“Homer Badman” is classic Simpsons (Season 6 Episode 9, back in the show’s heyday). Chuck Todd just gave Attorney General Barr the Homer Badman treatment.
In it, Homer and Marge hire a babysitter so they can attend a candy convention, intending to smuggle out as many free samples as possible. Later that night when Homer drops the babysitter off he sees that she’s sat on the rare gummy Venus de Milo and it is stuck to her pants, so he reaches over and grabs the candy while drooling, which gets mistaken by the babysitter for a sexual advance.
Homer then gets #MeToo’d by a mob of angry feminists who protest him as a predatory creep, which wasn’t entirely unwarranted. It was an innocent misunderstanding, but he should have said something instead of just reaching over and snagging the gummy off her ass.
To get his side of the story out, Homer agrees to an interview with the tabloid news show Rock Bottom, but what airs is a deceptively edited video that portrays him as a monster.
In the May 10 episode of ‘Meet the Press’, a clip was aired of a recent interview the Attorney General did with CBS reporter Catherine Herridge regarding the Justice Department’s decision to drop charges against retired Gen. Michael Flynn for allegedly lying to the FBI. The decision followed the revelation of internal documents that raised serious questions about the investigation’s legitimacy.
Here’s the exchange as it aired on NBC:
HERRIDGE: When history looks back on this decision, how do you think it will be written? What will it say about your decision making?
BARR: Well, history is written by the winner. So it largely depends on who’s writing the history.
After playing the clip, ‘Meet the Press’ host Chuck Todd then remarked to his panel, “I was struck… by the cynicism of the answer. It’s a correct answer. But he’s the attorney general. He didn’t make the case that he was upholding the rule of law. He was almost admitting that, yeah, this is a political job.”
Here’s the problem: the clip was taken out of context and cut off before the rest of Barr’s answer. This is the attorney general’s full response:
BARR: Well, history is written by the winner. So it largely depends on who’s writing the history. But I think a fair history would say that it was a good decision because it upheld the rule of law. It helped, it upheld the standards of the Department of Justice, and it undid what was an injustice.
What the attorney general said is the exact opposite of the way his answer was portrayed by the media. Barr explicitly said he believes the decision to drop charges against Flynn was the right decision because it upheld the rule of law. This was despite the fact that the decision might be portrayed differently by others in the future.
This snafu led to President Trump calling for Chuck Todd to be fired:
The short version of the clip was first aired by CBS, which put out snippets along with the full transcript. (CBS later published the full interview.) And ‘Meet the Press’ quickly acknowledged the error and apologized on Twitter. Chuck Todd himself apologized on his ‘Meet the Press Daily’ program on MSNBC the next day. At first blush, this looks more like a case of sloppiness than malevolence.
But in an era of fake news that is rife with bias, journalists must do better. How many people who saw the poorly edited version never heard about the correction? How many people now have an entirely wrong impression about the exchange? The media’s credibility is at stake.
The Flynn investigation continues to be an important story due to the many unanswered questions surrounding the origins of the FBI’s Russia investigation. For the first two years of the Trump administration the media drove the Russian collusion narrative, largely based on faulty leaked information without critical examination. The public deserves reporters who will push for the truth.