We recently discussed the false tweet sent out by CNN’s White House reporter Jim Acosta that mocked White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany for saying that “the science should not stand in the way of this.” That quote was artificially clipped to leave the diametrically opposite impression from what actually said. The clip suggests that McEnany was dismissing science when she was actually highlighting scientific work supporting the position of the White House. While Acosta later sent out another tweet noting the real meaning and his colleague Jake Tapper corrected the false narrative on the air, Chuck Todd on Meet the Press decided to play the misleading clip not once but twice on Sunday. It was not just running an overtly misleading clip but defiantly doing so after other journalists have challenged the erroneous impression left by the clip. The misleading quality of the clip clearly was not the problem but the appeal for Meet the Press.
In Thursday’s briefing, McEnany repeated President Trump’s call for children to go back to school in the fall.
“The science should not stand in the way of this, but as Dr. Scott Atlas said — I thought this was a good quote, ‘Of course, we can do it. Everyone else in the Western world, our peer nations are doing it. We are the outlier here.’ The science is very clear on this. For example, you look at the JAMA pediatric study of 46 pediatric hospitals in North America that said the risk of critical illness from COVID is far less for children than the seasonal flu. The science is on our side here. We encourage localities and states to just simply follow the science. Open our schools.”
As noted earlier, she is clearly citing the science as supporting the position of the Administration. However, Acosta clipped the statement to make it sound like McEnany was dismissing the relevance of science: “The White House Press Secretary on Trump’s push to reopen schools: ‘The science should not stand in the way of this.’”
The quote was McEnany referring to a scientific study and, right after the line quoted, McEnany said “The science is very clear on this.” She then two lines later added “The science is on our side here.” The entire quote was McEnany raising a scientific study that supports their position. It is akin to a McEnany saying “National security is not relevant because the Defense Department report supports this policy” only to have Acosta tweet “The White House Press Secretary: “National Security is not relevant” in White House policy.
Tapper stood by the facts over the narrative when his colleague CNN’s chief medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta repeated the same false narrative that McEnany was having an “alternative facts kind of moment.” Tapper responded: “If I could just say, Sanjay,. I think she was just trying to say that the science shouldn’t stand in the way because the science is on our side. I don’t know that all of the science is on their side- and certainly, this White House, their respect for science knows bounds, let’s put it that way, but I think that’s what she was getting at.”
As bad as that incident was, it is not nearly as bad as Chuck Todd ignoring the controversy and the correction to repeatedly air the same misleading quote. NBC was fully aware that the clip was not just misleading but that it conveyed the opposite of what actually was stated in the press conference. Todd showed a clips of people denying the need to wear masks and stated that Trump is just ignoring the risks to push to open schools. He then showed the clip of McEnany that is edited to cut off her reference to scientific data, making it sound that she was saying that the science was not important. The clip was played a second time later in the show. Unlike Acosta, Todd did not later even add the fact that McEnany continued on to cite the scientific support for the policy. He just left the misleading clip without any clarifying context.
If an ill-considered tweet is a venial sin for Acosta at CNN, this is a mortal sin for Todd at NBC. This was no careless tweet, but an airing made long after the false account was flagged during the CNN controversy. It is another example of how the echo-journalistic model not only undermines the faith in the media but actually undermines the effort to fully inform the public on the pandemic. Rather than focus on legitimate questions about the Administration’s efforts, Todd instead knowingly played a false gotcha clip.
I have previously criticized Todd for omitting facts that did not fit an attack on the Administration as well as his repeated disparaging comments on Trump supporters. These is a fundamental change in the media where such shaping of facts to fit a narrative is now commonplace. Indeed, it is essential to maintain an echo-journalistic model. The result however is the lost of reliable sources to unbiased news. Many disagree with this President and this White House, but they still want to receive an accurate account of what is being said and done in Washington. Instead, they are given news tailored to the preference of hosts who see facts as the a type of clay to be shaped into a preferred image for public consumption. There comes a point where you are not long informing but indoctrinating the public.
I was hoping that Todd would return to the earlier clips to offer some context to show that the clip was the opposite of what McEnany clearly meant. However, the show ended without any context, clarification, or correction. This week, many of us praised Chris Wallace for correctly challenging President Donald Trump for misstating the position of Joe Biden on defunding the police. Biden’s comment on shifting funds was widely defended in the media as not meaning that he would support the more radical calls to defund the police. Journalists objected that the statement was taken out of context in the interview. I agreed with that objection. Yet, those same voices in the media are silent on this false account against the White House and Todd went further in replaying the clip twice on the air.