If there's a theme for this year's Most Mortifying Media Moments, it's that some hoaxes are just too big to fail. Over the last 12 months, many of the biggest stories America's major media broadcast turned out to be ... flat wrong. And unfortunately, these networks' enthusiasm for their reporting dissipated when it came time to correct the record.
The hoaxes came in all different forms — fake hate crimes, foreign collusion, debunked dossiers — but that isn’t to say they had nothing in common. These stories all helped advance a narrative that just so happened to be shared by the news outlets themselves.
But as you’ll see from the items below, not everything was serious; many of these stories — like the collective freakout about an obscure Trump meme — were complete jokes.
This year we’re organizing things differently, going in chronological order, with a “most mortifying media moment” from each month of the year. Enjoy!
January: Media Push Hoax that Catholic Students Tormented Native American
Almost as soon as 2019 began, the media did exactly what it’s not supposed to do: Jumped on a viral story without first checking the facts. And in so doing, helped destroy the reputations of innocent teenagers who had been on a school trip to D.C. to attend the annual March for Life.
As new information came out, and it was clear the original narrative was no longer supportable, the media began walking back its original reporting. But it was too late. The anger against these students — who were being accused of harassing and taunting a Native American man — had already boiled over. Their school has since been canceled over security concerns. Worse, many reporters and commentators said that even if the Covington students didn’t actually do anything wrong, going after them is still right.
February: Media Help Jussie Smollett Amplify Fake Hate Crime
The media’s unfortunate habit of stepping on rakes shaped like fake hate crimes continued apace into February. When TMZ first reported that actor Jussie Smollett was the victim of a vicious hate crime, it sounded almost impossible to believe.
Upon leaving a Chicago Subway sandwich shop circa 2 AM one sub-zero night in late January, two masked men recognized him as the openly gay black actor starring in Fox’s ‘Empire,’ hurled racist and homophobic slurs at him, beat him to the point of breaking his ribs, doused him with bleach, tied a noose around his neck, before pronouncing “This is MAGA Country!” and fleeing.
Making such astonishing claims, the national media owed it to their viewers to give this story the circumspect coverage responsible journalism demands.
March: After Three Years of Hype, Mueller Delivers the Media a Dud
Over the first two years of Trump’s presidency, talking heads in the major media developed high hopes that Special Counsel Robert Mueller's probe would crescendo with dramatic flare. Viewers likely started to imagine that the only possible outcome would be the Trump family being frog-marched out of the White House in handcuffs.
In March, Mueller's probe officially concluded. No further indictments were filed, and no one in the Trump family was indicted. The two-year investigation never charged anyone with conspiracy related to the Trump campaign and Russia.
The disappointment was evident on many of the news programs that served as the Mueller probe's biggest boosters. MSNBC's Rachel Maddow appeared to get emotional. Chris Matthews angrily asked why Mueller "let Trump off the hook?"
After all, in between frequent pronouncements of new “bombshells,” these networks hyped seemingly inevitable impeachment proceedings, claimed the probe revealed “treasonous” behavior, and predicted much, if not all, of the Trump team would wind up behind bars.
Turns out none of that was true, and these networks pretty much wasted three years of their viewers’ time. Whatevs!
April: W.H. Correspondents Dinner Drops Comedy for Trump Hate
For the first time in recent memory, the White House Correspondents Dinner did not have a comedian emcee its annual dinner. Instead, the president of the White House Correspondents Association, Olivier Knox, delivered a solemn address to open up the usually jubilant evening.
Knox focused his remarks on the threat he said the White House is putting journalists under.
“I don’t want to dwell on the president,” Knox said while discussing President Trump. “This is not his dinner. It’s ours, and it should stay ours. But I do want to say this. In nearly 23 years as a reporter I’ve been physically assaulted by Republicans and Democrats, spat on, shoved, had crap thrown at me. I’ve been told I will never work in Washington again by both major parties.”
“And yet I still separate my career to before February 2017 and what came after,” Knox continued. “And February 2017 is when the president called us the enemy of the people. A few days later my son asked me, ‘Is Donald Trump going to put you in prison?” At the end of a family trip to Mexico he mused if the president tried to keep me out of the country, at least Uncle Josh is a good lawyer and will get you home.”
Thankfully, no journalists were attacked that night.
May: Media Defend Biden Manhandling Girls
After a Nevada lawmaker came forward with an accusation of unwanted sexual touching from former Vice President Joe Biden, the rumored 2020 Democratic presidential candidate released a statement.
