Breaking: The Worst Media Misses of 2021

Welcome to a special year-end edition of "Forgotten Fact-Checks," a weekly column produced by National Review's News Desk. This week, as the sun sets on 2021, we recap the year's biggest media misses.

Media Downplay Inconvenient Waukesha-Massacre Facts

The mainstream media turned a collective blind eye to the Waukesha car-collision massacre that killed six people and left dozens wounded in November, willfully ignoring the lengthy rap sheet of the suspected killer, Darrell Brooks.

Brooks's alleged offenses include domestic abuse, battery, disorderly conduct, recklessly endangering safety, felony bail-jumping, and resisting or obstructing an officer. As he drove his car into a crowd attending a Christmas parade in Waukesha, Wis., Brooks faced multiple pending cases in Milwaukee County involving second-degree reckless endangerment and being a felon in possession of a firearm.

Weeks before the attack, he had even punched the mother of his child in the face before trying to run her over with his car. He was immediately released on $1,000 cash bond — a figure Milwaukee County's Democratic district attorney, John Chisholm, called "inappropriately low" after he mowed down Waukesha’s "Dancin' Grannies."

While some outlets are guilty of ignoring or downplaying Brooks's checkered past, CNN seemingly suggested that a fully autonomous car plowed through a crowd, writing that the city "will hold a moment of silence today, marking one week since a car drove through a city Christmas parade, killing six people and injuring scores of others."

In a since-deleted social-media post from 2020, Brooks proclaimed his intention to "start bakk knokkin white people TF out ion wanna hear it…the old white ppl 2, KNOKK DEM TF OUT!! PERIOD.." leading many to believe that there was a political element to the lack of interest in the motive behind the gruesome attack.

The Whips That Weren't

Vice News declared in a September tweet that Border Patrol agents "are whipping Haitian migrants at the US-Mexico border in Texas." Yet neither the story nor the Al Jazeera video it links to suggested that the agents were actually whipping the migrants.

It was later determined that the agents were wielding the reins of their horses — not whips — as they worked to contain the flow of migrants across the river. And experts familiar with the protocols for mounted Border Patrol agents came to the defense of the agents in the video, saying the reins can be used to steer the horse, but agents will also spin them on occasion to deter people from getting too close to the horse.

The media game of telephone stirred up such a frenzy that Homeland Security secretary Alejandro Mayorkas vowed to open an investigation into the situation. However, DHS' inspector general later "declined" to investigate the agents.

Fact-Checking the Washington Post's Fact Checker

In April, fact-checker Glenn Kessler was embroiled in a pair of controversies. First, he published a deep dive into the family history of Senator Tim Scott (R., S.C.):  "Tim Scott often talks about his grandfather and cotton. There's more to that tale."  The so-called "fact check" questioned Scott's story about how his family rose from "cotton to Congress."

Kessler argued that Scott's rags-to-riches story was more "complex" than the senator had portrayed because Scott's great-great-grandfather owned 900 acres in South Carolina, including a farm where Scott's grandfather worked.

"Scott tells a tidy story packaged for political consumption, but a close look shows how some of his family's early and improbable success gets flattened and written out of his biography," Kessler argued.

Meanwhile, despite Kessler's commitment to fact-checking the humble beginnings of a Republican senator, he announced that same month that he would discontinue his database of fact-checks on President Biden after Biden's first 100 days in office, saying he had "learned my lesson."

"'Learned my lesson' means that who knows what the next four years will bring," Kessler clarified shortly after tweeting the initial announcement. "We have fact-checked Biden rigorously and will continue to do so. Trump at 500 claims/100 days was manageable; 8,000+ was not."

He added: "Maintaining the Trump database over four years required about 400 additional 8-hour days over four years beyond our regular jobs for three people. Biden is off to a relatively slow start but who knows what will happen. We will keep doing fact checks, just not a database."

Two Fredos for the Price of One

While Andrew Cuomo and Chris Cuomo reached peak media-darling status in 2020, it was in 2021 that the brothers lost their position as TV's golden boys. In the early days of the Covid-19 pandemic, CNN allowed Chris Cuomo to host his brother as a recurring guest on his show. The two would partake in light-hearted entertainment segments which served to improve Andrew Cuomo's image despite his botched leadership throughout the pandemic.

