Peter Baker is bored. The chief White House correspondent for the most influential news organization in the world is wearily unimpressed with all these charges against the president.
“Another grand jury, another indictment,” he wrote in the lede of his New York Times “news analysis” on Monday.
For the fourth time in as many months, former President Donald J. Trump was charged on Monday with serious crimes and what was once unprecedented has now become surreally routine.
The novelty of a former leader of the United States being called a felon has somehow worn off.
To anyone who cares one whit about accountability, or democracy, there is nothing remotely routine about what’s happening, and not a damn thing has worn off.
But this is Peter Baker, for whom taking sides is the ultimate sin. He would rather be seen as bored than be seen as caring.
In fact, Trump’s (first) impeachment bored him, too!
“It feels like one more chapter in an all-out clash that has been fought for three years, hugely consequential yet of a piece with everything that has come before, with less suspense and an outcome seemingly foreordained,” he wrote before the vote.
And after the vote, he wrote that it was “the most predictable of outcomes” and asked “Is anyone really surprised?”
This man needs a new job.
As for the effect of the latest indictments on public opinion, no one is going to change their minds about Trump, Baker assured us:
He is, depending on the perspective, a serial lawbreaker finally being brought to justice or a victim of persecution by partisans intent on keeping him out of office.
Which one? Which one, Peter? Is one view supported by the facts, by any chance? And how about the other one?
He doesn’t say. He moves on.
This is not journalism. It is conflict avoidance.
Meanwhile, over at the Washington Post, some reporters have now decided that because of the legal charges, it’s too controversial to plainly state what has long been proven beyond any doubt.
“Charges against former president Donald Trump and a raft of others in Fulton County, Ga., over their alleged efforts to overturn his 2020 defeat finally landed Monday,” wrote Amy Gardner, Holly Bailey, Amber Phillips and Shayna Jacobs in the lead story of Wednesday’s paper (my italics).
There is nothing “alleged” about his efforts to “overturn” his defeat. What’s alleged is that this was a serious crime. The effort – to steal the election – is irrefutable.
Let Me Rewrite That For You
In a rational world, covered by honest, forthright and fearless journalists, the big-picture news analysis would read something like this:
A Moment of Accountability Arrives
More than two and a half years after Donald Trump shocked the nation and world by attempting to corruptly and violently steal back the election he lost to Joe Biden, a long-awaited accountability moment has arrived.
In an extraordinary sequence of events, Trump now faces four sets of criminal charges, one more serious than the next.
But what’s shocking is that it took so long. So much of what he did was in plain sight.
And what’s also shocking is that in the interim, rather than retreat into ignominy, Trump doubled down on his bluster and has been rewarded for it by Republican voters, who overwhelmingly want him to be their presidential nominee in 2024.
Trump’s first indictment charged him with covering up hush-money payments to a porn star in violation of campaign finance law. The second charged him with illegally retaining classified documents and conspiring to hide them from authorities.
The last two indictments – one federal, one state — charged him with conspiracy to overthrow the election.
By normal standards, each of these prosecutions would appear to be a slam dunk. The evidence is overwhelming. In the case of the latest indictments, the fact that Trump conspired to overthrow the election has been exhaustively documented by journalists and the members of the House Jan. 6 committee.
At issue, however, is not what he did, but whether he will face the legal consequences. And Trump has spent his entire career successfully dodging accountability.
Despite the utter lack of a plausible defense – his team has never actually provided a single bit of evidence to dispute what’s in the public record — all Trump needs is one juror to hang deliberations, or the Supreme Court to step in, and he wins.
So while this is a moment of accountability, there is no resolution. There is no healing.
What remains is an extraordinary puzzle. How is it possible that so many Americans still support a man who has been so credibly charged with some of the most serious crimes imaginable?
That is the mystery that confronts us as a nation — and as journalists. And while prosecutors continue to build their cases and ultimately argue them, that is the mystery we must solve.