Mueller’s Russiagate Charges Against Manafort Fail Badly – OpEd


“The evidence just wasn’t there to convict alleged tax cheat Paul Manafort on most of the 18 charges that had been brought against him. This gave Special Counsel Robert Mueller his first clear defeat in his flagging hunt for an illegal Russia connection to Trump. Some observers claim jury bias in the few charges that prevailed. They cite pejorative media innuendoes attempting to tie Manafort to the Trump-Russia scandal. There’s no word yet on Manafort’s appeal strategy for the few convictions brought forth by the jury. So this is still not a closed issue. Manafort vehemently proclaims his innocence, contending he’s been a victim of Mueller’s illicit witch hunt for an unproven Russia connection to Trump.”

I don’t know about you, but my foregoing spoof paragraph is definitely not the way I saw the Manafort case covered by the media. It went more like this:

“Paul Manafort Convicted of Eight Counts of Fraud” –Wall Street Journal

“Former Trump campaign chairman Manafort found guilty of tax and bank fraud” –Reuters

“Guilty: Paul Manafort convicted in first Mueller probe trial” –MSNBC

That’s a very different slant on things. Granted that my spoof above was deliberately slanted. But I did that as an object lesson to show by contrast the hysterical extreme the media have taken in their reportage. It seems they viewed the Manafort trial outcome as a gotcha moment in a campaign to deligitimize Trump.

There’s nothing basically wrong for citizens to attempt deligitimizing a president for whom they have disdain. But shouldn’t they do it while acting with integrity and legitimacy themselves?

Another highly spun part of the Manafort reportage has to do with the jury split on the majority of the charges. The New York Times put it this way:

“One Holdout Kept Jury From Convicting Paul Manafort on All Counts.”

An opposite spin could have asserted:

“Just One Juror Could Have Allowed All 18 of Mueller’s Russiagate Witch Hunt Charges Against Manafort to be Thrown Out.

It would have been better to simply present the facts without any spin. It sounds like the Times is pushing a point of view instead of the plain truth.

“Seek Truth and Report It” is the first tenet of the Society of Professional Journalists’ ethics code.

But instead of even seeking the truth, much less reporting it, the media outlets are off on a journalistic bender. They seem to be trying to invent a faux truth that outright conflicts with the actual truth.

This is especially apparent if you listen to the cable reportage of MSNBC and Fox News. Tune to MSNBC and you hear unabashed negative case making against Donald Trump. Switch over to Fox News and you can’t miss the oppositely framed coverage that finds virtue in almost everything Trump does.

But even coverage on Fox News took a fanciful anti-Trump turn after the president’s summit with Vladimir Putin. I’d like to know what was behind that switcheroo.

The SPJ code also proclaims, “The highest and primary obligation of ethical journalism is to serve the public.”

How is the public being served by media outlets on a mission to distort and fabricate?

I don’t know whether or not the Trump campaign colluded with Russians who are bent on doing harm to America. US politicians frequently allege that Putin is on a mission to destabilize and destroy America’s democracy. But there’s been no objective evidence presented. Despite that, we’ve seen a plethora of allegations.

For example, first we heard that all seventeen US intelligence agencies found that the Russian state was culpable in hacking Democratic National Committee servers (New York Times). Then as that claim was put to practical scrutiny the story changed. Now it became just four agencies.

Why should journalists have believed even that back-down story? After all, aren’t we talking about agencies that came out strongly with the story of Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction years ago?

What’s more there is respectable technical evidence that there never was a DNC hack in the first place. Technical forensics instead point to a local download from the server, not a hack from afar. That suggests it was an internal leak not a hack.

If officials lie and distort to make their case, they exhibit an absence of integrity in my view. They deserve a presumption of disbelief instead of the gullible acceptance they are getting from most Americans.

The First Amendment forbids “abridging the freedom of speech” irrespective of whether there’s any truth to what one is saying. That gives our politicians license to spew utter nonsense upon an unsuspecting public. Many do that with abandon. They have a perfect right to sully their own reputation and character.

But how will anyone know they’re talking nonsense?

That’s where the next phrase in the First Amendment comes in. It nixes legislating against the “freedom of the press.” In practice, though, the media has less latitude for wanton fibbing.

That’s because of the implicit role of the press in a democracy. If not for an honest watch dog press how could citizens make enlightened choices at election time? Freedom of the press therefore is a right of the people to learn the truth. It’s not just free speech for journalists. Sure there’s room for wide-ranging opinions to be carried by the press. But when it comes to hard news, honest facts come first.

How could so many media outlets go off the deep end with basically the same slanted story about Manafort? Why didn’t they simply play it down the middle and just report the facts? I’ll tell you how this happened: nobody fact checked.

That’s an industry-wide problem in the media business. Bad practices cast a pale upon the whole journalistic profession. In Editors Only, a publication read by thousands of magazine and newspaper editors monthly, I recently gave this admonition: “Our collective reputation as providers of trustworthy content is at stake. The sins of others can impact our whole industry.”

Clearly it’s time for the media to shape up. The Manafort reportage makes that plain.

William Dunkerley

William Dunkerley is a media business analyst, international development and change strategist, and author of numerous books, monographs, and articles. He has been editor and publisher of media industry information, and has additional expertise in post-communist media business and content.

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