Throughout 2021, the mainstream media has been caught or forced to correct multiple stories that turned out to be misleading or not true. From debunked stories such as the Steele dossier to new concerns over inflation, mainstream outlets badly reported on some of the biggest news stories of the year.
Here are the top 10 most outrageous examples of the mainstream media reporting false or misleading stories this year.
Omitting details on the Ma’Khia Bryant police shooting.
In April, videos emerged of a police officer shooting a Black teenager named Ma’Khia Bryant in Columbus, Ohio, after Bryant lunged at another girl with a knife.
However, various media outlets originally neglected to mention the fact that Bryant was wielding a knife at the time of the shooting, with some even claiming that Bryant was "unarmed." In the New York Times coverage of the incident, the article included civil rights attorney Ben Crump’s original claim that Bryant was an "unarmed" girl. The quote was later corrected, though the story still framed Bryant’s knife as a police claim rather than it being observable from bodycam footage.
Although some news reports did acknowledge that Bryant held a knife, a few also attempted to spin or obscure other details of the shooting. NBC initially edited the 911 call that led to the shooting, omitting the caller warning about a girl "trying to stab" others. Other sources, such as MSNBC’s Joy Reid, CNN and ABC's "The View," also downplayed the events, depicting it as a schoolyard fight.
CNN airs fake single mom story
In August, CNN spotlighted a woman, Dasha Kelly, who claimed to be the single mother of three children who were concerned about being evicted from their home after the federal moratorium was set to expire. In addition to promoting the story, CNN also advertised the GoFundMe account used to support Kelly, which raised approximately $230,000.
Shortly afterward, however, Kelly clarified that she was not the mother of the three children, but was instead their father's girlfriend. The funds were later suspended, but Kelly also managed to appear on the network with Rep. Cori Bush, D-Mo. President Biden later announced a new moratorium on evictions despite potential constitutional conflicts.
The Lincoln Project admits to White supremacist political stunt against Glenn Youngkin
In the days prior to the Virginia gubernatorial election between Democrat Terry McAuliffe and Republican Glenn Youngkin, a reporter for NBC 29 posted a photo of five people dressed in white shirts and khakis while holding tiki torches standing in front of Youngkin's campaign bus.
The image was meant to invoke comparisons to the 2017 "Unite the Right" rally in Charlottesville where several White nationalist groups organized in a march; the ensuing unrest that weekend led to the murder of a woman by White supremacist James Fields. MSNBC legal analyst Glenn Kirschner and others shared the image as a supposed example of Youngkin’s campaign promoting White supremacy.
However, the scandal-ridden, anti-Trump group The Lincoln Project later took credit for the stunt, attempting to emphasize "Glenn Youngkin’s failure to condemn" White supremacy. The hoax was widely panned as a desperate smear, and Youngkin went on to win the race.
Liberal media misleads the public on ivermectin
While the FDA has not officially recommended the drug for coronavirus treatments, some people have nevertheless used ivermectin, a drug used on both humans and animals, to treat COVID-19 symptoms. Although the drug has been used for decades, many news programs and publications have spread misleading claims on ivermectin and its uses.
Most notably, CNN referred to the drug as "horse dewormer" when podcaster Joe Rogan revealed he had taken the drug on a doctor’s recommendation. Rolling Stone magazine and MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow also pushed a false story that a hospital was forced to turn away gunshot victims after being overrun with patients who overdosed on ivermectin. The latter story was debunked after it was discovered the source was a single doctor who did not work at the hospital in question for two months.
"60 Minutes" airs false claim on Gov. Ron DeSantis
Misleading narratives on Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis frequently appeared in 2021. In particular, CBS News’ "60 Minutes" program was accused of airing a deceptively edited clip between DeSantis and a reporter that suggested a "pay for play" scheme regarding vaccination distribution.
In April, "60 Minutes" aired footage of a press conference where the show’s correspondent Sharyn Alfonsi pressed DeSantis on awarding Publix, a popular supermarket chain with hundreds of locations in Florida, with COVID-19 vaccines after receiving a campaign donation. Although DeSantis spent several minutes explaining the process of Publix receiving the privilege to distribute vaccines, "60 Minutes" edited the scene down to DeSantis simply calling out the accusation as a "fake narrative."
