By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

Tag: Mueller Report

An NPR editor decries what he sees as the network’s lurch to the progressive left

Photo (cc) 2010 by Todd Huffman

Three people — a progressive, a liberal and a moderate — have already sent me this commentary at The Free Press by NPR senior business editor Uri Berliner arguing that the network has lost trust and audience in recent years because it has lurched toward the progressive left. I’m putting it out there so that you’ll be aware of it and can have a chance to read it. Anything but the most cursory commentary will have to wait — I want to see how it settles in.

I will say that Berliner mischaracterizes the Mueller report and the Hunter Biden laptop story, which isn’t a good sign. He strikes me as squeamish about race and transgender issues as well. But there’s one point he makes that deserves some attention:

Back in 2011, although NPR’s audience tilted a bit to the left, it still bore a resemblance to America at large. Twenty-six percent of listeners described themselves as conservative, 23 percent as middle of the road, and 37 percent as liberal.

By 2023, the picture was completely different: only 11 percent described themselves as very or somewhat conservative, 21 percent as middle of the road, and 67 percent of listeners said they were very or somewhat liberal. We weren’t just losing conservatives; we were also losing moderates and traditional liberals.

An open-minded spirit no longer exists within NPR, and now, predictably, we don’t have an audience that reflects America.

This is a consequence of the great ideological sorting-out we’ve seen, especially during the Trump years. These days, the audiences for NPR, The New York Times, The Washington Post and other mainstream news organizations are overwhelmingly liberal and progressive. It’s not their fault; these are institutions that, however imperfectly, have tried to seek truth and report it, as the Society of Professional Journalists would have it, and have been attacked by the right as a result.

But their left-leaning audience in too many cases demands to be coddled. The Times drives me as crazy as it does anyone else, but it is constantly attacked on social media (especially on Threads) for not getting every pro-Biden, anti-Trump nuance exactly right. With advertising dead, editors at outlets like the Times and the Post have to balance the demands of their subscription-paying readers with their desire to cover the news fairly. A parallel situation exists at NPR, which is likely to become more dependent on membership fees from listeners as foundations cut their funding.

Anyway, those are a few preliminary thoughts. It will be interesting to see how Berliner’s essay resonates in the days ahead. And please post your own thoughts in the comments.

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No reason for BuzzFeed to apologize for that explosive Michael Cohen story

I want to take a brief look at a very small wrinkle within the much larger story of the Mueller Report. A number of observers have taken note that the report disputes an article that BuzzFeed News published back in January claiming that former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen told prosecutors the president had “directed” him to lie before Congress about the Trump Organization’s attempts to build a tower in Moscow.

At the time, Mueller’s office took the unusual step of denying BuzzFeed’s story, and the release of the redacted Mueller Report on Thursday appeared to back that up. For instance, here is how NBC News puts it:

While Mueller acknowledged there was evidence that Trump knew Cohen had provided Congress with false testimony about the Russian business venture, “the evidence available to us does not establish that the President directed or aided Cohen’s false testimony.”

BuzzFeed News editor-in-chief Ben Smith addressed the matter Thursday night, acknowledging that the Mueller Report contradicts what his journalists had claimed. CNN media reporter Brian Stelter, in his daily newsletter, notes, “Smith stopped short of expressing any regret for the story.” But should he have? I don’t think so. Crucially, Smith also writes this:

On Feb. 27, Cohen testified before a congressional committee that Trump “told” him to lie to Congress “in his way,” using a coded style of speech that Cohen said was familiar from past interactions.

Indeed Cohen did. We all saw him do it. I took it at the time, and I still do, that BuzzFeed’s reporting was essentially correct. Cohen by his own testimony told Mueller’s office that President Trump had made it clear he wanted him to lie. BuzzFeed interviewed two unnamed prosecutors who passed that information along. If Mueller has now concluded that didn’t actually amount to Trump directing Cohen to lie, it doesn’t change what Cohen perceived or how BuzzFeed’s sources understood what Cohen was telling them.

BuzzFeed’s headline and lead used the word “directed,” which is totally accurate. Where BuzzFeed overstepped was in publishing this sentence farther down: “It is the first known example of Trump explicitly telling a subordinate to lie directly about his own dealings with Russia” [my emphasis].

My two takeaways from this episode are, first, that BuzzFeed comes out of this looking pretty good; and second, that every word matters, especially when reporting on a story this explosive. The phrase “explicitly telling” hangs out there as the sole problem in a story that otherwise advanced our understanding of the Trump-Russia connection in a fundamental way.

Earlier: “Making Sense of the BuzzFeed Bombshell — and What, If Anything, Went Wrong” (WGBH News, Jan. 23).

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