"In my many years on the campaign trail and in public life, I have offered countless handshakes, hugs, expressions of affection, support and comfort," Biden said. "And not once — never — did I believe I acted inappropriately. If it is suggested I did so, I will listen respectfully. But it was never my intention."
Almost immediately thereafter, many in the major media came to his defense, adopting defense that he was simply showing “affection.”
Of course, many of these same media personalities had a different view of unwanted sexual touching when the accused was not Biden, but Brett Kavanaugh.
June: Media Defends … Antifa?
Members of the left-wing political activist group, Antifa (ostensibly named for “Anti-Fascism”), Portland assaulted reporter in June, the latest in long series of attacks the group’s waged against members of the media. Journalist Andy Ngo was hospitalized after coming under attack while reporting from an Antifa protest.
Normally a group like Antifa that’s avowedly opposed to media transparency would come under criticism from the media itself, yet somehow reporters at CNN, MSNBC, and elsewhere have become Antifa boosters.
CNN’s Chris Cuomo calls Antifa “a good cause.” Cuomo’s CNN colleague, Don Lemon, said the group should be thought of as their name suggests — “anti-fascist” and therefore on the right side of these street clashes. On the specific question of Antifa’s embrace of violence, Lemon said: “ ‘No organization is perfect.”
CNN contributor Michael Eric Dyson likened Antifa to a cancer treatment that’s trying to preserve “the fabric of America.”
Turning political differences into violent clashes to save America? It’s a bold strategy, Cotton.
July: Woke Media Attack Space Landing on 50th Anniversary
When the 50th anniversary of Americans landing on the moon arrived in July, the major media decided not to celebrate this achievement but rather their own wokeness on matters of space travel.
The New York Times used the anniversary to herald the space program not of the United States — but Soviet Russia. After regurgitating old Soviet agitprop about its cosmonaut program, the article concludes: “Cosmonaut diversity was key for the Soviet message to the rest of the globe: Under socialism, a person of even the humblest origins could make it all the way up.”
The Washington Post also published a widely mocked attack on America’s space program. The Post criticized the Apollo missions for being populated with an excess of “white men.”
“In archival Apollo 11 photos and footage, it’s a ‘Where’s Waldo?’ exercise to spot a woman or person of color,” The Post complained.
The Nation was only too happy to join this woke-off, attacking the moon landing for “perpetuating inequality — on Earth and beyond.” The article criticized a NASA facility in the Mojave Desert for not having had a more beneficial impact on a nearby minority population’s median income. “Spaceflight almost invariably involves activities that directly subjugate marginalized peoples,” the piece laments.
August: Chris Cuomo Goes Full ‘Fredo’
In August, things heated up — well, at least Chris Cuomo’s temper, who erupted when a man at a Shelter Island bar called the primetime anchor “Fredo,” a reference to a character from The Godfather.
Cuomo replied, thoughtfully: “No. Punk-a** bitches from the right call me ‘Fredo.’ My name is Chris Cuomo. I’m an anchor on CNN. Fredo is from ‘The Godfather.’ He was the weak brother and they’re using it as an Italian aspersion. Any of you Italian? Any of you Italian? It’s a f*cking insult to your people. It’s an insult to your f*cking people. It’s like the N-word for us. Is that a cool f*cking thing?”
And things went downhill from there. Cuomo continued threatening the man: “Don’t f*cking insult me like that. You f*cking called me Fredo, it’s like I called you punk bitch. You like that? You want that to be your nickname?”
A reflective Cuomo then added: “I’ll f*cking ruin your shit. I’ll f*cking throw you down these stairs like a f*cking punk.”
September: Media Go Gaga for Greta
In September, the major media caught a fever, and the only prescription was 16-year-old climate activist Greta Thunberg.
In case you haven’t heard, Thunberg is the person behind the “climate strike,” movement, where students are skipping school on Fridays, ostensibly over their concern about global warming.
Thunberg, who suffers from Aspergers syndrome, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), and selective mutism, this year became a global media celebrity. When the 16-year-old landed in New York City after sailing from Europe to attend a United Nations Climate Action Summit on Sept. 23rd, America’s media was waiting with open arms.
“A world-famous teenage climate activist is in New York now after crossing the Atlantic in a solar-powered sailboat, wow,” CBS’s Gayle King gushed, perhaps one of Greta’s biggest media fans. “I am so smitten with this little girl. I keep reminding myself she’s only 16, and what she’s doing.”
After landing in New York, NBC’s Craig Melvin cheered, “Go, Greta, go!”
