I’ve been thinking about the “pee tape” this morning. Thinking about it a lot.
No, I bring this up not as a bizzaro who is still fantasizing about the salacious rumor that while staying in 2013 at a Ritz-Carlton in Moscow, citizen Donald Trump once hired Russian prostitutes to urinate on a mattress that once held the sleeping bodies of President Barack Obama and the First Lady and that Vladimir Putin possesses a videotape for use as blackmail.
In truth, I only bring up the pee tape because conservative columnist Bret Stephens of the New York Times briefly resurrected this old rumor on Jan. 10 to write an essay titled “How to Destroy (What’s Left of) the Mainstream Media’s Credibility.”
Stephens is often thoughtful. I like his style. I can agree with him on some of his salient points about the declining credibility of American journalism. But his knock on journalism using a brief mention of the pee tape as an example of journalistic excess not only shows his own bias, but – worse – it’s completely off target.
First of all, the nauseating rumor about the conduct of Trump in a hotel room didn’t originate from an investigation by some new outlet following a tip.
The bizarre allegation was brought to public attention by way of the controversial dossier written by British spy Christopher Steele.
Suddenly this dossier became a sensational part of the 2016 election and afterwards. Mainstream journalists had to investigate the worthiness of the dossier. They had no other choice. Why? Because of the Steele dossier contained far more serious allegations involving America and the Russian government. Not to investigate would have broken every rule of journalism. Looking at it another way, had this pee tape allegation involved Jimmy Carter it would have been immediately dismissed as preposterous. Same for Barack Obama. Bill Clinton? There might be some wiggle room there. But for a Donald Trump, this titillating rumor was well within his character, and still is.
So who’s to blame? Journalism? I believe not. Steele? The jury is out on that because his dossier has never been verified one way or the other. Trump? The believability factor rises to the level of plausible, given his character. So, ultimately, yes!
In the final analysis it is Trump, not the news media, who breathed life to this tingling rumor just by dint of who he is.
By any measure, the pee tape was a small piece of the 2016 election and the Trump presidency, anyway.
Yet, everyone should read Stephens’ broadside against journalism. It’s not completely off-base.
But what makes it so enjoyable are the reader responses in the comments section after Stephens stamped “30” to his piece.
The wide-ranging opinions of NYT readers to Stephens’ column offer a rousing endorsement of what a free-wheeling discussion ought to be in America.
Reader remarks in the New York Times exist at the highest level. It’s here that you get an excellent panorama picture of what a vibrant newspaper can offer.
Taking my point further, actual bias in a straight news item — slightly left or slightly right — shouldn’t be cause for hysterics anyway.
Getting a complete picture of any controversial issue necessarily involves a deep dive by the reading public. It’s the duty of Americans of any political persuasion to take the time to read, weigh, assess, analyze and finally conclude.
It’s the failure of Americans of all stripes that has brought us to our present misinformation crisis.
Americans should be thought of as jurors in a courtroom. If all 12 members of a jury perform their duty and examine evidence brought by both the prosecution and the defense, then it’s their responsibility to decide if reasonable doubt exists. If these dozen jurors are not convinced the defendant committed a crime they MUST arrive at a verdict of not guilty.
So who is guilty for this running debate over mainstream media bias? The guilty party is — drum roll — that juror who falls asleep, twiddles his thumbs during testimony and renders a judgment based solely on whether he likes the looks of the defendant, or not. If you’ve read this far, then you ought to weigh, assess, analyze and finally conclude whether you are guilty or innocent of contributing to our polarized nation.