See what a DC reporter says was the biggest fake news story and who should be embarrassed by it.
With the news that Gov. Scott Walker would not face any charges stemming from the nearly 3 year John Doe investigation, the Left in Wisconsin experienced a meltdown in dramatic fashion. And while many shook their heads at the embarrassing remarks of Democratic spokesman Graeme Zielinski, Sean Wiggens wrote in the Washington Examiner that the Scott Walker indictment that wasn’t was a "major journalistic embarrassment" for a number of media outlets.
"[Graeme Zielinski's] outburst was the ironic coda to the biggest fake news story of the last year: The imminent indictment of Walker on corruption charges.
Democrats eagerly trumpeted this throughout the state's recall election and afterwards. It never happened. On Friday, the investigation of some ex-Walker aides that had provided Zielinski his thin reed of hope closed officially without touching the governor at all.
That was what had set Zielinski off.
When I say "fake news story", I don't just mean it was wishful thinking that random Democrats were putting on the Internet. Numerous supposedly serious news outlets including the Huffington Post, the Daily Beast, Mother Jones, the Nation and Salon.com all reported, based on idle speculation, that Walker might be the subject of a criminal probe.
"Scott Walker could very well be indicted in the coming days," MSNBC host Ed Schultz said the night of the recall election.
It is, or at least ought to be, a major journalistic embarrassment for all of them."
Wiggens goes on to explain just how the media was fed rumors and insinuations without evidence from hacks like Zielinski. And the media, eager for a scoop, ran the baseless speculation as news.
Democratic recall candidate Tom Barrett made the investigation of the ex-aides the focus of his final debate with Walker. Zielinksi told me flat-out in an interview at the time that Walker's indictment was "imminent." Numerous left-leaning outlets ran with stories, including speculation about possible charges.
The basis for this claim was ... well, it was never clear exactly. The main point proponents brought up was that Walker had set up a legal defense fund. That is sort of like saying, "He must be guilty: he hired a lawyer to defend himself." Except it has even less basis.
The investigators themselves never dropped any hint that Walker was the subject of the probe, which remained secret. No one else involved publicly fingered Walker either.
Stories like this present a quandary for political reporters: How do you report on a rumor that may not be true and cannot be proved one way or another? Most stories reported it as "speculation" and left it at that.
Which was good enough to serve the purposes of the Wisconsin Democrats. As long as there were headlines with the "Walker" and "indictment" they were presumably very, very happy.
About the best thing that can be said for this sorry episode is that, as the Zielinksi episode shows, Wisconsin Democrats did appear to believe genuinely that an indictment was coming. There are many five year-olds who believe the Easter Bunny is coming later this month, too. But wishing for something doesn't make it so.
What is the excuse of the news outlets that spread the bogus story?
Wiggens is right. The fact that Wisconsin Democrats were all in on the John Doe makes sense. But what excuse does the media have for running speculation and accusations without evidence?