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Be more careful: Lawrence O’Donnell’s sloppy goof is the last thing the news media needs

2019-08-30

Don't make his mistake. (Evan Agostini/Evan Agostini/Invision/AP)

A pathological president who smears rigorous reporting he hates as “fake news,” who vilifies high-quality media organizations as “enemies of the people,” got an inadvertent assist this week from a liberal TV network.

On the air Tuesday night, MSNBC host Lawrence O’Donnell made the explosive claim that Donald Trump’s financial records show that some of his loans have Russian co-signers. Wednesday, he walked it back, saying he had relied on a single source and hadn’t put the claim through its paces.

Give “the media” — which isn’t a monolith — some credit here. Reputable news organizations did not parrot O’Donnell’s claim, precisely because they care about the truth. That matters. So too does O’Donnell’s response. His retraction and apology were timely and sincere, which is more than can be said for, say, how Sean Hannity has handled bogus conspiracy theories about murdered Democratic National Committee staffer Seth Rich.

But a news media endlessly pilloried by a president who hates the free press, who will seize on every opportunity to discredit those who uncover uncomfortable truths about him and his administration, must remember: There’s no story too good to check.