Though we'll add what the New York Times said: Last evening's cable news excitement was excitement at its best.
At the appointed hour, the Washington Post had posted its latest blockbuster/bombshell. On CNN and MSNBC, everyone knew what to do.
Needless to say, this latest bombshell had come from unnamed sources behind a screen—from the unnamed people who now dole out our nightly dollops of "news."
In this morning's Washington Post, these unnamed people are described as "U.S. officials briefed on intelligence reports." Increasingly, these unnamed people decide what tiny blips of alleged information we proles are allowed to hear.
On CNN and MSNBC, everyone knew what to do. A chase is on, and these highly unreliable cable savants stood in line to say the things we liberals were longing to hear.
More specifically, they spent the evening suggesting that Jared Kushner may be on his way to jail. They avoided all discussion of the the substance which lay behind the latest cable thrill.
Is Jared Kushner in legal trouble? Like all the hacks you saw last night, we have no idea.
We do know this. The Washington Post's exciting report was amazingly short on information, amazingly long on filler. This is the way it began:
NAKASHIMA, ENTOUS AND MILLER (5/27/17): Jared Kushner and Russia’s ambassador to Washington discussed the possibility of setting up a secret and secure communications channel between Trump’s transition team and the Kremlin, using Russian diplomatic facilities in an apparent move to shield their pre-inauguration discussions from monitoring, according to U.S. officials briefed on intelligence reports.That's pretty much all the Post had. The rest of the report is filler.
Ambassador Sergey Kislyak reported to his superiors in Moscow that Kushner, son-in-law and confidant to then-President-elect Trump, made the proposal during a meeting on Dec. 1 or 2 at Trump Tower, according to intercepts of Russian communications that were reviewed by U.S. officials. Kislyak said Kushner suggested using Russian diplomatic facilities in the United States for the communications.
The meeting also was attended by Michael Flynn, Trump’s first national security adviser.
The White House disclosed the meeting only in March, playing down its significance. But people familiar with the matter say the FBI now considers the encounter, as well as another meeting Kushner had with a Russian banker, to be of investigative interest.
All last night, teams of pundits went to town on this blockbuster/bombshell report. Unfortunately, last night's excited discussions were about as fuzzy as any we've ever seen on cable. It was often quite hard to know what was being discussed.
In part, that was because the Post's report was so thin on content. Kushner wanted to set up a "secret and secure communications channel between Trump’s transition team and the Kremlin," the report alleged. The content ended there.
Did Kushner really propose such a thing? We have no idea. We're all relying on the good faith of the faceless people behind that screen—the unnamed people who now dole out our daily dollops of "news" in this peculiar fashion.
That said, we saw few attempts to discuss the possible reasons why Kushner (and Flynn) might have wanted to do some such thing. This brings us to the wonderfully ridiculous way Brian Williams ended last evening's Eleventh Hour program.
In his closing segment, Williams spoke with historian Jon Meacham about "backchannel" diplomacy of the past. Meacham praised a few such enterprises, then said, rather vaguely, that this effort was nothing like those.
It was what we all wanted to hear! Williams responded with this:
"No one is accusing this of having anything to do with diplomacy, at least at this early hour."
In fairness, Brian was almost right. As he spoke, it was a few minutes short of midnight. We'd seen no one discussing any possible "diplomatic" reasons for this apparent attempt at backchannel work, except to the extent that speculations could be launched about Kushner going to jail.
Then, this morning, we read the New York Times. Its opening paragraphs put Brian's snark in context.
As with the Post, this topic topped the Times front page. But the Times' report started like this:
HABERMAN, MAZZETTI AND APUZZO (5/27/17): Jared Kushner, President Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser, spoke in December with Russia’s ambassador to the United States about establishing a secret communications channel between the Trump transition team and Moscow to discuss strategy in Syria and other policy issues, according to three people with knowledge of the discussion.As with the Post, so too with the Times. There was no way to identify the nameless people doling out these claims.
The conversation between Mr. Kushner and the ambassador, Sergey I. Kislyak, took place during a meeting at Trump Tower that Mr. Trump’s presidential transition team did not acknowledge at the time. Also present at the meeting was Michael T. Flynn, the retired general who would become Mr. Trump’s short-lived national security adviser, the three people said.
It is unclear who first proposed the communications channel, but the people familiar with the meeting said the idea was to have Mr. Flynn speak directly with a senior military official in Moscow to discuss Syria and other security issues. The communications channel was never set up, the people said.
That said, these nameless, faceless people presented a motive for Kushner's alleged request. Williams' scripted snark notwithstanding, this effort did have something to do with diplomacy, these nameless people had said.
According to these nameless people, Kushner had been seeking a way to discuss "Syria and other security issues" with the Russkies. Last night, we heard no one advancing such speculations. Williams closed the evening haughtily saying that no one had.
