More On The Atlantic’s “Anonymous” Hit Piece On The President

Here’s the overview: I don’t understand this part of the story at all. I don’t understand how Jeffrey Goldberg can get away with atrocious journalistic conduct like this, even as he fails to hide it. He merely assumes his offense to fairness and his profession will be ignored, forgiven, or even cheered.

How stupid and ethically-crippled do journalists like Jeffrey Goldberg, the Editor-in-Chief  of The Atlantic Monthly think the public is? Are they right? What aren’t all legitimate journalists furious about this? Are there any legitimate journalists?

In 2004, then CBS News star Dan Rather used a forged document to “prove” that President George W. Bush had ducked accountability for going AWOL with the National Guard. Rather’s justification was a spectacularly unethical one that lost him his job and reduced him to the wandering, discredited partisan hack pundit he is today, fit only for MSNBC. Rather claimed that using the fake document was justified because what it proved was “true,” and the public had a right to know. (Rather and his producer were deliberately attempting to defeat Bush in his re-election bid, just as The Atlantic has been working to ruin Trump for fours years. I read Jeffrey Goldberg’s rationalizations for for his “Trump said mean things about American soldiers two years ago” smear as arising out of the same unethical dung heap as Rather’s debacle.

He deserves the same fate as Rather, too.

Goldberg conceded on MSNBC’s “All In with Chris Hayes”  that anonymous sourcing is “not good enough”  to base a damning story like his on. Yes, just like a forged document is not good enough to base an explosive accusation on. In some ways, a forged document is better—you can check the veracity of a document. Anonymous sources might be biased,  partisan agents,  proven liars, or not in a position to see  and hear what they claim. How can their veracity be checked? They can’t be.

And then, having admitted that his sources were not ethically sufficient, and saying that “I share that view that it’s not good enough,” Goldberg went on to defend running the story!  “But, you know, like other reporters,” he said, “I’m always balancing out the moral ambiguities and complications of anonymous sourcing with a public’s right to know.”

Huh? Right to know what? Rumors? Slander? Hearsay? The reason such evidence “isn’t good enough’ is that it is not sufficient to demonstrate a fact. Journalists are ethically bound to report only that which can be substantiated, and anonymous sources cannot do that.  There is no “moral ambiguity.” “Not good enough” is “Not good enough.”

Pretty simple, actually.

Then Goldberg went on to explain, as he had before, why his sources remain anonymous: they are “afraid” of a “twitter mob.” But it doesn’t matter why they are anonymous (or why they say they want to be anonymous). All that matters is that the sources are anonymous, and thus the story is not verifiable, should not have been reported, and was irresponsible and mischievous to report.

“I trust these sources,” Goldberg said on MSNBC. “These are people in the various rooms. And, but yeah, obviously it would be better if people would say — attach their names to what they know.”

Yes, and Goldberg might trust any sources who attribute vile words or deeds to President Trump, whom his magazine has sought to vilify for four years.

Goldberg is a disgrace, as untrustworthy as Rather, and unworthy to report for a magazine, much less lead one. Yet his incompetent colleagues have allowed him to spin and rationalize, enabling his intentional deception.

21 thoughts on “More On The Atlantic’s “Anonymous” Hit Piece On The President

  1. As one who has written for newspapers for more than 20 years, I can tell you for certain that NONE of my editors would ever let me get away with anonymous quotes, even in the most benign news story. Would never happen.
    Each quote has to be accompanied by the full name and age of individual quoted, as well as the date and location/event where quote was said. Period.

    I’ve had a few incidents where individuals didn’t want their names used, and no matter how much I thought the quote would add to the story, I had to tell them that their viewpoint could not be used unless they provided the required information.

    It’s basic journalism 101…and common sense.

  2. Absolutely unethical, and totally in line with today’s “journalistic standards.” Unfortunately for accountability of journalists and editors regarding this story, there are enough “verifiable” comments by the current President to render these anonymous reports credible. Are they true? No idea. Are they consistent with some other Documented/verifiable actions and comments — often off-the-cuff due to a seeming lack of mental executive function. Should the anonymous reports be accepted as true? Insufficient for me to accept them; but I cannot say they are not credible.

  3. This whole mess was further complicated by the verbal jiu jitsu used to give the impression that the report was “confirmed”. It even crept into sources like The Daily Caller, which ran the headline “Fox News Corroborates Claim That President Trump Insulted Veterans, Fallen Soldiers and John McCain”.

    Thing is, Fox didn’t corroborate the claim itself; they corroborated that someone MADE the claim. An important distinction, one might think.

