Television network crews begin their evening news broadcast from the driveway outside the West Wing of the White House in Washington on Wednesday, May 17, 2017. The Justice Department has appointed former FBI Director Robert Mueller as a special counsel to oversee a federal investigation into potential coordination between Russia and the Donald Trump campaign to influence the 2016 presidential election.

Conservative talk show host Bill Mitchell has hatched an ingenious plot to destroy the credibility of major newspapers.

“You know what we should do? Start flooding the NYTimes and WAPO tip lines with all kinds of crazy “leaks.” Then laugh when they print them!” he posted on Twitter.

Simple, right? Mitchell’s theory is that the media is so hungry for unflattering information about President Donald Trump that it will gobble up anything that feeds its narrative. When “crazy leaks” make print, Mitchell and his fellow Trump boosters can expose the falsehoods and prove once and for all that the “fake news media,” as the president calls it, is composed of a bunch of hacks.

It’s brilliant! But New York Times reporter Maggie Haberman says the plan won’t work: “The Trump administration has tried this a few times, sir. We actually vet these things.”

Let’s get serious for a moment: Mitchell’s scheme is rather facile, but that does not mean phony leaks are not a real threat. According to Haberman, members of the Trump administration already have tried to dupe The New York Times on several occasions – presumably with tips that seem plausible and are not easily dismissed as “crazy.”

Before his first address to a joint session of Congress, in February, Trump said at a luncheon with TV journalists that he might talk about a compromise that would include offering legal status to some undocumented immigrants. When he took the stage, however, Trump said no such thing.

CNN later quoted a senior White House official who admitted that Trump’s initial remark to journalists was a “misdirection play” designed to promote favorable coverage. It seems clear that feeding false information to reporters is part of the White House playbook.

Kyle Pope, editor in chief and publisher of the Columbia Journalism Review, said last week that he believes journalists need to be on high alert for attempts to fool them into reporting incorrect info that could damage their reputations. Asked whether he worries about errors made in haste, as news outlets compete for scoops, Pope said “the bigger risk right now is of somebody getting duped – intentional misdirection or fabricated leaks. In this climate, that is more what I would be worried about.”

If the Trump White House manages to slip false information into a news report, it won’t be something that is obviously outlandish; it will be something that seems completely reasonable.


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.

filed under: