Stop bashing the media for putting Sam Nunberg on the air

This Axios piece, describing yesterday’s Nunberg media tour as “scandal porn,” is insufferable.

Here’s what it was: A sad, epic meltdown — a troubled Trump flunky, pecked at and picked apart like roadkill on the Russia Interstate, in his last gasps of public fame and shame.

Sam Nunberg, an early Trump campaign aide who was fired in 2015 but has remained a vocal alumnus, melted down cable interview by cable interview yesterday as he declared his refusal (later retracted) to comply with a subpoena by special counsel Robert Mueller…

One of Nunberg’s friends was furious, telling Axios that the anchors were knowingly taking advantage of an obviously fragile man.

“This is one of the reasons America hates the media,” intoned Axios chief Jim VandeHei. There are many, many reasons why America rightly hates its media but letting a crank-ish Trumper wind himself up and chatter colorfully and endlessly on air ain’t one of them. In fact, one might argue that the last election proves Americans really *enjoy* that sort of thing:

The difference between Nunberg and Trump is that (a) Trump doesn’t need alcohol to make him sound like a drunk at a bar ranting wildly and (b) Trump got about a billion more hours of coverage in 2015 and 2016 than cable news gave Nunberg yesterday. As for Nunberg’s alleged impairment, some friends of his told the Daily Beast that they suspected he’d been drinking and Erin Burnett famously told him on the air that she smelled alcohol on his breath. But Ari Melber of MSNBC claimed that he didn’t and Nunberg didn’t sound plastered to my ear. He certainly wasn’t incoherent. McKay Coppins, who’s interacted with Nunberg since he was a Trump advisor in 2014 and knows his shtick, won’t rule out that the entire thing was a publicity stunt:

He’s been pulling stunts like this for years—this is just the first time he’s gotten the kind of audience he’s always craved…

Banished from the arena, Nunberg spent much of the 2016 campaign season trying to get back in the game by engineering big, headline-grabbing feuds with his former boss. He endorsed Ted Cruz in the primaries, and released a withering statement about Trump’s qualifications. He picked fights with the candidate’s staffers, and worked to knife his rivals in the press. At one point, Trump sued Nunberg for $10 million over breach of his confidentiality agreement, and Nunberg responded by filing his own legal action against Trump…

After Trump was elected, Nunberg allied himself with Bannon, and became a frequent source of gossip for reporters covering the West Wing. He seemed to enjoy this role, but it wasn’t until Monday that he fully stepped out from behind the scenes—and whatever other reasons he may have had for defying Mueller, he was clearly relishing the attention. One of the first things he said to me when he called was, “I pulled a Roger Stone!”

“I pulled a Roger Stone!” It’s important to remember that he’s a protege of Stone, another guy known for throwing roundhouses publicly (and privately) at his enemies with attention-grabbing quotes. Reporters who’ve dealt with Stone are appropriately skeptical of Nunberg’s “meltdown”:

But if you prefer a different theory of his behavior that doesn’t involve booze or some sort of psychotic break, here’s one:

What if Nunberg wasn’t crazy or high or drunk but just angry at having been cast out of TrumpWorld and now doubly angry that Mueller is demanding information that might place his mentor, Stone, in criminal jeopardy? It’d be unethical for the media to put someone on the air who’s obviously impaired or in the midst of a breakdown, but when it’s not obvious — and Nunberg swore up and down yesterday that he wasn’t on anything — they have no reason not to hear him out. He knows the major players in the Russiagate probe; he was once himself a member of Trump’s inner circle; he’s (allegedly) been approached by the special counsel to see what dirt he may have on them. There’s news value to what he has to say, or at least there was for the first hour or two. I don’t understand why the media should have a duty to Nunberg to prevent him from doing something foolish and against his own interest from a legal standpoint on their own platform. For fark’s sake, Jake Tapper advised him on air yesterday to comply with Mueller’s request. Handing an interview subject enough rope to hang himself is Media 101. Absent clear evidence that Nunberg was impaired, there was no reason not to do that.

And any righties who are indignant about it should consider this:

If you want to hit the media for how they behaved, you’ve got two reasons to do so. One: Ben Shapiro’s right to ask, “If Nunberg hadn’t been an ex-Trump aide but an ex-Obama aide, would he have been given this sort of airtime?” The press is happy to put a guy on air who’s eager to humiliate Trump and his cronies because he advances the ball for them. The standards for what’s “newsworthy” shift a bit depending on the partisan interests involved.

Two: As I say, Nunberg was “newsy” for an hour or two. He said he thought Trump probably knew about Don Jr’s meeting with the Russian lawyer when it happened in 2016, he talked about defying a subpoena from Mueller’s office, he ranted a bit about Sarah Huckabee Sanders. And then he … kept doing it, hour after hour, jetting around town to pop up on a new network. At some point, and that point came early, he wasn’t making news, he was just hogging the camera. But even there I have some sympathy for the media’s dilemma: Given the mood Nunberg was in and how long and how well he’s known Trump, there was every reason to think he might spill something hugely newsworthy if he just kept talking. CNN producers might have assumed, reasonably, that eventually he’d start talking about having seen Trump’s tax returns or that he’d “heard” money laundering was going on or whatever. You want to miss that scoop because a guy in the know who’s in the mood to talk for whatever reason isn’t getting to the point quickly enough?

Anyway, the Nunberg parade is over. He was booked to appear on several morning news shows today and canceled on all of them. Presumably his lawyer finally got through to him.