The television is a lousy way to get news. Especially in the age of the world wide web, there are any number of highly reliable news sources other than your boob tube.
Here is a case study in why the television is a lousy news source. The estimable Katy Tur, who is as good a television reporter as one can find, is doing as good a job as one can at interviewing Jim Jordan, Republican shill and member of the House from Ohio, who could teach a master class in obfuscation.
If one pays close attention to what he says, it’s hard even on the boob tube to discern what the issue is, but he is a member of the House of Representatives and he says it’s fishy, so if you’re the type to see members of the House, or white guys in ties, as authority figures, you might run with his characterization and not think about it too much. Television makes that an easy option, the default option, one might even say.
But if slow what he said down, even write it down so that you can read it, the result is quite different:
“Rod Rosenstein writes the memo on why you should fire James Comey, James Comey then leaks a document to create momentum for Bob Mueller to be the special counsel, Rod Rosenstein gets Bob Mueller to be the special counsel, and one of the things that Bob Mueller is looking into is was there obstruction of justice in the firing of James Comey. If that’s not the swamp and suspicious and strange, I don’t know what is.”
You are automatically excused if your immediate response to this is, so? Um, what is the problem? On its face, there is at least a tension, not to say glaring contradiction, built into this as an indictment of the Mueller investigation. Jordan wants to make the process of appointing Robert Mueller as special prosecutor look fishy, some sort of conspiracy among Rosenstein, Comey, and Mueller. But he starts with the claim that Rosenstein wrote the memo that prompted Trump to fire Comey to begin with, a claim we shall return to.
Jordan also wants at least to suggest that there was nothing at all suspicious about the firing of Comey, in which case, he presumably would endorse both the content of Rosenstein’s memo and the fact of his having written it. So he’s a good guy when he does that (although it’s kind of hard to tell, since this is all so compacted in TV speak). Except that the White House is trying to smear Rosenstein just now, so it’s odd that a Republican shill would even consider saying anything nice, or suggest anything nice, about him at all.
But, if Rosenstein really thought Trump should fire Comey, then why did he appoint a special counsel at all? Especially if one reason for the special counsel is suspicions about the reason for firing Comey? Did Rosenstein appoint special counsel to investigate himself? Should he have? That would seem to be a necessary inference from what Jordan says here. Is he a good guy or a bad guy? Jordan presents Comey’s leaking of memos he wrote memorializing his conversations with the so called president as a deliberate ploy to get Mueller appointed as special counsel, when there is no evidence to support that claim. It is true that Breitbart (!) ran a story claiming that Comey and Mueller are “best friends,” which the newsrag claims constituted a conflict of interest. But, um, Breitbart. Again, there are multiple reliable news sources on the web. Breitbart is not one of them. It is the Fox News of print journalism, or “journalism.”
It’s worth a small digression to note that the so called president’s supporters were willing to overlook the multitude of glaring conflicts of interest Trump brought with him to the presidency, yet are now quick to find them everywhere, but especially where they do not exist.
Jordan presents the events in such a way as to suggest that Rosenstein and Comey had decided in advance to make Mueller the special prosecutor – sounds like a conspiracy! Again, there is no evidence to support this innuendo. Any number of other members of Congress from both Parties praised the appointment of Mueller at the time because of his sterling record of public service and reputation for integrity and probity.
And, let’s not forget that all three of Jordan’s targets are Republicans themselves, for unknown reasons.
Returning to the question of Rosenstein’s having written the memo that prompted Trump to fire Comey: Jordan also engages in a careful, um, misrepresentation when he says that Rosenstein wrote the memo explaining why Trump should fire Comey. As multiple news outlets reported when it became public knowledge, what actually happened was that Trump, with the help of White House weasel, er, aide, Stephen Miller, wrote what some described as a “rant,” part of which was Trump’s reasons for wanting to fire Comey. Only after more sober minds considered Trump’s first draft did anyone think to ask Rosenstein to write a more balanced, much shorter version, so it is at best misleading to suggest that firing Comey was Rosenstein’s idea to begin with.
Jordan would want to pin the idea of firing Comey on Rosenstein, since he wants to cast doubt on the idea that there was any obstruction of justice involved in Comey’s firing. The obstruction of justice suspicion arises out of Comey’s claim that Trump wanted him to end the investigation into Michael Flynn, who has since pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI even as various other charges remain in abeyance, presumably as a cudgel to ensure maximum cooperation from him with the investigation. If Trump fired Comey to quash the investigation of Flynn, that is textbook obstruction of justice, one of the offenses the Republicans used as their justification to impeach Bill Clinton. Oh, but Clinton was a Democrat. Republicans only impeach Democratic presidents. At the moment, it is impossible to imagine what might prompt them to impeach the Donald.
If, in contrast, Trump only fired Comey because Rosenstein suggested that he do so, then that eliminates any claim for obstruction of justice.
At the end of the day, the biggest problem with Jordan’s little smear campaign for Ms. Tur is the same one the Republicans keep running into with the larger smear campaign against all of these men they are running to try to salvage the wreck that is the Trump presidency – Rosenstein, Comey, and Mueller all have vastly more credibility and better reputations for honesty and integrity than any of their many critics, especially the so called president himself. No seamstress is ever going to fashion a silk purse from this mess, especially not with more, um, sober (?) voices such as this weighing in on the matter:
Okay, getting to watch this gentleman (!) call the so called president a “dirtbag” is almost enough to redeem television as a medium, but the enormous amusement value of that event cannot overcome the constant, daily opportunity for easy obfuscation television allows to the likes of Jim Jordan.
It is true that a well informed observer might have been able to put all of this together solely on the basis of the televised segment of Tur interviewing Jordan, but one rather doubts that many viewers saw through the obuscation.
But perhaps the most damning indictment of the boob tube is the fact that the Donald would not be nearly so famous, perhaps not famous enough to become president at all, without its nefarious assistance.