Week 73: Without Russia Indictments to Feast on, Scandalmongers Feast on Scraps

The scraping sound you heard while reading about the Trump scandal this week was the clank and chafe of a serving spoon reaching for the last edible morsels in the pot. Absent any additional indictments from special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s pen or investigative breakouts by the news thoroughbreds at the New York Times, the Washington Post, and the Wall Street Journal, it was largely a week of casseroles and soups made from news leftovers but reinforced with added bits of protein.

Not that I’m complaining! As every cook knows, when you reheat old ingredients the chemical reactions recommence to break constituent elements into a variety of flavor-packed amino acids and sugars. If you read a reconstituted news story with the right mindset, it can be as rewarding as its first serving.

At the top of my leftover buffet this week were the new stories about Continue reading “Week 73: Without Russia Indictments to Feast on, Scandalmongers Feast on Scraps”

Stop the Press Before It Profiles Beto O’Rourke Again

The winds of swoonery blasted through Texas this year and traveled halfway across the country to dust the Eastern media establishment with love eternal for senatorial candidate Beto O’Rourke. Not since the press corps fell in love with Barack Obama in the 2008 presidential campaign has such a sirocco of worshipful candidate profiles and commentaries appeared in the national press.

“Is Beto O’Rourke the Left’s Obama-like Answer to Trump in 2020?” asked Vanity Fair. “Beto O’Rourke Could Be the Democrat Texas Has Been Waiting For,” offered BuzzFeed. Still more positive Beto coverage sprinkled the pages of Yahoo News, Time, GQ, Rolling Stone, the Guardian, the New York Times, Politico and Esquire as they worked off the same template. The Washington Post indulged Betomania with a feature, another feature, a column and the sort of ancillary coverage it ordinarily gives the Washington Continue reading “Stop the Press Before It Profiles Beto O’Rourke Again”

The New York Times Bombshell That Bombed

It arrived on Page One of the New York Times last Wednesday with all the subtlety of a supertanker berthing at a sailing marina, consuming all the editorial space above the fold. Based on more than 100,000 pages of documents, countless interviews, and the voluminous Freedom of Information Act requests that accompany such investigations, the piece, written by three of the paper’s ace reporters, was more than 18 months in the making. Overflowing eight broadsheet pages, the 15,000-word story, titled “Trump Took Part Suspect Schemes to Evade Tax Bills,” served also as the subject of a Showtime documentary. It accused President Donald Trump of “outright fraud” involving hundreds of millions of dollars.

The piece stirred both New York City and state regulators to commence investigations of their own that could ensnare the Trump family years in consuming legal battles and force them to choke up hundreds of millions Continue reading “The New York Times Bombshell That Bombed”

Week 72: Russia Fixation Fades with Report Trump Dodged Taxes

The mystery of where Donald Trump found oodles of cash to buy property after property in the nine years before his campaign for president was solved in part this week by the New York Times, whose investigative reporters have for the moment seized from the special counsel the title of most applauded Trump tormentors.

Theorists have long speculated—for good reason—that Trump came up with the $400 million he spent thanks to Russia-based money-laundering operations, a conclusion supported by the oft-quoted Donald Trump Jr. line from a decade ago: “Russians make up a pretty disproportionate cross-section of a lot of our assets. … We see a lot of money pouring in from Russia.” Indeed, scores of buyers made all-cash purchases, “totaling $109 million at 10 Trump-branded properties in South Florida and New York City,” McClatchy reported, often using shell companies “designed to obscure their identities.”

Trump’s own cash Continue reading “Week 72: Russia Fixation Fades with Report Trump Dodged Taxes”

Donald Trump Is the Resistance Inside the Trump Administration

I’ve figured it out: Donald Trump is the leader of the resistance inside his own administration.

The 45th president exudes more defiance from one of his short, little fingers than all the liberal yodelers of the Democratic Party and entire armies of pink pussy-hat-wearing protesters put together. When not contravening the libs, Trump opposes the traditional Republican establishment that he is supposed to command. They demand additional sanctions on the Russians; he schemes to lighten them. They want free trade; he imposes punitive tariffs. They dig NATO; he calls it obsolete and works to weaken it. They desire immigration “reform”; he insists on deportation, fewer refugees, no Muslims and the building of a wall. They want to stay in Afghanistan and Syria; he wants out. On almost a daily basis Trump fights to prove that he—and not his appointees—runs his administration.

