A version of this article first appeared in the “Reliable Sources” newsletter. You can sign up for free right here.
This time it’s not Russian hackers… this time it’s not a bot army waging info warfare on Facebook. There is a disinformation campaign raging right now, and this time it’s being led by President Trump.
That’s what I said at the top of Sunday’s “Reliable Sources” telecast, trying to assess what’s going on with this whistleblower affair. Trump and his media allies are trying to smear the whistleblower and confuse the public, even before Congress gets ahold of the allegation. At the same time, Trump admitted on Sunday that he did discuss Joe Biden in a call with the Ukrainian president. His aides gave conflicting and confusing answers about the matter.
On “Reliable,” we talked about how viewers and readers can keep up with this scandal. WaPo’s Shane Harris said the “fairly straightforward allegation” is that the president used his office “to try and leverage or pressure a foreign government into investigating and hurting his political opponent.” Carl Bernstein said the reporting from Harris and others indicates “a grievous abuse of power by the president of the United States.”
Bernstein hears echoes of Watergate
“I keep getting asked, are there echoes of Watergate in this? And there are,” Bernstein told me, “in the following ways: Watergate was an attempt by Richard Nixon to undermine the democratic electoral process in the United States, our basis of democracy, the electoral system, by trying through political espionage and sabotage to manipulate the opposition party into nominating through political dirty tricks and misinformation its weakest candidate, George McGovern, instead of its strongest candidate who Nixon didn’t want to run against, who was Senator Edmund Muskie. And something in the same thing seems to be happening here, where Biden — who Trump and his people said they fear the most in terms of being an opponent — has been an object of these perhaps dirty tricks and abuses of power. And one thing Nixon never did was engage a foreign power to investigate a candidate running for office in the United States. It is a grievous offense, if this is what happened…”
Biden campaign’s message for the media
Over the weekend the campaign sought to “push back on any media attempt to equate Trump’s alleged actions with that of Biden or his son’s,” Politico’s Natasha Korecki and Elena Schneider wrote. A Saturday memo from deputy campaign manager Kate Bedingfield said, in bold and underlined, “Any article, segment, analysis and commentary that does not demonstrably state at the outset that there is no factual basis for Trump’s claims, and in fact that they are wholly discredited, is misleading readers and viewers.” On “Reliable,” we talked about Biden’s media strategy…
The birth of a new slogan for Dems who are frustrated by the media?
I think we’re going to be hearing “ask the right question” a lot. Some of Biden’s fans cheered when he pointed at Fox’s Peter Doocy on Saturday and challenged Doocy’s questioning about his son’s foreign business dealings. “You should be looking at Trump,” Biden said, tossing out Q’s about Trump’s conduct. He looked back at Doocy and said “ask the right question.”
Re: asking questions, I think Bernstein said it well — “Hunter Biden is a legitimate story to be looked at, in terms of his role in this Ukrainian gas company… But if anybody has a history of terrible conflict of interest by his children, it is this president of the United States. And we ought to be looking at all of these questions about the children of presidents and VP’s…”
“A whole new stage of investigation”
Many liberals, including media heavyweights like some of the “Pod Save America” co-hosts, are increasingly speaking out against Nancy Pelosi for “holding back,” in the words of one pro-impeachment lawmaker.
On Sunday Adam Schiff went further than he ever has before, telling Jake Tapper that “I have spoken with a number of my colleagues over the last week, and this seems different in kind. We may very well have crossed the rubicon here.” Later in the day Pelosi wrote in a letter to fellow House Dems that “if the administration persists in blocking this whistle-blower from disclosing to Congress a serious possible breach of constitutional duties by the president, they will be entering a grave new chapter of lawlessness which will take us into a whole new stage of investigation.” Still, “she didn’t use the word ‘impeachment,’” the NYT noted…