Chris Cuomo later stayed silent as his brother became embroiled in a series of scandals, including being accused of sexual harassment by nearly a dozen women. The CNN anchor claimed he could not cover his brother.

However, in May, Chris Cuomo apologized on air after the Washington Post reported that he had joined strategy calls with Andrew Cuomo and the governor's aides to navigate the harassment allegations. Many argued that CNN should have fired the anchor then, but the network allowed him to remain on the air for another six months.

Chris Cuomo was suspended indefinitely on November 30 for leaning on contacts in the media business to help his brother navigate the sexual-harassment scandal. The suspension came after newly released documents from New York attorney general Letitia James's office contradicted the younger Cuomo's claims that he was "not an advisor" to his brother amid the sexual-harassment scandal, that he "wasn't in control of anything," and that he was only involved in meetings to listen and offer his take.

The documents revealed that the former CNN anchor was regularly in touch with Melissa DeRosa, the governor's former top aide, as one after another the sexual-harassment allegations began to pile up.

He was (finally) fired days later.

Lab-Leak "Conspiracy" Theory

While a lonely few — including National Review’s Jim Geraghty — had long argued that the pandemic may have been the product of a leak from one of the two poorly run virology labs in Wuhan, China, others worked tirelessly to dismiss the notion. Indeed, for many in the press, acknowledging the possibility became a symbol of ignorance and bigotry.

Apoorva Mandavilli, a science reporter for the New York Times, proclaimed that "someday we will stop talking about the lab leak theory and maybe even admit its racist roots. But alas, that day is not today." Last year, the Times reported that Senator Tom Cotton was repeating a "fringe theory of coronavirus origins," asserting that "the conspiracy theory lacks evidence."

Politifact ran a fact-check of a segment on Tucker Carlson Tonight that it headlined "Tucker Carlson Guest Airs Debunked Conspiracy Theory that COVID-19 Was Created in a Lab."

The disdain for the theory stretched beyond the media and onto platforms such as Facebook, which flagged as false, and in some instances even banned, articles and video clips that dared mention the theory.

The taboo on the lab-leak theory did eventually lift, thanks to Jim, the Washington Post's Josh Rogin, and the work of a pair of former Times journalists. But it was a disturbing real-world example of the old joke that "journalism is about covering important stories — with a pillow, until they stop moving."

USA Today Edits Away Thousands of Years of Human Knowledge and Experience

In May, USA Today published an op-ed by Chelsea Mitchell, an accomplished high-school track athlete from Connecticut. Biological males competing as females, Mitchell argued, not only undermine the integrity of women's sports, but have an adverse effect on individual athletes' sense of self-worth.

"It tells me that I'm not good enough; that my body isn't good enough; and that no matter how hard I work, I am unlikely to succeed, because I'm a woman," Mitchell wrote.

Then, without consulting Mitchell, USA Today took the dramatic step of removing the word "male" to describe the transgender athletes Mitchell had competed against, even affixing an editor's note expressing its "regret that hurtful language was used."

The paper's actions represented not just a departure from thousands of years of human knowledge and experience, but from basic journalistic norms and courtesies, since the changes were made without Mitchell's approval.

The incident came one month after the paper was criticized for allowing Georgia Democrat Stacey Abrams to substantially edit a voting-rights op-ed after its publication to downplay her support for corporate boycotts of the state. Six days after the piece was published, the outlet allowed Abrams to remove a line in which she said "she can't argue" with those who would boycott Georgia businesses over the state's voting laws. She replaced it with, "Rather than accept responsibility for their craven actions, Republican leaders blame me and others who have championed voting rights (and actually read the bill)."

In the updated version, Abrams writes that "boycotts invariably cost jobs," and that "instead of a boycott, I strongly urge other events and productions to do business in Georgia and speak out against our law and similar proposals in other states."

It took more than two weeks for the paper to affix an editor's note to the story alerting readers to the changes.

A Dangerous Round of Fake Right-Wing News

Dominion Voting Systems, an elections-equipment manufacturer, filed a lawsuit against Newsmax and the owner of One America News Network (OANN) in August, seeking roughly $1.6 billion in defamation damages after both helped peddle several election-related conspiracy theories on behalf of then-president Donald Trump.

"Newsmax helped create and cultivate an alternate reality where up is down, pigs have wings, and Dominion engaged in a colossal fraud to steal the presidency from Donald Trump by rigging the vote," Dominion's lawyers wrote in one filing.