  4. Simple, barely 5% of journalists identify as at all conservative. Goldberg knows almost no one will call him out on this, and most of his industry will cheer him on for exposing Trump as the evil man we all know he is, especially if this helps make him a one-termer. In his world, there are two kinds of people: journalists and targets.

  5. Many years ago, I had just gotten rid of a houseguest who stayed for a year with her daughter and disrupted my life in any way possible.

    I saw a newspaper article asking about bad houseguest stories and called the number provided with my story. To my surprise, the reporter called me back and told me this was just what he was looking for. The problem was that he needed my name. Realizing that the houseguest or someone she knew would recognize my name if they read the story, I didn’t feel comfortable providing it. Even using just my first name and last initial wouldn’t work.

    To his credit, he understood my reluctance, but he couldn’t use the story because, as he put it, “our readers need to know these articles are true and, without attribution, will suspect us of making the stories up”.

    He didn’t use the story. I felt really bad when I read the article upon publication because the stories in them didn’t really fit the intent of the story (one person described a very pleasant houseguest they thought was a relative but turned out to be a stranger who showed up at the wrong house). But he was right not to use my story if he couldn’t use my name. Good for him. This was about 25 years ago…how things have changed.

  6. A personal friend, ex-military and, at the time, working for the RNC, was the person who discovered that Rather’s memo related to GWB was fake. The RNC knew that the 60 Minutes piece was coming; after it aired he downloaded the PDF of the memo (CBS had helpfully posted it to their website) and started thinking that it didn’t look at all like something that would have been produced in the era in question, during which time most memos and reports were written with IBM Selectric typewriters and, if necessary, photocopied.

    The font and spacing weren’t consistent with that era. So my friend did a little bit of tweaking of the default settings for Microsoft Word, typed it up and printed it out. He overlayed his work atop the CBS version on a lightbox. It was VERY close, but not quite perfect – what he had produced was a LITTLE too big. My friend is a clever guy; he knew that fax machines reduce an original ever so slightly in size. One or two passes through the fax, and it was a direct light box match. The only thing left to do was to make sure a couple of popular conservative blogs found out, and they did in very short order.

    TV journalists working at Rather’s level are figureheads more than anything. Most of the research and real reporting for any story is done by a producer, usually with the help of junior production staff. By the time a 60 Minutes reporter is hands-on with a story, it’s usually just to conduct the on-camera interviews; all the heavy lifting has been done. Of course, the star is ultimately responsible for the story; they’re the brand and the ones whose names are attached to the story.

    Rather and his producer, Mary Mapes, made an incredibly stupid mistake for one simple reason: they desperately WANTED the story to be true. Much of America wanted it to be true, too. We usually don’t see a magician’s sleight-of-hand; that’s due in part to the way they misdirect our attention from the trick, but we allow ourselves to be misdirected because we want to witness magic. The Bush “Air National Guard” memo was a story that was too good to check; it comported with the biases of Mapes, Rather and others developing the story. I’ve never been completely certain that the basis for the story wasn’t at least partially accurate, but what Rather presented as proof was inarguably phony.

    I suspect that Goldberg’s story on Trump’s disrespect of the military is cut from the same cloth: Goldberg WANTS to believe it – as does a lot of the country. As for him getting fired, though…? Doubtful. CBS News is (well, at least it WAS) a massive, long-established and highly respected brand, part of a national network that itself was owned by a conglomerate (Viacom). It’s pretty hard for an organization like that to do nothing when one of its most visible players cocks up like that. The Atlantic, on the other hand? Paid subscription base of less than half a million, and while this story got plenty of clickthroughs and shares, the fact is that The Atlantic survives only due to the largesse of a foundation created and controlled by Laurenne Jobs (Steve Jobs’s widow). In terms of relative clout, The Atlantic is a flea fart to CBS’s tornado.

    Both Rathergate and The Atlantic’s hit piece underscore one of the biggest problems with American media today: lack of self-awareness. I strongly doubt that Goldberg constructed the story out of whole cloth. But when flacks and political operatives can take advantage of known biases in journalists, the results can be explosive. And many of the journalists themselves are incapable of seeing how corrupted they personally are. They actually think that they, personally, are on the level – and that their cause is righteous.

    • People have noticed this about the media for decades.

      Note this exchange on a Usenet newsgroup from 1994.

      Well I have to look that up for myself. I’m just going by what I see/read in the news media.

      – Darryl Hamilton

      That’s an interesting approach, kind of like trying to determine the actual
      intelligence and character of Black people by watching “Birth of a Nation”….