Sad! Even as Brian spoke, there was the Times on-line report, saying something quite different. But this is the way corporate "newsmen" like Brian perform when a chase is on.
(In 1999 and 2000, no one was more upset by Candidate Gore's troubling clothes. At the time, Brian's owner was Jack Welch. It made that owner proud.)
Why might Kushner, Flynn and them have wanted to do something like this? Let's return to the topic of Michael Flynn's geopolitical views.
Remember the bromide we recently coined? "Crazy people get to be overpaid lobbyists too?"
Wellsir, crazy people also get to pursue diplomacy! That's especially true after thirty years of press corps misconduct have helped put Trump where he is.
The ineffectual people who helped place him there were prattling hard last night. They were pursuing an insider war they've already manged to lose through their relentless past misconduct.
They discussed little except the possibility that Kushner might end up in jail. That's the only way they know how to play. Their haplessness helps explain why Donald J. Trump's where he is.
By way of background, we thought you might want to understand the worldview behind this affair. Two days ago, the New York Times provided a bit of that background in a front-page news report.
For better or worse, crazy people get to have geopolitical views! Flynn strikes us as semi-crazy, but this is a taste of the worldview which was banging around in the Trump transition effort:
ROSENBERG, GOLDMAN AND APUZZO (5/25/17): Mr. Flynn's ties to Russian officials stretch back to his time at the Defense Intelligence Agency, which he led from 2012 to 2014. There, he began pressing for the United States to cultivate Russia as an ally in the fight against Islamist militants, and even spent a day in Moscow at the headquarters of the G.R.U., the Russian military intelligence service, in 2013.By all accounts, Flynn favored a global realignment in which the United States and Russia became allies in a north-versus-south battle against various parts of the Islamic world.
He continued to insist that Russia could be an ally even after Moscow's seizure of Crimea the following year, and Obama administration officials have said that contributed to their decision to push him out of the D.I.A.
You may think that worldview is crazy. We liberals should have thought of that before we did three hundred things in the past few years to help get Trump elected.
At any rate, the Times expounded further on Flynn's outlook and behavior. In our view, this passage suggests that The Semi-Crazy isn't just found Over There:
ROSENBERG, GOLDMAN AND APUZZO: American officials have also said there were multiple telephone calls between Mr. Flynn and Sergey I. Kislyak, the Russian ambassador to the United States, on Dec. 29, beginning shortly after Mr. Kislyak was summoned to the State Department and informed that, in retaliation for Russian election meddling, the United States was expelling 35 people suspected of being Russian intelligence operatives and imposing other sanctions.That's what officials have said! At any rate, let's try to understand the strangeness of that passage.
American intelligence agencies routinely tap the phones of Russian diplomats, and transcripts of the calls showed that Mr. Flynn urged the Russians not to respond, saying relations would improve once Mr. Trump was in office, officials have said.
We liberals have spent the past several months complaining about the fact that Flynn allegedly urged the Russians not to retaliate against the U.S. after those sanctions were imposed! We haven't quite been able to see how strange it may sound to register such a complaint.
Instead, we've pleasured ourselves with dreams of the Logan Act. Flynn might have to go to jail for urging the Russkies not to respond!
At any rate, we liberals have spent the past thirty years paving the way for Trump. The gentleman is now in the White House. He and his associates have certain irregular views.
By all accounts, Flynn and Bannon were strongly inclined to the view that future diplomacy should ally the United States with Russia against the Islamic world. In a report it first posted last evening, the New York Times suggested that Kushner wanted to discuss such possibilities through the backchannel he allegedly sought.
Last night, we saw no one discuss or raise any such possibility. Instead, a gang of hacks swarmed two cable channels, making the statement we long to hear: The Others are going to jail!
Inevitably, it fell to Williams to make the perfect gong-show summation. No one is talking about diplomacy, he said, sending us happily off to bed at an hour when the New York Times was doing that very thing right in its opening paragraphs.
Crazy people get to pursue backchannel diplomacy too! In a related fact, Williams worked quite hard, down through the years, paving the way for Trump.
Our team still sits dumbly around refusing to discuss the real world. On cable last night, they skillfully restricted the things we were allowed to hear.
They were dumbing it way way down. Do we actually like such dumbed-down cable porridge?
Concerning that gong show from Maddow: Rachel Maddow's latest gong show was delivered on Thursday night. For background, see yesterday's post.
The sheer pomposity of her performance was a thing to behold. As usual, MSNBC is ten days behind on posting transcripts, so we can't link you to a printed record of her endless report.
You can watch the interminable segment here. You'll be watching a classic high-pomposity effort from Our Own Cable News Clown.