Earlier this month, in proceedings reportedly leaked from an internal meeting of The New York Times top staffers with Executive Editor Dean Baquet (they leak there, too), Mr. Baquet matter-of-factly observed that “We built our newsroom to cover one story, and we did it truly well.” But things didn’t work out as planned, “Now have to regroup, and shift resources and emphasis to take on a different story.”
The new story for which he’s rebuilding his newsroom to cover is race, with emphasis on proving our president is a racist (hard to imagine The New York Times trying any harder at that). The old story dominating their coverage for the past two years has consisted of trying to prove that our president had “untoward relations with the Russians” and had committed obstruction of justice in the process. (They’ll not give up on the latter.)
But when Robert Mueller “walked off that witness stand,” the whole “collusion” thing fell apart. What that tells us about contemporary journalism and the man who oversees its practice at what is still considered one of the world’s great newspapers is problematic, to say the least. Nor is it just a matter of social and political bias at work here.
As former federal prosecutor and National Review contributing editor Andrew J. McCarthy points out in this dense, deeply researched and highly readable book, there was indeed an extraordinary story growing out of the politics of the 2016 election, involving a national and international cast of characters at the highest levels, a story begging to be told by journalists true to their professions.
That story, in part, was indeed of collusion — not between the Trump campaign and the Russians, as Mr. McCarthy writes, but between the Clinton campaign and the Obama administration.
As the world knows, throughout the campaign, Hillary Clinton held a commanding lead in the polls. But there was always an unnamed unease among her most dedicated supporters — she wasn’t the world’s warmest or natural campaigner, and sooner or later she’d have to debate Donald Trump. So a little extra campaign insurance was thought necessary, and the “collusion” myth was born.
The myth, as fashioned by organs such as The New York Times and embellished by agents of some of our most trusted agencies and departments, was centered, as Mr. McCarthy writes, “in the essential allegation: a Trump-Russia cyberespionage conspiracy to ‘steal the election.’”
There was never any evidence of this, “just the sometimes lurid, sometimes laughable innuendo known as the ‘Steele dossier,’ a slapdash collection of ‘intelligence’ reporting, crafted by a former British spy and his former journalists partners, the anti-Trump partisans Christopher Steele and Glenn Simpson, whose work was commissioned by the Clinton campaign.”
Mr. McCarthy proceeds to take us through the process of the non-stop post-election peddling of the collusion narrative by ideologues of the national media, endless congressional hearings to charge the president with anything at all, intelligence agents and officials desperate to redeem their reputations, and those in the Washington establishment who still can’t believe they’re no longer taken seriously.
However, he warns, the animus hasn’t diminished, and the next election is looming. True, the “collusion” charge didn’t stick, rendered inoperative when Robert Mueller went home. But, as Mr. McCarthy says, “The collusion narrative had served its purpose … [S]eeded by the Obama administration, tilled by intelligence leaks, and tended by constant media care it accomplished its objectives.”
“A special counsel [in effect, an independent prosecutor] to monitor the Trump presidency was imposed, despite the absence of a criminal predicate.” That special counsel, although producing a report that failed to satisfy committed partisans like the editor of The New York Times, did produce one that “urged an impeachment roadmap on the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives,” thus providing the Democrats the meat of their 2020 campaign — a roadmap that Representatives like Jerrold Nadler are already enthusiastically following, to the apparent exclusion of any other congressional duties.
“That is the Ball of Collusion: counterintelligence as a pretext for a criminal investigation in search of a crime; a criminal investigation as a pretext for impeachment without an impeachable offense; an impeachment inquiry as a pretext for rendering Donald Trump un-reelectable, and all of it designed as a straitjacket around his presidency.”
“Will it succeed? That depends on whether President Trump exposes and defies the narrative, or plays the role it has scripted for him.”
And a little objective reporting by the national media wouldn’t hurt at all.
• John R. Coyne Jr., a former White House speechwriter, is co-author of “Strictly Right: William F. Buckley Jr. and the American Conservative Movement” (Wiley).
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BALL OF COLLUSION: THE PLOT TO RIG AN ELECTION AND DESTROY A PRESIDENCY
By Andrew C. McCarthy
Encounter Books, $35.99, 433 pages