But for anyone who watched Greta’s post-transatlantic press conference, this media adoration appears misplaced. The teen struggled throughout her 15 minute remarks, finding difficultly stringing sentences together and often losing her train of thought. Despite Thunberg’s age and health issues, the media was only too happy to use her for their own political agenda.
October: Mass Media Freakout over Obscure Trump Meme
For some reason The New York Times published an article about an obscure meme that appeared on a TV in a small room during a conservative conference in Florida. And then for some other reason, the national news networks gave that story round-the-clock, blanket coverage.
At a pro-Trump PAC conference in Florida, a crude video meme was aired depicting Trump as a character from the film “The Kingsman: The Secret Service.” In the film, the protagonist goes on a rampage inside a church, killing many during a highly stylized action sequence. In the meme, the character has a photoshopped picture of Trump’s face, and his enemies have logos of liberal news outlets photoshopped onto their faces.
The Times admits that this video is not new. It’s been on YouTube for more than year. Its creator, TheGreekzTeam, regularly publishes similar political-themed, pro-Trump mashups. The channel uses a very crude model: superimposing Trump’s face onto the face of characters in action movies, and his political adversaries’ faces onto those films’ antagonists’ faces. The channel features dozen of similar videos dating back years.
And somehow, this was the biggest news story for a whole week.
November: ABC’s Jeffrey Epstein Story Didn’t Kill Itself
Everyone knows this story — even though the major media never reported it. In November, James O’Keefe’s Project Veritas got its hands on internal ABC footage of anchor Amy Robach complaining that her reporting into Jeffrey Epstein was spiked, despite her having “everything,” including supposedly damning information on Bill Clinton.
Rather than trying to explain why they spiked their own scoop, ABC instead … attacked the “whistleblower.” Except, they didn’t actually know who the tape leaker was, and then things got even more embarrassing. A former ABC producer who had since moved to CBS ended up losing her job, despite both she and Project Veritas insisting she had nothing to do with releasing the footage.
Meanwhile, there was virtually zero coverage of ABC’s scandalous decision to withhold information its reporter uncovered on Epstein’s sexual abuse of minors.
December: DoJ IG Pops Media’s Trump Dossier Bubble
2019 opened with a hoax and ends with another. The inspector general of the Justice Department, Michael Horowitz, released his much anticipated report on the FBI’s surveillance of the Trump campaign, and the biggest loser was … the so-called Trump Dossier.
That dossier, created by the political mercenary firm Fusion GPS via funds from the DNC and the Clinton campaign, compiled anti-Trump gossip, much of it sourced from Kremlin officials. The most salacious item involved Trump staying in a Moscow hotel room while watching Russian prostitutes pee on each other.
The resulting compilation of uncorroborated rumors wound up in the FBI’s hands, which, perplexingly, used it as the basis for launching a surveillance campaign against the Trump campaign’s Carter Page. The DoJ’s IG, Michael Horowitz, was emphatic that the dossier was “essential” to the FBI’s FISA application. And Horowitz noted that the dossier itself was unverified and unreliable.
Despite the problematic nature of the Trump Dossier, the major media reliably informed Americans over the last three years that it was “corroborated.” CNN was one of the dossier’s biggest boosters. The network’s morning anchor, Alisyn Camerota, regularly told viewers that the Trump dossier was the God’s honest.
“I know the history of the dossier, but it hasn’t been discredited,” Camerota said in an interview with Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio). “In fact, it’s been the opposite, it’s been corroborated.”
When Jordan said the report wasn’t accurate, Camerota shot back: “Your intel community has corroborated all the details.”
CNN’s James Clapper, formerly Director of National Intelligence during the Obama Administration, “Some of the substantive content of the dossier we were able to corroborate in our intelligence committee assessment from other sources in which we had very high confidence.”
Horowitz reports that’s flatly untrue, and none of the information was corroborated.
In 2018, after it was becoming established the dossier was largely untrue, many in the media switched up their talking points. Rather than claiming it had been “corroborated,” these talking heads started insisting it “hasn’t been disproven.”
MSNBC’s John Harwood, for one, said: “It’s not been corroborated but it hasn’t been disproven either.”
His colleague Rachel Maddow has been emphatic on this point, insisting: “No major thing from the dossier has been conclusively disproven.”
Nicolle Wallace has likewise adopted this talking point: “It’s a fact that none of it, not one word has been disproven. In fact a lot of it turned out to be right on the money.”
The dossier’s now been “disproven,” but if the last 11 months are any indication, don’t expect any forthcoming corrections.