Would You Believe…

“A drop of water on the forehead every minute for three hundred gallons. Three hundred gallons, Mr. Brown. Would you believe it?”

“That’s pretty hard to believe.”

“Would you believe a quart?”
“What if they came by once a day with a glass of water and an eyedropper?”

Lets be charitable and call it vintage humor. Not all beverages age to fine wine.

Half a century ago, the routine was funny enough to be a constant, repetitive, endless, everlasting part of the Get Smart television satire of Bond films.

I thought of Maxwell Smart a couple of weeks ago as I read new anonymous claims, sourced by the Washington Post to federal lawmakers, presumably Republicans, with access to classified information.

The FBI was devoting an astonishing level of resources to investigating Hillary Clinton and her email messages. The sole duty of nearly 150 federal agents was to find criminal wrongdoing in the activities of the former Secretary of State and the messages she sent and received.

The number of agents was greater than the number assigned to any investigation since World War II.

More than the Abscam investigation of decades ago that resulted in 7 high level convictions.

Move even than the massive effort of investigating every aspect of the terrorist attack of September 11, 2001.

Then the story shrank. Some exaggeration had been at work. The actual number was somewhat less than the originally reported 147.

How much less?
130? 120?

No. The Washington Post issued a correction. It was less than 50.
Oh, okay.

So perhaps 49? 40? 30?
Well, no, really. It was less than those guesses.

Other sources came forward. In fact it was less than a dozen.
How much less?
My bet is that “fewer than 12” will not turn out to be 11.

This is not an isolated case. Since Barack Obama was inaugurated, the pattern has become so entrenched it is now the Charlie Brown football of Republican opposition.

A couple of years ago, Republicans solemnly revealed that a smoking gun document had been discovered. The highest levels of the Obama administration had been involved in a massive cover up, and now there was ironclad proof.

It was all about Benghazi.

It is disturbing and perhaps criminal that these documents, that documents like these were hidden by the Obama administration from Congress and the public, alike.

Darrell Issa (R-CA), May 1, 2014

To say that this wasn’t trying to shape the Benghazi story is inconsistent with the document itself, flies in the face of the facts, and yet another insulting, misleading lie.

Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC), May 1, 2014

To me, it’s the equivalent of what was discovered with the Nixon Tapes.

Charles Krauthammer, Fox News, May 1, 2014

It turned out that the smoking gun document that proved a cover up reaching into the Oval Office was simply a memo by a speechwriter. It offered a list of proposed answers to possible attacks by Republicans, if they decided to take partisan advantage of the Benghazi tragedy.

So. The widely reported document, as leaked by Republicans, turned out to be partisan fiction. There was no there there.

Before that came documents, partially released by lawmakers, showing the IRS had been directed by the Obama White House to target conservatives for audits.

The lawmakers who partially released the documents turned out to be Republicans.

The documents, when they were entirely released, turned out to indicate that both conservative and liberal groups had been targeted, but only if they engaged in political activities while filing legal statements claiming that they were not so engaged.

Republican members of Congress had known this, even as they sliced and diced what they leaked to the press. The FBI later reported that no evidence could be found of the targeting of political enemies.

So why do mainstream news organizations continue to fall into the same trap?

Partly it is the evolution of a journalistic ethic that favors balance over verification. He accuses, she denies, we won’t verify, you decide. It is an ethic that once was the unique province of inexpensive tabloids that were found on supermarket shelves.

But as retractions mount, we can hope a new work ethic will also evolve. Journalistic acceptance of whispered accusation might become skeptical documentation, perhaps accompanied prominently by a history of previous untruths.

At very least, news organizations might even exhibit the same level of wisdom shown over 50 years ago by comedic spy villains.

147 FBI Agents.
“Would you believe it? A hundred cops with Doberman Pinschers.”

Okay, then. Almost 50 agents.
Would you believe ten security guards and a bloodhound?

Alright. Under 12 Agents.
How about a Boy Scout with rabies?

Wouldn’t it be a blast from the past, from the days of Cronkite and Murrow, if reporters would respond, maybe even in their reporting:

I find that hard to believe.
That’s pretty hard to believe.
I don’t think so.

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1 thought on “Would You Believe…”

  1. “Partly it is the evolution of a journalistic ethic that favors balance over verification.”

    No it isn’t. It is a “journalistic ethic” which favors Republicans over Democrats. No explanation that is ever given for this phenomenon ever accounts for the fact that it always works in favor of the Republicans; i.e. the party backed by the owners of the mainstream press. That is because at this late date, people are still afraid to speak the truth: the press in this country is not the victim of the Republican party, it is their collaborator.

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