COLUMBIA JOURNALISM REVIEW: The press versus the president, part one.
By July, Trump was poised to become the GOP nominee at the party’s convention in Cleveland. On July 18, the first day of the gathering, Josh Rogin, an opinion columnist for the Washington Post, wrote a piece about the party’s platform position on Ukraine under the headline “Trump campaign guts GOP’s anti-Russian stance on Ukraine.” The story would turn out to be an overreach. Subsequent investigations found that the original draft of the platform was actually strengthened by adding language on tightening sanctions on Russia for Ukraine-related actions, if warranted, and calling for “additional assistance” for Ukraine. What was rejected was a proposal to supply arms to Ukraine, something the Obama administration hadn’t done.
Rogin’s piece nevertheless caught the attention of other journalists. Within a few days, Paul Krugman, in his Times column, called Trump the “Siberian candidate,” citing the “watering down” of the platform. Jeffrey Goldberg, the editor of The Atlantic, labeled Trump a “de facto agent” of Putin. He cited the Rogin report and a recent interview Trump gave to the Times where he emphasized the importance of NATO members paying their bills and didn’t answer a question on whether nations in arrears could count on American support if Russia attacked them.
But other journalists saw the Rogin piece differently, introducing a level of skepticism that most of the press would ignore. Masha Gessen, a Russian-American journalist and harsh Putin critic, writing in the New York Review of Books that month, said labeling Trump a Putin agent was “deeply flawed.” Gessen, in articles then and a few months later, said the accounts of the platform revisions were “slightly misleading” because sanctions, something the “Russians had hoped to see gone,” remained, while the proposal for lethal aid to Ukraine was, at the time, a step too far for most experts and the Obama administration.
Matt Taibbi, who spent time as a journalist in Russia, also grew uneasy about the Trump-Russia coverage. Eventually, he would compare the media’s performance to its failures during the run-up to the Iraq War. “It was a career-changing moment for me,” he said in an interview. The “more neutral approach” to reporting “went completely out the window once Trump got elected. Saying anything publicly about the story that did not align with the narrative—the repercussions were huge for any of us that did not go there. That is crazy.”
Taibbi, as well as Glenn Greenwald, then at The Intercept, and Aaron Mate, then at The Nation, left their publications and continue to be widely followed, though they are now independent journalists. All were publicly critical of the press’s Trump-Russia narrative. (Taibbi, over the last month, surged back into the spotlight after Elon Musk, the new owner of Twitter, gave him access to the tech platform’s files.)
At the end of July, the DNC held its nominating convention in Philadelphia. In attendance were legions of journalists, as well as Simpson and Fritsch. On the eve of the events, the hacked emails from the DNC were dumped, angering supporters of Bernie Sanders, who saw confirmation in the messages of their fears that the committee had favored Hillary.
The disclosures, while not helpful to Clinton, energized the promotion of the Russia narrative to the media by her aides and Fusion investigators. On July 24, Robby Mook, Hillary’s campaign manager, told CNN and ABC that Trump himself had “changed the platform” to become “more pro-Russian” and that the hack and dump “was done by the Russians for the purpose of helping Donald Trump,” according to unnamed “experts.”
Yes, it’s your regularly scheduled DNC-MSM “we really screwed up coverage of the last Republican president, and we promise never to do it again” article. (Pay no attention to the 2024 battlefield prep we’re already doing: The Washington Post Botches the Florida Classroom-Library Controversy.)