Information Warfare: When Propagandists Question the Media’s Objectivity

Both John Solomon and Sharyl Attkisson have written similar critiques of the media in which they question the objectivity of mainstream journalists. Solomon claims that the media was too passionate and emotional in their response to Trump giving the Saudi royal family a pass on the murder of Jamal Khashoggi.

On CNN, anchor Brianna Keilar suggested there was little difference in Trump’s annual rite of pardoning a Thanksgiving turkey and his treatment of Saudi Arabia.

“And there you have it — President Trump pardoning the Thanksgiving turkey, the annual tradition. Peas is the name of this turkey,” Keilar said on “CNN Newsroom.”

“And just the most unusual dichotomy here, as this comes on the heels of a statement that the president has put out essentially pardoning Saudi Arabia and the crown prince and the king there, despite what his intel community is expected to put out in a report today that Saudi Arabia is behind, that these leaders of Saudi Arabia are behind the killing of a Washington Post journalist,” she added.

Such rhetorical flair may make the journalist emotionally satisfied for a moment. But the injection of opinion and insinuation and condemnation disserves the public for a far longer time, depriving viewers and readers of a neutral set of facts upon which to make their own decisions and opinions.

With rare exception, the wise elders of the profession have not spoken up forcefully enough to denounce this creeping cancer of POV journalism, nor stem the demise of the profession’s core values of fairness, accuracy, precision and neutrality. In fact, some are gleefully cheering on some of the bad-boy behaviors.

As her target, Attkisson chose the report about Trump’s desire to prosecute his political opponents. She begins by demonstrating that she is clueless about what it means for a president to direct the Justice Department about who/what to investigate.

I’m not as smart as a lot of people, but my initial reaction was a big “So what?” First, it’s unsurprising that Trump would have wanted his Justice Department to investigate two officials widely accused of wrongdoing. Second, even Trump’s critics acknowledge his right to ask for such investigations. Third, the investigations were never ordered.

But in a classic nod to bothsiderism, regardless of the facts, Attkisson suggests that reporters didn’t take conspiracy theories into account in the kinds of questions they asked.

Are all the figures who have warded off Trump from being involved in his own Justice Department really trying to keep him away so that he doesn’t uncover facts related to allegedly politically-motivated acts, surveillance and wrongdoing by some officials over the years?

Is the strategy to accuse Trump of “obstruction” every time he interacts with his Justice Department part of the “insurance policy” discussed by multiple Trump opponents — including two FBI officials and a Comey associate?

That is some serious pearl-clutching from a reporter who claimed that the result of a stuck delete key was the Obama administration’s attempt to hack her computer. The day that anyone takes Sharyl Attkisson’s reporting seriously is the day that we will have fully succumbed to believing conspiracy theories over objective truth.

It is equally galling to be lectured about press neutrality by someone like John Solomon. I would remind you what Josh Marshall wrote about him.

He had a well-earned reputation as the easiest mark in the business for GOP oppo research hits. It was actually a kind of running gag among Republican campaign operatives. No one will run with a story you’re trying to float? Bring it to John Solomon.

That assessment came as Solomon was attempting to spread lies about Hillary Clinton’s supposed “uranium deal” as a way to discredit the FBI, as well as Robert Mueller and Rod Rosenstein. From his stories at The Hill, it became increasingly clear that Solomon was basing much of his reporting on leaks from Rep. Devin Nunes and his attempts to undermine the Russia investigation.

I don’t for a minute believe that John Solomon or Sharyl Attkisson have any respect for objective reporting. They have an agenda and consistently write stories to promote it. That is a fact that any objective analysis would confirm. So what is this pearl-clutching over the media all about? It is the new face of information warfare in which propagandists question the objectivity of the media. As Peter Pomerantsev said of Vladimir Putin’s version: “If nothing is true, then anything is possible.”

To deal with this kind of information warfare, we all have to stay grounded. There are times when it is appropriate to question mainstream media sources, but not with the kind of nonsense peddled by Solomon and Attkisson. We need to be informed about their history of spreading lies as a way to promote their agenda. That is precisely why I have consistently attempted to expose readers to the facts behind their lies.

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Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly. Follow her on Twitter @Smartypants60 .