Take a Bow, Columbia Journalism Review
The venerable watchdog publication breaks legacy media ranks with a massive rebuke of Trump-Russia coverage. Interview with the report's dogged author, Jeff Gerth
The Columbia Journalism Review stunned many last Monday by publishing “The Press Versus the President,” a 24,000-word autopsy of press coverage in the Trump years, focusing on the the Trump-Russia collusion scandal colloquially known as “Russiagate.”
The piece was written by Jeff Gerth, a long-serving New York Times writer who is as credentialed as they come in the legacy press, having among other things won a Pulitzer Prize in 1999 (for reporting, incidentally, not commentary or public service). In retirement at the start of the Trump years, Gerth watched with growing alarm as venerable institutions like the Times and the Washington Post continually made high-stakes assertions in headlines that appeared based on thin or uncheckable sourcing.
The pile of such stories was already stacked to skyscraper height, and commemorated by awards like a joint Times-Post Pulitzer, when Special Counsel Robert Mueller wrapped up an investigation of the matter without indicting Trump or anyone else for the supposed conspiracy. There was no way for Mueller’s probe to have ended the way it did and for years of “worse than Watergate” news reports about Trump-Russian collusion to be true, so Gerth went back to the beginning in search of the real story of what, if anything, went wrong on the coverage side.
The result is a long, almost book-length compendium of errors and editorial overreach. It could have been longer. Gerth focused on the would-be investigative reports at papers like the Times and the Post that drove Russiagate, mostly leaving alone the less serious players at cable news and at online journals whose main contribution was making the click-bomb bigger.
A brief note on some issues that were already popping up as problems in the media business heading into 2016-2017, and which are important subtext to Gerth’s piece: