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Biden's White House goes beyond spin, instructs media: 'Ramp up scrutiny' of House Republicans
By Gary Abernathy
Mainstream media should denounce WH ‘marching orders’
Every politician and political organization engages in “spin,” the effort to put the best face on events. But it was remarkable to learn this week that in the wake of the House of Representatives opening an impeachment inquiry, the White House went far beyond trying to spin the inquiry and instead sent a letter to key media outlets encouraging them to “ramp up” their scrutiny of Republicans.
“It’s time for the media to ramp up its scrutiny of House Republicans for opening an impeachment inquiry based on lies,” Ian Sams, a spokesperson for the White House Counsel’s Office, wrote in the letter, which was first obtained by CNN.
The letter, which said an impeachment inquiry with no supporting evidence should “set off alarm bells for news organizations,” was sent to executives helming the nation’s largest news organizations, including CNN, The New York Times, Fox News, the Associated Press, CBS News, and others, a White House official familiar with the matter said.
CNN reported that Sams added, “Covering impeachment as a process story – Republicans say X, but the White House says Y – is a disservice to the American public who relies on the independent press to hold those in power accountable. … And in the modern media environment, where every day liars and hucksters peddle disinformation and lies everywhere from Facebook to Fox, process stories that fail to unpack the illegitimacy of the claims on which House Republicans are basing all their actions only serve to generate confusion, put false premises in people’s feeds, and obscure the truth.”
The fact that the letter came from the White House Counsel’s Office is telling. As constitutional legal expert Jonathan Turley points out in a column:
First, as I have previously noted, the White House is now actively involved in pushing narratives and denying factual allegations linked to the Biden corruption scandal. That could create Nixonian-type allegations of the abuse of office in the use of federal employees to counter impeachment efforts.
Second, the letter was drafted by Ian Sams, a spokesperson for the White House Counsel’s Office. So White House lawyers are now enlisting the media in a counter media campaign against impeachment? The letter removes any pretense of separation between the Biden personal legal team and the White House Counsel’s office. Sams has been the most aggressive White House official in actively swatting down allegations of corruption as well as the President’s documents investigation.
Third, the letter calls for the media to actively support the White House account. The draft of the letter is a call for what I have previously criticized as “advocacy journalism” where reporters frame stories to advance their own viewpoints or values.
The fact that the Biden White House feels comfortable issuing what amounts to, as Turley put it, “marching orders” to news organizations is an example of the symbiotic relationship that increasingly seems to exist between the Democratic Party and much of the mainstream media in a way that positions those two entities on one side of the aisle, with Republicans on the other.
The lengths to which many in the mainstream media have gone to dismiss clearly incriminating evidence of President Biden’s involvement with son Hunter’s business dealings already borders on embarrassing. The White House suggesting that the media should “ramp up” its scrutiny of Republicans for daring to take their investigations to the next level is chilling. Mainstream media outlets should publicly and vociferously denounce such efforts. Will they?
NYT continues to repeat fake Devon Archer quote
On the same subject, everyone knows that trust in the media is plummeting, which should disturb all of us who work in journalism. But it’s not hard to figure out why when our most vaunted news outlets continue to perpetuate that which has been demonstrated to be completely false.
Case in point: The New York Times this week did a story on President Biden keeping his son Hunter close despite Hunter’s mounting legal jeopardy. In recounting the congressional testimony of Hunter’s business associate Devon Archer, the Times wrote this:
Still, Hunter Biden’s business dealings have raised concerns because testimony and reports have indicated that he traded on the family name to generate lucrative deals. Devon Archer, Hunter’s former business partner, told congressional investigators that Hunter used “the illusion of access to his father” to win over potential partners.
In fact, as has been widely corrected, Archer never told anyone that Hunter used “the illusion of access to his father.” That was a phrase used by Rep. Dan Goldman (D-NY) during questioning of the younger Biden, and Goldman later tried to sell that to the media — apparently successfully — as a direct quote from Archer.
But as a story by CBS News’s Catherine Herridge and many others have pointed out, the conversation actually went like this:
The transcript shows Goldman used the term "illusion of access" in his line of questioning, and Archer's answers were more nuanced.