In one of the most egregious examples of the falsehoods spread by the networks, according to Dominion, one "expert mathematician" interviewed on OANN was actually an installer at a Long Island swing-set-construction company.

In February, OANN was forced to air a 90-second disclaimer before it showed a three-hour movie by MyPillow founder and Trump ally Mike Lindell that featured a slew of election-related conspiracy theories.

Two months later, Newsmax published an apology and retraction on its site after settling a lawsuit with a Dominion employee. The apology was reportedly later deleted from the site, according to NBC News.

In November, another voting-technology company, Smartmatic, filed separate defamation lawsuits against Newsmax and OANN for airing similar disinformation about its products. The suits accuse both media outlets of "falsely" stating that Smartmatic "rigged" the presidential election for President Biden in key swing states.

CRT Isn’t Taught in K-12 Schools — and If It Is, It’s Good

To anyone who has watched closely as critical race theory has squeezed its way into the American education system, it is obvious that Democrats and the mainstream media have not taken seriously the concerns of parents, educators, and those who don't believe in baking racial division into curricula.

The mainstream media would have readers believe that Republicans and parents who speak out against CRT in schools are living in a land of make-believe. CRT is good, they argue. CRT is only in law schools, they add.

Frederick Hess, the director of education-policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute, did a study examining all 91 news accounts addressing CRT published between September 2020 and August 2021 in the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, USA Today, Education Week, The 74, and Chalkbeat.

The study found that just two of the 91 stories mentioned CRT's disdain for rational thought and just one noted its disregard for universal values or objective knowledge, despite CRT's being part of a school of thought that is "skeptical of the idea of universal values, objective knowledge, individual merit, Enlightenment rationalism, and liberalism."

Meanwhile, just five of the news accounts examined the use of racial "affinity groups," through which schools segregate students or staff according to their race. The prospect of schools' abandoning notions of colorblindness was mentioned in fewer than a dozen articles. Perhaps one of CRT's most controversial claims, that the U.S. is an innately racist nation, was mentioned in barely half of the articles.

"Simply put, news accounts have focused intently on the one facet of CRT that is the least controversial and treated that as the center of an intense national debate, all while giving short shrift to legitimate concerns," Hess wrote. "It's almost as if the goal was to make CRT critics look unreasonable and to shelter CRT from attacks."

DeSantis Derangement Disorder

Florida always takes a lot of heat thanks to a steady stream of clickbaity "Florida Man" content. But in 2021, this discourse reached new heights with a focus on one Florida man: Governor Ron DeSantis.

DeSantis, like any public official tasked with crafting pandemic policy, has made mistakes. But the monomaniacal and often manifestly unfair treatment of the Florida governor has been a sight to behold. Recall, for example, that 60 Minutes, one of broadcast journalism's most-hallowed institutions, smeared DeSantis as corrupt for the crime of . . . distributing doses of the coronavirus vaccine to Florida's most-prevalent grocery-store chain, Publix, because the chain donated to DeSantis's campaign, as it does to a variety of Republican and Democratic figures and groups.

To aid its feeble effort at manufacturing a scandal, 60 Minutes even edited DeSantis's answer to a question from one its reporters, omitting his in-depth explanation of the decision. The show did not reach out to the progressive director of Florida's Division of Emergency Management, Jared Moskowitz, who responded to the segment by tweeting that "Publix was recommended by FLSERT [State Emergency Response Team] and HealthyFla [Florida Department of Health] as the other pharmacies were not ready to start. Period! Full Stop! No one from the Governors office suggested Publix. It's just absolute malarkey."

And that's just the most notable instance of DeSantis Derangement Disorder at work. In August, CNN's Jim Acosta asked of the Delta Variant, which has since hit the rest of the country just as hard as it was hitting Florida back then, "Why not call it the DeSantis variant?"

The most recent faux outrage came when DeSantis suggested in his budget proposal that Florida create a civilian military force to help handle crises such as hurricanes. Twenty-two other states already have such a force, and yet MSNBC anchor Joy Reid still asked the rest of us if we knew "this is fascisty bananas, right…?"

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The Worst Media Misses of 2021

From the Border Patrol whips that weren't to the lab-leak 'conspiracy theory,' the media have a lot to answer for ... READ MORE


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