Prior to the launch of the public impeachment hearings on Wednesday, Margaret Sullivan has some sage advice for the media. She highlighted four things they should keep in mind when covering this important story.
- Stress substance, not speculation.
- Don’t let stunts hijack the coverage.
- Avoid Barr-Letter Syndrome.
- Beware mealy-mouthed and misleading language.
That first one captures one of my biggest pet peeves about how the media tends to cover politics. Sullivan is suggesting that reporters should focus on the substance of what Americans need to know from the hearings—not their own (often faulty) speculation about how it might play with voters in the so-called “swing states.” Impeachment hearings are a sobering historical moment, not simply another way to frame our addiction to horse race politics.
But I want to zero in on Sullivan’s second piece of advice about not letting the coverage get hijacked. Trump’s enablers are already salivating over something they assume will be a major distraction from the impeachment inquiry: the release of Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz’s report on the FISA application to surveil Carter Page.
Over the weekend, Victoria Toensing and Joe DiGenova told Lou Dobbs that the report would be “devastating” and “worse than you can imagine.” Of course, those two have their own personal reasons for peddling a distraction from the impeachment hearings, since they are up to their eyeballs in the extortion racket that was orchestrated by Rudy Giuliani. Similarly, Jason Chaffez was ruminating with Sean Hannity about the slam-dunk evidence against Obama administration officials that is about to surface.
What is likely to happen is that, when the report is released, it will spark a re-litigation of the whole issue of the Steele dossier and its role in enabling the “deep state” to spy on the Trump campaign. Before the time comes to focus our attention on the impeachment hearings, let’s take a moment to remind ourselves that all of the right wing talking points about that are lies. The following evidence comes from a memo written by Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee in January 2018.
- The Steele dossier did not prompt the FBI’s counterintelligence investigation. That began in July 2016 and the team didn’t receive the dossier until mid-September.
- When the FISA application was submitted in October 2016, Carter Page was no longer working for the Trump campaign.
- Carter Page had an extensive record as someone of interest to U.S. intelligence services because Russia had previously attempted to recruit him as an agent.
- The role of the Steele dossier in the application was to point to meetings Page held with high level Russians in the summer of 2016, during the time he served as an advisor to the Trump campaign.
- Page initially lied about those meetings, but eventually confirmed that they happened.
- DOJ did, in fact, inform the FISA court that Steele was hired by politically motivated people and that his research appeared intended for use to discredit Trump’s campaign.
All of that has been part of the public record for almost two years. Nevertheless, Attorney General Barr said that an investigation was required to learn whether the “spying” on the Trump campaign was adequately predicated and the president’s minions are certain that “deep state” heads are going to roll when that investigation is completed.
That brings us to a piece of advice that I’d like to add to Sullivan’s list: there is no need to give the same weight to these distractions as you give to actual evidence about Trump’s abuse of power and corruption. That is not partisan advice, but an attempt to affirm, once again, that the media’s job is to report the truth, not to give equal weight to lies in an effort to find balance.