He asked Archer, "Is it fair to say that Hunter Biden was selling the illusion of access to his father?"
Archer replied, "Yes."
Goldman followed up, "So, when you talk about selling the brand, it's not about selling access to his father. It's about selling the illusion of access to his father. Is that fair?"
Archer replied, "Is that fair? I mean, yeah, that is — I think that's — that's almost fair."
Goldman asked, "'Almost fair.' Why, 'almost fair?'"
"Because there are touch points and contact points that I can't deny that happened, but nothing of material was discussed," Archer said.
And yet, the New York Times continues to quote the “illusion of access” comment as though it was uttered by Archer. In fact, it was a phrase used by a Democratic congressman trying to create the most favorable spin for the Bidens. The Times knows this, but instead of pointing it out, it remains a willing participant in the Biden spin game.
Let’s also be clear about his: Hunter Biden wasn’t peddling the “illusion of access.” He was presenting actual access. Joe Biden calling in to talk with Hunter’s business associates, or stopping by to say hello, is actual access, whether or not they discussed anything substantive. The “illusion of access” would have been someone impersonating Joe Biden. Biden himself, on the phone or in person, is actual access, not the illusion of access.
Talking GOP debate, Trump mugshot on NewsHour
With David Brooks and Jonathan Capehart both away, Kansas-based journalist and author Sarah Smarsh and I were asked to fill in on the PBS NewsHour a couple of weeks ago to discuss the Republican presidential debate and former president Donald Trump’s latest indictment — and his mugshot, which, to me, was given outsized significance across most media platforms.
NewsHour host Geoff Bennett moderated and sought our input on the debate’s focus on abortion, climate change and Ukraine. Check out the conversation above.
Speaking of the GOP debate, it was fun joining my fellow right-leaning Washington Post columnists Megan McArdle, Henry Olsen, Ramesh Ponnuru, Marc Thiessen and Jason Willick to do live commentary during the debate. You can check out the transcript here.
Ruling in Trump’s Georgia case a rare step toward sanity
As the Washington Post reported, “A Georgia judge ruled Thursday that Donald Trump and 16 of his co-defendants won’t have to go to trial in October with two defendants who have sought a speedy trial, effectively denying an Atlanta-area prosecutor’s bid to try all 19 together in the sprawling criminal case alleging interference in Georgia’s 2020 presidential election.”
It was a rare instance of a favorable court ruling for Trump, but clearly the right decision. The right to a speedy trial belongs to the accused, not the prosecution. Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis’s move to force Trump and everyone else to be ready for trial in October was ridiculous.
I’ve made it clear that in my view all the prosecutions against Trump are unwise and unnecessary, and only strengthen him politically. But of all the indictments pending against Trump, the Georgia case is the one that most obviously should be dismissed. “Election interference” is already being handled at the federal level by the Justice Department.
Even the Post’s Ruth Marcus — no Trump defender — opined a few weeks ago that “there is a concern about piling on here. Why stop at Georgia? The federal indictment sets out conduct in six other states in which Trump and his co-conspirators allegedly sought to overturn the election results. Will he be prosecuted in those states, too? At some point, it becomes unfair — yes, even to Trump — to go state by state. That’s why the federal approach is preferable.”
Willis is essentially a county prosecutor wielding her power to haul in everyone from state officials to a former president and line them up for mugshots. Hopefully, this week’s ruling in the first step in bringing some much-needed sanity to the “get Trump” frenzy happening across the legal system.
No one’s budging on Trump, so what do we do now?
Last month in the Post I wrote about the fact that everyone is dug in on the subject of Donald Trump. Love him or hate him, no one is changing their mind, regardless of indictments, justified or unjustified, or scandals, real or imagined. So what, as a country, do we do about that fact?
Some Trump haters are suggesting that it’s time to take a stand against family members or friends who still support Trump. I gave an example:
In the Atlantic this month, Tom Nichols urged Americans — based on the latest indictment, mind you — to stop tolerating Trump-loving family members and friends, even if it risks those relationships.