Trump’s powers of resistance shone brightest last month when Continue reading “Donald Trump Is the Resistance Inside the Trump Administration”

The Surprising Reason the Right Doesn’t Trust the News

My prayers for a new way to think about the so-called crisis over “trust” in the press have been answered thanks to media scholar Matthew Pressman’s erudite new history, On Press: The Liberal Values That Shaped the News. Journalism has changed measurably since the 1960s, he writes, and those changes have altered how we regard the news and why opinion surveys show that fewer and fewer people seem to trust it.

Back in 1960—not quite a lifetime ago—page one of the New York Times was dominated by government news. Pressman picks out a date at random, April 21, 1960, and reports that all 14 stories on page one were about governmental bodies or officials. Inside, he continues, the paper’s opening pages contained transcripts of official statements and speeches, often by government officials, and almost every article in the main news category began with an account of what various Continue reading “The Surprising Reason the Right Doesn’t Trust the News”

Week 70: Rosenstein’s ‘Wire’ Talk Has Become His Noose

Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein—who has been living on Donald Trump’s death row for more than a year—moved a whole cellblock closer to the gallows on Friday after the New York Times dropped this news-cycle cleansing scoop: The piece alleges that in May 2017 he discussed surreptitiously recording the president and raised using the 25th Amendment to remove him from office. At press time, Rosenstein had not been given his last meal or last rites, but the story and the follow-ups by other press hounds have given Trump every pretext he might need to terminate the man who oversees special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s Russia investigation.

Rosenstein was livid at Trump in the administration’s early and often chaotic days. As the authors of Friday’s exposé, Adam Goldman and Michael S. Schmidt, previously wrote for their paper in June, Rosenstein felt the president used him to justify Continue reading “Week 70: Rosenstein’s ‘Wire’ Talk Has Become His Noose”

Trump’s Final Days

What if, after having moved into the White House and gotten comfortable, Donald Trump refuses to check out when his term ends?

Preposterous, you say. No president, not even Trump, would dare to defy 200-plus years of political tradition—not to mention the Constitution—to illegally overstay. But how sure can we be that our norm-busting president won’t attempt to shatter this inviolable standard, too? He and his lawyers have already advanced the specious legal idea that the chief executive can’t be charged with obstruction of justice, thereby placing him above the law. Who’s to say that Trump’s legal advisers might construct some pretext—a national security crisis or charges of election fraud—that would place him above the Constitution and cement his place in the Oval Office?

The fear that a president might not go at his appointed time has a precedent. President Franklin D. Roosevelt, encouraged by columnist Walter Lippmann, contemplated taking Continue reading “Trump’s Final Days”

Week 69: Mueller Finally Comes Between Manafort and Trump

Paul Manafort had something very, very special that special counsel Robert S. Mueller III wanted so badly: His cooperation.

Today, as he promised to plead guilty to a set of reduced charges, Manafort agreed to cooperate “fully, truthfully, completely, and forthrightly” with the special counsel’s investigation. Documents Mueller might want to inspect? Manafort has agreed to provide them. His attendance and participation at prosecutor debriefings? Done. Perform from the witness stand for prosecutors? You betcha.

Why is Manafort’s cooperation so valuable to Mueller? He’s been operating inside Trump World for almost four decades and, as Trump’s campaign chairman for the crucial period including the Republican convention, he is the most powerful of all Trump’s aides and associates to be indicted. As an experienced political strategist and lobbyist, he excels at snooping out the weakness and strengths of other operators. He has kept score over the years and now his score Continue reading “Week 69: Mueller Finally Comes Between Manafort and Trump”

Week 68: Trump Lawyer’s Biggest Fear Revealed: the President Under Oath

Bob Woodward, the human housefly, has just buzzed back from his fifth White House to file another observed-from-an-omniscient-place-on-the-wall account of a president in turmoil. This latest flight, Fear: Trump in the White House, finds President Donald Trump lurching and floundering in agony over the legal pains the Russia investigation have inflicted upon his administration, and it fully explains why Trump’s lawyers have avoided exposing him to the interrogatory requested by special counsel Robert S. Mueller III.

On the afternoon of Jan. 27, 2018, Woodward writes, Trump and his attorney, John M. Dowd, met in the White House residence. Seated with the president “at a table with a view of the Washington and Jefferson Memorials,” Dowd proposed a practice run-through of the interview that Mueller had requested—and continues to request to this day.

“I would just like to give you sort of a feel of what testimony could be like,” Continue reading “Week 68: Trump Lawyer’s Biggest Fear Revealed: the President Under Oath”

How Soon Will the NYT’s Trump Resistance Writer Be Outed?

The op-ed came from inside the house.

