Yesterday, I was critical of a segment by NBC News’ Chuck Todd that addressed the motion to dismiss the case against former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, including the use of a statement by President Obama without noting that he was wrong on the underlying charge and wrong on the absence of precedent (including a high-profile case from his own Administration). I previously called for the motion that was filed and criticized those who have ignored the clear evidence of prosecutorial abuse, including possible violations of Brady and standing court orders. It is always unnerving when Todd starts a discussion about the Trump Administration with “it is not partisan to say . . .” During Todd’s questioning of the panel on NBC’s Meet the Press, he used a clearly deceptive clip of a statement by Attorney General Bill Barr to suggest that Barr simply justified his decision as an exercise of raw power. Both the question and carefully clipped soundbite belie the later statement from Todd’s staff that the misrepresentation of Barr’s words as “inadvertently and inaccurately” edited. However, Todd has not issued an apology and NBC has only issued this brief statement. Such expectations seem quant relics in this age of rage and echo journalism. Many in the media seem to have embraced Hunter Thompson’s rejection of “objective journalism” as “a pompous contradiction in terms.” What is a contradiction in terms is this type of inadvertent journalism. (For full disclosure, I testified in favor of Barr’s confirmation before the Senate Judiciary Committee).
Todd used a tightly clipped portion of an interview of Barr with CBS News’ Catherine Herridge in which Herridge asked him how history would judge the decision to seek the dismissal of the Flynn case. Todd showed Barr laughing: “Well, history is written by the winners, so it largely depends on who’s writing the history.” The clip was clearly designed to set up his hit on Barr as he observed how he was “struck by the cynicism of the answer — it’s a correct answer, but he’s the attorney general. He didn’t make the case that he was upholding the rule of law. He was almost admitting that, yeah, this was a political job.”
Todd was fully aware that Barr did indeed make the case for upholding the rule of law with the decision. The whole interview was on that subject. Barr stated indeed following immediately with precisely the statement that Todd decried as shockingly absent from the interview: “Well, history is written by the winner. So it largely depends on who’s writing the history. But I think a fair history would say that it was a good decision because it upheld the rule of law. It helped, it upheld the standards of the Department of Justice and it undid what was an injustice.”
I have previously criticized Todd for raw partisan attacks often expressed as questions or quoting others.
Such partisan advocacy and attacks are now celebrated in many circles as the coverage devolves into a modern form of yellow journalism. The bias has been positively stifling with unrelentingly negative spins and distorted analysis. The only consistent element is the narrative from a media that seems uniformly on script in coverage. What remains is a smug cynicism reflected in the Todd segment, which NBC later shrugged off as “inadvertently and inaccurately” edited. The edit was made in obvious use to support Todd’s attack. Moreover, Todd’s question was premised on his having watched the interview so he knew that it was taken out of context. It was in other words premeditated to fit Todd’s narrative. The fact is that some in the media would prefer to distort the facts (and, in the Flynn case, even embrace prosecutorial misconduct) if it advances what has become movement journalism.
I have often criticized President Trump in columns and on this blog. Yet, even raising such clear violations of journalistic values is treated as sacrilegious in today’s mainstream media. There is an insatiable appetite for distorted legal analysis and a corresponding intolerance for any dissenting views. The Todd segment was another hit job that misrepresented facts to feed the demand of echo journalism.
“Better a good journalist than a poor assassin.” Todd made a poor journalist this week in order to be a better assassin.