New York Times tees up impeachment hearings with epic false equivalence and both-siderism

After a terrific, authoritative recounting of how we got here in Tuesday’s New York Times, the paper of record lapsed back to a position of neutrality on what is true and what is not as it limbered up Wednesday morning to cover the public phase of the impeachment process.

With stunning cynicism, Michael D. Shear and Nicholas Fandos wrote that “the vast potential consequences of [the Democratic] endeavor promised to turn the process into an ugly partisan fight that is all but certain to eclipse the facts.”

For these reporters, truth is a jump ball. Democrats one one side…

Democrats will begin building a public case on Wednesday that President Trump committed extortion, bribery or coercion by trying to enlist Ukraine to help him in the 2020 elections, as they open the first presidential impeachment hearings in more than two decades.

… Republicans on the other:

In a taste of the epic partisan battle to come, Republicans readied their arguments that the president did nothing wrong — and certainly nothing impeachable — and raged against a process they have denounced from the beginning as unfair and illegitimate.

And let the best team win.

One example of how they won’t take sides: they actually published this quote without any pushback

“We want to make sure the truth gets out,” said Representative Kevin McCarthy of California, the minority leader.

Washington Post Plum Line columnist Greg Sargent suggested the Times had succumbed to propaganda

Also at the New York Times, Peter Baker teed up the hearing with a variation on the both-sides approach: The neither-side approach.

Apparently, it’s all social media’s fault:

As polarized as the political environment seemed in 1998 with the advent of the Drudge Report and Fox News, it has only become exponentially more so today with the rise of social media, the fragmentation of the news and opinion industry, the infiltration of conspiracy theories into the mainstream conversation and the empowerment of once-fringe forces. The 24/7 world of trolling and Twitter has split America into warring camps.

Baker then created a stunning false equivalence by likening the Democratic reaction to Bill Clinton’s impeachment for lying about sex to the Republican reaction to Trump’s, for extorting a foreign power for political benefit: “The trajectory also feels remarkably familiar.”

Associated Press writer Jonathan Lemire, by contrast, showed how it’s done. His appropriately big, brawling lede:

For three years, Donald Trump has unapologetically defied the conventions of the American presidency. On Wednesday, he comes face to face with the limits of his power, confronting an impeachment process enshrined in the Constitution that will play out in public and help shape how the president will be viewed by voters next year and in the history books for generations.

Is today just another partisan battle? Hardly:

Now a parade of career public servants will raise their hands and swear an oath to the truth, not the presidency, representing an integral part of the system of checks and balances envisioned by the Founding Fathers.

The kicker really puts it all in context:

“Trump is now up against the Constitution, but he’s not the only thing on trial: So are we the people, as the preamble described us so long ago,” said presidential historian Jon Meacham of Vanderbilt University. “Impeachment is a political, not a legal, process, and those with a political stake in this presidency — which is to say, his supporters at large and in the House and the Senate — need to decide which is more important: the efficacy of checks and balances or the continued reign of a president who seems to take pleasure in flouting those checks and balances.”

Over at the Washington Post, incidentally, things weren’t much better than at the Times.

Toluse Olorunnipa, Karoun Demirjian and Rachael Bade looked ahead to a battle of competing narratives, with the overriding question being which will win.

The series of open hearings that begin Wednesday will be a pivotal test of lawmakers’ ability to sway public opinion for or against Trump’s impeachment in a polarized political environment where both parties are seeking to use the inquiry to their advantage heading into the 2020 presidential and congressional campaigns.

They treated as equally valid the evidence-based case from Democrats….

To Democrats, Trump’s mention of Biden and CrowdStrike — a reference to a debunked conspiracy theory that the Democratic National Committee server hacked in 2016 ended up in Ukraine — is tantamount to catching the president red-handed as he tried to push Zelensky into conducting investigations in exchange for releasing the long-awaited security assistance and securing a White House visit.

…. and the factually bereft propaganda and misdirection campaign by Republicans:

Republicans, however, argued in their memo that the transcript of that call is “fatal” to the Democrats’ argument, positing not only that it “shows no conditionality or evidence of pressure” but also that Trump and Zelensky subsequently “have both said there was no pressure on the call.”

