On Tuesday, longtime host Lawrence O’Donnell ran an unverified, spurious report on air claiming via a “single source” that a loan provided to President Donald Trump by Deutsche Bank had been co-signed by Russian oligarchs. He also posted the report to Twitter (where it hasn’t yet been deleted):
A source close to Deutsche Bank says Trump’s tax returns show he pays very little income tax and, more importantly, that his loans have Russian co-signers.
If true, that explains every kind word Trump has ever said about Russia and Putin. @TheLastWord 10pm
— Lawrence O’Donnell (@Lawrence) August 28, 2019
But approximately 24 hours later, and after widespread backlash, including from the president, the host halfheartedly “apologized” and essentially admitted that his allegations were BS.
“Last night on this show I discussed information that wasn’t ready for reporting,” he said in a lengthy apology Wednesday night that was conspicuously devoid of the words “I’m sorry.”
“I repeated statements a single source told me about the president’s finances and loan documents with Deutsche Bank. Saying ‘if true’ as I discussed the information was not good enough. I did not go through the rigorous verification and standards process here at MSNBC before repeating what I heard from my source. Had it gone through that process I would not have been permitted to report it.”
He repeated some of the apology on Twitter:
Last night I made an error in judgment by reporting an item about the president’s finances that didn’t go through our rigorous verification and standards process. I shouldn’t have reported it and I was wrong to discuss it on the air. I will address the issue on my show tonight.
— Lawrence O’Donnell (@Lawrence) August 28, 2019
It’s not clear what “rigorous verification and standards process” he was talking about, given as the network’s various hosts and pundits have – over the past couple of years – habitually shared unverified, oftentimes false and sometimes outright conspiratorial stories about the president.
And so in that regard, it’s unclear how O’Donnell’s false reporting was any different from what he and his colleagues have always done in regard to Trump.
Plus, when asked by CNN’s Oliver Darcy how the host’s report had even made it on air, a spokesperson for NBC and MSNBC “declined to comment.”
“I should not have said it on air or posted it on Twitter,” the host’s apology continued. “I was wrong to do so. This afternoon, attorneys for the president sent us a letter asserting the story is false. They demanded a retraction. Tonight we are retracting the story. We don’t know whether the information is inaccurate. But the fact is, we do know it wasn’t ready for broadcast, and for that I apologize.”
Note how the host left room for additional conspiracy theorizing by saying, “We don’t know whether the information is inaccurate.” Just to be clear, as of Thursday morning, not a single piece of corroborating evidence had yet emerged.
In fact, even former special counsel Robert Mueller’s report seems to contradict the MSNBC’s host’s wild claims: “[T]here was no mention of anything resembling O’Donnell’s reporting in the report issued earlier this year by Special Counsel Robert Mueller,” CNN’s Darcy notes.
Writing on Twitter late Wednesday evening, former New York Times reporter turned CNN analyst Bill Carter opined that the “apology” didn’t really even seem like an apology.
“O’Donnell retracted his Deutschebank story at top of his hour on MSNBC,” he wrote. “Pro forma. No extraordinary mea culpa. Clearly an effort to move past a pretty serious breach of journalistic standards.”
To do something “pro forma” is to do it as a formality versus to do it with sincerity. Likewise, to deliver a “mea culpa” is to apologize in a way that demonstrates that you’re taking responsibility.
O’Donnell retracted his Deutschebank story at top of his hour on MSNBC. Pro forma. No extraordinary mea culpa. Clearly an effort to move past a pretty serious breach of journalistic standards.
— Bill Carter (@wjcarter) August 29, 2019
Other critics have expressed a similar viewpoint, with many going so far as to label O’Donnell’s “apology” a “fake apology.”
Fake apology by fake news reporter
— larry vitagliano (@lvitag1) August 29, 2019
Y’all have way too many ‘errors’ when it comes to reporting about Trump for them to be real errors. What you really do is throw crap out to your already rabid viewers, admit your ‘error’ after the lemmings believe said crap, and bingo, lie accomplished. Fake apology comes later.
— Cathy Rogala (@crogala) August 29, 2019
If it was so “rigorous” how was it missed? Error in judgement? Your fake apology is just as bad. You should be fired!
— PeeJay (@NillyPJ) August 29, 2019
You’re junk working for a junk network that makes up junk and reports it. Not your first, won’t be your last. Meaningless apology. Carry on with your fake news right after your fake apology.
— AProudAmerican (@nds1776) August 28, 2019
You got the lie out in the public arena; that’s what you wanted, and any fake apology tonight is just that – fake.
— Susan Wood (@vpi75wood) August 28, 2019
Too late for O’Donnells walk back. Damage was done & many won’t tune in to his fake apology. SUE HIS ASS: STOP ? THIS BULLSHIT OF #MSM…. ITS NOT AN ERROR IT’S A BEHAVIOR #LawrenceODonnell #MSNBChttps://t.co/ib1Momz5tI
— MuchAdo (@Aboutnothing77) August 28, 2019
Error ? U think We The real Americans Believe that ? The FCC Needs To Ban U…. Fake Apology Not Accepted
— Feliz (@LVdealer66) August 29, 2019
The critics had a point. Some members of the media do have a habit of putting out veritable fake news about the president and then walking it back later. The problem is that by the time they eventually walk back their uncorroborated claims, millions of low-information Americans have already digested the fake news and come to believe that it’s true, when in reality it’s not.
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