Part 5—Did the New York Times get played: What actually happened last June concerning Donald J. Trump?
Did he try to fire Robert Mueller? If so, how did the whole thing go down?
By last Friday night, in the 10 PM hour, we were involved in a tale of two stories concerning this particular claim. In a front-page report on Friday morning, two major stars at the New York Times had seemed to tell the world one story.
On Friday evening, Michael Wolff, speaking to Lawrence, had seemed to tell the story a very different way.
Which of the stories was actually true? Is there any way to know? Let's start with the story the New York Times seemed to tell. In the hands of Michael Schmidt and Maggie Haberman, that story had seemed to go like this:
The story as the Times seemed to tell it:That story felt really good. Instantly, the report which seemed to tell that tale was declared a "bombshell report."
Donald J. Trump ordered Don McGahn to fire Robert J. Mueller. McGahn refused to follow the order and threatened to resign instead. In the face of this threat from McGahn, Donald J. Trump "backed down."
Josh Marshall thought he had read that story in the New York Times. Presumably, many other people thought they had read that story there too.
In fact, the writing in the New York Times was fuzzier and less precise than that. Had anyone directly faced Trump down as part of this "West Wing confrontation?" In their usual slippery way, Schmidt and Haberman hadn't exactly said.
Whatever! The story the Times had seemed to tell was met with widespread acclaim. But uh-oh! On Friday night, Michael Wolff sat down with Lawrence and seemed to suggest a possible different tale:
The possible story suggested by Wolff:That actually happened last June? Which of those stories might be more true? At this point, is there any real way to know?
Donald J. Trump ordered Don McGahn to fire Robert J. Mueller. Because this was something that Donald J. Trump pretty much did every day of the week, McGahn rolled his eyes and ignored the order. Trump never followed through.
We would suggest that there pretty much isn't. This is another way of saying that Haberman, Schmidt and the New York Times are not a reliable source, a fact which has been abundantly clear for decades.
(Sardonicaly, Wolff seemed to suggest as much when he spoke to Lawrence last Friday night, rolling his eyes at the way the Times had presented the story.)
On Sunday, the Washington Post added to the fun. Deep in a front-page report, Ashley Parker explicitly said that McGahn had not directly confronted Trump as part of this fandango.
In this blog post, Marshall said that contradicted what he thought he had read in the Times. "This Is A Very Big Difference," he wrote in his headline. He suggested the possibility that the Times had perhaps been played by Don McGahn and his lawyers.
So it goes when the clowns employed by the New York Times pretehd to file news reports. Having said that, we should also say this about the clowns of cable:
Last Thursday evening, in the 8 PM hour, the New York Times news report suddenly appeared online. At CNN, star pundits rushed on the air to declare how brilliant and important it was.
They'd had little time to read the report, let alone to think about it. But so what? "Cable news" runs on instant judgment, and on enthusiastic adherence to preapproved story lines.
The Times report made Donald J. Trump look like a weak girly-man. On a channel like CNN, such reports will be applauded. And so it was last Thursday night. The Times report was "stunning," "a huge report," the cable clowns quickly declared.
In fairness, we should temper that claim. Soon after the Times report appeared online, CNN pundits were able to interview Haberman, who doubles as a CNN political analyst, about her front-page report.
They spoke with her telephonically. Needless to say, none of them challenged her fuzzy writing or asked about her murky sourcing. Dearest darlings, it just isn't done! Especially not with a CNN colleague!
The clowns of cable showered their colleague with praise. That said, one experienced CNN reporter did voice a potentially discouragin' word. Within minutes of the report's first sighting, Dana Bash was saying this to the useless Anderson Cooper:
BASH (1/25/18): The one thing that I want to add here, just by way of context, Anderson, is in all these months and year-plus of talking to people in and around the president, people who are still in the White House, people who are not in the White House anymore, in the campaign, one of the themes that I hear over and over is the desire by the president to fire X, Y or Z person, depending on the hour, depending on the minute, depending on the story he's watching on cable TV. Obviously, the special counsel in charge of investigating Russia collusion, and now potentially obstruction of justice, is a whole different league. But it is in keeping with kind of how he operates that he gets frustrated, he gets angry, he gets annoyed, and he threatens to fire somebody, and it has been, I'm told, there have been several instances where his senior staff have—they've had to sort of stand in front of the train and say "No, Mr. President, you can't do that."We apologize! Thanks to the clowns of cable transcription, Bash's statement stops making sense at the end of that transcript chunk. Bash's statement turns into the familiar garble of cable news transcriptspeak.
That did not happen with James Comey. it did happen, according to Maggie's reporting, with Robert Mueller. And I just think that that is very telling. But it is important to—
BASH: —piece of evidence—
BASH: —to talk about in terms of thousand preside how this president operates.
We no longer have access to video (through On Demand) which would let us clean that up. That said, Bash had quickly suggested the theme which Wolff would cite the next night:
Trump "fires people" all the time, the experienced scribe seemed to say. His staff is then required to talk their crazy boss down.
A more talented group might have asked Haberman a question at this point. Did she feel sure that the occasion to which her news report referred was really different from all the other possible firings? On what basis could she offer this assurance? Did she feel sure that she was describing a unique and serious event?
The pundits should have asked Haberman that, but that sort of thing isn't done on cable. On cable news, overpaid clowns recite and play. So it went Thursday night.
Eventually, Marshall suggested the possibility that the brilliant Haberman and Schmidt may have gotten played. He suggested the possibility that McGahn's legal team had fed the Times a pleasing tale to make their client seem heroic—perhaps, to insulate him against the possibility that he too could be charged with obstructing justice.
Haberman should have been asked about that. Indeed, last Thursday night, Rachel Maddow suggested the same possibility, though only in the most fleeting and general way:
MADDOW (1/25/18): I don't want to overstate this too much, but to be honest with you, this is something that I've noticed. There have been a lot of stories that have broken over the past week or two that cast White House counsel Don McGahn as the superhero who is saving the republic. This is one of those stories where Don McGahn, White House counsel, is the only man standing between America and the abyss.In the hands of a serious person, this might have led to the question Marshall later asked: Is it possible that Haberman and Schmidt got played by Don McGahn's lawyers?
Here's how it plays in this story night. Quote: "After receiving the order to fire Robert Mueller, the White House counsel Don McGahn refused." He refused to ask the Justice Department to dismiss the special counsel, saying that he would quit instead.
Maddow isn't that person! She quickly reverted to high praise for the New York Times "blockbuster" report. ("This is amazing stuff.") Soon, she was interviewing Schmidt—he's an NBC/MSNBC contributor—and praising him for "an incredible scoop tonight. Thank you so much, Michael. Congratulations on this scoop."
Was the report a scoop or a con? We have no way of knowing. We will say this:
Yesterday morning, another bombshell report appeared on the front page of the New York Times. The lead reporter was the horrific Jo Becker, of Uranium One infamy and shame.
This new report, about Hope Hicks, was also wonderfully pleasing. Tomorrow, we'll note the ways this new report, not unlike last week's report, has the slight stink of a con, even as it became the day's "most-read article" at the glorious Times.
Can you believe the things you read, or think you've read, on the front page of the Times? If you plan to be a child forever, the answer is pleasingly yes.
Tomorrow: The latest from the horrific Jo Becker of Uranium One "bombshell" fame