Our top political reporters still struggle with calling out Trump’s profound dishonesty

White House "social media summit"
White House “social media summit”
(This is a dry run for a new project I’m pursuing that involves a daily critique of American political journalism. Please let me know what you think — and who else’s critiques you would value. Email me at froomkin@whitehousewatch.com.) 

The coverage of the two fundamentally dishonest events the White House staged back-to-back on Thursday afternoon provides a case study in how top political reporters in America’s most elite newsrooms are still failing to appropriately cover Donald Trump.

Both events made it incumbent upon journalists to explain what was really going on, and put it in its essential and abnormal context, rather than just hand over the megaphone, take notes, and get punked, as they did to such disastrous effect during the 2016 election.

The good news is: They’re doing better. The bad news is: There’s still a lot of room for improvement.

And the hopeful news is: Perhaps some best practices can emerge if we examine their work closely.

Let’s review what happened Thursday.

For one, Trump invited an extraordinary collection of far-right hysterics and disinformation-spreaders to what was billed as a “social media summit” — ostensibly to highlight anti-conservative bias – thereby validating and encouraging their extremism, while at the same time delivering an unhinged monologue in which among other things he both attacked and misconstrued the First Amendment.

Then, he tried to spin his backing down on the politically-motivated addition of a citizenship question to the U.S. Census as a victory, with a sycophantic attorney general at his side, congratulating him on his greatness.

No even vaguely sentient political reporter in America fell for any of this. But how much did they call it out?

The Associated Press coverage was marvelously forthright and assertive, giving no credence to the White House spin, from its headline — Trump applauds far-right social media provocateurs – on down. Reporters Kevin Freking and Marcy Gordon wrote in their top:

Read moreOur top political reporters still struggle with calling out Trump’s profound dishonesty

The elite media sees impeachment as a problem  —  for Democrats

Michael Cohen

The Very Serious People in Washington — the same people who supported the war in Iraq, always consider deficit-reduction a top priority, thought Hillary Clinton was entitled to the presidency, hold no grudge against torturers, and believe Democrats and Republican have become equally extreme — long ago concluded that any talk of impeaching Donald Trump was ridiculous, flaky, and delusional.

It’s not. By any normal standard, Trump has committed numerous impeachable offenses. Special counsel Robert Mueller is almost assuredly going to tell us about many more. And if impeachment is the remedy to a manifestly unfit president, it’s long overdue.

But members of the Washington media elite take themselves Very Seriously.

Read moreThe elite media sees impeachment as a problem  —  for Democrats

My proposal for an American public internet

This is more than a bit off topic, but I was just reading this Washington Post op-ed by Erik Martin, a former policy advisor for President Obama’s Office of Science and Technology Policy.

He calls for a “fresh infusion of public media” onto the internet, paid for at least in part by federal and state government – then distributed by some form of government fiat on major tech platforms.

I am wary of any government involvement, and outright mistrustful of government regulation in this area.

But I share Martin’s enthusiasm for some internet analog to 1967’s Public Broadcasting Act, which funded the development of noncommercial radio and TV programming “responsive to the interests of people.”

So what vacuum left by corporate media would an “American Public Internet” fill?

Read moreMy proposal for an American public internet

Expect nothing less than a full report from Robert Mueller

Mueller in 2006.

Special counsel Robert Mueller owes Congress and the American public a full report on the extent of the Russian government’s efforts to interfere in the 2016 presidential election and any links between individuals associated with the Trump campaign and the Russian government and whether there was any coordination between the campaign and Russia’s efforts.

This is not simply my opinion. I’ve taken everything but the first ten words of that paragraph directly from former FBI director James Comey’s March 2017 description to the House Intelligence Committee of the ongoing investigation that two months later was turned over to Mueller.

This was at heart a counterintelligence investigation. The potential filing of criminal charges was literally an afterthought, placed in the second-to-last paragraph of Mueller’s remit:

Read moreExpect nothing less than a full report from Robert Mueller

House Judiciary Committee takes a giant step toward impeachment

House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler has previously indicated that impeachment proceedings were a reasonable probability. Just not quite yet.

“There are several things you have to look at,” Nadler said in December. “One, were there impeachable offenses committed, how many, et cetera? And, secondly, how important were they? Do they rise to the gravity where you should undertake an impeachment?”

Nadler took a big step toward impeachment on Tuesday by announcing that he has hired Norman L. Eisen and Barry H. Berke  as “consulting counsels”  — two men who already have answers to those questions.

Norman L. Eisen (Brookings Institution photo)

Eisen, as the chairman of the investigative watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), has been arguably the most prolific and high-profile chronicler of Trump’s many ethical violations. He has written dozens of op-eds for the New York Times, the Washington PostUSA Today, and other outlets.

In fact, he and Berke, a white-collar criminal defense lawyer – along with CREW executive director Noah Bookbinder – authored a voluminous compendium, now in its second edition, of the evidence that Trump obstructed justice, published by the Brookings Institution.

They lay out the legal arguments supporting Trump’s impeachment and indictment, and broadly hint at which they consider preferable by calling indictment the “option of last resort”. They write:

In many ways, the question has become less about whether there is a case that Donald J. Trump obstructed justice, and more about whether and in what form the rule of law will be followed.

Eisen, who served as Barack Obama’s testy ethics czar for two years, has most recently accused Trump of soliciting campaign contributions from Russia and witness tampering.

A case study in normalizing Trump, from the New York Times

I’ve been tweeting a lot about the latest New York Times interview with Trump. Here’s the main article, here’s a partial, edited transcript, here’s a sidebar on Times publisher A.G. Sulzberger’s colloquy with Trump on press freedom.

I don’t have that much more to add, although I’ll note that my first tweet definitely struck a nerve.

Read moreA case study in normalizing Trump, from the New York Times