      – Christopher Charles Morton

    • Mary Mapes WAS fired for this. And well she should have been. Dan Rather was allowed to retire, but I don’t think he wanted to just yet. Never liked the guy since his pit-bull journalistic attack on Bush the elder, which a high school enemy crowed about showing he WAS the network, just like this arrogant fuck wanted to be one day (he only got as far as selling real estate, screw you, Roberto, you arrogant, stuck-up, loudmouthed asshole, wherever you are, I hope you get cancer and die).

      • Rather most assuredly did NOT want to retire. Formally, CBS chose not to renew his contract; in 2012 Rather claimed on Bill Mahar’s show that CBS had fired him. Further, he tried to sue CBS et al for $70 million. The suits were dismissed both at trial and appellate levels.

        • I agree: he was fired. The retirement bit was a face-saving cover offered in light of his past service, and Dan didn’t accept it. To this day, he maintains that he didn’t do anything wrong, which disqualifies him as a legitimate pundit.

          • Of course he didn’t do anything wrong. He didn’t do anything wrong just like Scott Ritter and Woody Allen and Roman Polanski didn’t do anything but follow their hearts, the first was set up because he was opposed to the war in Iraq, the latter two didn’t do anything that was the public’s business. He didn’t do anything wrong just like Philip Agee and Kim Philby and John Walker Lindh didn’t do anything but turn against the decadent West. He didn’t do anything wrong just like OJ and Ira Einhorn and Mumia didn’t kill anyone, they were framed, the first by a racist cop, the second by a system that was terrified of his message, and the latter by both a racist police department AND a system that was deathly afraid of what he had to say.

          • I should have put scare quotes around “allowed to retire.” The only difference is that he was politely shown the door instead of kicked out the fifth-story window like Mary Mapes.

          • Agreed, Jack. There are really only two possible explanations here:

            1) Rather (and Mapes) were sold a bill of goods purely for political purposes on the part of the seller. Their own biases blinded them to the possibility that the information was bogus, and they failed to do due diligence. Grossly incompetent.

            2) The story was actually TRUE, but the proof offered – and which became the linchpin of the 60 Minutes piece – was a modern reproduction (or close approximation) of an actual document that upheld the premise of the story. But by not producing the original and centering the story on a version that was clearly of more modern origin, Rather and Mapes rendered everything else about the story highly suspect. Considering that this was in 2005 and George Bush was still enjoying reasonably high approval ratings, they had to have the story airtight. They didn’t. Again, grossly incompetent.

            In either scenario, sacking them (or refusing to renew contract) would have been the appropriate response.

            Those were the days, eh?

  7. Hell, I don’t even trust named sources. When it seems we have defacto political officers working on behest of one party it will take more than the testimony of a few to convince me of anything

  8. Don Basilio’s aria “La Calunnia” [Slander] from The Barber of Seville (Rossini) is a picture-perfect rendition of both the process and effects of calumny – a travesty perfected by the MSM.
    Here’s an English translation and a good performance:

    Calumny is a little breeze,
    a gentle zephyr,
    which insensibly, subtly,
    lightly and sweetly,
    commences to whisper.
    Softly softly, here and there,
    sottovoce, sibilant,
    it goes gliding, it goes rambling.
    Into the ears of the people,
    it penetrates slyly
    and the head and the brains
    it stuns and it swells.
    From the mouth re-emerging
    the noise grows crescendo,
    gathers force little by little,
    runs its course from place to place,
    seems the thunder of the tempest
    which from the depths of the forest
    comes whistling, muttering,
    freezing everyone in horror.
    Finally with crack and crash,
    it spreads afield, its force redoubled,
    and produces an explosion
    like the outburst of a cannon,
    an earthquake, a whirlwind,
    a general uproar,
    which makes the air resound.
    And the poor slandered wretch,
    vilified, trampled down,
    sunk beneath the public lash,
    by good fortune, falls to death.

  9. With this episode exposing once again journalism’s ethical vacuum, and people actually noticing this time, it’s awfully fortunate that Bob Woodward, the patron saint of journalism that matters, would choose now to release the dirt he’s had on trump for half a year.
    I’m sure that it’s just a coincidence.

    • Rest assured, Trump hit pieces will be dropped with increasing frequency until the day of the election.

      Then, if he’s reelected the South the Democrats will embrace full insurgency on a scale potentially rivaling the darkest time of our history.

      If he’s not re-elected we’ll watch the Media never criticize the presidency with anything worse than low arcing softballs. If they fail to fully rig the system once they’ve gained power and they manage to lose the Presidency again some day, it will be phenomenal how evil *that* Republican will be and how rapidly Donald Trump will be remembered as the good ole days when a President was zany.

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