CBS is turning up the heat in fact checking Donald Trump

On Feb. 16, Scott Pelley opened the CBS Evening News by saying the length of the president’s fuse is 28 days. He went on to say that at a “hasty” news conference, Donald Trump used the skills that made his career: “bluster, bravado, exaggeration and a few loose facts.”

This follows a pattern for CBS. On Feb. 24, Scott Pelley said, “”The President’s real troubles again today were not with the media but with the facts.”

CBS is attempting to become the fact-checking network. The tone is unquestionably aggressive. Trump’s supporters are likely to say that this newscast crossed a line and was unfairly harsh.

Hooman Majd, a journalist and an author, believes CBS crossed a line in its rhetoric.

“Pelley may have gone too far, at least if the network wants to remain an objective source of news for all Americans, not just those who object to Trump politically, philosophically, or personally,” Majd said.

David Folkenflik, a media correspondent for NPR, disagrees saying everything Pelley said was truthful.

“There’s some edge to it but there’s more than a little edge to what Trump has had to say, to what Trump has done, to Trump’s rhetoric,” Folkenflik said. “I don’t think it casts CBS in the role of the enemy of the administration – much less the enemy of the state – to call out the administration for what it says and does.”

Folkenflik believes it is the mission of the media to seek truth, and that the CBS’s fact checking follows this goal.

“If this is how CBS interprets what it means to be true to that mission as long as they’re careful to be grounded in fact, I think there’s not only room for that, but in many ways it’s to be absolutely commended,” he said.

Majd doesn’t think Pelley is fact checking, but rather demeaning President Trump by criticizing his character.

“There is difference between alerting an audience to an untruth that is uttered by our elected officials, and editorializing on the character of a person,” Majd said. “That should be left to the editorial pages of the newspapers.”

However he does admit Trump seems to use more unsubstantiated claims than most, so fact checking will be even more important in this administration.

“Trump seems to employ more of them than most other politicians, it may appear as though the media is going too far in fact-checking everything he says.”

In the end, Folkenflik believes CBS should continue with the path they have paved.

“I don’t think you have to look cynically at what CBS is doing,” Folkenflik explains. “CBS is making a decision that they’re going to bring a little muscle and lean a little bit into the pitch when it comes to what Trump’s doing because at least in what we’ve seen so far it’s not simply Pelley making unsubstantiated assessments; They’re providing examples and demonstrating what they’re talking about.”

More from Hooman Majd:

  • While by any definition Trump probably did employ “bluster” and “bravado”, and has indeed played loose with facts, demeaning him in the way Pelley did by using those words as well as stating the “length of Donald Trump’s fuse” is not a neutral or unbiased reading of the news. To call out the president’s actual falsehoods would not have been biased, but to characterize them in the editorial way Pelley did was not so much news as it was opinion. I think these sorts of news reports make Trump sound right to his supporters when he disparages the “elite” media.
  • I can see that this is indeed becoming normal, or at least among some of the media. I would say, however, that both Trump and the media are at fault. Trump dislikes and disparages any criticism of him, no matter the legitimacy of it, and attacks the press in unprecedented ways (“enemy of the American of people”). The media responds by editorializing on issues that are irrelevant to the presidency—such as how Kelly Ann Conway sits on the sofa in the Oval Office, or whether Trump’s taste in steaks is juvenile.

More from David Folkenflik:

  • I don’t have a real problem. I think it’s appropriate for journalists to subject Trump to pretty tough scrutiny given the stakes and given the nature of what Trump has said he intends and desires to do.
  • The presidential pulpit is so powerful that a whisper is heard as a roar in some sectors of the world. So when you have a president that makes brash statements – and when challenged on their grounding disassociates himself from any of the specifics and details, but says overall the thrust of it is justified just because it is justified – [then] the public deserves to understand and know that.
  • The anchor in this case is putting his name and credibility behind the idea of Trump having a short fuse [and] Trump making unsubstantiated claims. And I mean [he is] being very blunt about it in a way that news organizations and news anchors tend to catch a bit. They’re trying to reach a broad audience and bring their news to light. After all if you drive people away they’re not going to listen to your journalistic conclusions or findings.


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