SAN DIEGO – It’s hard to remember a time when a simple four-page memo caused so much trouble.
Depending on how you feel about President Trump, the memo in question – which was compiled by staffers in the office of Rep. Devin Nunes, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee – is either a smoking gun showing misbehavior by agencies during the Obama administration, or a giant “nothing burger.” The truth is probably somewhere in between.
For me, the memo – and the frenzied reaction to it by all sides – provides a chance to reflect on how broken our public discourse has become and how the media helped break it.
As an opinion journalist, it’s not my job to persuade people to my line of thinking or act as a mouthpiece for either political party. Frankly, both political parties are driven by self-interest and appear to be filled with people willing to lie to cover up wrongdoing.
My role is to simplify the complicated, put the news in context, and help explain a crazy world. Yet I can’t even begin that task until I help clear the air by taking in piles of information from a variety of sources, and sifting through them to separate the helpful from the hogwash.
In recent months, I’ve met many smart people who want to be good citizens and stay informed, but they find the process of sifting to be so exhausting that they’ve turned off their TV. They tell me that they don’t know whom – or what – to trust. They just want the facts. And all they see is fog.
I get it. Taking in too much media can be harmful – to your sanity. We live in strange times where, the more newspaper articles and TV news you consume, the more confused you become.
Now we have something else to sift through: hundreds of texts between Peter Strzok and Lisa Page, those lovestruck and loquacious FBI employees who were chatting about the investigations of both Hillary Clinton’s private email server and alleged collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign.
The fog is unbelievably thick. And every day, there is more. What there isn’t a lot of is answers, only questions.
Like this one: Did the FBI and the Justice Department mislead judges on the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) court by relegating to a footnote in a surveillance request the fact that an intelligence dossier was paid for by political opposition to Trump? If so, wouldn’t it have been better to say outright in the requests – which started under the Obama administration – that the funding came from the Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee?
Legal commentators – from across the spectrum – insist that this distinction matters and that the agencies should have divulged more information.
And on the other side, shouldn’t Trump supporters - even if they believe there was no collusion - be asking themselves why, in all the Trump-related scandals, so many roads lead to Russia? There are other countries on the globe, you know. Meanwhile, beware of all the misinformation that is out there. When law firms, public relations agencies, and political operatives start manipulating language, the goal isn’t to inform but to muddy the waters.
And the media only makes things muddier. Try this at home. Spend 30 minutes flipping between CNN and Fox News, spending a few minutes on each channel. Not only will you hear radically different perspectives on the same issue, but you’ll also see that the networks – who have chosen sides between the political parties – will often downplay stories that hurt their team and play up stories that hurt the opposing team.
Of course, media bias is nothing new. But, somehow, in the Trump era, it seems uglier and more sinister in both directions. The new norm – especially in broadcast media – is agenda-driven lobbying that gets disguised as journalism.
As a citizen of the republic, I have to ask: What happened to reporting? Why can’t news people just tell us what happened – the “who, what, when, where, why” litany that they used to teach in journalism school – and let us decide for ourselves what it all means? Why are they constantly trying to force feed us their point of view? And, if they are really after the facts – like they’re supposed to be – why not try to open doors rather than shut them?
Here’s a friendly reminder for my colleagues: We don’t work for the parties. We work for the people. And the best way to fulfill our duty is to serve the truth – straight up.
Ruben Navarrette’s email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. His daily podcast, “Navarrette Nation,” is available through every podcast app.