About five years ago at this time, conservative media outlets were eagerly pushing assorted anti-Obama stories, all of which were pretty silly, and which major news organizations were generally inclined to ignore. But some thought that might be a mistake – the Washington Post’s then-ombudsman, for example, questioned whether legitimate journalists were too quick to dismiss “news” right-wing activists considered important.
Around the same time, senior editors at the New York Times agreed to deliberately focus attention on “bubbling controversies” that originated in conservative media.
The problem, however, is that “bubbling controversies” from far-right outlets turn out to be wrong a little too often. Take this weekend, for example.
According to a November 8 Breitbart.com article by Warner Todd Huston, “few are talking about” the fact nominee [U.S. Attorney General nominee Loretta Lynch] “was part of Bill Clinton’s Whitewater probe defense team in 1992.” Huston pointed to a March 1992 New York Times article that “reported that Lynch was one of the Clintons’ Whitewater defense attorneys as well as a ‘campaign aide.’” And in a November 9 article Huston’s colleague, Breitbart.com Senior Editor-at Large Joel Pollak wrote, “The connection to Whitewater ought to provide additional fodder for Republicans during Lynch’s confirmation hearings.”
Even taken at face value, it’s hard to see why this would be controversial for an attorney general nominee. More than 20 years ago, Loretta Lynch helped defend a president against baseless allegations. That’s basically a footnote in an accomplished lawyer’s lengthy c.v.
But that’s not the real problem here. Rather, the reason “few are talking about” this is that Breitbart.com had the wrong Loretta Lynch.
Members of the conservative media are attempting to scandalize President Obama’s Attorney General nominee Loretta Lynch by suggesting she was involved in the Whitewater investigations of the 1990s. However, the Loretta Lynch that played a bit role in Whitewater – an investigation into fraudulent real estate deals that did not include any wrongdoing by the Clintons – is a different person than Obama’s attorney general nominee.
Apparently some people share a name. It’s a problem that’s tripped up conservative media before, and now it’s happened again.
Breitbart.com initially added an amusing one-sentence correction to the piece before eventually pulling it down, but not before it had already been picked up by other far-right websites – including conspiracy-theory sites like WorldNetDaily.
There’s no denying that everyone in media makes mistakes sometimes, and over the years, I’ve made my share. When it happens, the only responsible course is to acknowledge the error, correct it, and try to do better next time.
But as we discussed over the summer, the recent troubles for conservative media in particular have made it that much more difficult for professional journalists to take seriously the “bubbling controversies” coming from the far-right fringe.
Remember “skewed polls”? How about “Friends of Hamas”? How many in conservative media were caught up in payola controversies? How many believed The Daily Caller’s discredited coverage of Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.)?
The list, which is no doubt familiar to regular readers, just keeps growing. Conservative media ran reports about Obama’s non-existent library using Reagan’s childhood home as a parking lot. And said Hillary Clinton may have faked a concussion. And uncritically ran with all kinds of strange conspiracy theories about Benghazi, the IRS “scandal,” Fast & Furious, imaginary voter fraud, birth certificates, ACORN, and the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
For those involved in conservative media, it’s probably past time to pause, take stock, and figure out to get on track. For those who rely on conservative media as a reliable source of accurate news, it’s also time for renewed skepticism.