle. And according to Sandmann’s attorneys, that’s only the beginning.
The Jussie Smollett alleged hate crime/hoax.
On Jan. 30, 2019, “Empire” actor Jussie Smollett reported the second of two hate crimes. First was the letter containing white powder that he said was sent to him at the “Empire” studio. And second, an alleged assault during which the attackers used homophobic slurs and yelled, “This is MAGA country!” Smollett also claimed that his attackers wrapped a rope around his neck.
Media outlets reported on his allegations as if they had already been proven and politicians spoke out about the horror of what some referred to as “a modern-day lynching.” Smollett himself doubled down on his claims in a live interview, arguing that he must have been targeted because of how active he had been in resisting Trump — whom he referred to simply as “45.”
Law enforcement officers in Chicago spent nearly a month investigating Smollett’s claims, only to discover that the preponderance of evidence pointed to the conclusion that both the attack and the threatening letter were more than likely hoaxes, and the prime suspect was Smollett himself.
The Mueller investigation.
While special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe into President Donald Trump’s campaign was certainly real, the speculation generated on any number of occasions — and by any number of pundits or politicians — was less so.
Report after report indicated that Mueller was “getting closer” to the evidence that would seal Trump’s fate. Politician after politician claimed to know of “direct” proof that there was collusion or obstruction of justice. Those reports and claims began with Mueller’s appointment in May of 2017 and continued into the last hours of the investigation Friday. (RELATED: Many Claimed Countless Times Over The Past 2 Years That ‘Mueller Is Closing In’ — Then He Filed His Report)
When Attorney General William Barr delivered a summary of Mueller’s report Sunday to Congress, it indicated that Mueller found no evidence of collusion or obstruction. The media, for its part, had no tangible moment of introspection. Many of the media’s most prominent figures — pundits, analysts and journalists — simply pivoted to say that Trump had not yet been “exonerated” of “obstruction.”
For months, Democrats, pundits and even attorney Michael Avenatti himself predicted that President Donald Trump would probably face indictment — or at the very least, embarrassment — by the time porn star Stormy Daniels and Mueller were finished with him.
None of that happened.
But even as the media scrambled to make sense of Mueller’s conclusions and the lack of indictments against the Trump family, Avenatti faced indictments of his own — from two separate courts on two separate matters.
Federal prosecutors in New York filed charges Monday against the attorney for allegedly attempting to extort some $20 million from Nike. They claim he threatened to use his status as a public figure to bring negative attention to the company if they did not pay him what he asked.
The same day, federal prosecutors in California charged Avenatti with bank and wire fraud for allegedly embezzling client funds to defray personal expenses and presenting false tax returns to the bank. (RELATED: CNN And MSNBC Gave Avenatti The Power To Throw His Weight At Nike)
The media has had a rough go of 2019 so far — and it’s only just been three months.