As I have on numerous occasions (e.g., here, here, here and here), last week, I wrote about the double standard that has become prevalent in the United States and the media’s role in perpetuating that duality. Republicans, conservatives and others on the right must expect to endure false accusations, character smears and denial of due process. Those on the political left, it seems, can engage in acts of unlawful misconduct and moral turpitude with impunity.
Former President Barack Obama’s administration was particularly culpable. The Exempt Organizations Unit of the IRS, run by Lois Lerner at the time, held up the applications of conservative nonprofits for years. Obama’s ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice lied to the American public on national television about the Benghazi terrorist attack. Declassified documents have revealed that Andrew McCabe (former deputy director of the FBI), Samantha Power (Obama’s second ambassador to the United Nations), James Clapper (Obama’s director of national intelligence), James Comey (former FBI director) and John Brennan (CIA director under Obama) all lied to Congress during investigations associated with the “Russiagate” probe. Obama’s attorney general, Eric Holder, was even held in contempt of Congress for the investigation into Operation Fast and Furious of U.S. gunrunning into Mexico.
There are few serious consequences; some wrongdoers even profit from their misconduct. Even when evidence is mysteriously lost (Lerner) or destroyed (former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton), investigations inevitably conclude that the malfeasance was simply a matter of “carelessness” or “poor judgment.” Lerner retired with a full pension. Rice was subsequently made Obama’s national security adviser. Comey got a lucrative book deal and a speaking tour. Clapper and Brennan have gigs as news analysts for CNN and MSNBC, respectively. Hillary Clinton’s “extreme carelessness” in mishandling classified communiqués didn’t stop her presidential run or six-figure speaking fees.
And now we have evidence that Obama’s FBI engaged in illicit spying, lied to federal judges, entrapped an innocent man and withheld exculpatory evidence from his lawyers -- all in an attempt to unseat President-elect Donald Trump.
Like many Americans, I am often disgusted by the conduct of the government, politicians and political campaigns. But I reserve most of my ire for the media, whose job I believe it is to investigate and root out all deception and abuses of power, corporate or political, private or public, regardless of the political persuasion of the perpetrators. Our media, in large part, refuses to do that. It ignores or papers over claims against Democrats and its supporters, even when those individuals (Harvey Weinstein, Jeffrey Epstein, Ed Buck) are legitimately accused of serious crimes like rape, human trafficking or homicide.
I continue to warn of the dangerous consequences our country will face unless our press stops engaging in partisan gamesmanship, and I am not alone. This week, Mollie Hemingway wrote in The Federalist that the press must report the unpleasant truth of the Obama administration’s spy campaign against the incoming Trump administration before it is “too late” for them to “salvage some credibility.” Randall Smith at The Catholic Thing writes, “The media ... are ideologues increasingly blinded by their anger and prejudice.” The Intercept’s Glenn Greenwald -- a frequent critic of his own industry -- describes a “media sickness borne of the Trump era that is rapidly corroding journalistic integrity and justifiably destroying trust in news outlets.”
Perhaps the most fascinating -- and myopic -- take is former “Today” show host Matt Lauer’s essay in Mediaite this week. Lauer apologizes for the sexual indiscretions that cost him his job at NBC but denies the more recent rape accusations. He sharply criticizes Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and author Ronan Farrow for sloppy reporting about those accusations.
Lauer writes, “While the presumption of innocence is only guaranteed in a court of law, I felt journalists should have, at the very least, recognized and considered it.”
Was not the same thing said about the national media’s treatment of Brett Kavanaugh during his Supreme Court confirmation hearings? (Hint: It was.) Did the media not actively promote the baseless, lunatic accusations of high school gang rape parties made by Julie Swetnick and her lawyer Michael Avenatti (since convicted of extortion)?
What about Nick Sandmann, the Covington Catholic High School student who our media so quickly condemned as a racist, whose face professor and former CNN personality Reza Aslan described as “punchable”?
Lauer insists that his concerns extend beyond his personal travails. “It’s about whether, as journalists, we have a responsibility to check facts and vet sources,” he says. “It’s about understanding the difference between journalism and activism. It is about whether we are putting far too much trust in journalists whose publicly stated opinions impact their ability to remain objective.”
I agree. But did the media not breathlessly report the contents of the spurious “dossier” former British spy Christopher Steele provided to the FBI as part of the “Obamagate” spying scandal?
Where were the press’s investigatory chops then?
They were more interested in making the public believe that Donald Trump had been urinated on by Russian hookers in a Moscow hotel, and that he and members of his staff were agents of the Russian government. Many still believe those outrageous assertions, even though the dossier -- and the Russia-collusion narrative -- have been utterly discredited.
And Matt Lauer wonders -- in the #MeToo era, no less -- why the media machinery he’s been a part of his whole career can grind him up like hamburger meat for an accusation as facile (by comparison) as rape?
I would hope that the press would give up the partisanship and renew their commitment to honesty and investigatory fairness for the good of the country. But if not, perhaps they can look at Matt Lauer’s experience as a cautionary tale, and change course for the sake of their own necks.
Live by the lie. Die by the lie.