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Performing an Autopsy on The Atlantic Expose Reveals the Anatomy of a Manufactured Scandal

AP featured image (Cook County Medical Examiner via AP)

Learning the cause of death reveals so much about the media.

Okay, we’re calling it — time of death, 17:15pm EST. 

The big story of the past few days from The Atlantic concerning President Trump cancelling a cemetery visitation in France and saying grievously slanderous things about the dead war veterans had suffered some life-threatening injuries rather quickly, but it managed to hang for a few days. A holiday weekend, and the media’s desire to resuscitate in the press ICU, meant this goner lingered for a while. But all attempts to keep this scandal on life support have now failed and we can say this thing has officially flat-lined.

Much like I occasionally do with horrible films, I will drop this DOA story on a gurney and roll it into the lab for a post mortem. Learning the cause of death we begin to see the way our contemporary media complex is operating these days on behalf of one party. Cutting into this corpse of a scandal we see three aspects to it: The Facts, The Narrative, and The Delivery.

Starting with the last, what we were witness to was a coordinated hit piece. This is not debatable; more than bearing the earmarks, the choreography behind this hit is quite evident based on how all the players interacted, and the timeline. The only mystery is whether this was intended as a classic October Surprise, and that its deployment needed to be moved up. With Biden’s slipping persona, Trump surging in the polls, and a number of other Democrat foibles last week, it might have been needed to sway the news cycle much earlier than desired.

The Atlantic dropped this story initially on Thursday evening, and the first sign of manufacture is that this was not a Breaking news item. On Thursday Jeffery Goldberg’s piece came out detailing the Trump visit in 2018 to honor the 100 year anniversary of the Armistice. He was scheduled to commemorate by attending a ceremony at Aisne-Marne American Cemetery near Paris, but Goldberg claimed it was cancelled by the President because the rain would affect his hair. Further Goldberg reported that Trump said the cemetery was ”filled with losers,’’ and then added that 1,800 Marines who lost their lives were ”suckers’’ for getting killed.

This smacks of people placing words in the President’s mouth and having them believed based on confirmation bias. More than just the unreal nature of these quotes, we have years of President Trump paying deference to the military, with regular visits to recently wounded soldiers a prominent feature that eclipses unattributed testimony about 2 year old conversations.

Then, in an attempt to bolster the report, in an amazing dose of coincidence James Laporta from the Associated Press also came out Thursday evening with a similar story, with sources reiterating the comments made by the President. He appeared on Rachel Maddow’s show Thursday night to lend his details. And then, in an impressively remarkable production speed, a veterans PAC came out with an opposition commercial spot that featured these quotes attributed to Trump. This commercial made its debut on Morning Joe — the next morning, less than 24 hours after the article was released. The ad even quoted sections of the Goldberg article.

So everything was cemented into place for a long weekend run of damage. A blistering report, a corroboration, and then a veterans group scorching the President; This would basically write itself and then become reflected in the polls by the end of the week. Until the Facts arrived.

It took little time for the White House to come out with documents from that French trip in 2018. Those papers showed that it was not a vain President but the Secret Service who had determined that bad weather would preclude a Presidential visit. This was a detail that was known and reported back in 2018. In addition, the military-hating President did attend a cemetery ceremony the following day, on November 11. Yet here was Goldberg delivering a completely different version of events, and presenting it as scandalous.

One detail that is revealing about the media is that in light of this factual error blasting the claims out of the water the other portion of the story was fiercely defended. Very little has been made of the provably wrong details made by Goldberg, and instead of discrediting the rest of his report the press has instead fought desperately to insist the quotes attributed to Trump are ironclad. Goldberg had nothing but anonymous contacts insisting that Trump said these things, but this, as we know, is to be treated as gospel in journalist circles.

While anonymous sourcing is indeed a key component in news gathering the problem that has mushroomed, especially over the past 4 years, is that the sources have become less the conduit to a report and now have become relied upon as the primary story. Case in point; the media insisted that Goldberg’s piece had become corroborated by James Laporta. Except his sources were also off the record. One is even described as a third hand witness — ‘’a senior U.S. Marine Corps officer who was told about Trump’s comments.’’ Also revealing, after saying that his sources confirmed The Atlantic article ”in its entirety’’, Laporta’s own article cites that they only ‘’confirmed some of the remarks.’’

Friday saw other follow-up reports, from Jennifer Griffin at Fox News, and while everyone in the insistent press was talking about ‘’corroboration’’ not a single story had anyone going on the record with their account of the conversations. It is entirely possible that all three reports are relying on the same sources — something the media defenders will not address. A source cannot corroborate its own story. But there is no way of knowing since none have lent their name to the claims.

Since then others have come forward to dispute these reports of Trump’s disparaging remarks, with a unique difference — they have gone on the record with their rebuttals. John Bolton, who is clearly no fan of the President, has come forward to declare he was present during the trip and he never heard such comments from the man.

Few people were in attendance of the brief meeting regarding the trip, and General John Kelly was the one to bring up the danger due to weather. Kelly has not said anything about Trump’s comments, but his assistant, Zach Fuentes was also in said meeting and has come forward to declare Trump never said these things. Further, he declared that his former boss Kelly would not have tolerated this. “I did not hear POTUS call anyone losers when I told him about the weather. Honestly, do you think General Kelly would have stood by and let ANYONE call fallen Marines losers?”

Also going on the record saying these quotes never happened were other members of the administration who were in attendance that day; Jordan Karem, Derek Lyons, Stephen Miller and the US Ambassador to France, Jaime McCourt. This is a rousing thumping of this report from Goldberg and The Atlantic.

One final flailing effort can be seen in the Washington Post. This morning Aaron Blake was desperately performing CPR on the story. ”First, it’s worth noting that “I did not hear” is not the same as “it didn’t happen.” It’s admittedly difficult to offer a full denial unless you were with Trump the entire time, but many of the denials have been in this vein, which technically allows that the comments might have transpired while the deniers were out of earshot.’’

This is the level the press has resorted to on the matter. They no longer have facts and witness testimony to rely upon for a proven story, so the fallback is essentially saying, ”Well…none of this completely disproves in might not have happened…’’ So we are now in the age of reporting on rumors, and it is up to others to disprove the negative, as reported in the mainstream press.

Hang the tow tag, and slide this stiff into the drawer.

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