In recent days, after President Trump withdrew US troops from Syria, some of the criticism was accompanied by dramatic video on the news. ABC News aired video they claimed showed attacks by Turkish troops on Kurdish civilians, telling of slaughter and 'horrific reports of atrocities'. But ABC removed the video and apologized on Monday after online viewers seemed to find the video wasn’t shot recently and wasn’t even from the Mideast... but from a gun show demonstration in Kentucky in 2017.
The network did not explain -how- such a mistake could have happened. President Trump tweeted: A big scandal at @ABC News. They got caught using really gruesome FAKE footage of the Turks bombing in Syria.
The war between the media and Donald Trump sometimes looks like one of mutually assured destruction. And sometimes, truth is a casualty.
We talk about that with Fox News media critic Howie Kurtz, author of: Media Madness: Donald Trump, the Press and the War Over the Truth.
Sharyl: Is there such a thing as an objective press?
Howie Kurtz: There may not be such a thing as a purely objective press, because everybody brings their own biases. But, I think there is such a thing as a press corps that strives to be fair. I think there are reporters and journalists and even some anchors that do try to be fair, even in this hyper-polarized environment, where whatever you say or do, you get hammered by one side or the other as being pro-Trump or anti-Trump. It happens to me every hour or so. But, I think we're seeing fewer and fewer organizations committed to the notion of trying to be fair. There is this tone. Sometimes, it's snarky. Sometimes, it's disgusted about, what did he do today? How is he undermining democracy? Look, there's a lot to investigate in this administration. There was a two-year investigation of the Russia matter. Even when Bob Mueller came out and recommended no criminal charges, it seemed like there was a brief pause, and then the press was back at it night after night, day after day, in what Trump supporters would see as pretty hostile coverage.
Sharyl: You were on the leading edge in a way. You wrote before the Special Counsel Robert Mueller Report came out that the press had overreached too often when reporting on that.
Howie Kurtz: I don't think there is any question, even though I never said that this is a witch hunt or the Mueller investigation was somehow illegitimate or a coup. I've never bought into any of that language. Of course, there were a number of indictments. But, it seemed to me that every little development, somebody hiring a lawyer, some new peripheral player being interviewed, some subpoena battle on Capitol Hill, got the breaking news banners, crisis treatment, constantly, to the point where I think it exhausted the country. Especially, now, the President is not going to face any criminal charges, I think a lot of people are just tired of it. But, the media are not tired of it, and I think it's still working for them as a narrative and working for them as a business model.
Sharyl: You wrote that White House Strategist Steve Bannon warned Donald Trump very early on that his enemies would try to impeach him and, presumably, the press would pick up this narrative.
Howie Kurtz: Well, Bannon and Trump obviously had a falling out, but Bannon provided pretty good political advice. For example, he said that the firing of James Comey at that time was not a good idea and would cause a political backlash. But, impeachment I think has morphed from a media fantasy to maybe a remote possibility, and then, after the Mueller Report came out, and the battles on Capitol Hill heated up with the White House, you almost sense that there's a hunger in the press, because it would be such a great story to cover, particularly, if you don't like this President, as many journalists and pundits privately do not.
Sharyl: In your view, did Donald Trump cause the media to descend into madness or just expose media madness that was already in existence?
Howie Kurtz: The media's credibility problems were maybe more like a fever. Once Trump trauma took effect, that's what I call it, I think that he made the media go crazy. That's not to let the press off the hook. But, there was something so visceral in the response of many journalists and pundits to the Trump presidency, to Donald Trump himself. In addition to the fact that you might expect them to be ideologically opposed to a lot of what he wants to do, he just drives them up the wall. They never fully accept, many of them, that he is the President. I think that's where I got the madness in the title. For the press, Donald Trump has become like the great white whale. It is hard to avoid the conclusion that so many journalists are invested in an outcome that either sees him driven from office or defeated in 2020. Neither side has any incentive to end the war.
Sharyl: In some way, both sides benefit.
Kurtz: In some ways both sides benefit, but I'm not so sure the country benefits, because with the press briefings largely fading away and with the constant hostility, it's become harder for all of us to agree on a common set of facts. That's one of the casualties I think of this all-out war between Trump and the media.
In recent days, dozens of news organizations misquoted President Trump as saying the Kurds are “not our problem.” Some of the news outlets corrected their reports saying they’d made a mistake: Trump actually said “it’s not our border.”