The 1976 film All the President’s Men tells the story of Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein’s investigation of the1972 break-in at the Democratic National Headquarters at the Watergate Hotel, the scandal which ultimately led to the resignation of President Richard Nixon. In the film, which has inspired four decades of students to pursue journalism careers, Washington Post editor Ben Bradlee (Jason Robards) famously cautions Woodward (Robert Redford) and Bernstein (Dustin Hoffman), “You guys are about to write a story that says the former Attorney General, the highest ranking law enforcement officer in this country, is a crook! Just be sure you’re right!”
While I do not know if Ben Bradlee actually uttered those exact words, the warning to make sure that “you are right” before labeling a hunch or a tip from a source a fact truly resonated with me and continues to resonate with me every time I see the film or am reminded of it. Those words flashed through my mind yesterday when I saw the recently released film The Post which details the Washington Post’s coverage of the release of the Pentagon Papers.
In both films, it was made very clear that reporters at the Washington Post, the New York Times and other major news outlets disliked and distrusted President Nixon and his administration. That being said, there was still a concern with accurate and ethical reporting, perhaps, the concern was based on a fear of retribution in the form of loss of access, but the concern was still present.
Flash forward to 2018 where we once again have a Republican in the White House, Donald Trump. However, the journalistic integrity so heralded in All the President’s Men has all but evaporated. Ever since Trump announced his candidacy for the presidency in June 2015, the media have been out to discredit him and that desire has only increased following his historic 2016 win over Democrat Hillary Clinton.
The most recent and perhaps the most persistent of the Trump take-down campaigns has been the Russian collusion narrative which postulates that the Russian government interfered and influenced the 2016 presidential election and brought about the election of Trump and the defeat of Clinton. On Friday, February 16, FBI Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s office which was investigating the alleged ties between the Russian government and the Trump 2016 presidential campaign, revealed that thirteen Russian nationals were indicted on charges to defraud the U, S. government. Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein who was overseeing the investigation for the Department of Justice announced that the Russian interference began in 2014 and consisted of Russian groups posting ads and organizing events on social media platforms. The content included both anti-Clinton and anti-Trump messaging. Twelve of the thirteen individuals indicted were employed with an organization known as the Internet Research Agency.
In his prepared remarks Rosenstein stated “There is no allegation in this indictment that any American was a knowing participant in this illegal activity,” he said. “There is no allegation in the indictment that the charge conduct altered the outcome of the 2016 election.” Rosenstein also commented that there was no evidence that the Trump campaign had any involvement with the aforementioned Russian propaganda makers.
President Trump responded to the announcement tweeting “Russia started their anti-US campaign in 2014, long before I announced that I would run for President. The results of the election were not impacted. The Trump campaign did nothing wrong – no collusion!”
Even Facebook supported President Trump’s claims with Rob Goldman, VP of Advertising for the organization responding to the media’s one-sided coverage with a tweet of his own: “The majority of the Russian ad spend happened AFTER the election. We shared that fact, but very few outlets have covered it because it doesn’t align with the main media narrative of Trump and the election.”
Rosenstein’s announcement should have been enough to put the Russian fairy tale to rest, but the liberal media refused to do so. All the mainstream publications and broadcast news outlets continued to peddle the Russian collusion narrative. And speaking of the Washington Post, they released a series of articles including one titled Trump’s Russia Hoax Turns out to Be Real.
Legendary Watergate reporter Carl Bernstein also jumped into the fray with a Friday interview with CNN. “We are seeing evidence of a conspiracy,” Bernstein said. “Who was witting, unwitting in that conspiracy, we don’t know yet. But Mueller’s indictments are pointing in a certain direction around people in the Trump orbit and family.” Really Carl? Where are your facts? Or have you rationalized that since you are not the one breaking a story this time, it is okay to continue to add your elder statesman’s voice to an unsubstantiated web of “fake news”?
Movies like All the President’s Men and The Post remind us that we are fortunate enough to live in a country where we have free speech, which inherently gives journalists the right to speak and write critically of our government. However, there is a big difference between meticulously investigating and reporting on actual incidents of corruption versus going on “witch hunts” in search of a “smoking gun”. Perhaps our mainstream media need to take a refresher course in responsible journalism.
Image: Excerpted from: By Source, Fair use, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=21480941