Monday, October 17, 2022

This Business Insider Story Illustrates What's Wrong With Mainstream American Journalism

This Business Insider Story Illustrates What's Wrong With Mainstream American Journalism

Michael Cohen, President Donald Trump's former lawyer, speaks to the media as he departs after testifying before a closed door hearing of the Senate Intelligence Committee on Capitol Hill, Tuesday, Feb. 26, 2019, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

If there is one thing that can be said without fear of getting it wrong concerning former New York attorney Michael Cohen, it’s that he has zero respect for the former president he once served before Donald Trump defeated Hillary Clinton.

Cohen characteristically put it much more bluntly in a recent Salon interview, telling “Salon Talks” and Sirius Radio host Dean Obeidallah that Trump is capable of “anything and everything in order to protect himself, plain and simple.” Trump will throw anybody, including family members, under the bus if that’s what it takes to save his own skin, according to the debarred lawyer.

“Serving” can be defined in two ways when it comes to Cohen and Trump. Cohen was once routinely described in the mainstream media as Manhattan celebrity developer Trump’s “fixer.” For another, Cohen was sentenced in 2018 in federal court to serve three years in prison after pleading guilty to tax evasion, making false statements to a federally ensured bank, and assorted campaign violations.

Here’s how the Department of Justice (DOJ) described Cohen’s guilty plea:

“The plea was entered followed the filing of an eight-count criminal information, which alleged that COHEN concealed more than $4 million in personal income from the IRS, made false statements to a federally-insured financial institution in connection with a $500,000 home equity loan, and, in 2016, caused $280,000 in payments to be made to silence two women who otherwise planned to speak publicly about their alleged affairs with a presidential candidate, thereby intending to influence the 2016 presidential election.”

Given this background, it’s no surprise to learn now that Cohen has a book coming out in a few days entitled “Revenge.” You can probably guess the identity of at least one of the targets of Cohen’s tome.

Cohen had a lot to say to Salon, but one thing in particular so struck Insider senior news reporter Joshua Sitzer as newsworthy that he built an October 9 post around it, entitled “Trump believed the classified documents stashed at Mar-a-Lago were his ‘get out of jail free card,’ says Michael Cohen.”

Citing the Salon interview, Sitzer told Insider (formerly Business Insider) readers that “Michael Cohen said that former President Donald Trump saw the classified documents stashed at Mar-a-Lago as his ‘get out of jail free’ card, he told Salon magazine in an interview.”

“‘He’s only interested in one thing: the get out of jail free card,’ Cohen said. ‘And that’s exactly what he saw in those documents.’

“Cohen, once Trump’s personal attorney and fixer, suggested in the Salon interview that Trump thought he might be able to leverage the confidentiality of these documents to his own advantage.

“Imagining what Trump might say, Cohen said: ‘You want to play with me? Really? I was the former president of the United States. I have documents that are so damaging to this country’s national security. Go ahead, indict me, try to throw me in prison. See what happens.'”

The Salon interview was not Cohen’s first speculation along these lines, Sitzer pointed out. Promoting his forthcoming book last month, Cohen told CNN that Trump would even share with America’s enemies where all of the U.S. government’s nuclear launch pads are located. Could Cohen have imagined a deeper betrayal by Trump, he surely would have shared it with CNN.

Now, why should anybody reading this care about what Cohen thinks or says about Trump these days? PJ Media readers aren’t likely to put any stock in Salon or Obeidallah, the latter of whom declares in his Twitter profile that “Democrats are the REAL patriots!”

But you should care about it when the subject immediately at hand is a “senior news reporter” working for an internet site that, despite a checkered history in several respects, just last year won a Pulitzer Prize for a superb expose of and commentary on China’s genocide against the Uyghurs.

Why on earth would that reporter think Cohen’s explanation for Trump’s action regarding classified documents is even remotely worth presenting as legitimate news? The answer, of course, is that there is no way on God’s green Earth. Except perhaps as click bait for a certain sort of reader, one seeking reinforcement rather than straight news.

Here’s why: I’m an old-school journo and all, but, if the credibility of the news media is ever going to be rebuilt, Journalism 101’s first lesson for evaluating the credibility of sources better still apply.

There are undoubtedly topics on which Cohen could conceivably be considered a credible source, but why Trump does what Trump does isn’t one of them for at least two basic reasons:

First, Cohen was not in a position to know what Trump was thinking or the rationale behind any of his actions that he may have uttered during his last day in the White House. Cohen was finishing out his prison term under house arrest owing to the Covid pandemic while Trump was gathering his things to exit Joe Biden’s new digs.

So anything Cohen says about why Trump took classified documents, White House table napkins, 17 official portraits of himself, or anything else is pure conjecture, speculation. Thus, Cohen fails on the first requirement for a source to be credible — being in a position to know of what he or she claims.

Second, it is the deepest understatement to say that Cohen has a motive to discredit Trump in any way he can. One need only read that Salon interview to appreciate the depth of Cohen’s disdain for his former client. That disdain — and I am being charitable in my word choice there — utterly disqualifies Cohen as a credible source on any matter pertaining to the former chief executive.

And yet Sitzer and the editors of Insider — a site that routinely attracts 90-100 million monthly visitors — deemed it a significant news story. I’d like to know why and I suspect I am far from alone in that curiosity.

To be sure, Cohen isn’t the first public figure to suggest Trump views classified documents as a “get out of jail card.” So did Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.), but Kaine’s position at least provides an arguable note of genuine newsworthiness.

And Sitzer isn’t the only mainstream media journalist with, shall we say, a jaundiced view of the former president. Trump Derangement Syndrome (TDS) has long been at epidemic levels in newsrooms from Manhattan to Monterrey.

I’ve reached out to Sitzer and Insider editor Nicholas Carlson, telling them I am doing this column and assuring both that I want to include their comments. As of the initial posting here on PJM, no response has been offered. If one is subsequently received, I’ll either update this post or write a follow.

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