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New York Times can't stop toasting McConnell for orchestrating sham impeachment trial
When a cover-up gets cheered as savvy
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Some rattled observers watching the just-concluded Senate impeachment trial saw a Republican Party dedicated to Trump's lawlessness. Others watched the spectacle and saw super-savvy Republicans outmaneuvering Democrats, and didn't care much about obvious attempts to muzzle the facts. The New York Times clearly fell into the second category.
It was another telling example of how the D.C. press wasn't up to the challenge of covering the Trump impeachment, and routinely fell into the lazy habit of simply telling the historic story through the eyes of the GOP.
Just look at how for several days after the trial's conclusion, the Times newsroom basked in the supposed glory of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), stressing how he was able to smartly coordinate an inquiry that did as little as possible to oversee the White House. Turning away form the larger, pressing issues about what it means when parts of the legislative branch abdicate its rights in order to protect a scandal-plagued Oval Office, the Times instead presented the trial, in the end, as a masterful stroke from McConnell:
The story of how Mr. McConnell held Republicans together — even in the face of stunning revelations about the president’s conduct and uneasiness in his party about Mr. Trump’s actions — reflects how a master Senate tactician deployed his command of procedure and keen political instincts to lock down a process that posed an existential threat to the president.
This, of course, is categorically false.
The real story about why Republicans defended Trump in the face of stunning revelations, and why Republicans insisted on staging a Soviet-like show trial that lacked witnesses and key evidence, such as the Government Accountability Office report, which found that the administration’s withholding of aid to Ukraine if the government didn't launch a bogus corruption investigation into Joe Biden, that story revolves around how radical and dangerous the Republican Party has become as it openly embraces a lawless agenda. The GOP now stands for allowing Trump to whatever he wants. Period.
But that's not a story the press wants to focus on because the Beltway press much prefers to prop up the idea that it was a meticulous, cunning McConnell strategy that won the day in the impeachment trial. The Times still places process over all, so the Times decided to basically play dumb and toast McConnell as a "master Senate tactician" who "frustrat[ed] Democrats at every turn." And yes, McConnell conveniently granted the Times an interview for its story about how well he does his job.
Forget the fact that McConnell was given an impeachment hand he literally could not lose, simply because Republicans maintain a Senate majority and because Republicans categorically refuse to hold Trump accountable. Nonetheless, the Times pretended it was McConnell's guile and cunning — not Republican cowardice —that maintained party loyalty as shocking revelations tumbled out just days before the final impeachment vote. The newspaper even pretended the impeachment trial vote on allowing witnesses remained in doubt until the very end. (Spoiler: It did not.)
The Times' failures represented a larger, purposeful media decision to shy away from the troubling context behind the impeachment trial. Often committed to presenting the inquiry as just more partisan rancor, the press routinely refused to highlight and educate news consumers about how deeply disturbing it was for America to have the U.S. Senate present a farce of a trial.
Not only did news outlets back away from the dark undercurrents of the GOP's Trump cover-up, but organizations such as the Times actively congratulated Republicans, presenting them as having outsmarted Democrats by, y'know, refusing to allow first-hand witnesses to testify about Trump's unsubtle campaign to recruit a foreign government to interfere in the 2020 election.
One day after the Times' tip of the cap to McConnell for being a "master" tactician, the newspaper weighed in with another puff piece, as it scooped up quotes from "nearly two dozen Kentucky Republicans," who stressed how much they loved McConnell for protecting Trump. (They described McConnell as a "fighter" and "a bro.") The number of Democrats interviewed for the post-impeachment McConnell profile? Zero.
The sad truth is that Times impeachment coverage often resembled little more than GOP talking points. Late last year, as the House prepared to vote on the articles of impeachment, the Times routinely stressed that Democrats faced "a tricky balancing act" on impeachment, which could "complicate" their 2020 campaigns. They were battling "uncertainty," a "messaging challenge," and were preparing "for possible backlash" as House members faced voters back home during a congressional recess.
Keep in mind the president facing impeachment was a Republican. Wouldn't the common-sense narrative have been that it was Republicans who faced an uncertain path? Instead, the Times can’t stop toasting the man responsible for the sham trial.
I know this clip was widely viewed when first posted on Twitter. It captured NBC's Heidi Przybyla as she refused to play the GOP impeachment game and pretend the answers given by Republicans made any kind of sense. But I want to share it again because it's important to note that this is what coverage could have looked like for weeks if more journalists had been serious about holding Republicans accountable, and not let them offer up nonsensical answers to serious impeachment questions.
FUN STUFF — BECAUSE WE ALL NEED A BREAK:
Lookin' back over my life
Spent the most of it tongue tied
Pullin' my belt tight
It's just me and the stars tonight