A version of this article first appeared in the “Reliable Sources” newsletter. You can sign up for free right here.
“If people don’t have the facts, democracy doesn’t work”
What a federal judge said in court on Tuesday has a lot of relevance to the impeachment vote we’re about to witness.
Judge Amy Berman Jackson was overseeing the sentencing former Trump campaign adviser Rick Gates, who flipped on Trump in the Mueller investigation, and was sentenced to 45 days in jail and three years probation.
Jackson, CNN’s Katelyn Polantz wrote, “seemed annoyed with those who have disputed, without reason, the media’s reporting on factual events.” A tacit commentary on the president?
The judge noted that Gates and Paul Manafort lied “to the members of Congress and the American public” about what they were doing. “This deliberate effort to obscure the facts, this disregard for the truth, undermines our political discourse and it affects our policymaking,” she said. “If people don’t have the facts, democracy doesn’t work.”
What if people have access to the facts, but choose to believe a fantasy instead?
I said at the beginning of the impeachment inquiry that journalists shouldn’t advocate for an outcome, but should advocate for a well-informed public. So how well have we done on that count?
Fitness for office
My view is that Trump’s impeachment is fundamentally about three things: Abuse of power. Fact versus fiction. And fitness for office. All three were front and center on Tuesday.
Trump’s six-page letter to Nancy Pelosi effectively centered the day’s news coverage around him and his point of view. Cable news analysts like John Avlon said it was “unhinged” – Avlon said “senators who read this are going to be concerned about his mental state” – but much of the news coverage simply said the letter was “fiery” and “freewheeling.” This reminded me of what Australian journalist Lenore Taylor asserted a couple of months ago: Grabbing pull quotes from Trump’s rants and cutting out the craziest bits actually misleads the audience.
Quinta Jurecic, the managing editor of Lawfare, made this point better than I could. She said that “reading the full letter vs reading the news alerts and headlines (’Trump slams impeachment inquiry’) is as good a demonstration as any of the distance between what Trump actually sounds like vs. the massively more coherent person media coverage makes him out to be.”
So why pay attention to the letter at all?
“He knows how to play us like a fiddle,” Chris Cuomo said Tuesday night. “He’s doing it again tonight, having me recite his letter! So why do I do it?” Because “I want you to know what HE is willing to do to defend himself.” The letter “tells you everything you need to know where his head and his heart are.”
In a fact-free place. CNN fact-checker Daniel Dale said the letter was “littered with lies, misleading claims and claims lacking key context – on his dealings with Ukraine, on Biden, on impeachment, on his professed accomplishments, on the… Salem witch trials.” Here is the full fact-check…
Like a Hannity monologue in letter form
When I read the letter, I recognized it right away – it was pulled straight from the Fox News prime time lineup. It was a Sean Hannity “A block” come to life. WaPo’s Glenn Kessler made a related point: “It seems clear that all Trump appears to know about Biden and Ukraine is the surface-level information he gleamed from Biden’s CFR clip and Fox News bits. Too many things are wrong in the letter to suggest otherwise.”
On “AC360,” David Gergen said “it’s going to go down” in history “as a letter from a two-bit dictator [of a] banana republic. It has that kind of quality to it.” With sadness, Gergen said “think about our history, the people we’ve had, the men of letters who have been in that office.” Then think about Trump’s letters…
But as I said up top, the screed centered the day’s news coverage around him and his POV. His grievances received far more national news media attention than the pro-impeachment protests in communities across the country. And he’ll have a similar opportunity to command attention on Wednesday, since he’s holding a rally that is scheduled to coincide with the impeachment vote…
Wednesday’s front pages
The NYT’s lead story by Michael Shear calls the letter “irate and rambling,” and labels it a “diatribe” in the headline.
WaPo’s front page features excerpts of the letter and calls it a “fiery last stand:”
For the record, part one
– AP’s overnight lede: “On the eve of almost-certain impeachment…” (AP)
– “HISTORY REPEATING,” Drudge says, noting that Bill Clinton was impeached by the House on December 19. Looks like it’ll happen on December 18 this time… (DRUDGE)
– Dan Rather: “In the coverage of impeachment, I worry punditry is outpacing reporting. And I worry some in the political establishment and the press underestimate the seriousness with which many American voters are approaching this presidency…” (Twitter)
– On Wednesday, Chris Cuomo says, “we will be at the most sensitive period” since the Trump presidency began. “This is heavy stuff, and it is going to hit hard…” (Video via Twitter)
Where to watch
Anywhere and everywhere. CNN’s special coverage will begin at 8am ET. Fox News and MSNBC’s specials will begin at 9. The broadcast networks may begin special reports later in the morning, based on the House’s voting schedule. NBC, ABC and CBS say they’ll be streaming every moment when they’re not on the airwaves. Details:
– On CNN, Wolf Blitzer and Jake Tapper will be in the anchor chairs all day…
– On MSNBC, Chris Matthews and Ari Melber will anchor until noon, when Brian Williams and Nicolle Wallace will take over…
– On Fox News, Bret Baier will be “leading coverage from Washington, D.C.” alongside Chris Wallace. “Contributions to the live coverage” will be provided by Martha MacCallum, Bill Hemmer, Julie Banderas, with “constitutional expertise and legal commentary” from Andrew McCarthy, and Trey Gowdy…
– With Savannah Guthrie recuperating from eye surgery, Lester Holt will be the sole anchor on NBC, joined by Chuck Todd, Andrea Mitchell, Hallie Jackson and Geoff Bennett…
– Norah O’Donnell will anchor from the new CBS DC set, joined by Margaret Brennan, Major Garrett, Nancy Cordes and many more. The network says “Reince Priebus will join CBS News’ coverage to offer his impressions and insights…”
– ABC says its special report will start around 10am. The lineup: George Stephanopoulos, David Muir, Jonathan Karl, Cecilia Vega, Mary Bruce, Pierre Thomas, Terry Moran, Dan Abrams, and contributors Kate Shaw, Barbara Comstock and Melissa Murray…
For the record, part two
– Jake Tapper reacting to Rudy Giuliani continuing to push anti-Ukraine, pro-Russia propaganda: “This is like if in the middle of the Clinton impeachment, Bill Clinton was out dating on the town. Just flaunting this. It’s almost unbelievable…” (Mediaite)
– Maria Butina, convicted of being a foreign agent in the US, is the new host of an online show for RT… (CNN)
– Talk-show host David Susskind “risked his career to interview Martin Luther King. It’s now streaming for the first time,” on Amazon Prime, Stephen Battaglio reports… (LAT)
What is the status of The Hill’s review into John Solomon’s work?
Oliver Darcy emails: Wednesday will mark one month since The Hill Editor-In-Chief Bob Cusack announced the outlet would conduct a thorough review of John Solomon’s work and issue corrections when appropriate. But since then, there have been no real updates.
Cusack turned to Twitter earlier this month to say that the results would be “transparent and public.” But it’s hard to imagine what is taking so long. One would think that the review of Solomon’s work would be a high priority for The Hill, given that his columns have been cited throughout the impeachment hearings…
Silence from Cusack
Darcy adds: I emailed Cusack on Monday and Tuesday asking for insight into the review. Why is it dragging on so long given that key players have already testified under oath about Solomon’s reporting? When is the expected completion date? I didn’t get a response…