For almost two years and nine months, the American people have been subjected to lies and distortions of facts from President Trump and his cronies in front of the TV cameras. To a large extent, they’ve been able to get away with that due to the reluctance, or lack of preparedness, by anchors from news channels (at least those that still have a commitment to finding the truth), to call out the shenanigans.
But something has changed in the last couple of weeks. As there have been more and more revelations emerging out of “Ukrainegate,” anchors have more willingly and more forcefully pushed back on Trump’s and his allies attempts to muddy the waters and spew outright falsehoods.
In a segment on NBC’s “Meet the Press” on Sunday, Oct. 6, anchor Chuck Todd became exasperated when Wisconsin Republican Sen. Ron Johnson pivoted from a simple, direct question. What made you wince when you heard Trump may have tied military aid to Ukraine to an investigation of former vice president and Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden and his son, Todd asked Johnson, referencing a quote the senator gave to the Wall Street Journal. Instead, Johnson shamelessly attempted to launch into a recitation of GOP conspiracy theory talking points and imaginary boogeymen. Peter Stzrok! Lisa Page! Text messages! James Comey! John Brennan!
“Can we please answer the question that I asked you, instead of trying to make Donald Trump feel better here that you’re not criticizing him?” Todd pushed back. “I’m just trying to ask a simple question of what made you wince?” By that time, the interview was off the rails and beyond saving.
Other anchors on other channels and journalists from print outlets have similarly run out of patience as Trump allies have gone through a number of mind-numbingly idiotic excuses for his conduct — the latest being the assertion pedaled by GOP House members and senators that the president was “joking” when he called on China to investigate the Bidens in front of God and everybody.
And while that sense of duty to call out the B.S. has even extended to Fox News — Chris Wallace, Shepard Smith and Andrew Napolitano come to mind — the network still appears largely committed to obfuscating the facts for its millions of viewers.
For about 20 minutes on Thursday, Oct. 3, I tuned into the midday program anchored by Harris Faulkner and the obfuscation, primarily from her panel of guests, ran rampant and unchecked. It was remarkable how many facts a purported news organization could just get wrong.
Hunter Biden was never suspected of any wrongdoing, and the probe into the Ukrainian gas company was completely unrelated to his position with the board. That’s a fact.
No, Biden did not pressure the Ukrainian government because of scrutiny on his son. The Obama administration and officials from Western European nations wanted prosecutor Viktor Shokin fired because he was harvesting a culture of corruption. And what did Faulkner and her panel fail to mention? The Obama administration had a rare ally: several Republican senators, including the aforementioned Johnson, who co-signed a 2016 letter (found by CNN) urging the then Ukrainian president move forward with reforms to the prosecutor general’s office. That’s a fact.
Yes, it’s messed up that Biden’s son had a cushy job on the board that he likely came to garner through his father’s prominence. It’s poor judgment on his part and perhaps even unethical. It’s also something we see too often at all levels of politics — down to little small towns — and in society in general. But that story in no way outweighs or even approaches remotely equal footing with Trump’s flagrant and historical abuse of power.
Faulkner and her panel had no interest in opening their eyes to that, though. Most of the rest of the segment focused on Democratic Rep. Adam Schiff, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, who Speaker Nancy Pelosi has tasked with heading the impeachment inquiry into the president. In light of the New York Times report that Schiff had knowledge of the outlines of the Ukrainegate whistleblower’s complaint, Trump and his allies have launched a new conspiracy theory that Schiff was coordinating with the whistleblower and may have even helped write the complaint.
Faulkner and her panel indulged this fantasy but failed to report what the Times story actually said. Schiff’s office was contacted by the whistleblower, who had every right under statute to go to the appropriate congressional committee with his concerns. And, as procedure calls for, they recommended he write a formal complaint and notify the intelligence community’s inspector general, which he did.
That’s not to mention that the complaint aligned perfectly with the White House summary of the phone call between Trump and the Ukrainian president. It’s also not to mention that since then, a release of a batch of text messages between a pair of American diplomats have shed further light on the State Department’s involvement in the scheme to pressure a Ukrainian investigation into the Bidens. And now we’ve learned there is a second whistleblower who has come forward with apparent first-hand knowledge of the allegations in the first complaint.
None of this, though, really matters to the majority of voices at Fox News, who are dedicated to propping up this president’s manic flailing as he teeters on the brink of impeachment. Rather than call balls and strikes that most people with clear minds can see, they’ve drawn their lines in the sand and given sanctuary to insane, dangerous rhetoric from Trump and his staunchest defenders, who have clearly not bothered to read a dictionary to learn the actual definition of the word “coup” and who have clearly not bothered to read about impeachment in the Constitution.
“A lot of what we saw last week is a lot of these talking points really fall apart when they entered the real world, whereas, they still are allowed to thrive on Fox,” CNN media reporter Oliver Darcy said Oct. 6 to host Brian Stetler on CNN’s “Reliable Sources” program. “You just played that clip where people were talking about coups, civil wars. It’s really disturbing stuff. I actually kind of wonder, Lachlan Murdoch the head of Fox, how does he look at himself in the mirror every morning knowing that poison is his contribution to society? I honestly can’t understand how he does it.”
“That’s pretty strong, Oliver,” Stetler replied.
Strong, and harsh, but true.