MSNBC and CNN are falling into a trap.
Even as their anchors aggressively debunk Republican talking points in the impeachment trial of President Donald Trump, the networks’ Twitter accounts are, at times, spreading the original false assertions while promoting those segments.
On Wednesday, MSNBC’s Ari Melber was able to obtain a rare interview (on a mainstream network, anyway) with a member of Trump’s legal team, former independent counsel Robert Ray. In the nearly 20-minute interview, Melber said he could “imagine some heads exploding” at Ray’s assertions: Trump could ask Ukraine to launch an investigation of Joe Biden, and “the president is entirely permitted to withhold assistance temporarily to see what the Ukrainians do” — as long as he did not expressly tie the two things together.
The screen even included a chyron, “Fact-checking Trump’s impeachment lawyer.”
But when the MSNBC Twitter account promoted the interview, it simply mentioned Ray’s assertion that Trump was permitted to perform all these actions, and nothing of Melber's reponse:
A similar problem also occurred Tuesday, when CNN’s Twitter account promoted an interview in which Jake Tapper pushed back on claims made by Rep. Mike Johnson (R-LA).
The people running these big media Twitter accounts are probably not acting out of any bad intent in presenting the Republicans as they are. But without including some kind of built-in pushback in their tweets, they are nevertheless spreading a perception of some legitimacy for the GOP’s positions. After all, most people won’t actually click through to see the hosts debunking those talking points and will miss some key context. (In 2016, Columbia University and French National Institute researchers found that 59% of articles retweeted on Twitter hadn’t actually been read by the people sharing them.)
Even adding something like “Watch Jake/Ari respond” would be of help here, so people would know immediately that there’s more to the story than just the Republican talking points. And who knows, maybe people would even click through and watch.