National Review, Feb. 17, 2021
“It’s one thing to get a story wrong under deadline pressure; it’s quite another to get it wrong despite copious, readily available evidence to the contrary over the course of months”
If anyone wonders why so many people conclude that they should believe the opposite of whatever the media are saying, this past week provides a good explanation.
Andrew Cuomo, the Emmy Award–winning governor that a swooning press held up as the enlightened standard for an effective pandemic response, didn’t just make a disastrous mistake in his handling of nursing homes. He didn’t just miscount nursing-home fatalities. He may have covered up nursing-home fatalities.
It turns out that everything the press has accused Florida’s Ron DeSantis of — a botched response and dishonest numbers — is true of Cuomo. The Lincoln Project, the great conquering super PAC of the 2020 election, hailed as the work of geniuses and lavished with attention on cable news, has imploded upon revelations that it is a sleazy scam. And the widely circulated story of the death of Officer Brian Sicknick, a key element of Trump’s second impeachment, is at the very least murky and more complicated than first reported.
It’s one thing to get a story wrong under deadline pressure; it’s quite another to get it wrong despite copious, readily available evidence to the contrary over the course of months, which is the case with the Cuomo and Lincoln Project stories.
All it took to realize that the heroic Cuomo narrative didn’t add up was to look, almost from the very beginning, at any of the COVID trackers that showed New York had one of the worst records in the country in terms of total deaths and deaths per capita.
Amazingly enough, the myth of Cuomo continued unabated even when the governor rescinded his nursing-home policy last May and it was already obvious it had been a profound policy error.
No, the spell didn’t begin to break until the New York attorney general revealed the undercount of nursing-home deaths and the New York Post — a publication that never bought into the Cuomo mythology and consequently earned his bristling contempt — followed up on the seeming cover-up.
If you formed your impression of Cuomo’s performance based solely on the tone of his press coverage over the last year, you were badly misled.
The press also had ample warning signs about the Lincoln Project — the excessive production costs, the lack of transparency, the financial difficulties of some of the principals, the ads geared to trolling rather than persuasion in battleground states. It was easy to see as early as last summer that something wasn’t right.
All of this was largely ignored, in favor of fawning coverage and cable segments — until the John Weaver scandal invited more serious scrutiny and, with the election over, the project was no longer so politically useful.
Once again, the best way to have gotten exactly the wrong impression of the Lincoln Project would have been to read and view its press coverage, which managed to avoid what was most interesting and important about the Lincoln Project — namely, it was a grift run by people who issued ringing denunciations of grifting.
Finally, there’s the case of Officer Sicknick. Here the issue in the first instance was deadline reporting. The New York Times ran stories in the immediate aftermath of his tragic death saying that he was killed by rioters.
Even though this is now in doubt, there hasn’t been much additional reporting in the mainstream press about a case at the center of a highly scrutinized, politically fraught episode. And so the initial, dubious reporting is still widely accepted, and may always be.
It’s no wonder that some people conclude that because the media are saying it, it must be false, and seek out alternate sources of information that are even less factual and more misleading than the mainstream press.
This is a problem that doesn’t have a ready solution, but it’d be helpful if the media recognized their contribution to the downward spiral.
Instead, they’re constantly onto the next politically convenient narrative, always presented with the same certainty and expectation that all right-thinking people must share it, no matter how flimsy or unfounded.
Rich Lowry is the editor of National Review. He writes for Politico, and often appears on such public-affairs programs as Meet the Press. He is a regular panelist on the KCRW program Left, Right & Center. He is the author of Lincoln Unbound, The Case for Nationalism: How It Made Us Powerful, United, and Free, and Legacy: Paying the Price for the Clinton Years — a New York Times bestseller.