The Ongoing US Trump/Russia Media Flap

Here’s a fair­ly lev­el-head­ed expla­na­tion of the Trump/Russia cov­er­age that’s par­a­lyzed the news cycle for the past few months, cour­tesy of Michael Tracey from TYT:

It’s impor­tant to note that whether or not the Trump/Russia sto­ry has legs, we’ve long since passed the point where irra­tional nar­ra­tives became ends and pur­suits in them­selves, and peo­ple have large­ly cho­sen to see what they want to see come out of this situation.

If there’s one thing 2016 taught us, it’s that the Amer­i­can polit­i­cal sys­tem and elec­torate are, large­ly, no longer ratio­nal actors. They’re in a bad place and they want to burn some­thing down because they’re under­stand­ably pissed off at the sta­tus quo. The oth­er side of the coin is most aren’t ter­ri­bly con­cerned with how they go about doing it, or what cor­ners they cut when giv­ing it thought.

This scan­dal, if you can call it that, has brought out a thou­sand ugly shades of polit­i­cal expe­di­en­cy, all while respect for legal process, accu­ra­cy, and truth have tak­en a back seat. It could turn out that despite all the hype, despite all the legal maneu­ver­ing, despite all the pitch­forks and torch­es being bran­dished on 24/7 cable TV news, the over­all nar­ra­tive might not hold up at all.

All the angry talk of cor­rup­tion and a ‘smok­ing gun’ requires strong proof, and while the major­i­ty of peo­ple feel deeply uneasy about the Trump admin­is­tra­tion, that proof has yet to be deliv­ered in a legal sense.

Giv­en Trump’s incen­di­ary nature and his track record for impul­sive­ness, he could eas­i­ly wind up mak­ing reac­tionary deci­sions that go against his own inter­ests, cre­at­ing scan­dals in their own right that lead to more legal inves­ti­ga­tions. The fir­ing of the FBI direc­tor, and Trump’s even­tu­al admis­sion that it was planned regard­less of the White House­’s offi­cial response, is one such sce­nario that has yet to be ful­ly sort­ed out and could yield more information.

That said, it’s not the same thing as the ini­tial Trump/Russia media flap that got us here. They are dis­tinct issues, each with its own poten­tial legal and polit­i­cal con­se­quences depend­ing on what new infor­ma­tion comes out, and it’s impor­tant to be able to dif­fer­en­ti­ate between them.

At the end of the day, I think a ques­tion we need to be ask­ing our­selves is what direc­tion Amer­i­ca’s angry dis­trust of gov­ern­ment will go and what forms it will man­i­fest in. I say this because the dis­trust that flows below the sur­face is clear­ly vis­i­ble on the sur­face at every turn in the cur­rent scan­dal. Alle­ga­tions of Trump’s con­nec­tions and col­lu­sion with Rus­sia are sur­pris­ing­ly under­de­vel­oped, often rely­ing more on echoes of the ‘Red Scare’ and mis­placed vot­er rage than on legal­ly sound, admis­si­ble evidence.

This could all change as addi­tion­al infor­ma­tion comes out and as Trump reacts to the ongo­ing media cov­er­age, but it still takes more than pub­lic out­cry to make the case for impeach­ment — it will take weighty evi­dence indeed for Amer­i­cans to achieve the polit­i­cal cathar­sis they’re so fer­vent­ly seeking.

Anoth­er mat­ter that has­n’t received much atten­tion, which I’m par­tic­u­lar­ly con­cerned about in this sit­u­a­tion, is the impli­ca­tion the cur­rent nar­ra­tive could have for the progress of free speech and free­dom of the press. The Trump admin­is­tra­tion has made no secret of being active­ly at war with the media and demon­strat­ing through its actions that it has no respect for jour­nal­ism as a whole.

What hap­pens if the Trump/Russia scan­dal fiz­zles, and the cor­po­rate media out­lets who have been embell­ish­ing this nar­ra­tive are instead left dumb­found­ed with egg on their faces? That hurts all of us.

Such a sce­nario not only hands ammu­ni­tion to the anti-free speech advo­cates, it also pro­vides the White House the con­fir­ma­tion it seeks to jus­ti­fy fur­ther crack­downs on mem­bers of the press, includ­ing press corps access restric­tions that would dam­age cov­er­age on many oth­er impor­tant mat­ters. Not a good outcome.

What I’m get­ting at here is the need to look at our pri­or­i­ties as jour­nal­ists, in par­tic­u­lar when it comes to the largest out­lets which car­ry a great deal more soci­etal influ­ence. If the press goes off half-cocked and push­es incom­plete infor­ma­tion as some­thing it isn’t, or builds up a great deal of false pub­lic con­fi­dence that the US can impeach a sit­ting pres­i­dent with­out hav­ing strong evi­dence, that behav­iour isn’t just wrong, it’s some­thing that will blow up in our faces and hurt every­body.

And quite hon­est­ly, the last thing we need right now is to take the trust­wor­thi­ness of the media, and polit­i­cal dis­course itself, down an even more dam­ag­ing and irra­tional path.

More updates on this sto­ry will be post­ed as fur­ther news comes.

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