1 Editor's Battle with 'Fake News' AP

by LT. COLONEL JAMES G. ZUMWALT, USMC (RET) January 16, 2018

The television comedy show "Happy Days," which ran for a decade (1974-1984), depicted the Cunningham family and friends living life in the 1950s. Henry Winkler played the consummate "greaser," Arthur Fonzarelli. Known as "Fonzi," he portrayed a character who suffered from extreme difficulty in apologizing or saying, "I was wrong." In one episode, practicing alone before a mirror to say the words, he still could not bring himself to do so, despite knowing he was wrong.

A recent exchange between small-town newspaper editor Frank Miele in Kalispell, Montana, and the U.S.-based, multi-national news agency, the Associated Press (AP), seemed to have the latter taking on Fonzi's role.

Miele was endeavoring to explain to the news agency it had filed an inaccurate story. Since AP touts itself as "helping the world tell its stories," readers rightfully assume the word "accurately" is tacitly included within this marketing quote. But, as Miele confronted AP on the issue, despite eventually recognizing what appeared was erroneous, the news agency struggled to avoid saying it was wrong.

In searching AP stories to publish in his own newspaper, Miele - who admits to being a Trump supporter - came across a headline he knew to be inaccurate: "President Donald Trump reacts to reports about the retirement of FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe by retweeting falsehoods about McCabe's wife" (emphasis added).

Miele wrote, "When I read AP reporter Darlene Superville's story, it was immediately obvious that she had either misunderstood Trump's tweet or intentionally lied about it. She also plainly didn't know the meaning of the verb ‘retweet,' since Trump had tweeted an original statement, not a quoted one."

The easy path for Miele would have been simply to publish a corrected version of the AP story. But, in an age of fake news, he opted to go directly to the original source to ensure the story was corrected before other readers were misled.

Checking the AP story against the president's tweets, Miele discovered Superville had taken liberties with one to build her case he had made a false claim. Here is the sequence of what occurred, with the focus on the words appearing in italics.

Trump originally tweeted:

"How can FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe, the man in charge, along with leakin' James Comey, of the Phony Hillary Clinton investigation (including her 33,000 illegally deleted emails) be given $700,000 for wife's campaign by Clinton Puppets during investigation?"

Based on this, Superville wrote:

"But Trump's tweet was incorrect. McCabe's wife, Jill, did not get $700,000 in donations from Clinton for a Virginia state Senate race in 2015. The money came from Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe's political action committee and the Virginia Democratic Party. ... McAuliffe is a longtime supporter of Hillary Clinton and her husband, former President Bill Clinton." By sending this out, Superville claimed, Trump was "retweeting falsehoods" about McCabe's wife.

Miele raised two points of contention - the first more minor but the second clearly a major substantive one.

First was Superville's incorrect use of the social media term "retweeting." The statement concerning McCabe's wife consisted of the president's original words and, as such, did not constitute "retweeting" someone else's quote.

Second, and more importantly, Miele argued, had Trump, in fact, claimed the funds came from "Clinton," he would have been incorrect. However, he was absolutely correct in claiming they had come from "Clinton Puppets" since the Clintons are known to be McAuliffe's puppeteers. Thus, Superville modified Trump's message to create an anti-Trump fake news story.

Miele found himself bounced from one AP editor to another, having to repeat his explanations each time. He stuck to his guns that retweeting is strictly used in the context of forwarding another person's quote and not the originator's. AP still tried to make the contextual justification that Superville meant it within the latter sense.

As Miele humorously suggested, AP was doing so much twisting of a justification he was unsure at one point "if we were talking about tweets or pretzels." Reluctantly, AP acknowledged Superville's use of "retweeting" was unfortunate.

When Miele pulled the AP story up later, the words "retweeting falsehoods" had been replaced with "repeating falsehoods" - in other words, AP had made the minor change but not the major one erroneously suggesting Trump was guilty of forwarding falsehoods.

Miele proved to be a dog with a bone on this issue. He called AP back and again explained how Superville had replaced truth with her own facts, creating fake news. When he queried why AP would so casually accuse Trump of lying without double-checking the facts, the news agency again went into pretzel mode. It sought to distinguish a difference between lying and telling a falsehood - i.e., the former requiring intent; the latter simply being an innocent result of misinformation. (Giving AP the benefit of the doubt concerning this difference, it is interesting so many "falsehoods" tend to be anti- rather than pro-Trump.)

Historically, the public or mainstream media (MSM) has been called the fourth estate. This term recognizes its importance, alongside the three branches of our government, to keep them in check by serving as a watchdog - a role very important to a functioning democracy.

Sadly, a 2017 media trust survey reveals the fourth estate has fallen on its sword in fulfilling this role. The survey indicates nearly half of all Americans (44 percent) believe MSM fabricates negative news about Trump in order to make him look bad. AP's initial failure to verify Superville's "facts" followed by its subsequent reluctance even to correct them when confronted does little to re-instill public confidence in MSM.

Miele's dogged effort to impose truth upon the AP ultimately proved successful. But, just like Fonzi was never able to admit he was wrong," MSM seems to suffer from the same affliction.

 

A version of this piece also appeared on http://www.wnd.com/     

Lt. Colonel James G. Zumwalt, USMC (Ret.), is a retired Marine infantry officer who served in the Vietnam war, the U.S. invasion of Panama and the first Gulf war. He is the author of "Bare Feet, Iron Will--Stories from the Other Side of Vietnam's Battlefields," "Living the Juche Lie: North Korea's Kim Dynasty" and "Doomsday: Iran--The Clock is Ticking." He frequently writes on foreign policy and defense issues.


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