During the election of 1828 Rachel Jackson, the wife of presidential candidate Andrew Jackson, came under a withering personal attack. She was accused of being an adulteress, a bigamist, and all other manner of salacious charges over her divorce from her first husband.
The news media of the day knew that the truth was that Rachel Jackson had divorced her previous husband who had been abusive to her, but that unknown to her the divorce had not actually been completed prior to her subsequent marriage to her beloved Andrew. Shortly afterwards the divorce process was completed, but Rachel and Andrew’s attackers could have cared less.
Sadly as Andrew and Rachel Jackson discovered, the truth doesn’t always sell newspapers. But certainly juicy sexual allegations, innuendoes and half-truths, and sometimes even made up facts published in the newspaper indeed do sell. Honesty, integrity, and journalistic ethics be damned! At least that was the feeling back in 1828.
Fast forward to January 11, 2017 and President-elect Donald Trump’s first news conference since the November election when he defeated his Democratic opponent former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
Based on the antics of one of the reporters in attendance, one might wonder if we had gone back in time to that very contentious election when Andrew Jackson was politically attacked by his enemies, with the wild and misleading personal accusations that were leveled against Jackson’s wife Rachel way back in 1828 being surpassed in wickedness by the allegations made against President-elect Donald Trump in 2017.
And while this time it was Trump himself as the target and not his wife, the tactic that was being employed by some in the news media was clearly the same. Try to damage someone you disagree with politically by levying nasty personal attacks that have little if any basis in truth. And once again journalistic ethics be damned.
All responsible journalists know that unsourced reporting of particularly vile and potentially prejudicial stories is an absolute no-no. One simply doesn’t do it. Just mentioning something that is unfounded or for which there is no verifiable evidence will create doubt in some news consumer’s minds. Particularly those who may already be opposed to, or undecided about a politician.
When the Russian KGB did it we called it “Disinformation.” Not at all different from what has been practiced by Democrats like former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, when he stated that “Mitt Romney didn’t pay any taxes for ten years.” Though there was no evidence or truth to the statement made by Reid, he got it out in front of the voters and it quite possibly had a detrimental effect on the Romney campaign.
To quote Reid after the election, “Romney didn’t win, did he?” Obviously Reid has no problem with lying to the American people, just as it would appear some news outlets and journalists also have no problem with ‘creating news’ in order to generate a false impression, and establish a false narrative.
Just as it is with intelligence work. Sometimes, rarely but sometimes politics gets involved. But I think it’s important to also point out that intelligence work is not an exact science. There have been intelligence failures in the past, and most certainly will be in the future. But hopefully President-elect Trump knows that the lobby wall at Langley is covered with stars, each one a memorial to a CIA employee who made the ultimate sacrifice on behalf of this country.
Though their voices have been silenced, those stars speak loudly on their behalf. And the President-elect must be careful to avoid painting with a broad brush when commenting on the efforts of the U.S. Intelligence Community, while recognizing that there certainly is room for improvement. September 11, 2001 and the last eight years have proven that.
A President Donald Trump won’t just be responsible for negotiating great deals for the United States of America to strengthen our country economically. He’ll also be responsible for protecting and defending our great nation from our enemies who wish to do us harm. And he will depend on the colleagues of those represented by stars on a wall to help him make wise decisions.
The same holds true for the news media. They have a responsibility to report the news fairly and accurately. That responsibility is far more important than just being the first to report a story, and the truth be damned.