The 48-Hour Rule and the Death of American Journalism

Readers of political news have developed a workaround for separating fact from fiction: Give a story 48-hours, see if it pans out.

President Donald J. Trump applauds the crowd after signing a U.S. Interior Department Record of Decision to improve California water accessibility for rural stakeholders Wednesday, Feb. 19, 2020, at the JACO Hangar in Bakersville, Calif. (Official White House Photo by Shealah Craighead)

People in the U.S. simply don’t trust the media anymore. And while this trend has been happening for quite some time now, it has migrated quickly from the far right, to the center-right, to the left in recent months.

Conservatives aren’t happy with the predominantly negative way in which major media outlets portray President Trump. Progressives aren’t happy with the unfairness with which major media outlets have treated Sen. Bernie Sanders.

This is not good news for media companies.

Republicans are wondering why there isn’t any news coverage of things like the staggering job creation and wage growth numbers of the past two-years. Democrats are wondering what became of all those promising developments in the Mueller Investigation, presented in glaring headline after headline from major media organizations who promised, nightly, that the end for the Trump administration was nigh.

That was multiple investigations and a Congressional impeachment proceeding ago. Donald Trump not only remains in the White House, House Democrats have given him- at the end of their latest attempts to oust him- an opportunity to hold-up a copy of the headline of a newspaper declaring “Trump Acquitted”.

And not just any newspaper, either; the Washington Post- a paper notoriously anti-Trump. Which is difficult for anyone to spin as anything but a win for the President.

Democrats who seldom emerge from liberal journalistic echo-chambers could be forgiven for wondering what in the world happened to a case journalists had been assuring them for months was open-and-shut.

Blame Republicans, of course, is a good default position. Republican Senators were unquestionably responsible for voting to acquit Donald Trump. But that still doesn’t explain why the New York Times, the Washington Post and other erstwhile-respectable publications made so many promises and dire predictions about the fall of Trump that never came to pass.

“People familiar with the matter report,” or “a source close to the administration suggests,” or “according to those with inside information on the subject,” has become journalistic shorthand for:

“This may all turn out to be nothing.”

Take the news that broke last week that William Barr was threatening to resign if Trump didn’t stop tweeting. And the subsequent statement issued from Barr’s office that Mr. Barr was not considering resigning and never said he was.

It wasn’t hard to believe: Trump’s tweets probably make a good many people’s jobs more difficult. But so far, nothing- not even the threat of impeachment- has been enough to get Trump to stop tweeting whatever and whenever he likes. Was Barr really thinking about resigning?

Democrats who were gleefully touting the news that someone, anyone, was finally standing up to Trump might be feeling a bit deflated as the days have gone by and Barr remains at his post. But they probably aren’t.

Smart Democrats have probably stopped getting their hopes up about every little molehill the media has tried turning into a mountain of discontent against Donald Trump.

Cliches are cliches for a reason: The Boy Who Cried Wolf eventually found that people didn’t believe him, even when he was telling the truth.

What news organizations seem to have only recently learned, to our cost, is that people really want to be told what they want to hear- much more than they want the facts. Likewise, people will fight tooth and nail, ignoring all evidence to the contrary, to go on believing themselves right.

In today’s world of the 24-hour news cycle meets the Trump administration, media outlets seem to have put their stock in an ability to churn out fresh outrages that can continuously distract from the fact that none of the media’s most dire predictions or scintillating scoops ever seem to come to anything.

Sometimes there are retractions; on page 167, of course. Trump’s loans really weren’t being guaranteed by Russian oligarchs; liberals should have known that was too good to be true. Trump’s team didn’t really get the the Wikileaks dump before everyone else; the reporter got the date wrong.

But usually, there is no retraction and no correction. Nor is any explanation ever given as to why, if true, the telling came to nothing.

The headlines about Mr. Barr perhaps intended to have it both ways. For fans of President Trump, Barr’s press release denying the story is further proof that the mainstream media will continue to use always-anonymous sources to tear down the President- regardless of facts or truth.

Nothing ever seems to come from any of it, but that may not be the point. Adding to the impression that Trump is a the most debased person to even occupy elected office could easily be the true goal.

For people who hate Trump, the original report was correct and no subsequent denials by Mr. Barr could convince them otherwise. In this view, the office of William Barr, and probably Mr. Barr himself are denying the rumors in order to preserve his job as Attorney General and his close relationship with Donald Trump.

What’s true?

We will all have to wait at least 48-hours to find out.

What we know for certain is that the American journalism of the past is gone. In its place is a news-media entertainment complex that is more interested in stoking outrage and widening divides for the sake of ad-clicks than in responsible reporting.

(contributing writer, Brooke Bell)



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