Adam Schiff’s plaintive cry for truth and justice is also an indictment of political journalism

Rep. Adam B. Schiff’s extraordinary, historic closing remarks Thursday were a reminder of the huge stakes in this impeachment trial.

What’s been left out in the incremental coverage of daily events and tit-for-tats and process and fidget-spinners is that there is an easily discernible right and wrong here. There are obvious truths and even more obvious lies.

The nearly universal recognition that due to partisan brute force Trump will not actually be removed has made it easy for journalists to keep such issues at arm’s length and from that distance present two sides, sometimes even falsely equated.

Schiff’s primary audience was, of course, the 53 apparently intransigent, reality-denying Republican senators. But his comments were also a reproof to everyone who has found it more convenient to blur the distinction between right and wrong, truth and lies. Consider these words:

No Constitution can protect us if right doesn’t matter anymore.

And you know you can’t trust this president to do what’s right for this country. You can trust he will do what’s right for Donald Trump. He’ll do it now. He’s done it before. He’ll do it for the next several months. He’ll do it in the election if he’s allowed to.

This is why, if you find him guilty, you must find that he should be removed — because right matters. Because right matters. And the truth matters. Otherwise, we are lost.

There’s more here.

To the elite newsroom leaders who have so often chosen to respond to lies by throwing up their hands rather than shouting the truth from the rooftops, who have tried to remain non-confrontational and measured, who let themselves get gaslighted, it must have sounded like scolding.

You can tell it made them uncomfortable.

Just look at how they covered it.

They barely did.

You can chalk some of it up to the fact that Schiff’s closing came a little after 10 p.m. ET, after stories had already been written and edited, and after senior editors had gone home. (So much for internet time.)

But Schiff’s comments literally didn’t make it into the Washington Post’s lead story, which they didn’t bother to update after 8:45 p.m.:

Over at the New York Times, Sheryl Gay Stolberg or her editor hastily inserted a short summary four paragraphs into an article that was mainly about how the Democrats “took a calculated risk” by confronting Trump’s lies and conspiracy theories about Joe and Hunter Biden.

There was also a liveblog entry from Nicholas Fandos, with five short paragraphs about his remarks

The Los Angeles Times had a three-hour time advantage, but all Sarah D. Wire and Chris Megerian did was stick a couple paragraphs about Schiff’s comments at the end of their story.

The Associated Press — where not all the editors go home at night — appropriately retopped their main story and headlined it “Democrats argue ‘right matters’ in Trump impeachment trial”. But they still gave Schiff’s comments short shrift.

Of the sites I looked at, it was only that CNN responded appropriately.

Schiff’s comments were the kind that journalists who care about accountability could celebrate.

Esquire political blogger Charles P. Pierce heard exactly what Schiff was saying:

So did Maria Bustillos, who writes for the Columbia Journalism Review:

But our elite political journalists don’t like being criticized, and I’m pretty sure that’s how they took Schiff’s comments.

It’s the same reception they give people who talk passionately about climate change as an existential crisis or extreme income inequality as the result of a rigged system.

They know, on some level, that they haven’t risen to the challenge of the times. But they don’t want to hear it.


  1. I know you often cover the failures of journalism, Dan, but I wonder if you might not take a moment to celebrate one journalist who speaks with power and passion on impeachment, Dahlia Lithwick. Here’s one:

    “Under cover of the fog of impeachment, in large ways and small, other lawbreaking, other refusals of oversight, and other overt criming keeps on happening…….the Commerce Department announced that it would refuse to obey a congressional demand for the release of a 2018 investigation into national security risks around imports of autos and auto parts…he Trump administration abruptly canceled four classified briefings related to the Iran crisis, and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo refused a House request that he speak at a public hearing on the assassination of Iranian Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani. …Steve Mnuchin, Trump’s treasury secretary, tried to block disclosure of how much taxpayer money has been spent on Secret Service protection for presidential travel for Trump and his adult children… the FBI failed to comply with U.S. District Judge Reggie Walton’s order to turn over, by Jan. 17, summaries from interviews with Jared Kushner in Robert Mueller’s investigation [and it goes on]”

    And her column on the courts:

    “Justices and judges may pride themselves on not being rushed into precipitous action, but the judiciary also has the capacity to move very quickly when circumstances demand it. That’s why it is particularly noteworthy that the current failure to move things along is so advantageous to Donald Trump and his chances for success in the November 2020 election, and also so obviously disadvantaging the Democratic-held House of Representatives. One could be forgiven for starting to wonder whether the courts are taking sides but doing it in a way that looks measured and restrained. The thing is: Sometimes not resolving an exigent case is a decision. ”

    These are very dark days, and the lights are few and far between. But there are some that shine very, very brightly.


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