Journalism is about more than just keeping track of the shiny objects

Special counsel Robert Mueller.
Special counsel Robert Mueller.

With the reality show that is the Trump presidency going into a total frenzy – jamming a week’s worth of plot twists and cliff hangers into a single day – it’s hard for political journalists to keep up.

And when so much is new and shiny all the time, and it’s an adrenaline-pumping challenge simply to figure it all out and get it all down, stopping to explain the significance of what’s going on feels old and boring by comparison.

But readers and viewers deserve to have the information they need to put the chaos in context.

Sure the ups and downs of Rod Rosenstein are interesting, but what’s most important is that if he resigns under pressure or is fired, Trump is one gigantic step closer to ending Robert Mueller’s investigation into his own campaign’s collusion with Russia. And that’s a genuine constitutional crisis, because the Constitution requires the president to “take Care that the Laws be faithfully executed,” which has widely been interpreted to mean that the president cannot act for corrupt or self-interested reasons. But who would enforce that? Congress? The courts? What can the public do?

Nevertheless, it wasn’t until the 24th paragraph of this morning’s New York Times tic-toc that any substantive mention was made of the enormity of what’s at stake. And that came in the form of reporting on two tweets from Sen. Susan Collins.

The Washington Post story alluded fairly high up to Trump lawyer Rudolph Giuliani’s recommendation that if Rosenstein is replaced, “they should put a brief hold on the investigation and review it from beginning to end.”

But the Post waited until the 23rd paragraph before briefly alluding to what it called “alarm on the left that his removal would signal a collapse of the traditional independence of the Justice Department.”

In both articles, there was a great deal more discussion about the effects on the midterm elections than on the peril to our constitutional democracy.

Recall, as I wrote on Friday, that firing Rosenstein would cross a red line drawn by Democrats and resistance groups defending the rule of law. (As would, presumably, his resignation under pressure.)

As for the breathless coverage of the sexual assault allegations against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, the focus is almost exclusively on the he-said-she-said elements, the strategy of the Republican congressional leaders, and the on-again-off-again nature of Trump’s attacks on the alleged victims.

The profound misogyny that underlies so much of this story is left almost completely unstated.

Kavanaugh’s allegedly toxic behavior toward women doesn’t come in a vacuum – it come in the context of an ideology that considers women’s control of their bodies an “unenumerated right” that is not “deeply rooted in history and tradition.” The GOP’s reluctant agreement to let the first accuser speak —  while insisting that nothing she says will be of any value — only requires a little unpacking.

And as I wrote on Friday, Trump’s malicious and misogynist tweet about the first allegation led to intense media coverage of how he had broken his silence, rather than about how grotesque it was and how his own treatment of women has been hostile and hateful, as reflected in his personal actions and government policy.

Will today’s coverage of Trump’s latest comments put into proper context his attacks on the credibility of women accusers and his literally mocking the notion that a woman’s allegations could have real consequence? I hope so, but I’m not holding my breath.

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