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Friday, September 16, 2016

Of Colin Powell and media manipulation

Colin Powell's hacked emails have provided many colorful headlines, some helpful to Clinton, some helpful to Trump. In the latter category, we have the following:
Powell in leaked email slams Bill Clinton on continuing affairs with 'bimbos'
Many reporters (not to mention Stephen Colbert) have given the impression that Powell learned about Clinton's private life from his own inside sources. But that is not the case. As Oscar Wilde once said: Quotation can be slander, if you gerrymander.

In the actual email, Powell adds the words: "According to the NYP." That phrase is all-important.

I hope Powell showed better judgment when he was Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, because he surely must know that not all sources of intelligence are of equal value. The New York Post is a particularly dubious source -- all the more so since the publication has a long history of publishing stories planted by none other than Donald Trump.

David Cay Johnston gives a particularly amusing example here. (I may embed the video below.) There was a time when Donald Trump, hoping to humiliate his first wife, actively sought to publicize his affair with Marla Maples. Ever the gentleman, he planted a story about the liaison with his people at the NYP.

The story attributed this quote to Maples: "The best sex I've ever had!" According to Johnston, Maples didn't actually say that; The Donald put those words in her mouth.

With that history in mind, let's look at the NYP story referenced by Colin Powell.

It turns out to be nothing more than a gloss on an anti-Clinton book by Ronald Kessler. (It's not as though the NYP went out and conducted an actual investigation.) Kessler is a particularly dubious source of information, for reasons given here. Also see this piece on Kessler, which details his devolution from a Washington Post reporter (back in the days when the WP pushed Whitewater and other smears) into a hard-right conspiracy-monger employed by NewsMax. Kessler has filled his books with unverified quotes that are more than a little "iffy."

More than that: Ronald Kessler has become, in essence, part and parcel of the Donald Trump campaign. I would argue that the NYP story in question was just another example of the close relationship between Trump and the NYP. 

Kessler and NewsMax are known quantities. They have an agenda.

If the story was "Ronald Kessler says Bill Clinton still dicking bimbos," no mainstream reporter would have cared. These days, only the right-wing media places much stock in what Kessler has to say. But through the magic of the gerrymandered quotation, the mainstream media conveyed the impression that the source of that "bimbo" allegation was Colin Powell, not an ultra-partisan attack dog working for NewsMax.

If Powell considers Kessler credible -- well, that's not the worst example of bad judgment on Powell's resume

I just wish The Hill -- and Stephen Colbert -- would let their audiences know the real story.

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