Part 3—James Comey and Straight Shooters Inc.: This morning, the FBI's strange behavior was the nation's leading news topic.
Unless you were watching Morning Joe, where, as best we can tell, the topic wasn't mentioned at all.
If you were reading the Washington Post, the headline in the upper right-hand corner of the front page referenced the FBI's most recent weird behavior—yesterday's sudden release of old FBI files on the 2001 Marc Rich pardon.
If you were reading the New York Times, you saw no mention of that behavior, unless you searched the topic. If you did that, you found a link to this AP report.
The report didn't run in the hard-copy Times. It wasn't visible on the Times web site, unless you conducted that search.
We have no idea why the Times chose to bury that topic. That said:
If you were reading today's New York Times, the headline in the upper right-hand corner of the front page referenced the FBI's other recent weird behavior—James B. Comey's burst of letter-writing last Friday, which, according to the Times report, has "stirred outrage across party lines."
The FBI's peculiar behavior topped today's front pages. Unless you were watching Morning Joe, in which case you didn't hear the FBI mentioned at all.
On Morning Joe, Joe and Mika availed themselves of the last refuge of the cable news scoundrel. They immersed themselves in the latest polls, stressing the way they're alleged to be tightening.
All the stooges sat and watched. The FBI disappeared.
The news is where you find it! That said, Comey's burst of letter-writing has tilted election coverage in a major way.
On CNN, the life-forms hired to play journalists leaped into action last Friday. As they did, we saw what happens when "cable news" goes into its Bombshells Inc. mode.
Each employee seemed to know his or her role. Excitedly speaking by phone, Carl Bernstein offered the dumbest statement in recent human history. As he did, he helped us see the role played by the nation's official "straight-shooters" when our journalists enter this well-scripted mode.
You might want to cover your children's eyes. We're forced to quote Bernstein again:
BERNSTEIN (10/28/16): Well, there's no question that the emails have always been the greatest threat to her candidacy for president, that her conduct in regard to the emails is really indefensible. And if there was going to be more information that came out, it was the one thing, as I said on the air last night, actually, that could really perhaps affect this election.Bernstein covered every base. This is CNN's brain on scandal mode:
We don't know what this means yet except that it's a real bombshell. And it is unthinkable that the director of the FBI would take [that] action lightly, that he would put this letter forth to the Congress of the United States saying there is more information out there about classified e-mails and call it to the attention of Congress unless it was something requiring serious investigation. So that's where we are.
Bernstein builds the frameworkThe accused's past behavior was indefensible, Bernstein excitedly said.
1) Candidate Clinton's conduct has been "indefensible."
2) We don't know what this letter means. We do know it's a real bombshell.
3) It's "unthinkable" that Comey the God has anything but upstanding motives.
Her accuser was acting in good faith! Anything else was unthinkable!
By last night, many people had dared to think the unthinkable. Comey's judgment had been assailed by many. His motives had even been challenged by some.
But Bernstein's statement showed the role of a familiar type of player when the "press corps" enters scandal mode. The type of player to whom we refer is the morally upright "straight shooter."
As scandal culture has grown in recent decades, the press corps has maintained a stable of "straight shooters." These lionized figures have played familiar roles in the press corps' succession of memorized scandal tales.
(Behind them come the figures who are said to be "plain-spoken." Also present: figures who are said to be "fiercely independent.")
At any given point in time, the press corps may use its straight-shooters to advance its attacks on politicians (or policy positions) it has chosen to target. Over the past decade, the fiercely independent "Comey the God" has been part of this roster.
The liberal world has been slow to grasp the way this syndrome works. For a recent example of incomprehension, consider this recent post by Paul Krugman, in which Krugman attacks Paul Ryan as "the king of false equivalence."
Ryan has long been one of the mainstream press corps' official straight-shooters. Krugman has performed yeoman service in attempting to challenge this casting, but this recent formulation made little apparent sense:
KRUGMAN (10/4/16): [Ryan] poses as an icon of fiscal probity. That is, he is, in his own way, every bit as much a fraud as The Donald.We have no idea why Krugman framed the situation that way. In fact, there is no one on the Democratic "side of the aisle" who is regarded as an "icon of fiscal probity" in a way that Ryan's treatment might seem to "balance." There is certainly no major Democrat who has been treated that way in recent years.
