Terry McLaughlin: Talk about burying the lede
Early in the morning on Feb. 12, while most of us were just getting up and reaching for our first cup of coffee, Ken Dilanian, NBC News’ Intelligence National Security Reporter, appeared on MSNBC.
His appearance was to broadcast an NBC exclusive report announcing that “After two years and interviewing more than 200 witnesses, the Senate Intelligence Committee has not uncovered any direct evidence of a conspiracy between the Trump campaign and Russia. That’s according to sources on both the Republican and the Democratic side of the aisle.”
One would think that after two years of speculation and accusation, this report would be headline news — “Senate Intelligence Committee Reveals No Evidence of Russian Collusion Found.”
So how did the networks’ flagship morning shows handle the coverage? More than 24 hours later, ABC’s Good Morning America touched on it in a news briefing totaling less than one minute and neither CBS This Morning nor NBC Today even acknowledged this report.
The less than one minute of coverage on ABC began with George Stephanopoulos reporting that Democrat and Republican leaders were “at odds over the conclusion of the investigation,” referring to Republican Chairman Richard Burr and Democratic Ranking Member Mark Warner. Congressional correspondent Mary Bruce then focused on Mark Warner’s reluctance to acknowledge that no evidence has been found, saying that he “disagrees with the way Burr characterized the evidence.”
The less than one minute of coverage failed to acknowledge that NBC’s Ken Dilanian, who had also been skeptical about the characterization of the evidence or lack thereof, had probed further and stated in his televised report, “What I have been doing … is checking with sources on the Democratic side to understand the full context of his (Chairman Burr’s) remarks, because that was essentially a partisan comment from one side. But this is a bipartisan investigation and what I found is that the Democrats (on the committee) don’t dispute that characterization.”
In his initial remarks, Senator Burr was careful to note that more facts may yet be uncovered, but he also made clear that the investigation was nearing an end, stating “We know we’re getting to the bottom of the barrel because there are no new questions that we’re searching for answers to.”
The Senate Intelligence Committee has been conducting the only bipartisan inquiry into possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia or Russian operatives. Over the past two years, the committee has interviewed more than 200 witnesses and sifted through over 300,000 documents, including classified intelligence which shed light on how the Russians communicated about their covert operation to interfere with the 2016 election. U.S. intelligence agencies have concluded that the operation began as an effort to sow chaos in an American election, and morphed into hacking and leaking embarrassing emails among Democrats and the use of trolls and fake accounts on social media to exacerbate political differences.
Analysts from the Media Research Center examining all coverage on ABC’s World News Tonight, the CBS Evening News, and the NBC Nightly News found that those networks devoted 2,202 minutes of airtime to coverage of the Russian collusion probe, which accounted for nearly 19 percent of all Trump-related reporting between Jan. 21, 2017 and Feb. 10, 2019. But none of those three shows even mentioned the report on the Senate Intelligence investigation for two days after NBC’s exclusive report came out at 7:25 a.m. Feb. 12. Their silence on this major development was deafening.
Nearly a year ago, the House Intelligence Committee also found no direct evidence of collusion, and the media barely covered those findings as well.
Democratic Senate investigators say it will take them six or seven months to prepare their final report. Despite no material evidence of collusion having been discovered two years into their investigation, they have stated that they still hope this report will reveal that Trump officials, wittingly or unwittingly, helped Russians manipulate the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
Opponents of the president have long hoped that Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation will unearth new evidence of the Trump campaign coordinating with Russians. While it is certainly still possible that Mueller’s investigation may do so, Justice Department and congressional sources indicate they believe that he, too, is close to wrapping up his investigation, and reporters are speculating that may happen at any time.
But as of this date, none of us, neither citizens nor journalists, know what the final report of the Senate Intelligence Committee may state.
And Republicans and Democrats alike can speculate all they want, but the reality is that no one knows what the conclusion of Special Counsel Mueller’s investigation will reveal.
But just take a moment to sit back and compare 2,202 minutes of media coverage of potential collusion with Russia — with supposedly unbiased journalists accusing a sitting American president of misconduct, lack of patriotism, impeachable offenses, or worse — to the less than one minute of coverage within the first 48 hours of an announcement that no evidence has actually been uncovered in a serious two-year bipartisan investigation, and it is abundantly clear why many Americans have lost faith in the honesty and trustworthiness of the media.
Terry McLaughlin, who lives in Grass Valley, writes a twice monthly column for The Union. Write to her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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