Over forty years ago, the press took a decided interest in a government using its investigative and intelligence authority to intervene in an election. The Watergate scandal unlocked a whole series of abuses of power, which might not have been viewed as anything other than business as usual if not for the crusading journalists that made it a front-page story. Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward got lionized in print and on the silver screen, and to this day the media insists that its main function is to speak truth to power.
That depends on which power is in question, Jonathan Turley argued over the weekend. When it comes to a Democratic administration abusing its authority to spy on an opposing campaign and undermining its incoming president, Turley wonders why we’re not seeing All the Presidents Men II: Russia Boogaloo:
The Washington press corps seems engaged in a collective demonstration of the legal concept of willful blindness, or deliberately ignoring the facts, following the release of yet another declassified document which directly refutes prior statements about the investigation into Russia collusion. The document shows that FBI officials used a national security briefing of then candidate Donald Trump and his top aides to gather possible evidence for Crossfire Hurricane, its code name for the Russia investigation.
It is astonishing that the media refuses to see what is one of the biggest stories in decades. The Obama administration targeted the campaign of the opposing party based on false evidence. The media covered Obama administration officials ridiculing the suggestions of spying on the Trump campaign and of improper conduct with the Russia investigation. When Attorney General William Barr told the Senate last year that he believed spying did occur, he was lambasted in the media, including by James Comey and others involved in that investigation. The mocking “wow” response of the fired FBI director received extensive coverage.
The new document shows that, in summer 2016, FBI agent Joe Pientka briefed Trump campaign advisers Michael Flynn and Chris Christie over national security issues, standard practice ahead of the election. It had a discussion of Russian interference. But this was different. The document detailing the questions asked by Trump and his aides and their reactions was filed several days after that meeting under Crossfire Hurricane and Crossfire Razor, the FBI investigation of Flynn. The two FBI officials listed who approved the report are Kevin Clinesmith and Peter Strzok.
We’ve already unraveled a lot of this story based on reporting from outlets like Fox News and the source documents from relevant congressional committees. It’s not that the information isn’t out in the open now; it’s just that we don’t have the bastions of mainstream media to thank for it. In fact, this weekend the New York Times scolded Lindsey Graham and the Department of Justice for allowing one of the architects of the Steele dossier to be known, which seems like a strange way of speaking truth to power, considering the dossier provided the poisonous core to the scandal of Operation Crossfire Hurricane.
Turley, not exactly a conservative voice in the media, also points out that this disinterest in transparency isn’t just different from Watergate. It’s also much different than their original coverage of the Steele dossier and Crossfire Hurricane, too:
Willful blindness has its advantages. The media covered the original leak and the collusion narrative, despite mounting evidence that it was false. They filled hours of cable news shows and pages of print with a collusion story discredited by the FBI. Virtually none of these journalists or experts have acknowledged that the collusion leaks were proven false, let alone pursue the troubling implications of national security powers being used to target the political opponents of an administration. But in Washington, success often depends not on what you see but what you can unsee.
The answer to this conundrum was that the mainstream media is interested in speaking truth to Republican power. Watergate? That demonstrated Richard Nixon’s corruption. Russia-collusion? Donald Trump would be proven to have stolen an election. When it comes to investigating how China funded the Bill Clinton-Al Gore campaign in 1996 or the Obama administration’s abuse of power in Crossfire Hurricane, though, these same media outlets are not interested in speaking truth to the power they prefer. In fact, they’d rather protect Democrats than take an interest in any corruption taking place on their watch.
The answer to Turley’s question is that the media itself has been corrupted. And despite all of their self-congratulation over Watergate, the ugly truth is that the mainstream media itself is corrupt — corrupted by political activism masquerading as reporting, and “narrative journalism” that ignores everything that might stand in opposition to its own agenda.