Pelley compares Trump’s lies to attacks on media

Anchor Scott Pelley regularly corrects President Trump’s misleading and false statements on CBS Evening News.

In the past few weeks, Pelley has corrected Trump on the number of people Obamacare covers, the national unemployment rate and his claims that former President Obama wiretapped Trump Tower.

CBS Evening News, March 6

On March 6 Pelley compared the President’s unsubstantiated wiretapping claim to his former assertions that millions voted illegally, his statement there was a terror attack in Sweden and his insistence the news media is a “great danger to our country.”

CBS Evening News, March 6

One of these claims is not like the others. Research, testimony or investigation can prove that millions of people did not vote illegally and that no terror attack occurred in Sweden. President Trump’s attacks on the media can be considered opinion more than outright lies.

CBS Evening News, March 6

It can’t easily be proven that the media is not a danger to the country. “Media” can include any number of outlets and sources, and “dangerous” has different implications for different people. Neither can it be factually proven that the media is dangerous.

Pelley’s comparison may lessen the magnitude of the president’s lies, or it may underscore the seriousness of his attacks on the news media. Former managing editor of Newsday Jim Toedtman argues both sides: “Responding to Trump’s criticism of the media as failing, fake and un-American is important, but it runs the risk of being trivialized or making the media seem particularly thin-skinned if we drop the reference into the middle of a serious news report and possible criminal activity.”

“At the same time,” he says, “I believe you could put the media attacks into the same basket as his attacks on judges and intelligence agencies. Like the judges and intelligence agencies,  the media is an institution that is increasingly distrusted.”

Former senior editor of the Chicago Tribune John Twohey thinks Pelley’s comparison was fair and necessary. “You could have a lengthy debate about whether the media is a threat to the country. I feel that is demonstrably false… I wouldn’t object to Pelley making that statement. I think there’s no evidence currently or historically that the media is a threat to the nation or the enemy of the people. I just don’t think there’s evidence to support that statement.”

It is becoming increasingly important that the mainstream news media be as accurate as possible. Pelley and CBS Evening News are playing an important role by correcting the president when he is wrong, but they must continue to do so tactfully and truthfully.

More from John Twohey:

  • “If you can’t support something factually is it false? I think it is. I don’t see why Pelley should be criticized for adding that to his list.”
  • “This President has declared war on the press. He’s not the first president to snipe at the media – they’re often unhappy with the coverage they get – but this level of criticism is something new. I can’t recall a president in my lifetime who has set out the destroy the credibility of the press and undermine it as an institution that stands apart and plays its role in our democracy.”
  • “I worked at the Washington Post during Watergate and I recall the assault on the media by Nixon and his press secretary … but this is different.”

More from Jim Toedtman:

  • “Trumps’ error-prone, possibly willful determination to undermine today’s media… They’re extremely important points of focus. But they should be kept separate. For [Pelley’s] text references, he could have included … the vaccine/autism charge, or thousands of NJ Muslims cheering the 9/11 attacks, or 42% unemployment rate or soaring crime rate. This emphasis on truth and facts and trust is the way to convince the public he’s wrong to condemn the medias as “a great danger to the country.””
  • “The better way to respond to Trump’s media attacks is not to be argumentative, but to be recognized and appreciated as the carrier of factual, useful, trustworthy information.”
  • “Like the judges and intelligence agencies,  the media is an institution that is increasingly distrusted, just as virtually all other U.S. institutions today. There may be no greater challenge today than rebuilding public confidence in these historically important, useful and extraordinarily beneficial institutions.”

Michaela Johnson

Michaela Johnson is junior broadcast journalism and government and politics double major with an interest in homeland security policy. Michaela is also interested in sports reporting, and has previously interned for CSN Mid-Atlantic and the Southern Maryland Blue Crabs. She is currently a communications fellow with the Partnership for Public Service, a nonpartisan nonprofit organization that works towards an efficient, effective and engaged federal government. After graduation, Michaela would like to pursue a career in sports or political reporting. She can be reached at or on Twitter @mjohnson262.

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