‘Sources Say’
by
Lawrence O’Donnell (YouTube screenshot)

MSNBC’s Lawrence O’Donnell lives a secret double life performing as a drag queen in New Jersey gay bars, a source tells me. While there have long been rumors that O’Donnell enjoys dressing up in women’s clothing, evidence of his transvestite fetish has been difficult to obtain. Yet my source assures me that such evidence exists, and as for gossip about O’Donnell’s addiction to the rare narcotic Ibogaine … Well, has O’Donnell ever denied it?

You could justify reporting almost anything by the nonexistent “journalism ethics” of Lawrence O’Donnell. On live TV Tuesday night, the MSNBC host told his audience that Donald Trump had obtained loans from Deutsche Bank co-signed by “Russian billionaires with ties to Vladimir Putin.” The basis for this claim, according to O’Donnell, was “a single source close to Deutsche Bank.” O’Donnell then added an interesting caveat: “If true … ”

Yes, of course. It would be a big scoop, if true. And my exclusive reporting that O’Donnell spends his Saturday nights in drag cabaret shows, wearing high heels and fishnet stockings while twerking to Lady Gaga songs? A major bombshell, if true. As it is, however, I hesitate to vouch for my source’s assertion that the MSNBC host is an Ibogaine-addicted transvestite.

Excuse my sarcasm, but what O’Donnell did Tuesday night was the kind of amateur blunder that would have gotten any reporter thrown down the stairs by the late Wes Pruden. “Get it first, get it right” was Pruden’s motto as editor at the Washington Times, and woe be unto any reporter who got it wrong, especially on a big story. One of the basic rules of reporting is that you cannot base a major story on a single source, especially an anonymous source. If you can’t get your source to go on the record, by name, you’ve got to have some other factual basis — a court document, for example — to justify the story. Otherwise, you undermine the reader’s confidence in your reporting. Why should anyone believe a story based on something as flimsy as “sources say”?

The possibility that Trump’s businesses received loans backed by Russian oligarchs has long been a topic of interest to serious journalists (e.g., “Is Donald Trump’s Dark Russian Secret Hiding in Deutsche Bank’s Vaults?” Newsweek, December 21, 2017, and “How Russian Money Helped Save Trump’s Business,” Foreign Policy, December 21, 2018). But the anti-Trump media have failed in their repeated attempts to inflate the known facts into a sinister quid pro quo arrangement that made Trump a “puppet” of Putin. For more than two years, MSNBC viewers were led to believe that special counsel Robert Mueller would find proof of “Russian collusion” and thus force President Trump’s impeachment. When the Mueller report was finally released in April, however, it essentially vindicated Trump, with a devastating impact on MSNBC’s ratings, which have been in “freefall” for nearly six months. O’Donnell’s dubious single-source story Tuesday might be viewed as a desperate effort to resuscitate the “Russian collusion” narrative and thus revive MSNBC’s dwindling Nielsen numbers. If so, he failed badly.

How shoddy was O’Donnell’s reporting? When he previewed it in an exchange with MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow, she shook her head in disbelief: “What? Really?” Maddow has gleefully promoted anti-Trump conspiracy theories for three years, but even she was rolling her eyes at O’Donnell’s “Russian billionaires” claim. Wednesday morning, Trump’s personal lawyers issued a demand for a retraction, and O’Donnell was forced to apologize, admitting that he failed to meet the “rigorous verification and standards process” of NBC News. O’Donnell began his program Wednesday night with an official retraction, in which he nevertheless managed to suggest that, although his story could not be verified, this doesn’t necessarily mean it was false.

Right. Sure. Whatever. And I can’t say for certain that Lawrence O’Donnell has never pranced around onstage in women’s underwear while under the influence of Ibogaine. For all I know, video of him shaking his rump in a drag show might turn up tomorrow. Probably not, but never say never, eh?

Only a fool would stake his credibility as a journalist on a wild tale based on a tip from a single anonymous source, but that’s the kind of foolishness we’ve come to expect from the liberal media in the Trump era. MSNBC, CNN, the New York Times — they all seem to be trying to outdo each other in a competition to squander whatever credibility they still have for the sake of their anti-Trump agenda. Maybe Lawrence O’Donnell hasn’t been moonlighting as a female impersonator, but he’d probably be more successful as a drag queen than he has been as a journalist reporting conspiracy theories that would be news, “if true.”

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