“It’s hard to say we should impeach the president for holding up foreign aid when the transcript never mentioned aid,” Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), a Trump ally, said Tuesday.

And lest you think we have a constitutional crisis on our hands, requiring a serious and probing examination of the truth, what we really have here is a “spat”.

The dispute between Republicans and Democrats over what constitutes a legitimate line of argument will probably boil over into an overall public spat about the legitimacy of the impeachment inquiry, which Democrats have been defending against GOP accusations of unfairness since the process began.

The public deserves better, as I wrote last week.




  1. I lean left, but I rely on a variety of sources for my news content. I have a digital subscription to the New York Times (I’m an American living overseas so thankfully I don’t have much opportunity to watch preening, know-nothings on the bulk of TV media sites out there), I read Salon, HuffPost, Alternet, Slate, Reddit and I occasionally do searches on Google to “find” stories or information. And first and foremost, I wish many more people who are ignorant of America’s institutions, laws and governmental make-up would go there first, do a simple search and then post something that can pass at least a cursory look at its facts and its pertinence to whatever story/op-ed.

    I then read the pertinent story or op/ed and check out the comments section (if there is one. Oftentimes, the media doesn’t provide one which to me is like saying, “Read my story. And then leave, we don’t care what you have to say.”).

    Using my very unscientific–and some would say somewhat biased–method it seems to me that the posters (I’ve seen literally thousands in the past several months as the impeachment has heated up) tend to fall into a variety of categories: racists/bigots/tellers-of-lies who know nothing; extreme trolls who just want to “stick it to the libs”; trolls w/ no substance, but at least tend to be somewhat civil, but largely fact-free; conservatives who are clearly simply parroting Fox New talking points and will not accept any counter arguments; lesser conservatives who will at least entertain a difference of opinion; centrists who tried to stay balanced and often rely on arguments that are well-grounded in substantive facts; center-lefties who use a lot of facts and often point out other posters’ mistakes or misleading or simply untrue comments and are trying to persuade people to change their minds; and extreme left wingers who again include facts but feel the election of 2016 was a complete Russian job and Trump is evil incarnate.

    That probably doesn’t cover every poster of course, but these are the definite trends. I feel strongly that opinions should also contain facts that can be verified using Google and are from the more reputable news services. An overreliance on Fox News or conservative radio media becomes immediately evident though because the same 5 or so talking points are disseminated (e.g., witch hunt, Trump can do whatever he wants, Nunes is close to Godlike, comments lack even a basic understanding of The Constitution, rule of law and what’s at stake even!).

    There’s no right answer here, but I feel strongly that America needs more of what you’re pointing out, Mr. Froomkin and less “I know everything and have the secret to all truth” arguments that even outlets like NYT and WaPo sometimes use. And I’m tired of the tried and try, but very dangerous: “This is a horse race and may the best horse win,” even when the facts clearly support something that means a horse race is just a lazy device to attract readership from both sides.

    One final note, “one and done” types. They come in and say, “You are lying!” and then we never see them again. I think all the moderators (and I’m sensing the sites don’t spend much at all on any type of moderating by people who know what they’re doing) need to do a much better job at getting rid of the garbage, putting the brakes on those who just post pointless word salads and try to moderate so that an intelligent conversation can be had/preserved.

    And finally, finally: Liberals are using more facts or known truths than supporters of Trump are. The man gets an amazing amount of free passes, if you will. If he were in a typical business, for instance, HR would have escorted him from the building long ago. That’s not leadership. That’s not what we want in a president. Our constitutional republic is definitely under serious assault and some right-leaners seem to be OK with having Trump become this all-powerful autocrat even though The Constitution clearly says, “That’s not how our system of government works.”

    Thanks for listening.

    Sincerely, “Democracy”

  2. This is preposterous. It is NOT the media’s responsibility to “take sides.” They are here to REPORT what is happening, period. There’s too much “taking sides” in the news as it is, for both the left- and right-leaning. In fact, the tragedy is that no one is reporting facts without shading them toward their own agenda; consequently no one is getting both sides of any issue. And who is anyone but the READER to judge what is or isn’t “false equivalency?” Whether you choose to believe it or not, America IS split into warring camps. The media are pushing for another Civil War. If they don’t dial back their biases and simply report news like they used to, they’re going to get one.


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