Posted late Wednesday afternoon on the website of the New York Times, the anonymous piece that everyone’s talking about reiterated all the wicked things anonymous White House sources had been telling the Times, the Washington Post, Politico, Axios, Bloomberg News, et al., about Donald Trump. The president is amoral, Anonymous wrote. He’s anti-democratic. He’s impetuous, adversarial, petty and ineffective. He flip-flops. He can’t stay on topic and is given to repetitive rants. He’s unstable, says the piece, whose headline and dek tell the story: “I Am Part of the Resistance Inside the Trump Administration: I work for the president but like-minded colleagues and I have vowed to thwart parts of his agenda and his worst inclinations.”

Anonymous, perhaps the deepest Deep Throat since Watergate, continues: He’s only one member of the Trump administration’s internal resistance—he and others monkey-wrenched Continue reading “How Soon Will the NYT’s Trump Resistance Writer Be Outed?”

The New Yorker’s Steve Bannon Screwup

Who’s afraid of Steve Bannon?

For starters, Judd Apatow, Jim Carrey, John Mulaney, Jack Antonoff, Patton Oswalt, Jimmy Fallon, Boots Riley and the other notables the New Yorker booked for its October festival but who canceled upon learning that alt-right leader Steve Bannon would also appear on its stage for an interview with the magazine’s editor, David Remnick.

“I’m out,” tweeted Oswalt. “I wont be there if he’s gonna be there,” added Riley. New Yorker staff writer Kathryn Schulz pronounced herself “beyond appalled” at the invitation. Roxane Gay, Jessica Valenti and others concurred.

The spreading outrage left Remnick straddled on the horns of a dilemma: Interview Bannon and watch the festival collapse under the weight of a boycott, or back down and save the show. In an email to his staff, Remnick sounded all the right notes as he explained the rationale behind his planned one-on-one grilling of Bannon Continue reading “The New Yorker’s Steve Bannon Screwup”

Week 67: The Mueller Rumor Mill Is Working Overtime

The waiting is the hardest part, Tom Petty sang through his nose in 1981, predicting the agony of anticipation that has settled on Washington journalists this Labor Day weekend like a smoggy August warm front.

We’re waiting for the rumored Roger Stone indictment to come down, and so is he. We’re waiting for the charges that might be filed against Don Jr. We’re waiting for special counsel Robert S. Mueller III to deliver his collusion and obstruction report to Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. We’re waiting for Rudolph Giuliani’s counter-report to the Mueller report, which is almost finished even though Rudy hasn’t seen Mueller’s work. We’re waiting for Paul Manafort’s second trial, which starts on September 24, and aren’t sure whether to be happy or blue about his plea deal falling apart.

We’re waiting to see what new fur balls the Michael Cohen prosecutions will cough up and we’re waiting Continue reading “Week 67: The Mueller Rumor Mill Is Working Overtime”

Are Journalists Allowed to Criticize John McCain?

I’m almost certain that a samizdat chapter of the Associated Press Stylebook exists that prohibits journalists from writing anything praiseful about Republicans—except when one dies or if the Republican’s name is John McCain.

Sen. McCain, who died this week, went to his grave festooned with a bundle of the most radiant tributes from the reporters who covered him. Taking to Twitter, the airwaves and print, journalists choked back tears to gush about how much the man meant to them. Sunday on MSNBC, anchor Kasie Hunt had to be restrained from throwing herself on his funeral pyre as she addressed him directly. “Sen. McCain, after a decade of trying to keep up with you in those marble hallways, I know the place that you so loved is going to be a lesser place without you,” Hunt said. “My hope for this Congress and this country is that remembering and honoring your Continue reading “Are Journalists Allowed to Criticize John McCain?”

Week 66: Trump Learns Loyalty Has Its Limits

Two of the president’s men jumped into the storm celler this week and locked it behind them to escape the legal storm tornadoing down on President Donald Trump.

On Friday we learned that Allen Weisselberg, the Trump Organization’s long-time financial consigliere and keeper of all of Trump’s personal money secrets, had accepted immunity from federal prosecutors in return for information on Michael Cohen. Cohen, his former attorney and go-to fixer, pleaded guilty this week to two felony campaign finance charges and claimed that Trump directed him to make the illegal hush-money payouts. Trump’s long-time friend and ally David Pecker, whose National Enquirer served as a sort of Pravda for the Trump campaign and the early months of his presidency, also grabbed the immunity life-ring.

Just a couple of days before the two Trump associates agreed to cooperate with prosecutors in exchange for information of value to the feds, the president Continue reading “Week 66: Trump Learns Loyalty Has Its Limits”

Does the New York Times Hate Its Reporters?