Nichols declared that “every American citizen who cares about the Constitution should affirm, without hesitation, that any form of association with Trump is reprehensible, that each of us will draw moral conclusions about anyone who continues to support him, and that these conclusions will guide both our political and personal choices.”
Let me understand: I’m supposed to jeopardize my relationship with my parents (on the eve of their 70th wedding anniversary no less) along with other treasured family members and lifelong friends by asserting a “moral conclusion” that their support for Trump makes them unworthy of further association? Not in this lifetime.
In fact, refusing to associate with people over political differences is the worst thing we could do for the cause of democracy. I summed it up like this:
For the record, I think it would be a mistake for voters to reward Trump with the presidency again. But I also think the indictments against Trump are a mistake. They will ensure nonstop national turmoil and might well help elect him.
But agreement on the subject is clearly beyond us. If no one can change anyone else’s mind, is there any way to break the endless cycle of mutually destructive behavior? Yes, but only by accepting our differences rather than demanding acquiescence.
Cutting ties and retreating to our bubbles is the way to alienation and paralysis. Loving and respecting one another is democracy’s best hope — an eternal truth, with or without Trump in the equation.
You can read the whole column here.
A friend’s journey to Ukraine leaves me in awe
This week, thanks to the agreement of my editor, I was able to go beyond the usual parameters of my Post contributions to write more of an essay about Ukraine — specifically in regard to how I am inspired by the actions of a longtime friend, Jim Nathanson.
I discuss the fact that Jim and I agree on most issues, but we have not been completely sympatico on the subject of U.S. involvement in Ukraine. I explained it like this:
I believe that Russia’s hostilities are appalling, and that the United States should ally itself with Ukraine to every reasonable degree. But I’m concerned that threats facing our own country are being given short shrift while we focus attention and resources on a long-simmering European conflict. The United States should not be — can scarcely afford to be — the world’s cop.
Jim has a more visceral response. When not biting his lip during our disagreements, he has unleashed tirades against Vladimir Putin, the attack on Ukraine and the duty of the free world — especially the United States — to repudiate Russia’s aggression at any cost short of American troops on the ground.
Then one day, Jim — recently widowed and now age 78 — declared he was going to Ukraine, simply as a personal show of support. I write about his journey — the decision and preparation to go, followed by the actual trip and return home — and the mental and emotional journey I took with him.
I quote from several emails Jim was able to send during his visit. Here’s one of them, right after he arrived in Ukraine:
At 11:10 local time, after more than six months of planning and anticipation, I cleared passport control and stepped foot on to Ukrainian soil.
I don’t know what will happen over the next three days; to some extent, that is mere detail. What matters is that I’m here.
I decided to come to Ukraine for no other reason than to show my support for the Ukrainian people as they battle Putin’s naked aggression. I believe that what is happening here may well be one of the defining moments of our time. A vital chapter in the never ending struggle between freedom and tyranny.
It’s time to take sides.
I recount other stories and thoughts — from Jim and from my own ruminations, and I conclude with these words:
If a dear friend cares this passionately about something, shouldn’t I at least try to understand his point of view? Shouldn’t we all try harder to comprehend why people often care so deeply about things we don’t easily understand?
I’ve come to realize that Jim’s journey didn’t start this summer when he boarded that plane in Cincinnati. Nor did it begin in February 2022 when Russia invaded Ukraine. Its footprints can be traced to those collective moments in his life when he realized the importance of standing up to be counted. Such moments come to us all, with mixed results.
When Jim traveled to Ukraine, his trip did not make headlines, and few took note of his presence. But after stepping onto Ukrainian soil, he wrote, “I’m here!” When such moments beckon, may we all find the courage to make the same declaration.
It’s about a 2,000 word piece, but take some time and check it out here.
We’re a nation of immigrants, but we need strong borders
Even if there is debate about degrees, most Americans understand why we have an interest in helping Ukraine defend its borders. But support might be stronger if the Biden administration seemed just as concerned with securing the United States’ southern border.
