SAN DIEGO – There are some basic truths that hold even during the Trump-inspired meltdown of the modern media.
In one of the latest examples of our information crisis, CNN took a story this week about how a friend of Donald Trump said after a meeting at the White House that he thought the president was considering firing Robert Mueller. Then the network sloppily repackaged the story so it could report that Trump was, in fact, thinking about terminating the special counsel. Then CNN got a whole bunch of people to comment – from pundits and reporters to elected officials – and used those quotes to serve as the new jumping off point for a day’s worth of stories.
And when House Speaker Paul Ryan objected and pointed out the whole story was manufactured by the media, CNN anchors tried to justify their boo-boo by saying that some conservative pundits like Ann Coulter have called for Mueller’s removal and insisting that the White House had yet to deny the story.
You know liberals are busted when they’re desperate enough to seek cover behind a rhetorical arsonist like Ann Coulter.
What in the world has happened to my profession? It seems that many journalists – especially those in the New York-Washington echo chamber – are so personally offended by the idea of Trump being president, and so embarrassed that they missed the big story of how someone like Trump could get elected, that they’ve thrown out the rule book and forgotten everything we were ever taught by crusty old editors about double-sourcing and triple-checking.
Yet, certain truths still apply:
– The best-written columns, and the most credible newscasts, are the ones we most agree with.
– The best constructed and most persuasive arguments are the ones that share our position.
And finally – thanks to the opinion storm following James Comey’s testimony – we can add to the list:
– In any “he said, he said” situation, the more believable person is the one we support.
– And while it’s up to the criminal justice system to make the punishment fit the crime, you will find lawyers who – guided by partisanship – can find a crime to fit a president.
If you like Trump, you thought Comey lied from start to finish. If you dislike Trump, you believed the former FBI director told the truth from beginning to end.
One exception to that rule – and a refreshing one at that – is retired Harvard Law School professor Alan Dershowitz, who didn’t let his opposition to Trump (he claims to have voted for Hillary Clinton) stop him from offering straight legal analysis.
On CNN, Dershowitz argued that Comey’s testimony revealed no evidence of a crime. The president has the legal authority to stop an FBI investigation, and thus there can be no obstruction of justice. The fact that there have been so many other lawyer-pundits trying to argue otherwise – while standing on shaky constitutional ground – shows just how far we’ve drifted off course.
Exhibit A: CNN senior legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin, a Harvard Law graduate himself who has insisted all along – before much of the facts are in – that this is a clear-cut case of obstruction of justice that may ultimately lead to impeachment.
This is where Trump’s critics go astray. They mix together – in one pot – the legal term “obstruction of justice” and the political concept of “impeachment.” The former has a much higher standard, and operates within much narrower parameters, than the latter. All you need for impeachment is 218 votes in the House of Representatives. Proving obstruction of justice, or even charging someone with that crime, is much more difficult.
So says Elizabeth Foley, a sharp-as-nails lawyer and law professor at Florida International University. During an appearance on CNN’s “Fareed Zakaria GPS,” Foley did to the host, and Harvard Law professor Lawrence Tribe – a vocal supporter of Hillary Clinton, and early Trump critic – what a sushi chef does to raw fish. Foley’s main point was that, under existing federal code, it is not clear that an FBI investigation is one of the procedures that an individual can be charged with obstructing.
Zakaria’s response was to meekly plead with Foley not to get “too technical.”
Not to get too technical, but the evidence shows that Trump’s persecutors – in the media, Congress and the nation’s law schools – have gone off the rails. They’re not thinking clearly. In some cases, they’re not thinking at all.
Ruben Navarrette’s email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.