Several people, including DeSantis, have called out CBS for painting a false image of the governor for his COVID policies. Although "60 Minutes" later recognized the criticism against the piece, CBS did not retract or apologize for the report.
Media pushed false story about border agents using whips against migrants
In September, a photo of border agents attempting to control a large crowd of Haitian migrants went viral as it appeared an agent was using a whip against a migrant. The photo, along with an article from the El Paso Times, was shared and promoted by various Democrat politicians as a "horrifying" and "repulsive" demonstration of border policies.
The photo was since criticized by border patrol agents noting that the agents do not carry whips and the image in question likely featured an agent holding reins from his horse. The photographer of the image also insisted he never saw a border agent whip a migrant.
Despite this, the story led to an investigation that continued well into October. The Department of Homeland Security's (DHS) inspector general later "declined" to investigate the border agents any further in November.
Networks mislead on Rittenhouse trial
While the report of 17-year-old Kyle Rittenhouse shooting three men and killing two came from the 2020 Kenosha riots, the trial against Rittenhouse proceeded in late 2021. Rittenhouse was later acquitted of all charges amidst a heavily slanted media narrative against him, such as claims he was a White supremacist. Even after the acquittal, media pundits pushed false claims against Rittenhouse.
Most notably, publications constantly claimed that Rittenhouse crossed state lines with his weapons despite reports stating the gun was already present in Wisconsin. CBS even repeated the claim after Rittenhouse’s acquittal. Various networks and outlets were forced to issue corrections following these claims.
Rittenhouse has said that his lawyers are looking into the possibility of defamation lawsuits.
Washington Post downplays Russian dossier impact
In November, Special Counsel John Durham charged Igor Danchenko, the alleged sub-source to the infamous Steele dossier, with five counts of making false statements to the FBI. This was seen as the latest indictment to the credibility of the dossier which claimed that President Trump colluded with Russia to win the 2016 presidential election.
While this dossier was pushed as an attack on Trump from the start of his administration, media outlets quickly began downplaying the role of the dossier in the Russia investigation as the narrative was corrected. The most egregious example came from the Washington Post, whose reporters previously received Pulitzer prizes for covering the story.
Over a dozen articles on the Washington Post were corrected following Danchenko’s arrest. Two articles in particular, published in March 2017 and February 2019, had large portions removed after the Post "could no longer stand by the accuracy of those elements of the story." Despite this, Washington Post columnist Max Boot, a fervent pusher of Russiagate, referred to the Steele dossier as a "sideshow."
Media insists CRT is not taught in schools
While debates over critical race theory have gone on for months, CRT became a significant issue during the Virginia gubernatorial race after Democratic candidate Terry McAuliffe admitted that he doesn’t think parents should have a say in what schools can teach. As Virginia parents grew more concerned over education in the state, media pundits insisted critical race theory was either a fake issue pushed by Republicans or simply not being taught in schools.
CNN repeated the claim that critical race theory was not an issue in schools despite the phrase being found on the Virginia Department of Education website. MSNBC’s Nicolle Wallace went so far as to claim that critical race theory "isn’t real" despite recent studies showing that critical race theory in some way, shape or form was being taught in schools. Even after Republican candidate Glenn Youngkin won the election, CNN’s Dana Bash continued to suggest that critical race theory was "not in the curriculum."
Inflation is downplayed or ignored by media narratives
In December, reports showed that inflation rates increased by 6.8%, the largest single increase in almost 40 years. While many Americans have begun feeling the changing rates in their daily lives, multiple media outlets have either dismissed inflation worries or even argued for its benefits.
MSNBC reporters, such as Joy Reid and Stephanie Ruhle, denied that inflation was a major issue for Americans, claiming that household savings were increasing and people were only paying "a little more." Several New York Times journalists also argued that inflation was primarily "driven by rich people" rather than middle-class Americans.
Meanwhile, several articles pushed ridiculed headlines that offered positive spins on inflation. Yahoo Finance wrote "Maybe Christmas Shortages are a Gift." A piece from The Atlantic simply called on readers to "Stop Shopping." Time Magazine also blamed average Americans in an article titled "How American shoppers broke the supply chain."