Yesterday was a bad day for journalism.
Too many threw their street smarts to the wind and cast their lot with an incredible story about the president.
No amount of wishful thinking should ever trump evidentiary analysis and critical thinking. But that’s what happened.
The gravamen of the BuzzFeed story was this:
“Now the two sources have told BuzzFeed News that Cohen also told the special counsel that after the election, the president personally instructed him to lie — by claiming that negotiations ended months earlier than they actually did — in order to obscure Trump’s involvement”
Pretty stunning – if true – an impeachable offense to be sure, Bill Barr said as much in his testimony this week, but could that ever be proven?
Not if it’s just Trump’s word vs. Cohen’s.
Ah, but on that score, Buzzfeed had an even bigger blockbuster:
“The special counsel’s office learned about Trump’s directive for Cohen to lie to Congress through interviews with multiple witnesses from the Trump Organization and internal company emails, text messages, and a cache of other documents. Cohen then acknowledged those instructions during his interviews with that office.”
That’s when my BS meter went off. I questioned the legitimacy of the BuzzFeed blockbuster.
I did it on CNN. On Twitter. On Facebook. And on my SiriusXM Radio show – my first words coming on air yesterday at 9:04am ET were:
“Well I’ve done it again, which is both a good and bad thing. Blockbuster of a story gets dropped and yours truly is the one saying not so fast, hang on just a second…”
Don’t misunderstand. I wasn’t disbelieving of the idea that the President would have told Michael Cohen to lie to Congress about building a tower in Moscow.
What raised my eyebrow was the idea that there would be Trump Organization witnesses, company emails, texts, and a cache of other documents saying so.
Say what you will about Trump and Cohen, but I’ve got to believe they’re more sophisticated when it comes to skullduggery.
Roy Cohn taught Donald Trump better than that.
The President doesn’t even send an email. Or text. Would he really create a paper trail in telling Cohen to commit that crime?
Here in Philly, there’s an adage among politicians – you never write a letter and never throw one away.
It means that when it comes to your misdeeds, you don’t put anything in writing, but if a political opponent does, you hold it.
As I tweeted Friday morning:
This @BuzzFeed blast- It’s all about the supposed corroboration. As I said @NewDay, Michael Cohen and @realDonaldTrump strike me as the sort who know you “never write a letter and never throw one away” not the kind who memorialize bad deeds. Emails and texts and cache of docs??
From the get-go, I said the word of the day was not “suborning” but “corroboration”.
I thought this was a story that needed to be presumed false until shown otherwise.
And – it quickly went from bad to worse.
One of the co-authors appeared on CNN’s New Day right after I raised concerns about the story.
Anthony Cormier was asked if he’d seen the corroboration himself. He said, “No, I’ve not seen it personally.”
That should have made people accepting the story as gospel nervous. It didn’t.
Soon thereafter, his co-author Jason Leopold appeared on MSNBC.
Leopold is both an accomplished journalist and someone with his own credibility problems ever since he erroneously reported that Karl Rove was about to be indicted in the Valerie Plame case.
And Leopold contradicted what Cormier said. He said:
“I’ll say we’ve seen documents and been briefed.”
That’s when everyone’s BS alarm should have been blinking red.
It didn’t pass the smell test. One co-author saying one thing and his partner saying another on the critical assertion of their story.
As the day progressed, something else was significant by omission. No confirmation from CNN, the Washington Post, or New York Times regarding the story. That was telling. You know they had to be working overtime.
Finally, last night, a rare statement from the Special Counsel:
BuzzFeed’s description of specific statements to the Special Counsel’s Office, and characterization of documents and testimony obtained by this office, regarding Michael Cohen’s Congressional testimony are not accurate.
And here’s the big picture. This is the real damage.
And it’s not to Donald Trump. Oh no – he comes out ahead.
As I tweeted last night:
— Michael Smerconish (@smerconish) January 19, 2019
The president just got a heavy dose of inoculation.
Is it any wonder that last night I went to bed watching Sean Hannity decrying the biggest case of government corruption in American history?
You know who understands what I’m saying? Robert Mueller.
No wonder the Special Counsel’s office issued a rare rebuke last night. They did that – no doubt – because soon they will want to be believed. All their effort will soon be scrutinized in a world where truth too often seems a moving target.
They want their evidence to be evaluated based on critical thinking, not hyperbole and tribalism.
And that just got much more difficult.