Friday, December 01, 2017

Genuine fake news

It was inevitable that the media would be unable to refrain from jumping around like poo-flinging monkeys contain its enthusiasm in reporting a potentially explosive story about the Trump administration. But as is often the case, the mostly anti-Trump media ends up stepping on a proverbial rake when becoming so overly enthusiastic.

We'll come back to that.

In the ongoing investigation into Russia meddling in the 2016 U.S. election, things are definitely on the move.

Former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn pleaded guilty Friday to making false statements to the FBI – as part of a deal that involves his full cooperation with investigators in Special Counsel Robert Mueller's Russia probe.

Court documents show Flynn has acknowledged to investigators that at least two Trump transition members were involved in his outreach to Russian officials – though he initially gave false statements about those discussions.

The documents say that in late December 2016, Flynn called a senior transition official (identified as the "PTT official") to ask what to communicate to the Russian ambassador about sanctions. That official and Flynn discussed how they didn’t want Russia to "escalate the situation," something Flynn immediately told the ambassador in a phone call.

What I don't understand is why Flynn felt compelled to lie to the FBI. As a member of a presidential transition team, it's perfectly logical to reach out to foreign governments with whom you'll be interacting in the near future. I guess we'll know soon enough why Flynn was not forthright since he's now cut a deal that will allow him to avoid serious prison time.

On the surface, Flynn's communications with Russian officials prove virtually nothing, especially within the context of a president-elect Donald Trump instructing him to do so. Now if it were candidate Trump who gave such a directive? Well, then you're talking about the serious possibility of collusion. Ah, but certainly any major news network such as ABC News breaking the story of Flynn's guilty plea would be sure to draw such an important distinction, correct?

CNN reported late on Friday that an "ABC News spokesperson" said that "'World News' will clarify that this should be president-elect Trump, not candidate Trump."

ABC's mistake is a significant one. That it was president-elect Trump that allegedly instructed Flynn to contact the Russian ambassador and not candidate Trump changes the entire timeline of events and once again throws water on the idea that the Trump campaign colluded with Russian officials to sway the 2016 presidential election. There is nothing illegal about the Trump transition team contacting foreign officials to prepare the way for taking office.

Now it's being reported by multiple sources that a senior Trump administration official (Jared Kushner) was the person to give Flynn the directive. So it appears ABC's Brian Ross quite literally had an "exclusive" story.

Quite often Trump chides reports as "fake news" when it contains something unflattering to his administration. It's downright petulant when he does so, particularly when stories being reported contain easily verifiable facts. But in the case of Ross's report, certain facts surrounding the Flynn story were either omitted or misconstrued in an effort to reflect poorly on a presidential administration which the media at large loathes. And this isn't the first time Ross has been overzealous in his reporting. Remember the horrific mass shooting at an Aurora, CO movie theater 5+ years ago? Upon shooter James Holmes being identified, Ross did little more than a Google search to determine that someone named James Holmes was a member of a Colorado Tea Party group. Because guns and right-wing activist groups are two things which much of the media abhors, it was too good to not at least broach the possibility it was the same guy. Of course, the James Holmes of the Colorado Tea Party was not the shooter, so ABC News had to walk that back as well.

As of now, it's too early to determine how damning these recent developments are to the Trump administration. Unfortunately, the mainstream media is once again demonstrating that most reports on the Russia probe should be held to a standard of (to borrow a phrase from my pal Mitch Berg) Distrust but verify.....then distrust some more.


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