If you paid attention to the impeachment process over the past two months, you might have been surprised to see the news media in one of the starring roles. In this Boomer Opinion piece, BoomerCafé’s co-founder and executive editor Greg Dobbs, who spent his own long career as a journalist, explains why he was as surprised as anyone.
It was bewildering. Breathtaking. Beyond belief..
During the impeachment of Donald J. Trump in the House, then his trial in the Senate, the Republican representatives and senators who were pulling out all the stops to vindicate their vengeful president relied time after time on news reports to advance their arguments.
News reports! That’s what was so breathtaking.
Because the reports they cited were not just from the usual suspects on their side of the aisle like Fox News Channel or Breitbart News or The Washington Times or the Drudge Report. No, they were from mainstream media— you know the ones, the “enemies of the people” to hear Trump tell it— like ABC News, NBC News, CBS News, The New York Times, The Washington Post, and most evil of all, CNN.
In other words, “The Fake News.” Trump’s defenders depended on The Fake News for the facts they cherry-picked to construct their case.
Now I didn’t keep count of the number of references they made to mainstream media reports, both because I didn’t hear every minute of Congressional deliberations, and because I don’t have the resources of, say, The Washington Post to collate and count such things. The Post, on the other hand, maybe could tell you, because it has become the nation’s statistician. In fact just last month it concluded that between his prolific tweets and his public rhetoric, the president at the end of his first three years in office has made 16,241 “false or misleading claims.” Sure, we expect almost every politician from time to time to lie, but 16,241 times? For the record, that comes to an average of about 15 a day. Every day. For three years.
But while I can’t tell you how many times during the hearings and the trial Trump’s team suddenly held up the mainstream media as a paragon of precision, I can tell you that they relied on it even more than just 15 times a day for their factual foundations. Their citations were endless: “The New York Times reported…,” or “As you see in this ABC News clip…,” or the like. This is the media, you understand, that the rest of the time the Right blatantly belittles. Like suddenly, The Fake News is Real News.
That’s called having your cake and eating it too. Depend on the news media when it serves your purpose, deride it the rest of the time when it makes you look bad (although as I’ve long said, we can’t make you look bad without your help). In ancient times they called it killing the messenger. Two thousand years ago the Greek author Plutarch wrote this about a bearer of bad news: he “was so far from pleasing… he had his head cut off for his pains.” Shakespeare wrote in Henry IV that Cleopatra “threatens to treat the messenger’s eyes as balls when told Antony has married another,” to which the messenger pleads, “Gracious madam, I that do bring the news made not the match.”
So killing the messenger wasn’t just invented in the 20th Century. But you’d think that after two millennia, people would have learned that the bad message isn’t the messenger’s fault.
Mind you, there’s enough hypocrisy to go around on both sides. The coverage of this whole episode has been replete with soundbites and citations of Trump’s Democratic impeachers railing against impeachment when it was used 21 years ago against President Clinton, using the same arguments the Republican side used this time to fight it… and of Trump’s Republican apologists praising the process 21 years ago with the same reasoning they now disparage when they hear it from the Democrats.
So I’m just a bit gratified that the politicians protecting Trump suddenly see value in the mainstream news media. I’m wondering where they would have gone to buttress their arguments if they hadn’t had the media’s work to summon up. I’m also wondering, now freed of the constraints of impeachment, how fast they’ll be back in Trump’s hip pocket, following his lead and accusing news organizations, as he has, of “treason.”
If history is any guide, it won’t be long. And it won’t be bewildering. It will be true to form.