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November 22, 2017

Memo To Media: Don’t Let Up


Over the last few weeks, as it becomes clearer and clearer that the Russian hacking / collusion scandal is the most grave threat this country has faced quite possibly in its history, there has been a concerted effort by the alt-right media to not only dismiss the scandal as “phony,” but to engage in a campaign of misdirection.

For instance, when James Comey testified before the Senate, all the alt-right wanted to talk about was that he confirmed what Donald Trump had said: that he wasn’t under investigation. There was hardly any mention of the fact that the majority of his testimony also confirmed what many suspected: that Comey was fired because he wouldn’t let the Flynn investigation go. In other words, Trump was guilty of obstruction of justice.

Prior to the revelation that Trump’s son met with a Russian official to discuss information about Hillary Clinton, the alt-right was adamant that there was no evidence of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia. After Junior’s emails came out, their stance quickly changed from no collusion to what’s the big deal. Everyone colludes, move on.

We even heard from such journalistic stalwarts as Sean Hannity that the real culprit wasn’t the Trump campaign but, yeah you guessed it, the Obama Administration, because the Russian attorney who wanted to give Mini Me the goods on Hillary was allowed to enter the country by the Department of Justice. Oh and speaking of Hillary – you know the candidate who actually lost the 2016 election – her campaign supposedly met with Ukrainian officials to get dirt on Trump, so there.

But here’s the problem with the alt-right’s points: they’re completely superfluous. So what if the DOJ allowed a Russian official in? Sergey Lavrov and Sergey Kislyak have clearance to be in this country, and both are known spies. Just because someone is technically allowed to be in this country doesn’t mean it is appropriate to meet with them, nor does it obsolve one of his or her legal responsibility to do the right thing, which in the case of Donnie boy would’ve meant reporting the incident to the FBI.

And regarding the Clinton campaign’s alleged clandestine meeting – and both the DNC and Clinton campaign deny it took place – it does not even approach the level of the Trump Jr. meeting. For one thing, Ukraine is an ally of the United States, as opposed to Russia, which is anything but. And secondly, the former’s meeting concerned Paul Manafort, who was known to have ties with Ukraine. There is no evidence of an orchestrated attack on the Trump campaign by Ukrainian officials, or anyone else for that matter. The Trump Jr. meeting, on the other hand, was part of an on-going effort, directed by Vladimir Putin, to discredit Clinton and help Trump get elected. To even compare the two is asinine.

But the problem here, as it always is in any democratic society, is that once you float an alternative idea, no matter how frivolous it might be, there will always be some who bite on it. And in this age of social media and phony news outlets, all it takes is a little fertilizer and, before you know it, you’re knee-deep in a pile of shit.

I can already hear the fence sitters. Yeah, sure, Trump Jr. probably shouldn’t have met with that Russian attorney, but Hillary is just as bad because her people met with the Ukrainians. This is the same nonsense we heard throughout the 2016 campaign. The old false equivalence theme. One side is caught doing something dozens of times, but since the other side did it a couple of times, it’s basically a draw.

Look, I’ve said my piece about Hillary and her failed campaign. And I’ve been taken to task for it by some. I’m certainly not going to backtrack here. I stand behind every word I’ve written about her and her husband Bill. But the idea that she is the moral equivalent of Trump strains the bounds of credibility and belies everything we know about the two. And, to the great consternation of voters who fell for the scam last November, we as a country are now paying a dear price for it.

That is why it is vital to whatever future this country may have that the media not let up or be deterred from doing its job. It cannot fall into the “fair and balanced” trap that Trump and his supporters are setting for them, because there is no fair and balanced argument to be made here. It must resist with all its might any attempts to change the subject or deflect from the truth. Now is the time for stout minds and brave hearts to stiffen their spines and move courageously forward, fortified in their convictions and resistant to any and all threats to their legitimacy.

There will be those who will argue, perhaps with some merit, that there is a saturation effect risk to consider here. If you beat a story to death, they say, it will cease to have relevance. I have no doubt that the risk is real. But I would submit that the alternative – not giving this story the attention it demands – is far riskier. The Trump apologists are certainly not going to let up in their insistence that the Russia scandal is fake news, and to give that echo chamber an edge is the very definition of journalistic negligence.

Then there’s the other argument that some will make: that the media, in its zeal to cover the Russia scandal, could miss other legitimate news stories, such as the Senate healthcare bill and the recent discovery that the Trump White House published the personal information of people who wrote in protesting the voter fraud commission. Here’s my comeback to those who are concerned: Did Eric Sevareid or Walter Cronkite ever worry that their plates were too full? If the media in this country can’t walk and chew gum at the same time, we are truly screwed.

No, the only way to get at the truth is be relentless in the pursuit of it. Murrow took on McCarthy; Woodward and Bernstein brought down Nixon. These were great men who did not bow to pressure, but instead stood up to it. And we are all better off for their valiant service.

Back in February I wrote the following:

The threat could not be more real or the challenge more daunting. If the Fourth Estate cannot be the arbiters of truth, if they cannot stand up to this demagogue in the Oval Office, then this marvelous experiment we call democracy is finished. And like another well known, infamous figure of the 20th century, Donald Trump will be our last president and our first dictator.

Six months into this administration and the threat is just as real and the challenge just as daunting.

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Peter Fegan

Peter Fegan

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