The Tables Turn on Pelosi and the Media

Saturday was National Popcorn Day, but I’ve been nibbling on popcorn all week as Nancy Pelosi learned a lesson about presidential power and the media was gut checked by the special prosecutor. I haven’t had this much fun since election night 2016.

While she might have thought otherwise, the power of the commander-in-chief is far greater than that of the speaker of the House, and the humiliating way this was brought home to the congressional equivalent of Maerose Prizzi (h/t Michael Walsh) was something. She anticipated that she and her posse of cronies and their families (reports of a ninety-some entourage in all) would hop a military plane for a free trip to Brussels, Afghanistan, and Egypt, doubtless with fawning media coverage, leaving the president to sit alone in the White House hoping fruitlessly they’d toddle in there to negotiate an end to the shutdown. Reports vary as to whether she was on the tarmac or on her way there when the president cancelled the flight as incompatible during a shutdown when federal workers were not being paid and illegal aliens were continuing to invade. 

The president twisted the knife, suggesting she was free to fly commercial, which served as a reminder of the enormous tab she ran up on such flights the last time she was speaker. She thought she had the upper hand in this. She learned she certainly didn’t, and was last seen at Reagan Airport, with one aide and a single security agent, heading out of town to somewhere on a commercial flight. The president cancelled his own trip to Davos and required other similar travel on military airplanes be made only at the approval of the secretary of defense until there is a budget he can sign that provides for a secure border barrier.

This may well have been a tit-for-tat response to Pelosi’s claim that the president should postpone his State of the Union address because the House chambers in which such things normally occur could not provide adequate security, something the Secret Service decried as untrue. Nevertheless, nothing could have better revealed the speaker’s callous disregard for the unpaid government workers who vote overwhelmingly Democrat or for the others whose lives have been disrupted by the shutdown and the inadequate security at our southern border. Or the superior power of the commander-in-chief.

Shortly after this, the flimsy publication BuzzFeed, which earlier had printed now debunked scandalous dossier fabrications, carried a sensational account by two reporters, one of whom was Jason Leopold, a known fabulist

Those with hearts of stone will remember Jason Leopold from his days as a "Rove to be indicted" fantasist back in May 2006. Yeah, it all went to hell for Leopold and the only detail I remember was their changing of Rove's imminent arrest from "24 hours" to "24 business hours". I've never seen that term before or since, but it was a fun marker in the "Is there anything a hopeless partisan won't believe?" debate.

It claimed that Michael Cohen testified that Donald Trump had directed him to lie about a real-estate project in Russia.

For 12 hours the major media hyped the story, along with assertions by them and by Democrats that now they had him, that this was surely the basis for impeachment. Ronna McDaniel put together a montage of the frenzied coverage of the “bombshell”. Grabien did, too. Among the gems are these:

CBS News’s Paula Reid said: "If this 'BuzzFeed' news report is true, that the special counsel has evidence beyond just Michael Cohen's testimony, that the president directed his former personal attorney to lie to Congress, then we are likely on our way to possible impeachment proceedings. Because this, this is black and white.”

CNN’s Jim Sciutto said: "No reaction this morning from President Trump to a report that ties him directly to the very same offense for which the House of Representatives moved to impeach Richard Nixon and two decades later Bill Clinton...  The key offense at issue here is what is known as suborning or encouraging perjury, witness tampering, obstruction of justice."

MSNBC contributor Jill Wine Banks said: “I think this is the kind of evidence that could influence Republicans as well as Democrats to act faster. Because they are the ones who got lied to, and the public got lied to. There were also evidence of Nixon lying to the public as grounds for impeachment. And so while absolutely these are impeachment offenses and should be looked at for that, and we in Watergate decided that the best approach was the political one of impeachment, it didn’t mean that the crimes that were committed weren’t also subject to being indicted."

The Washington Post’s Eugene Robinson said: “

ROBINSON: “It’s not just Cohen raising his hand and saying , you know, I know this thing. There’s actual evidence backing it up. That's -- that is a huge deal. We are talking subornation of perjury. You know, we're talking -- we’re -- we're deep in the realm now of credibly impeachable offenses. There is no excuse for this. And there is no way to talk you way out of this. If this is true the president's in deep trouble.”

CNN and MSNBC alone made almost 200 references in 12 hours to the BuzzFeed story.   

The fun and games were soon over. In an unprecedented move, Special Counsel Mueller’s office said the story was untrue. 

Were the press, which peddled this bunk -- which they certainly knew was nonsense but failed to anticipate Mueller’s response -- chastened? Not really.

Don Surber fisked the after-incident tweets of Washington Post reporter Aaron Blake, tweet-by-tweet, and concluded: 

OK, now my reply.

The BuzzFeed story was false.

BuzzFeed stories throughout the Trump presidency have been false.

No real journalist would have gone with the story. "According to BuzzFeed" does not let reporters off the hook because they vouched for BuzzFeed by basing stories on its reporting.

Blake needs to apologize. Blake needs to decide if he is a reporter or a pundit. If the former, he needs to keep his opinions to himself, get all sides of the story, and treat them with equal respect.

If he chooses to be a pundit, he needs to use the 24 Hour Rule in commenting on news that makes President Trump look bad because those cigars keep exploding on Blake and all of Trump's enemies in the press. 

An even more savage analysis of today’s journalism was that of the trenchant David Burge (Iowahawk): “News 
there's a BuzzFeed Pulitzer in here somewhere.”

Meanwhile, there’s some big real news that the major media studiously avoid -- like what appears to be a major rounding-up of crooks in Illinois. (Ed Burke, a fifty-year alderman, was just indicted for extortion.) The latest arrest is of a DEA agent charged with conspiring to traffic guns and drugs with an international gang.

Just maybe, the extravagant salaries of the big-time news readers can be slashed, the money saved used to hire reporters who can do a better job on covering the the fine paid by Skadden Arps for failing to register under FARA when representing Ukrainian interests than did Bloomberg. 

Stuff like the firm’s work with Paul Manafort, Vin Weber and Tony Podesta to benefit Putin-backed Yanukovich. Or Cohen’s close relations with the Clintons, and his role in trying to frame Trump on their behalf.