After two weeks of gripping testimony that established Donald Trump’s flagrant abuse of power beyond any reasonable doubt, after an effectively uncontested accusation that Republican conspiracy theories about Ukraine advance a Russian agenda, and after the ostensibly “moderate” members of Trump’s party actually hardened their support for the president, there is precisely one huge, overarching news story that demands to be written: That the GOP has fully descended into lawlessness and lunacy. But our elite political reporters simply can’t bring themselves to say so.
Among the many things you saw these past two weeks that you otherwise rarely get to see was a depiction of the drama that plays out almost daily in federal government offices all over Washington, where smart, dedicated, highly knowledgeable, reality-based senior career employees are being erratically manipulated, micromanaged, and routed around by Trump political appointees who operate in a different universe.
Sondland’s testimony that he informed Pence about Trump’s Ukranian squeeze – and that Pence simply responded with a nod -- elicited what at first glance appeared to be denials from Pence’s office, but really weren’t.
They were “non-denial denials” – a term that made it into the pop-cultural lexicon in 1976, when it was employed by Jason Robards, playing Washington Post executive editor Ben Bradlee in the Watergate movie “All the President’s Men.”
Bothsideism has perhaps never been more inappropriate in the news coverage of a major event than it is right now, as fact witnesses are providing consistent, credible, and compelling evidence of presidential abuse of power, and Republicans are throwing around vile and scurrilous insinuations about patriots, spouting bizarre conspiracy theories, and adopting at last count 22 different and often contradictory defenses of conduct that history will condemn as indefensible.
The complete inability of the political press corps to respond properly to even the most obvious deceptions emerging from the Trump White House has never been more evident than this weekend, when Trump was rushed to Walter Reed Hospital, his press office provided an explanation that was not remotely credible, and the press swallowed it.
The clearly misogynistic nature of Trump’s attacks on Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch is hard to miss -- but isn't likely to be a major factor in the news reports produced by our major news organizations. That’s because political reporters don’t write from the heart. And calling out misogyny is outside their professional comfort zone.
A Reuters news article pronouncing Wednesday’s illuminating, alarming, and historic kickoff of the Trump impeachment hearings “dull” has sparked a small but passionate social media revolt against political reportage that values theatrics over substance.
The front page of Monday’s Washington Post trolls reality by peddling the pernicious farce that Donald Trump is just a “supporting character” in the Ukraine scandal – as if the rough transcript of Trump’s call with the Ukrainian president was even the slightest bit ambiguous about his personal enthusiasm to use his office to commit extortion.
There is a distinct danger that many members of the traditional political media will set the bar so high for theatrics, zingy soundbites, and dramatic new revelations that hearings that serve as a brilliant introduction to Trump's crimes will nevertheless be seen as a missed opportunity.
Now that it is so abundantly obvious that Trump accepts no limits when it comes to serving his own interests, political journalists are increasingly situating the drip-drip of new revelations within a master narrative: That he has consistently distended and abused the powers of his office.
CNN president Jeff Zucker has said it’s important to help viewers understand what President Trump and his supporters are thinking — and he’s absolutely right. But there is nothing edifying about appearances by people like Kellyanne Conway or Sean Duffy. They lie, they fabricate and they can’t genuinely explain what Donald Trump is thinking — because no one can.
With the impeachment process now at full throttle and every day bringing more evidence that makes Donald Trump’s abuse of power harder to deny without sounding insane, political journalists have suddenly realized that the refusal by Republican officials to answer their questions actually is the news.
Reporters covering U.S. Army Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman's testimony largely missed an opportunity to explain how significant Ukraine is geopolitically, and how making support for Ukraine conditional on Trump’s whims weakened a bulwark against Russian expansion.
Re-electing Trump would be an act of collective national insanity, and just about every journalist inside the Beltway knows it. This website is devoted to the pursuit of ways that Washington reporters can communicate the profound asymmetry of the upcoming election while not offending their own sensibilities.