CNBC gets the wrong Bain in linking Romney to Obama

Romney defending Bain record in South Carolina

I have a million other things to write about, and about 500,000 of them have been rightfully ordered up by editors.

Despite that, and a growing momentum this Friday night in Baltimore that nothing matters in the world except the Ravens playoff game Sunday, I am going to take a minute here to talk about a correction CNBC posted today in connection with a report that linked GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney to President Barack Obama's auto industry bailout.


I hope some of my mainstream media colleagues will take the time to bring some attention to CNBC's egregious error. The National Review's Jim Geraghty has been hammering the CNBC gaffe on Twitter, while Tom Blumer at NewsBusters and Jim Pethokoukis at the American Enterprise Institute's "Enterprise" blog have offered some sharp analysis of the mistake as well.

Here's the CNBC correction:"A previous story incorrectly reported that Mitt Romney's former firm, Bain & Co., was part of a team of consulting companies that advised President Barack Obama on a decision to shutter car dealerships during the auto bailout. Bain & Co. said it has no connection to the "Bain Consulting" firm referenced in government documents."


That is a huge mistake -- with enormous possible political consequences for Romney. I cannot imagine a reputable news organization not vetting the information before it came anywhere near publishing it.

You don't make mistakes like this if you verify information before you air it on your cable channel or publish it on your website.

And if media do not make that basic journalistic effort, they become part of the problem -- a problem so vast it makes an informed elecorate all but impossible. And without an informed electorate, what kind of democracy are we talking about anyway?

If that sounds too high road for you, too bad. Grow up and get serious about journalism and the role it is supposed to play in this country.

News organizations are not supposed to be the source of dangerously wrong information, they are supposed to be the ones that sort out the good from the bad information and present what is verified and true to voters.

And that role becomes more and more important with every one of the tens of millions of dollars Super PACs are spending this year to trash opposition candidates and confuse the public -- yes, just as Romney-allied Super Pacs did to Newt Gingrich in Iowa and Gingrich-allied Super PACs are trying to do to Romney in South Carolina now.

The so-called journalists at CNBC responsible for the initital report, which I can no longer find on the site, and the correction, which still contains ambiguity as to whether or not there was a connection to Romney's Bain & Co., are part of the problem in a big, big way. And the only question is whether this happened because they are lazy or ignorant or both.

And CNBC is supposed to be the crown jewel of cable TV business reporting. Indeed, another jewel in the crown of the NBC, which includes the news division that hired Chelsea Clinton and the MSNBC cable channel that offered Rachel Maddow as an election night anchorwoman.

As I wrote when Maddow and her crack team of analysts like Lawrence O'Donnell were hoaxed on the night of the Iowa caucuses, that doesn't happen either if you verify information before you go with it.

I don't have time tonight to trace the spread of this bad information across the media landscape. But the "Hot Air" blog went with on Thursday. Read it here.

Now, here's what the blog carried on Friday: "Update (1/13):" Go ahead and scratch everything I wrote above. This is what I get for having trusted CNBC."

This is the three-deck headline on the post:


Revealed: Bain & Company advised Obama on auto bailout, recommended cutting dealerships; Update: CNBC retracts story, misidentified Bain

When I was a young journalist starting out in the late 1970s, I used to laugh uproriously at Gilda Radner's"Saturday Night Live" depiction of a confused TV viewer named Emily Litella who was brought on air to respond to station stories and editorials that upset her. But her anger was always based on having mis-heard what was actually said.

Litella ended each of her passionate complaints with a trademark line of "never mind" after the misinformation on which she based her anger was pointed out to her.

Thirty-five years ago it was satire. Today, viewers being confused and mis-informed by TV news is the norm.

And now, it's the fault of TV news operations putting unverified and incorrect information out there, not the viewers' mis-hearing what was said. And there is absolutely nothing funny about that.

(CORRECTION 1/14: The first version of this post Friday night misidentified the Radner character.)

(UPDATE 1/20: Craig Silverman, at Poynter has been back and forth with CNBC all week as it tried to spin its way out of the original sin of going with unverified information and then, instantly retracting its story when challenged. And then, it semi-retracting the retraction. I think it's textbook for the lack of basic journalistic standards in cable TV news, which is the takeaway for me. But I urge readers to check out Silverman's follow-up on the story here.)

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