So how has he been able to get away with this? The main answer is that he has been a huge beneficiary of false balance. The media narrative requires that there be serious, principled policy wonks on both sides of the aisle; Ryan has become the designated symbol of that supposed equivalence, even though actual budget experts have torn his proposals to shreds on repeated occasions.
In short, the media narrative does not "require that there be serious, principled policy wonks on both sides of the aisle" when it comes to budget issues. On budget issues, as on "education reform," there is only one type of position which will get a politician treated as a straight-shooter—as an icon of probity.
On budget issues, only the "conservative" position—the position of Ryan—gets treated that way. There's no Democratic budget position which receives equivalent treatment.
There is no "false balance" or "equivalence" here. Indeed, over the past quarter century, the press corps' favorite "straight shooters" have almost always been figures of the right or center right.
Without any question, Ryan has been one of those figures. You can see that by the way Krugman's colleagues have ignored the years of criticism he has directed at Ryan's work.
By the basic rules of the game, such criticism must be ignored. Long ago, the press corps had anointed Ryan as an official straight-shooter!
As of last Friday, James B. Comey—"Comey the God"—was another official straight-shooter. Like "Judge Starr" before him, he was presumed to be a figure of stiff-necked rectitude.
Meanwhile, Candidate Clinton has been a mainstream press target for more than twenty years. For these reasons, Bernstein knew how the story had to be told.
How long has Comey been a god? How far back do you want to go? On July 5, he engaged in some very shaky behavior, trashing Clinton for "extremely careless" behavior—a tag which might, perfectly sensibly, have been applied to his own unusual conduct that day!
That said, James B. Comey was such a god that a pitiful moment occurred. On July 7, he testified before a House committee. When he did, Democrats took numbers and stood in line to praise his moral greatness!
In an extremely irregular way, he had been trashing their own party's White House candidate! Hats in hand, they stood in line to praise him for what he had done.
Rep. Cummings led this parade. But so it goes when Washington's mortals deal with the press corps' gods.
That said, alas! It's as we've told you for many years! Inevitably, the people the press corps brands as "straight shooters" will end up taking advantage. They end up lying out of their ascots, secure in the knowledge that their status will keep them safe from harm.
Bill Bradley was openly lying by December 1999. He had been cast as the wondrous straight shooter opposing the big liar Gore.
In that same campaign, John McCain had been cast as history's greatest straight shooter. By the time of the South Carolina and Michigan primaries, he was openly lying to the press.
(Months later, McCain apologized for having lied in South Carolina. When he did, the press corps agreed: his apology only proved what an amazing straight shooter he was!)
Colin Powell had long been one of their greatest straight shooters. As a result, he went before the United Nations and handed the world that big pile of crap.
Mainstream pundits stood in line to say how convincing he had been. When Robert Woodward reported the ways in which Powell's speech had been an extremely shaky pile of crap, everyone knew they had to ignore what the vile Woodward had said.
Later, Powell appeared on the Maddow Show. When he did, Our Own Rhodes Scholar agreed not to ask this greatest straight shooter about Woodward's contentions. Dearest darlings, please use your heads! Such things simply aren't done!
Rachel is a persistent clown, but fraudulence is the fuel of her guild. Tomorrow, we'll continue to ponder the way they function when they go into Bombshells Inc. mode.
We'll quickly recall the way they've protected their favorite accusers down through the years. We'll spend more time on a terrible topic—the way they've agreed to ignore the spread of The Crazy.
The Crazy has spread in dangerous ways over the past twenty-plus years. As it has, the mainstream "press" has averted its eyes. Our own team has largely been clueless.
Rachel plays us every night; her program last night was a wonder. Even Krugman still seems unclear about the role of the press corps' straight-shooters, the upright confections who aren't found arrayed on both sides of the aisle.
Tomorrow: Ignoring the rise of The Crazy