Part 2—Big star asks relevant question: Late last evening, we observed the rarest of cable events.
Shortly after 11 PM Eastern, Brian Williams asked a highly relevant question. Major "journalists" had been blowing past the basic key point involved in his question for months.
Brian spoke with legal commentator Joyce Vance. Incredibly, inexplicab;y, their exchange started like this:
WILLIAMS (8/6/18): Let me ask you a question about 52 U.S. Code 30121, which you, I have no doubt, have committed to memory years ago.Good God! Brian wanted to ask a legal question which cable had blown past for months!
VANCE: I've read it a time or two, yes.
WILLIAMS: I figured.
Brian wanted to ask about 52 U.S. Code 30121, an important part of federal election law. Meanwhile, that exchange was designed to convince us viewers, the so-called "credulous apes," that we were being exposed to highly competent legal analysis.
Inevitably, Vance went on to interpret the law in such a way as to suggest that the Donald J. Trumps, Junior and Senior, will soon be rotting in jail.
So pleasing! But then, that's the product we liberals are served on this corporate "cable news" station. We return to the station night after night knowing which porridge is served.
Vance performed as expected. But the analysts had looked about in wild-eyed surprise even as Williams raised this highly relevant point.
For months, the nation's "journalists," cable and regular, had postponed discussion of this piece of federal law. Instead, they'd offered preferred accounts of what the law surely must mean.
All of a sudden, there was Brian, raising a highly relevant point! What could explain this behavior?
Our young analysts couldn't imagine where Brian had come by his question. But this morning, reading the New York Times, we saw this analysis piece by Charlie Savage, and the mystery had been solved.
Savage's legal analysis piece appears on page A14 of our hard-copy Times. He explores a basic question:
Does "a provision of the Federal Election Campaign Act, Section 30121 of Title 52," mean that Trump Junior broke federal law in seeking damaging information about Hillary Clinton from that Russkie lawyer? Is that what election law holds?
Savage's analysis is much less slanted than Vance's. (This may explain why Savage wasn't interviewed by Williams last night.)
You can read the Savage piece, some parts of which strike us as stronger than others. Even at 1200 words, Savage never fully quotes the relevant passage of 30121, and his clumsy semi-paraphrase strikes us as somewhat bungled.
That said, as he concludes his discussion of 30121, he quotes an expert who seems to be saying that this chunk of federal law doesn't forbid the whole Trump Tower fandango:
SAVAGE (8/7/18): Robert Bauer, a New York University election-law professor who served as White House counsel in the Obama administration, argued that the statute against foreign campaign assistance is so broadly worded that it covers Russia paying spies and hackers to collect and disseminate negative information about Mrs. Clinton to help Mr. Trump win the election—even expenses like their travel for the meeting.Would 30121 render illegal what happened in Trump Tower? Savage presents a range of views, thus leaving the answer in doubt. By closing with Kerr, he may be suggesting that he tilts towards no.
But applying that law to negative information about a political candidate is a stretch, said Orin S. Kerr, a University of Southern California professor and former federal prosecutor.
“The phrase ‘contribution or donation’ sounds like a gift to help fund the campaign or give them something they otherwise would buy,” Mr. Kerr said.
At any rate:
Almost surely, Brian's staff saw Savage's piece on line last night and scripted Brian's question. Vance was there to offer us "credulous apes" the type of answer to which we've become accustomed.
We'll be talking more about 30121 as the week proceeds. For today, we ask you to recall that front-page report by Shear and Schmidt in yesterday's New York Times.
In this morning's New York Times, Savage offers a varied legal analysis, leaving resolution in doubt. As we showed you yesterday, no such scruples stopped Shear and Schmidt from presenting the simple-minded legal analysis they apparently like, or may even believe:
SHEAR AND SCHMIDT (8/6/18): While the president tried again on Sunday to portray the Trump Tower meeting as routine, it is being examined as part of Mr. Mueller’s investigation into whether Mr. Trump’s campaign conspired with the Russians to undermine Hillary Clinton’s campaign.Really? It's illegal for a campaign to accept help from a foreign individual! Writing on something like second-grade level, Shear and Schmidt offered that childish paraphrase of the relevant federal law—of the unnamed 30121.
It is illegal for a campaign to accept help from a foreign individual or government. The president and his son have maintained that the campaign did not ultimately receive any damaging materials about Mrs. Clinton as a result of the meeting. But some legal experts contend that by simply sitting for the meeting, Donald Trump Jr. broke the law.
Shear and Schmidt were really keeping it simple. But is that conduct really illegal? Is it illegal for a campaign to accept "help" from a "foreign individual," if the help in question takes the form of information?
Is it illegal to receive information from a foreign individual! Stating what is blindingly obvious, the Clinton campaign solicited and received such "help" from an array of "foreign individuals" during its fateful campaign:
Christopher Steele is "a foreign individual!" So, presumably, were the unnamed sources for his famous dossier. Indeed, some of those sources may have been Russian individuals. They may have had "ties" to the Russkie government,as the Russkie lawyer allegedly does!
Is it illegal for a campaign to accept help from a foreign individual? The formulation strikes us as ludicrous on its face, but there it was, bold as brass, part pf a front-page news report in our dumbest, most famous newspaper.
One day later, a more specialized Times reporter basically said, Not so fast. Savage's lengthy analysis piece seemed to say that it's not that simple, and that it's not so stupid. That said, Savages piece appeared today on A14. Yesterday, the silly piddle by Shear and Schmidt was, inevitably, part of a front-page report.
Do the provisions of 30121 make Trump and Trump's conduct illegal? The multimillionaire corporate stars who pose as "cable news" journalists had been blowing past this question for months. (So, of course, had the New York Times, as we finally see this morning.)
In the absence of serious analysis, waves of corporate hacks had been paraded across our TV screens, offering highly slanted analyses which serve the tribal narrative. Across the globe, zoologists had watched these unfolding events. As they watched this steady stream of reassuring tribal porridge, they had begin to rethink the earlier breakthrough authored by Desmond Morris.
Morris had called us the naked ape. International experts are now widely subbing in a different word:
Credulous ape, these high-ranking experts have now widely said.
Tomorrow: Natasha had said the same thing!
Transcript of the Williams show: At some point, it should appear here.