The New York Times made a horrible design decision this week, but it could be quickly corrected by pressing a few buttons on its content management system: It scrubbed the bylines for reported pieces from the home page of its website, preserving only the bylines for opinion pieces.

I’m sure the champions of this disfigurement believe that replacing bylines from the home page with white space has—in the cliché-speak of art directors—modernized the site, given it room to breathe, and streamlined and cleaned up its look. They’re probably right, but the new format also denies readers essential information about its news stories that helps us decide whether or not it’s worth clicking through to the articles. Oddly, neither of the two expansive online Times articles presenting the redesign—one introducing it to readers and the other charting how the redesign evolved, mention the elimination of home page bylines.

The move runs Continue reading “Does the New York Times Hate Its Reporters?”

Go Ahead, Ocasio-Cortez, Ban the Press

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez gave her candidacy for New York’s 14th Congressional District a Streisand Effect boost earlier this month by excluding the press from two public town hall events she staged for her potential constituents. The ban worked like a summer spotlight to attract the buzzing, biting insects of the press to Ocasio-Cortez as everybody from the New York Times to CNN to Fox News to ABC News landed on her backside to give her a sting or two for excluding them—and making her a bigger news phenomenon than she already was.

Here’s Ocasio-Cortez’s explanation for the ban. She believes that the vulnerabilities of her community (some were undocumented immigrants and presumably didn’t want to alert ICE to their whereabouts; others were victims of trafficking and domestic violence) made a closed-to-the-press but open-to-the-public meeting a necessity in our “threatening political time.” Besides, Ocasio-Cortez tweeted, the event had been pre-billed as Continue reading “Go Ahead, Ocasio-Cortez, Ban the Press”

John Brennan’s Trumpian Turn

John O. Brennan can’t say he didn’t ask for President Donald Trump’s extreme attention.

For obvious reasons, Trump would have to be the last person on the planet deserving of our sympathy after being roughed up by a trash-talker. But for the better part of a year, the former CIA director has been giving it to the president harder than the president gives it to anybody. Brennan has repeatedly picked, prodded and poked Trump about his Russia connections, seemingly determined to provoke a reaction. Appearing on CNN on November 12, 2017, Brennan said he thought Trump was “giving Putin a pass” by not confronting him directly about election tampering. “So it’s either naiveté, ignorance or fear in terms of what Mr. Trump is doing vis-a-vis the Russians,” Brennan continued.

Trump responded, calling Brennan and other national security types who oppose him “political hacks.” But the career spy Continue reading “John Brennan’s Trumpian Turn”

America’s Newspapers Just Played Right Into Trump’s Hands

Nothing flatters an independent journalist less than the sight of him forming a line to drink from the same fountain as his colleagues. Such a spectacle will unfold on Thursday, August 16, as 200 or more editorial pages will heed the call sounded by Boston Globe op-ed page editor Marjorie Pritchard to run editorials opposing President Donald Trump’s unrelieved press-bashing. Participating dailies include the Houston Chronicle, the Minneapolis Star Tribune, Miami Herald, the Denver Post, as well as the Globe. Joining the movement are the American Society of News Editor and the New England Newspaper and Press Association. Dan Rather is on board as is the Radio Television Digital News Association.

“Our words will differ. But at least we can agree that such attacks are alarming,” Pritchard’s appeal declared.

It goes without saying that press bashing, Trump-style, is alarming. His critiques rarely point to genuine Continue reading “America’s Newspapers Just Played Right Into Trump’s Hands”

Week 64: Trump’s Not Afraid of Lying to Mueller. Just Telling the Truth.

All the yelping by Rudolph W. Giuliani and Jay Sekulow about special counsel Robert S. Mueller III setting a “perjury trap” for President Donald Trump ignores the fact that their client, who has tweeted and spoken 4,229 (and counting) alternative facts since the inauguration, knows how to tell the truth when placed under oath. Deposed in his libel suit against journalist Timothy L. O’Brien in 2007, Trump concede 30 whoppers he’d told over the years—lies about his debts; his wealth; the size of his stake in a Manhattan development; what he charges to give speeches; the size of the Trump Organization; and so on.

Trump wasn’t entirely truthful in the deposition. You’d be disappointed if he had been, right? According to O’Brien, he lied about his business relationships with organized crime figures. But setting that fib aside for a moment, Trump isn’t so much afraid of being caught lying to Continue reading “Week 64: Trump’s Not Afraid of Lying to Mueller. Just Telling the Truth.”