NYT claims some issues too complex, but Durham filing requires reading left, right for a fair picture
By Gary Abernathy
Echo chambers on both sides provide fact and fiction
In the U.S., there is a left wing media echo chamber and a right wing media echo chamber, and each side spends much time calling out the other for bias or ignoring big stories altogether. Each side pretends that it’s the only side reporting news honestly and accurately.
In fact, only by reading both right wing and left wing news can a reader come away with a relatively reliable understanding of the truth — and those who claim that’s wrong, that you can only trust one side or the other, only reveal which side they’re on.
Case in point over the past week has been the reporting on the latest court filing by special counsel John Durham, who has been investigating the investigators in the Trump-Russia collusion hoax. And yes, the investigation into allegations of Russian collusion that dominated the first two years of Trump’s presidency was, by any reasonable estimation, a hoax — an example of a political faction on the left successfully convincing law enforcement to carry out a probe based almost entirely on insinuation and innuendo, including the discredited Steele dossier. And, sadly, many within law enforcement, especially at the FBI under James Comey, were more than happy to comply.
After it was over — wrapped up by the Mueller Report — Durham was appointed by then-Attorney General William Barr to determine whether the Trump-Russia investigation was properly handled, which it obviously was not. Keep in mind that before he became attorney general, Barr was widely lauded as a top-notch, fair and balanced, law-and-order public servant. When Barr was appointed attorney general in 2019 just before Robert Mueller completed his report, the Washington Post reported:
A Justice Department official told The Washington Post last month that Barr is viewed at the department as “a lawyer’s lawyer” and is seen as less politically minded than his predecessors, Jeff Sessions and former acting attorney general Matthew G. Whitaker. His latest stint at the Justice Department caps a long career of public service. Barr, a Republican, worked at the CIA for four years in the 1970s. He served as a domestic policy staffer in the Reagan White House and became deputy attorney general under President George H.W. Bush in 1990, and then served as attorney general from 1991 to 1993.
Of course, after it became clear that Barr would follow the law and not join the Trump-Russia witch hunt, the narrative from the left changed, with Barr portrayed as a “toady” for Trump.
The same pattern is holding true for John Durham, who, a few months after he was appointed by Barr to look into the Russia probe, was described in glowing terms in an Associated Press profile as follows:
In his 41-year career as a prosecutor, John Durham, the U.S. attorney for Connecticut, has led investigations into the FBI’s cozy relationship with Boston mobsters such as James “Whitey” Bulger and the CIA’s use of tough interrogation techniques on terrorism suspects. Former colleagues and defense lawyers who have squared off against him say he is unlikely to be concerned about any fallout from his findings during this new assignment. “Whoever put him in charge, I hope they didn’t expect him to be a yes man and follow the script, because he will follow the evidence relentlessly and call it as he sees it,” said Hugh Keefe, a defense attorney in New Haven.
But, like Barr, Durham is now routinely belittled since it doesn’t appear he’s any more willing to ignore the political motivations that led to “Russiagate” than was Barr.
Only by reading and watching both the right wing and left wing echo chambers can we come away with a somewhat balanced picture of Durham’s recent court filing.
The right wing frames the filing like this, per Fox News:
Lawyers for the Clinton campaign paid a technology company to "infiltrate" servers belonging to Trump Tower, and later the White House, in order to establish an "inference" and "narrative" to bring to government agencies linking Donald Trump to Russia, a filing from Special Counsel John Durham found. … "In connection with these efforts, Tech Executive-1 exploited his access to non-public and/or proprietary Internet data," the filing states. "Tech Executive-1 also enlisted the assistance of researchers at a U.S.-based university who were receiving and analyzing large amounts of Internet data in connection with a pending federal government cybersecurity research contract." "Tech Executive-1 tasked these researchers to mine Internet data to establish 'an inference' and 'narrative' tying then-candidate Trump to Russia," Durham states. "In doing so, Tech Executive-1 indicated that he was seeking to please certain 'VIPs,' referring to individuals at Law Firm-1 and the Clinton campaign."
By contrast, the left wing outlets seek to explain it all away and claim that sources like Fox News are getting it all wrong.
Here’s the New York Times’ analysis — in the news section, not the opinion section —by Charlie Savage, the Times’ national security and legal policy correspondent, who focuses at least as much on how conservative media reported the story as on the facts of the story itself:
Fox News inaccurately declared that Mr. Durham had said he had evidence that Hillary Clinton’s campaign had paid a technology company to “infiltrate” a White House server. The Washington Examiner claimed that this all meant there had been spying on Mr. Trump’s White House office. And when mainstream publications held back, Mr. Trump and his allies began shaming the news media. … “What Trump and some news outlets are saying is wrong,” said Jody Westby and Mark Rasch, both lawyers for Mr. Dagon. “The cybersecurity researchers were investigating malware in the White House, not spying on the Trump campaign, and to our knowledge all of the data they used was nonprivate DNS data from before Trump took office.”
