One of the privileges of being an elite DC or New York journalist–particularly when you are working overtime to destroy somebody’s reputation–is that, unlike powerful individuals in virtually every other profession, you don’t answer to any objective third parties. Plus, you can deviate from standard operating procedures and even deceive the people whose interests you purport to safeguard without any consequences.
Consider the stunts “Meet the Press” moderator Chuck Todd pulled Sunday to depict Donald Trump as a sexual predator, particularly his attempt to impeach the credibility of an eyewitness who directly contradicts one of his key accusers’ claims.
Impeaching witnesses is a legal term. But any lawyer who tried similar techniques in court would likely be severely sanctioned for withholding relevant information from the court. The information about Trump’s defender that Todd casually introduced to discredit him was extremely misleading and incomplete. He omitted what lawyers call exculpatory evidence.
With typical faux objectivity, Todd started off his show by summarizing all the women who have emerged to accuse Donald Trump of sexually mauling them, followed by Trump’s vehement denials.
“Nine women have now come forward. Jessica Leeds says she sat next to Trump on a plane in 1979,” Todd said. Then he flashed Jessica Leeds video recorded comments to the New York Times that “When he started putting his hand up my skirt and that was it. That was it.”
Then Todd said, “Trump has blamed the media, blamed the Clintons, he has even blamed a Mexican billionaire. And the Trump campaign has pushed back on all of the allegations, offering a British man who says it was Jessica Leeds who was being flirtatious on that flight.
“Two years ago this same witness, Anthony Gilberthorpe, made headlines after claiming he’d supplied underage boys for sex parties attended by British cabinet ministers,” said Todd. At the same time an article from The Mirror, a randy British publication, flashed on the screen, quoting Gilbethorpe’s claim in 2014 claim that he “supplied underage rent boys for Margaret Thatcher’s cabinet ministers.”
He certainly did make that claim.
But how is that relevant to his defense of Trump? Why do viewers need to know that? So Todd gives them details on one of Trump’s defenders but not a single additional bit of information of any of his accusers? What objective news standard could possibly justify that disparate treatment?
Todd, of course, was trying to discredit Trump’s witness as some kind of sleazy liar. But Todd omitted information that shows at least in this instance he is hardly a liar.
Here are the first three paragraphs of the story, even though only the lurid headline was visible when Todd flashed it on screen.
“Senior Tory cabinet ministers were supplied with underage boys for sex parties, it is sensationally claimed.
Former Conservative activist Anthony Gilberthorpe said he told Margaret Thatcher 25 years ago about what he had witnessed and gave her names of those involved.
His allegations that he saw top Tories having sex with boys comes after David Cameron launched a Government inquiry into claims of a cover-up.”
Got that? Contrary to Todd’s spin that he was telling some wild random tale, the matter was under official investigation. Even worse, Todd withheld from viewers crucial information about what has happened in the “two years” since Gilbethorpe made headlines. His story started to sound very true.
Just look at this headline from the Daily Beast: “How, Thatcher’s Government Covered-Up A VIP Pedophile Ring.”
In fact, following his 2014 comments to the Mirror implicating Thatcher in a pedophilia cover-up for Tory MPs, it emerged in 2015 that she did just that for another government official.
“Margaret Thatcher told officials not to publicly name a senior diplomat connected to a paedophile scandal despite being fully briefed on allegations made against him, a newly revealed secret file has shown,” the Independent reported.
Additionally, shortly after his comments to the Mirror Margaret Thatcher’s former bodyguard was quoted saying he told her a key MP was having “parties with underage boys.”
OK, fine. The guy is not a liar and it turns out his seemingly fanciful claims—contrary to Chuck Todd’s spin—–was congruent with what other people started saying. But the fact remains he was pimping teenage boys.
Well, if Todd feels it is newsworthy that one of Trump’s defenders was doing such a thing he should at least report that a convicted pedophile, who also donated to the Obama 2012 campaign, recently endorsed Hillary Clinton in a letter to the New York Times, written from the same address where he is a registered sex offender.
The other really deceitful thing Todd did when recounting all the accusers say that NBC News could not independently confirm their allegations, implying they made a good faith effort.
But did they?
NBCNews.com has claimed they tried to contact the women directly without success. But hat do reporters normally do when they can’t get an interview subject on the phone? They try to corroborate his or her story independently. The stuff on NBCNews.com just looks like a cut and paste job from other publications.
They simply quoted from the Times original story on Jessica Leeds, which got the ball rolling, even though it should have raised all sort of red flags. For starters, who is this woman anyway?
There is almost nothing on Google about her. The Times said vaguely she worked for “a paper company” decades ago when she encountered Trump on a plane. Which one? And when exactly?
Did NBC News make any effort to ascertain these crucial details, which were omitted by the Times? Doesn’t seem that way. Finding out the company’s name would be the first step toward locating co-workers to see if Leeds had any contemporaneous conversations about the supposed encounter, a crucial test of credibility.
Chuck Todd’s famed predecessor was a lawyer, who cross-examined everybody with equal zeal–but within the rules of evidence. It is doubtful that Tim Russert would have pulled the nifty little bait and switch that Todd did yesterday.
Todd did not respond to tweeted requests for comment.
Disclosure: Donald Trump is the father-in-law of Jared Kushner, publisher of Observer Media.