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Dishonesty: Exposing The Media's Utterly Misleading Ukrainian 'Quid Pro Quo' Hype

Regular readers are by now aware of my opinions on the Ukraine/impeachment matter -- which, admittedly, has been unsatisfying to invested partisans on both sides of this battle.  That's because I reject the binary choice of 'Trump must go' vs. 'Trump is vindicated' because, based on available evidence, I believe the truth falls elsewhere.  If you don't have time to go back and read my lengthy analyses on these issues, here's your shortcut summary:


Am I open to additional evidence of serious wrongdoing on Trump's part (or Biden's, for that matter)?  Of course.  It is significant to me that Sen. Ben Sasse, who has read the full whistleblower complaint, says it contains "very troubling" allegations in response to which Republicans "ought not just circle the wagons" (update: it is now available, and contains concerning allegations of a potential cover-up and fact pattern).  I also have questions and doubts about this ABC News report stating that the Ukrainians supposedly 'understood' that a discussion about a possible Biden probe was a pre-condition to arranging any phone conversation with Trump (update: that story has largely fallen apart).  I also do not trust many Democratic politicians on these issues, as they've undermined and squandered their credibility throughout the Trump presidency.  Remember, a majority of House Democrats were in favor of starting the impeachment process before the Ukraine controversy bubbled to the surface (the number backing the impeachment inquiry swelled to 218 late Wednesday).  Hell, a bunch of them just recently called for the impeachment of a sitting Supreme Court justice based on absolutely nothing.


Then there's the media.  Far too often, the press has covered the Trump presidency in a foolishly sloppy, agenda-driven, and unprofessionally hostile manner.  They've blown big stories, rushed headlong into reckless and embarrassing speculation, and shaded facts to paint Trump and his administration in the worst possible light.  As made clear in my pieces linked above, I think that the president has engaged in seriously problematic conduct vis-a-vis Ukraine, and it's fair to ask whether a presidential quid pro quo needs to be spelled out explicitly for it to exist and be considered deeply unethical.  But through a bit of journalistic sleight of hand, too many allegedly unbiased reporters have been presenting deeply misleading "proof" of a fairly direct quid pro quo to their audiences:

The...ellipses...are performing some very heavy lifting in these clips, to the point of dishonesty.  Trump's specific request for "a favor," which came right after the Ukrainian leader mentions purchasing military equipment from the US, was not in reference to investigating the Bidens or meeting with Rudy Giuliani (whom Zelensky first brought up, by the way).  It was about getting to the bottom of the previous Ukrainian government's active efforts to meddle in the 2016 election on behalf of Hillary Clinton.  Trump is entirely justified in being cynical and sour about this (which I also mentioned yesterday):


Ukrainian government officials tried to help Hillary Clinton and undermine Trump by publicly questioning his fitness for office. They also disseminated documents implicating a top Trump aide in corruption and suggested they were investigating the matter, only to back away after the election. And they helped Clinton’s allies research damaging information on Trump and his advisers, a Politico investigation found...A Ukrainian-American operative who was consulting for the Democratic National Committee met with top officials in the Ukrainian Embassy in Washington in an effort to expose ties between Trump, top campaign aide Paul Manafort and Russia, according to people with direct knowledge of the situation. The Ukrainian efforts had an impact in the race, helping to force Manafort’s resignation and advancing the narrative that Trump’s campaign was deeply connected to Ukraine’s foe to the east, Russia.

It was not until hundreds of words later in this exchange, after the Ukrainian president invoked Giuliani and pledged 'open and candid' investigations -- plural -- that Trump brought up Joe and Hunter Biden.  Again, I believe it was quite inappropriate for him to have done so at all.  But leave it to the media to concoct something that looks like a direct quid pro quo by ripping quotes out of context, throwing the president a lifeline by transparently misrepresenting the facts.  Here is the transcript:


Here is how CNN and MSNBC portrayed the context of the "favor" line:

“I would like you to do us a favor… There’s a lot of talk about Biden’s son, that Biden stopped the prosecution and a lot of people want to find out about that so whatever you can do with the Attorney General would be great. Biden went around bragging that he stopped the prosecution so if you can look into it… It sounds horrible to me.”

NPR did something similar.  This is irresponsible, misleading, and plays right into Trump's "fake news" sniping.  I'll leave you with this request from Republican Congresswoman Elise Stefanik, which could spare us several news cycles of politicians arguing about just how bad the secret whistleblower file truly is (as mentioned in the update above, this is now moot):


And a parting quote from Mitch McConnell:

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