If you read the New York Times and its pundits as your primary news source, hate the President of the United States, and are a sucker for confirmation bias (as most of us are), then you probably really do think that President Trump in on the verge of being prosecuted. He’s not, and the fact that the flagship-by-default of the journalistic establishment nonetheless encourages that misconception is all you need to know about the state of American journalism. It deliberately and incompetently misinforms the public to suit its political alliances and agendas, rather than informing the public objectively about what they need to know to govern themselves.
I hate to keep pointing this out, but the evidence keeps coming, and the deniers are increasing their volume. I’m so sick of this particular story that I could hurl. Unfortunately, I have an obligation as both a responsible citizen, an ethicist and a blogger not to allow these Big Lies to lie around unchallenged, because that’s part of the Big Lie method. People get sick of arguing, and the lie becomes truth by default. Well, I’d rather lose readers—and I have—than be complicit in that.
Today, for example, and prompting this mini-post, was this column in the New York Times Review section, by the managing editor of Lawfare. Its called “Mueller vs Fox News,” and the theory is the exact opposite of reality. Her claim is that Fox News is deceiving the public into thinking that Mueller’s investigation hasn’t uncovered what it has been looking for, a way to push the President out of office, when it has. “The evidence from the special counsel’s investigation is already damning, but it must contend with a haze of lies, confusion and ‘alternative facts,'” she writes.
That cut line is what made me read the piece, for I’m always looking for real, as opposed to hoped for, assumed, or misunderstood, evidence that the President illegally and unethically made a quid pro quo deal of some sort with Russia to steal the election. I don’t like cheating in any field, and I don’t care who does it. I also, however, know what cheating is.
There not only isn’t “damning evidence” relating to the President itemized in the column, there is no evidence at all, just the same Manafort and Cohen machinations we have been hearing about all week, plus the even murkier doings of conservative writer James Corsi, none of which constitute “collusion.” Nonetheless, the author posts a series of Orwellian, black-is-white/War is Peace pronouncements which are the precise opposite of reality—and the Times dutifully publishes them. For example, she writes,
“Research Agency and of Russian military intelligence officers involved in the hacking of Democratic Party emails told a detailed story of a Russian effort to stir up American political passions. The documents revealed by Mr. Corsi suggest that he and Mr. Stone — who was in regular contact with Mr. Trump at the time — might have known in advance of planned releases by WikiLeaks of hacked documents.
Not enough collusion for you?”
The author is, in the analogy posed by Abe Lincoln, repeatedly calling a tail a leg in hopes that readers will eventually see a leg. This is what the Times, and most of the other news media, have been doing as well, for nearly three years. She hasn’t described collusion, even by the unsettled definitions of the term. Absent a clear quid pro quo, Donald Trump could have called up Julian Assange himself and said, “You have emails proving that Hillary the DMC riiged the nomination and Hillary cheated during debates? Great! I sure hope you release them!” and breached no law or principle whatsoever. Nor would that be collusion. You do not collude with an action by simply urging someone to do it. Collusion means “secret or illegal cooperation or conspiracy, especially in order to cheat or deceive others.” The evidence just isn’t there.
Former federal prosecutor Andrew McCarthy—as I have learned from the comments on this blog, the Get Trump Resistance discounts his expertise because the truth hurts—has the antidote for the false narrative in a recent article, and points out that far from having “damning” evidence of collusion, the Special Prosecutor doesn’t even seem to be trying to make that case:
No prosecutor builds a case the way Mueller is going about it. What prosecutor says, “Here’s our witness line-up: Michael Flynn, George Papadopoulos, Alex van der Zwaan, Rick Gates, Paul Manafort, Michael Cohen. And what is it that they have in common, ladies and gentlemen of the jury? Bingo! They’re all convicted liars.”?
…For a prosecutor, like any trial lawyer, what the jury thinks is at least as important as what the law says. If the most memorable thing the jury takes into the deliberation room is that no one should believe a word your witnesses say, you are not going to convict the lowliest grifter, much less the president of the United States of America. As a prosecutor, you build a case by having your cooperating accomplice witnesses plead guilty to the big scheme you are trying to pin on the main culprit. After all, what makes these witnesses accomplices, literally, is that they were participants in the main culprit’s crime. That’s the scheme you’re trying to prove. So, on guilty-plea day, the cooperator comes into court and admits guilt to the same conspiracy on which you are trying to nail the lead defendant…
In short, you build a case by first establishing the foundational criminal offense. Juries do not convict people because they like or trust the prosecution’s witnesses. They convict because they are persuaded that justice demands redress for a real crime.
Note that word: crime. There are many wrongs that are not crimes, activities that are immoral, mendacious, unseemly. If we are talking about cosmic justice, all these wrongs should be made right. But prosecutors do not operate in a cosmic-justice system. They are in the criminal-justice system. The only wrongs they are authorized to address — the only wrongs it is appropriate for them to address — are crimes…
With respect to the president and “collusion,” Mueller does not have a crime he is investigating. He is investigating in hopes of finding a crime, which is a day-and-night different thing… in the cases of Papadopoulos and Cohen….Mueller did not charge them as crimes because they are not crimes. Papadopoulos, Cohen, and the rest got jammed up, not for what they did, but for lying about what they did. That brings us to the “where there’s smoke, there must be fire” talking-point Mueller fans have been trying out: If all these people are lying to cover something up, that something must involve some egregious criminality. That’s ridiculous. We know from our own daily lives that crimes account for only a very small percentage of the things people lie about. Indeed, throughout the 1990s, Democrats insisted that prosecutors should leave Bill Clinton alone because everybody lies about sex. People lie about things that they are embarrassed or ashamed about….
[Mueller] knows that the legitimacy of his investigation is under attack, allegedly driven by politics rather than evidence of crime. But the convictions he has amassed, even if they are only for false statements or are otherwise unrelated to the Trump-Russia rationale for the investigation, prove that many people Trump brought into his campaign were corruptible and of low character. Mueller, the career Justice Department and FBI man, will deftly use this fact to argue that suspicions about these people, and hence the investigation, were fully justified even if — thankfully — there was no prosecutable Trump–Russia conspiracy.
Trump’s Republican and conservative critics will cheer, figuring the president and his rogues’ gallery had it coming. Democrats will cheer, knowing this would never happen to Democrats.
I think that’s probably an astute analysis. It is certainly a lot more helpful that falsely stating, as the Times repeatedly allows its writers to do, that there is “damning evidence” of collusion. The evidence that Trump hires and consorts with a lot of dumb, corrupt, incompetent and untrustworthy people was in long before he was elected and immediately thereafter, as I have noted many times.