Features Australia

Turkeys, Thanksgiving and fake news

2 December 2017

9:00 AM

2 December 2017

9:00 AM

A bolt of schadenfreude hit many US conservatives inside the beltway last weekend – amid equal horror on the Left – as it emerged that two darlings of the progressive media had faked not just a news item but an entire news program.

Everyone from President Trump down would have been chuckling at the news that MSNBC’s key Morning Joe program had pretended to be live, on the Friday after Thanksgiving, when in fact it was pretaped on Wednesday. There were no disclaimers.

Worse still, anchors and engaged couple Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski let fly with gratuitously fake banter.

Mika started the show by saying: ‘Day after Thanksgiving… I’m stuffed!’

‘A great Thanksgiving,’ Joe replied.

Brzezinski joked about how she ‘always cooks the turkey with the guts in it.’ A studio guest, clearly in on the game, said: ‘Joe didn’t notice. He ate the bag.’

Joe laughed and replied: ‘It was good… the (football) game last night made up for it.’

And so on. An MSNBC show executive commented to the effect that, well, wasn’t that what everyone did? Late Saturday Joe tweeted that it was all a joke: ‘Wow. You either never watch our show or need your jokes so obvious they fall on you like an anvil on Bugs Bunny cartoons. We’ve been making fun of the practice for years. Its (sic) also over-the-top to be obvious.’

Joe and Mika are the cool kids on the media block in the US, their 6-9am program the start to the day for many movers and shakers. It is serious politics, with a who’s who of panelists, guests and solid ratings; both anchors are attractive and engaging personalities. Australia has no equivalent combination of coolness and heft.

In the gym in our Midtown NYC residence, the TVs were stuck fast every morning on Joe and Mika, our NBC film producer friend confiding that the anchors were a couple, a fact at the time they were hiding. When the earlybirds left the gym I would switch to Fox – a channel that always elicited pursed mouths and snorts – but every morning the TVs were back on Joe.

Joe is a former Republican Congressman for Florida, although, like late-era Malcolm Fraser, you would never guess any conservatism from his opinions these days. Mika is a reporter and the daughter of President Jimmy Carter’s foreign policy guru Zbigniew Brzezinski, and comes from a well-connected academic and diplomatic family. Despite Joe having been a friend of Trump’s for years, Morning Joe now serves up a daily denunciation of all things Trump, with Mika given to tearful end-of-days pronouncements over the horror of it all.

This incident is small beer in itself, and would be less damaging, were Joe and Mika not so sanctimonious, and were fake news not such a prominent national conversation. Faith in the US media is low – last month, a Reuters poll found 45 per cent of Americans don’t trust the media, and that figure simply soars among Republicans. Now is not the time for media to joust with their own credibility.

Media influence will be tested on December 12 by the Senate election for Alabama, which has seen GOP candidate Roy Moore embroiled in the recent tsunami of sex abuse charges, after the Washington Post published claims he preyed on teen women. Accusations range from a squeeze of the buttocks and a stolen kiss, to a gropey physical advance in a dark car park by Beverly Young Nelson, 16 at the time.

Despite a high-profile public life in Alabama covering over 30 years, no accusations like this had ever before been leveled against Moore, 70, and he denies them. Two of the cases were more serious than the others, that of a then-14-year-old Leigh Corfman, and of Nelson. Various factual discrepancies have now cast doubt on these two accounts, which may be just what happens with such old recollections, or may be indicative of something more troubling.

The only piece of supporting evidence in these cases has been a high school Yearbook allegedly bearing Roy Moore’s signature in an inscription to Nelson. The trouble is, the use of differently colored inks, inconsistencies in the formation of letters and numbers, and the peculiar addition of the initials ‘D.A.’ after the judge’s signature have cast doubt on its veracity. Moore was not a District Attorney at the time of the alleged signature, as had been claimed, but he did have an assistant Deborah Adams, who would sign her initials beside the stamp of his signature on official papers. It then emerged that as a judge Moore had presided over Nelson’s divorce, which could explain why a form of letters used in Judge Moore’s legal work turned up on the Yearbook.

This all came out online through the eccentric agency of one Thomas Wictor, who describes himself on Twitter as ‘Author, novelist and the planet’s only expert on World War One flamethrowers’. Moore’s lawyer then demanded the Yearbook be handed over to handwriting experts for verification. Gloria Allred, Nelson’s famed women’s rights lawyer, refused to hand it over, except to a Senate inquiry. Allred has form for the Democrats, having represented multiple female Trump accusers in the 2016 campaign, plus recent accusers of former Fox News host Bill O’Reilly. If you think this case bears signs of being a political hit job, you wouldn’t be the only one.

But it is telling that it took a passionate amateur on Twitter to deepdive the Yearbook claims and show up inconsistencies in the evidence.

Why did the media not put these claims to the blowtorch? Or even Moore’s own staff? So much ‘journalism’ these days seems to be simply word processing, with reporters more interested in agendas and getting ahead than in establishing the truth.

Whatever the rights and wrongs of Moore’s accusers, he remains innocent until proven guilty, and the claims will not be proved or disproved before Alabama voters pass judgement on him. But voters will also be passing judgement on the national media, which so often reports on conservatives in bad faith, with little interest in their side of the story, let alone the truth. And these days, thanks to the web, many Americans know it.

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