Everything that’s wrong with our media is summed up in a headline on Politico today: “ ‘Really shocking’: Trump’s meddling in Stone case stuns Washington: Alarmed veterans of the Justice Department said the legal system was entering uncharted territory.” The headline, to an article by Natasha Bertrand and Daniel Lippman, refers, of course, to the resignation of four justice department lawyers from the team prosecuting Roger Stone after their recommendation of a seven-to-nine-year sentence for relatively trivial process crimes was overruled by their superiors. President Trump’s outraged tweet against such a draconian punishment of a sixty-seven-year-old first-time offender was believed by the President’s enemies, long accustomed to thinking the worst of him on every conceivable occasion, improperly to have influenced Attorney General William Barr’s rebuke of his subordinates.
But let us count the ways in which Politico is engaged in dishonest reporting. First, no one in Washington can have been “stunned” or “shocked” by Trump’s “meddling,” any more than Captain Renault was by the gambling at Rick’s in Casablanca. Take the media’s own word for it. Everywhere they have been saying for months—to be precise, since Attorney General Barr’s entirely accurate summary of the Mueller report was sent to Congress—that the Justice Department under his leadership was acting like Mr. Trump’s personal attorney rather than working on behalf of the American people (by which, of course, they mean the media–Democrat alliance). The New York Times’s editorial today repeats the charge. Similarly, today’s Washington Post editorial reads: “The degradation of William Barr’s Justice Department is nearly complete”—that is to say, we’ve been telling you all along that something like this would happen.
In other words, nobody at Politico’s mother church appears to be either “shocked” or “stunned.” Or even surprised. Moreover, neither Politico nor The Washington Post—nor anyone else in D.C., or out of it, who has been paying attention—could have any excuse for not knowing that Mr. Trump’s intervention had to have been courted by the anti-Trump (and team-Mueller) Justice Department lawyers, who themselves cannot not have known what would be his (and Mr. Barr’s) response to their asking for such an outrageously and patently unjust sentence for Mr. Stone. That’s why they did it: so that they could pretend to be indignant at his “meddling” and resign from the case in an attempt to drum up yet more scandal against the President. Of course, Politico was just one of numerous media outlets to immediately oblige them by printing headlines like this one.
Next, there could be no “meddling” by the President, since supervising the work of the Justice Department is his constitutional responsibility. The New York Times editorial mentioned above pretends that the Constitution bars the president from any intervention in the Justice Department because it enjoins him to “take care that the laws be faithfully executed”—something he could hardly do if the Justice Department was, as the editorialists appear to imagine, a law unto itself. But the media continue to keep up the polite fiction that the constitutional boss has no right to be boss over insubordinate underlings, even those whose loyalties clearly lie with the anti-Trump forces of the media and the Democrats rather than their nominal head. Nor, as they also cannot possibly not know, is this anything like “uncharted territory.” Nobody at Politico—or anywhere else—was the least bit “shocked” or “stunned” when Eric Holder described himself as Barack Obama’s “wing man.”
If such transparent dishonesty can be no surprise to anyone with the great misfortune of having perused the media for the past four years, the question must arise as to how the media themselves can be unaware of it—if they are unaware of it. It is hard indeed to swallow the notion that Natasha Bertrand and Daniel Lippman, like most of their colleagues in the fabled mainstream media, go to work every day and cast about for new ways to lie to their readers, even if we grant that their readers are demanding to be lied to. Yet it is even harder to suppose that they don’t know they’re lying. I think they must conceive of their jobs as a species of what used to be called “creative writing” but is now just called “writing.”
Fiction, in other words, and the willing suspension of disbelief that it demands, are both justified by their being in the service of what they suppose to be a “higher truth.” The higher truth in this case is that Donald Trump is a bad man and an illegitimate president who must be embarrassed and shamed at every opportunity until he is driven from office, and the media consensus about our political direction and decorum, which he has done so much to displace, is back in the driver’s seat. It’s true that the exercise of power often depends on the maintenance of polite fictions of one sort or another, but the media’s own polite fiction of being disinterested truth-seekers cannot survive so obvious a descent into propagandizing and scandal-mongering. They may find in time that their legendary power to influence public opinion cannot survive it either.