But the most astounding statement in this analysis was one describing and defending why the mainstream media is slow to report certain stories. Consider this reasoning from the Times in setting up its analysis of the Durham filing:
But the entire narrative appeared to be mostly wrong or old news — the latest example of the challenge created by a barrage of similar conspiracy theories from Mr. Trump and his allies. Upon close inspection, these narratives are often based on a misleading presentation of the facts or outright misinformation. They also tend to involve dense and obscure issues, so dissecting them requires asking readers to expend significant mental energy and time — raising the question of whether news outlets should even cover such claims. Yet Trump allies portray the news media as engaged in a cover-up if they don’t.
I’ve put one sentence above in bold to highlight it, because it is so telling. Consider its implications:
It declares the Durham filing to be among conspiracy theory narratives from the right that include “dense and obscure issues.”
It complains that “dissecting them” — i.e., reporting on them — requires readers “to expend significant mental energy and time — raising the question of whether news outlets should even cover such claims.”
Really? The New York Times determines whether stories should be covered based on whether the issues involved are too “dense and obscure,” and whether readers will have to “expend significant mental energy and time?” And it apparently assumes that other outlets are using the same standards.
I was hardly alone in finding that reasoning outrageous. Mark Weaver, a crisis communications expert and prosecutor who has served in the U.S. Justice Department and the Ohio Attorney General’s office, pushed back on the Times’ reasoning, tweeting, “When Watergate first broke, it was a confusing chain of different players, plots, and connections. It’s the job of journalists to (without bias) bring clarity so readers/viewers can make up their own mind about the issues of the day.”
Another tweet from a former law clerk asked, "Does it require too much 'mental energy' for Times readers to dissect that Savage just said they are too stupid to understand complex discussions?" Good question.
Back in 2019, I wrote a piece for the Washington Post encouraging Americans to read and watch news from both the right and left, framing it in terms of former President Donald Trump’s frequent allegations of “fake news.” I wrote:
But Trump’s real complaint, shared by his supporters, is about emphasis and packaging. A fact favorable to Trump might be buried in the eighth or ninth paragraph of a New York Times article, but serve as the lead item on Fox News. Both outlets can lay claim to reporting the same details, but the gravity assigned to them is where editorial judgment and, yes, ideology come into play. That’s why news consumers who are sincerely interested in forming the most accurate opinions are best served by forcing themselves to wade through the political prejudices evident in almost all news media to discern for themselves those reports that have merit.”
People of all political persuasions should spend time each day perusing every major newspaper and the most popular online platforms, as well as sampling all the cable networks, even if it’s painful. Why? Because good journalism exists in all those places, and it’s worth discovering — even when it’s wrapped inside a partisan package.
Whether the Durham filing represents another Watergate, as some on the right have claimed, or is just a Nothingburger, as most on the left say, will only be revealed down the road. It most likely falls somewhere in between — but you can only know that by consuming information from both the right wing and left wing echo chambers.
Despite verdict, Sarah Palin case was a loss for media
A jury this week ruled against Sarah Palin and in favor of the New York Times in Palin’s libel suit against the newspaper.
If you don’t know the details of the case, you’re probably not someone who would be reading this newsletter, but you can find it all at the link above.
As a conservative, I’m upset that newspapers like the Times would write an editorial going out of its way to link a conservative like Palin to a shooting incident that had nothing to do with her or anything her campaign had done. The Times editorial page reached back in time to drag up an already discredited connection between Palin’s campaign and another shooting incident. You would be forgiven for concluding that the liberal Times was finding some way to point fingers at a conservative for an incident in which Republicans were the ones targeted.
But as a journalist, I’m happy for the verdict by both the judge and jury. No journalist wants to see it made easier to be successfully sued. And even where irresponsibility abounds, protecting the press from reprisals by public figures is an important safeguard in a free society.
By the way, since the media always points out when a judge is a Republican appointee, but seldom the other way around, let’s point out here that the judge in the Palin-NYT case was a Clinton appointee.
Palin will likely appeal the verdict, and it will be interesting to see how that goes. Whatever ultimately happens, the fact that the Palin case was allowed to go to trial was a big deal and a warning to media outlets to be even more cautious about claims involving their subjects. The New York Times was editorially reckless in the Palin case, even if not legally so.
Trump accountant cuts ties; no discrepancies ‘as a whole’
There’s been a lot made over Donald Trump’s accounting firm cutting ties with him and saying that 10 years worth of Trump Organization financial statements "should no longer be relied upon."
For sure, it’s a legitimate story. But it smacks of a firm, Mazars, trying to cover its own, uh, assets while throwing a client under the bus — especially a client so clearly in the legal crosshairs. Not as widely commented on was this additional statement from Mazars clarifying that “we have not concluded that the various financial statements, as a whole, contain material discrepancies…”
What does that mean? “As a whole,” they have not concluded material discrepancies. So discrepancies in part? In one instance? Two? Who knows. Again, it smacks of a CYA situation. Real news, but as with the Durham filing, maybe something big, maybe a Nothingburger.
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