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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