SATURDAY, APRIL 23, 2022
What happens at times of heightened conflict: What happens at times of heightened tribal conflict?
Today, we'll take a look at what can happen, at such times, within the journalistic context, even at the highest levels of the elite national press.
We'll start with a passage from a front-page report in yesterday's New York Times—a front-page report which has generated oodles of comment. Hard-copy headline included, the front-page report by Burns and Martin started like this:
After Jan. 6, G.O.P. Leaders’ Anger Faded Fast
In the days after the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol building, the two top Republicans in Congress, Representative Kevin McCarthy and Senator Mitch McConnell, told associates they believed President Trump was responsible for inciting the deadly riot and vowed to drive him from politics.
Mr. McCarthy went so far as to say he would push Mr. Trump to resign immediately: “I’ve had it with this guy,” he told a group of Republican leaders, according to an audio recording of the conversation obtained by The New York Times.
Our question today will be simple. In the days after January 6, did McCarthy really "vow to drive [Donald J. Trump] from politics?"
Also, did McCarthy really "go so far as to say he would push Mr. Trump to resign immediately?" Or are we possibly looking at exciting embellishments of what the actual evidence shows?
Burns and Martin chose to begin their front-page report with the statement that McCarthy made that "vow." Reading through their entire report, we see no evidence in support of that claim.
(Admittedly, the claim is exciting.)
As evidence in support of their statement, the reporters present a 95-second excerpt from the audiotape of an hour-long phone conversation among Republican leaders on January 10. Except, alas:
During that brief audio excerpt, McCarthy didn't even "vow" that he was going to call Trump to discuss resignation at all! Here's what McCarthy says on the tape, as he replies to Liz Cheney:
CHENEY (1/10/21): Is there any chance? Are you hearing that he might resign? Is there any reason to think that might happen?
MCCARTHY: I've had a few discussions. My gut tells me no. I'm seriously thinking of having that conversation with him tonight. I haven't talked to him in a couple of days.
Um, from what I know of him, I mean you guys all know him too, do you think he'd ever back away? But what I think I'm going to do is, I'm going to call him.
This, this is what I think. We know it'll pass the House. I think there's a chance it'll pass the Senate, even when he's gone. Um, and I think there's a lot of different ramifications for that.
Now, I haven't had a discussion with the Dems, that if he did resign, would that happen?
Now, this is one personal fear I have. I do not want to get into any conversation about Pence pardoning.
Again, the only discussion I would have with him is that I think this will pass, and it would be my recommendation you should resign. Um, I mean that would be my take. But I don't think he would take it. But I don't know.
As you can see, McCarthy doesn't even "vow" that he'll speak with Trump at all! He says he's "seriously thinking of" speaking with Trump. He says he "thinks" he's going to call him.
In the event that he does makes that call, does McCarthy really say that he will "push Mr. Trump to resign immediately?" (Our emphasis.)
That strikes us as a minor embellishment too. To our ear, McCarthy doesn't say that he'll "push" Trump to do anything. He merely says that he will recommend that Trump resign, based on the assumption that, as matters stand, Trump is going to be impeached by the House and will possibly be convicted by the Senate.
(At one point, McCarthy seems to suggest that resignation would be a way to stave off conviction.)
Meanwhile, where does McCarthy ever "vow to drive [Trump] from politics?" Nothing in the audio excerpt, or in the entire front-page report, seems to support that thrilling claim. But there it is, the very first claim the reporters make in their front-page report.
Do these observation matter? Only if expectations of journalistic accuracy matter—and experts say they rarely do, given the way we're all wired.
In the first few days after the January 6 attack, did McCarthy vow to drive Donald J. Trump from politics? It's exciting to say that he did, but we can't find a lick of evidence to support the exciting claim with which the reporters started.
This type of exciting embellishment takes place across competing tribal dials at times of high partisan conflict. Or at least, so major experienced world-class experts have all repeatedly said.
Heightened conflict yields heightened claims! That's what these experienced scholars have despondently said.
Also this: Your lizard brain will urge you to fight back against these observations. "It's our human wiring, plain and simple," or so major experts have said.