For those who claim our border crisis is overstated, please note the news coming out of New York City. This, from ABC7 in New York on Monday:
Mayor Eric Adams has said many times that the migrant crisis will impact every single part of the city, and now we know he has directed all city agencies to cut their budgets by 5%.
That includes essential services like sanitation, the fire department and the NYPD.
Cuts could grow as high as 15% by next spring as the city has projected the cost of the migrant crisis to be $12 billion by fiscal year 2025.
Adams said it is his responsibility to warn New Yorkers that there will be cuts to city services without federal money to pay for asylum seekers.
"The economic impact of this on New Yorkers is going to be devastating and I must be honest with New Yorkers I can't sugarcoat this, I can't try to be politically correct."
While Adams is being somewhat frank here, he’s also glossing over the situation when he claims that the crisis involves only “asylum seekers.” No doubt, many of those illegally crossing the border in record numbers, including those ending up in New York City, will eventually apply for asylum. But we know that many who come here are fleeing from justice in their home countries, and then continuing their criminal enterprises in this country, from drug dealing to violent crimes. The chart below from U.S. Customs and Border Protection is pretty plain in regard to what’s happened before and after the Trump administration.
As U.S. Border Patrol explains, “The term ‘criminal noncitizen’ refers to individuals who have been convicted of one or more crimes, whether in the United States or abroad, prior to interdiction by the U.S. Border Patrol; it does not include convictions for conduct that is not deemed criminal by the United States.”
Some might say that the number of arrests is relatively small compared to overall border crossings. But of those 12,028 criminal noncitizen arrests in 2022, 1,142 were for assault or domestic violence, 365 were for sex offenses, and 62 were for homicide or murder. Is it really possible to overstate the problems in a system where offenders such as those are slipping through the cracks every year?
Notice, they were convicted of crimes “prior to interdiction by the U.S. Border Patrol,” meaning they already have criminal records. And these were the people who were caught; there’s no way to no how many with criminal records make there way in without being apprehended. Some reasonable estimates say that only 68 percent of those crossing the border illegally are captured, meaning that about 1.6 million are not apprehended each year.
The border patrol statistics above on noncitizen arrests are compiled from law enforcement agencies as described here: “Records checks of available law enforcement databases following the apprehension of an individual may reveal a history of criminal conviction(s). That conviction information is recorded in a U.S. Customs and Border Protection database, from which the data (above) is derived.”
Of those asylum applications deemed legitimate for consideration, only 30 to 40 percent are granted, meaning most asylum seekers are denied and are not here under legitimate circumstances.
We are a nation of immigrants, and we should all welcome legal immigration and legitimate asylum seekers. People who claim that those who want to crack down on the border are either racist or heartless or anti-immigrant are missing the point, too often intentionally. All Americans, regardless of race, gender, religion or other diversifying features, have a stake in making sure that people entering the U.S. are properly vetted. Such screening is important for everyone’s safety, for our economy and for our infrastructure. Communities should not have to face the cut of essential services — like police and fire — because of the increased burden of illegal migration.
The border crisis stops at President Biden’s doorstep. Support for intervention in other countries would probably rise in proportion to the level of security being substantially increased on our own border, with measurable results — such as cities not having to cut services or redirect their resources.
One last thing…
This story in the Washington Post about an effort among conservative residents of Oregon to move the state border to make several Oregon counties part of neighboring Idaho is worth a read. Here’s an excerpt:
These twin towns across an old border straddle a seam in the nation’s deepening political polarization, neighboring opposites living under starkly different laws. The river separates states that, perhaps more than in any other part of the nation, embrace the two parties’ most extreme positions on gun control, abortion rights, environmental regulation, drug legalization and other issues at the center of the American political debate.
The result in eastern Oregon, from the volcanic Cascade Range to this border town, is a sense of profound political alienation. The disaffection among conservatives has spawned a movement to change the state’s political dynamic in a novel if quixotic way — rather than relocate or change the politics, which seems impossible to many here, why not move the border and become residents who live under the rules of Idaho?
Under our current political polarization, it’s a trend that’s likely to expand.
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