Random Notes: Biden's documents, Republicans' investigations, the Supreme Court's expanding ethics problem, and more
Aren't you glad this isn't six separate emails?
Cleaning out some open tabs …
Biden documents (still) aren’t having the political impact the press claims
A couple weeks ago in this space I detailed the New York Times’ relentless hyping of the Biden document discovery, and their repeated insistence that, although substantively quite different than Donald Trump’s flamboyant refusal to properly handle classified information, the Biden documents are a political nightmare for Biden and let Trump “off the hook” for his wrongdoing. Today,reviews recent polling and notes that “two weeks of intense coverage about his handling of classified documents has not done damage to the President.” Dan concludes:
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The politics could change dramatically if more information comes out or either is charged with a crime. But today, the political fallout from the classified documents issue is limited. This is a good reminder that there is often a large dissonance between the issues that get the political media and committed partisans worked up and the issues that affect electoral outcomes.
Indeed. Like I keep saying: One reason news companies should stop trying to substitute punditry for journalism is that punditry doesn’t tell readers anything useful — and another reason is that they aren’t very good at it.
Speaking of fake scandals, POLITICO published a primer about the oncoming deluge of Republican congressional investigations, under the headline “The House GOP is starting its many investigations this week. Here’s what to know.” With a headline like that, a reader might reasonably hope POLITICO would explain the single most important thing about these investigations: That they are entirely in bad faith, and everything about them should be taken with an entire shaker of salt. Ever since Republicans subpoenaed the Clinton White House cat, they’ve abused congressional oversight authority to smear Democratic targets. When selective focus on one-sided reports don't get the job done they’ve even stooped to manufacturing evidence, as when Dan Burton released doctored transcripts of prison conversations between a Clinton associate and the man’s wife — a move so despicable even Newt Gingrich recognized Burton went too far, and ordered Burton to fire his lead investigator.
The most important thing to know about the many investigations the GOP will launch is that they are in bad faith and you cannot trust anything about them. Nor can you trust any news reports that credulously rely on information they produce.
This is not to say Democrats never do anything wrong. Inevitably, they will. And we should know about it; oversight is important. But Republicans don’t conduct legitimate oversight, and they aren’t interested in governing. They are interested only in power, and are perfectly willing to abuse theirs to gain more. This is very bad, but the appropriate response is not to put our faith in phony investigations launched by untrustworthy politicians. It’s to put trustworthy politicians in position to conduce real oversight. Jim Jordan ain’t it.
The Supreme Court’s growing ethics problem
Last week in this space, I wrote “Our Supreme Court is a deeply unethical and untrustworthy affront to democracy, but at least we can count on it to help make that clear.” Yesterday, the New York Times reported that a former colleague of the wife of Chief Justice John Roberts thinks her work poses a conflict of interest for Roberts, and is seeking an official investigation:
Now, a former colleague of Mrs. Roberts has raised concerns that her recruiting work poses potential ethics issues for the chief justice. Seeking an inquiry, the ex-colleague has provided records to the Justice Department and Congress indicating Mrs. Roberts has been paid millions of dollars in commissions for placing lawyers at firms — some of which have business before the Supreme Court, according to a letter obtained by The New York Times.
Justices, who are largely self-policed, are required to make annual disclosures about their finances — including the source of spouses’ income, the type and the date but not the amount. In his annual disclosure, the chief justice, who has apparently never recused himself from a case because of his wife’s work, listed her employers but not the names of her clients or her earnings, usually offering a brief description: “attorney search consultants — salary.”
If the phrase “who has apparently never recused himself from a case because of his wife’s work” sounds familiar, you may have heard it before in the context of another Supreme Court Justice, Clarence Thomas, whose wife Ginni Thomas is a prominent Republican activist whose work on everything from banning abortion to trying to overturn Donald Trump’s electoral defeat has never once led her husband to recuse himself from a case.
If the phrase “Justices, who are largely self-policed” makes you smirk, that may be because the justices have been in the news lately for excluding themselves from the policing they apply to their staff. Or it may be because Justice Thomas once managed an impressive 13-year streak of failing to disclose Ginni Thomas’s income as required, to no consequence whatsoever.
The police murdered Tyre Nichols
If you read one thing this week, make iton “the willingness to cast the failure of white people to effectively confront and contain the manifestations of violent white supremacy as Black civil rights failure”:
The New York Times, on brand
In the tradition of “HERR HITLER AT HOME IN THE CLOUDS; High up on his favorite mountain he finds time for politics, solitude and frequent official parties” and “Donald Trump Is Elected President in Stunning Repudiation of the Establishment,” the New York Times produces yet another headline that thoroughly obscures the threat posed by a right-wing politician:recently wrote an important piece about DeSantis — and about the news media’s tendency to downplay large-scale right-wing attacks on speech and dissent like those DeSantis is unleashing, while hyping minor perceived constraints on conservative speech:
The DeSantis legal position is, in effect, that there is no such thing as academic freedom for professors in most of the universities in America. Because they work for state institutions, they are obliged to follow government speech. This is a truly radical and dangerous notion, one that will gut the capacity of higher education to provide any sort of dissenting or critical voices on issues of public controversy.
DeSantis is not alone. His views on academic speech are entirely consistent with that of leaders in China, Russia, Turkey and Hungary. Totalitarians have always targeted higher education in their bid to quash sources of dissent. They impose systems of control, surveillance, and punishment. Some of the techniques are even the same. Encouraging students to record and report faculty of wrongthink, as one Florida law does, is a tactic that faculty in China are all too familiar with.
Read this three times
At any given time I have like two dozen things kicking around in my head that I keep meaning to write about but never seem to get around to.addresses five or six of them here, does each better than I would’ve, and throws in a whole bunch of other important stuff:
Americans’ freedoms are not merely in danger; they are already being taken away. This is not a natural disaster, but a man-made one. When American democracy is in such crisis as I’ve outlined above, the media should be laser-focused on exposing the architects of this crisis – in particular MAGA, its origins, its financial backers, the agenda it has already achieved, and the damage it has done – and the tools they are using to accomplish their goals, such as gerrymandering and voter suppression.
Oh, come on.
Hey, remember Whitewater? Land deal you never really understood because the reporters desperately trying to make it a scandal could never come up with an explanation for why a real estate deal in which the Clintons lost $42,000 and by all available evidence were scammed by their business partner meant they were crooks?1 Yeah. Anyway, that whole thing got started in 1992 with a New York Times article by Jeff Gerth that was such a trainwreck it eventually lead to a whole book by Gene Lyons explaining how the press mucked the whole story up. Later, Gerth would publish sensational articles suggesting Wen Ho Lee was a spy (he wasn’t, and he eventually won a $1.6 million settlement from the federal government and five news companies, including the New York Times.) Then there’s the time Gerth published inflammatory stories suggesting Bill Clinton harmed national security by letting a donor transfer satellite technology to China — stories that collapsed under scrutiny but not before winning Gerth a Pulitzer. (Don’t get too impressed: Judith Miller has a Pulitzer, too.) In 1999, Slate noted Gerth is “famous for being a terrible writer.” but had succeeded in “turning innuendo and incomprehensibility into a Pulitzer Prize.”
So that’s Jeff Gerth. And this is Columbia Journalism Review:
And it went about as well as could be expected:
The Washington Post editorial board called for a Whitewater independent counsel even while acknowledging that there was “no credible charge” (much less evidence) of wrongdoing by either Clinton. And when I say “while,” I do not mean “three weeks earlier,” I mean literally in the very same editorial.