On May 16, I watched CBS, PBS, and Democracy Now and the BBC, and I was shocked at their coverage of fired FBI Director James Comey's notes on his Feb. 14 conversation with President Trump about the FBI's investigation of fired National Security Adviser Michael Flynn.

Comey's notes on that conversation with the president quote Trump as saying to Comey, “I hope you can see your way to letting this go, to letting Flynn go. He is a good guy. I hope you can let this go.”

They all reported the story as Trump having asked Comey to drop the FBI investigation into Flynn, and PBS reported that Trump had “pressured” Comey to do so. Since then Bangor Daily News, Portland Press Herald and The New York Times have reported this as Trump asking Comey to drop the Flynn investigation.

But that's not what happened. That is fake news.

It is extremely reckless journalism, and it plays right into Trump's incessant claims of fake news that so enthrall his supporters and fuel his supporters' false beliefs in, among other things, Hillary Clinton running child sex rings, climate change denial, Trump winning the popular vote, and millions of undocumented voters pouring over the border to vote for Hillary Clinton. As such, this “reporting” does a grave disservice to this country's body politic.

Comey's notes are exactly that, notes, nothing more. They were written after the meeting, and from memory, and memories can be faulty.

But even if Comey's notes are accurate, why didn't Comey report this sooner? If Trump's alleged request constitutes obstruction of justice, shouldn't Comey have reported this sooner? This alleged conversation occurred more than three months ago. That's a long time for a country to be kept ignorant of such alleged criminal behavior by its president.

A responsible news outlet would emphasize that the news story was based on the notes and recollection of one party to the conversation. But the story has been almost universally reported as fact.

But it gets worse. Even if one accepts Comey's words verbatim, this is not what happened. If the notes are accurate, Trump did indeed come close, arguably very close, to asking Comey to drop the Flynn investigation and to pressuring Comey to drop it. At a minimum Trump's words — if accurately recorded — were extremely inappropriate. But Trump didn't necessarily ask Comey to drop the investigation or pressure Comey to do so. That is but one interpretation. And it is a more sensational interpretation that tends to sell more newspapers than a more charitable interpretation would, and thus it is in the interests of the news media to advance that interpretation.

Another just as plausible interpretation of Trump's alleged words is that they were simply the musings of a man concerned about the future of a friend. Highly inappropriate yes, definitely, but not necessarily pressure, and definitely not asking to drop the investigation. No such request was made. That's simply not there.

The distinction is an important one because the four television news programs I watched presented a veritable parade of guests who went so far as to mention the word “impeachment.”

With this kind of reporting, the media is overplaying its hand, and the irony is, of course, that it doesn't need to overplay its hand. On an almost daily basis, Trump gives the media sensational stories, whether intentionally or not, and Trump is clearly able to undo himself without any help from the media. But if an impeachment attempt were to start and then fail, it could actually strengthen the hand of a president who at a minimum engages, regularly, in dangerous and highly inappropriate behavior.

The only places I have seen accurate analyses of the Comey memo are on Fox and in a New York Times op-ed by former deputy Attorney General John Yoo. Yoo is best-known for writing Bush-era memos justifying torture, using arguments so twisted as to make any contortionist proud. Yoo's post-Bush-era appointment to the formerly unblemished Cal-Berkeley faculty provoked widespread student protest. And on Fox's Morning Joe program, a Fox yahoo shrilly asked, referring to Comey's memo, whether writing something down made it true. He was right, and you know you're in trouble if you have to look to Fox News and John Yoo for real news.

Fake news is a grave threat to the very future of this country as any kind of cohesive society. And this kind of reporting plays right into the shocking growth of this extremely dangerous phenomenon.

Fake news is perhaps the inevitable product of a capitalist news model in which the media have a financial interest in selling newspapers, and the more sensational the news, the more papers sold. Historically this dangerous dynamic stretches back to 1898, to the Spanish-American War, when this country's first media mogul, William Randolph Hearst, whipped up a frenzy of pro-war sentiment that made it hard for Congress and President McKinley to avoid war.

The Spanish-American War was this country's first imperial war beyond its shores. As such, it had a big, arguably huge, effect on this country's future, and it was largely brought about by the efforts of one media tycoon and his fake news.

In that war, as many as 128,000 Filipinos were killed by American soldiers, in a Filipino population as small as 6 million. Proportionally, that would be like 7 million killed in this country today.

Fake news was born into a veritable sea of blood that stretched half-way around the world from Cuba and Puerto Rico in the Caribbean to the Philippines and Guam in the far reaches of the Pacific, and it is now nipping at the heels of a president and threatening to unravel what is left of our societal cohesion. And that should gravely concern Trump supporters and detractors alike.

Lawrence Reichard is a first-place Maine Press Association winner, freelance writer and activist living in Belfast.