Costa abandons a script: Something very unusual happened on cable last Wednesday night. The Washington Post's Robert Costa let liberal viewers know what The Others have been hearing.
It happened on The 11th Hour. Attorney General William Barr had made his weird remarks about "spying" that day. When Brian Williams threw to Costa, he did something very unusual.
Speaking to a liberal audience, Costa listed the various things conservatives have been saying and hearing, and even perhaps believing. In effect, he said the story isn't as simple as what we hear from our own tribe's stars.
"Congressional Republicans and congressional Democrats have a totally different view," Costa said. In our view, it isn't obvious that congressional Republicans just have to be totally wrong in every respect, although they certainly could be:
WILLIAMS (4/10/19): So, Robert, I guess the question is. the White House must be happy with their guy [Barr]?For ourselves, we have no idea what Barr thinks about any of this. We don't know if he sees any of this as "a legitimate argument."
COSTA: Yes, but the real story here—let's just pause for a moment and think about what we're actually talking about.
It's not just the political theater of what the Attorney General did today on Capitol Hill. It's about the debate on the origin of the Russia investigation.
Congressional Republicans and Congressional Democrats have a totally different view. That's why Sean Hannity is saying what he's saying, that's why people tonight on this program have their perspective.
It comes down to, how did George Papadopoulos and Carter Page interact with different members who are associated with the U.S. government at some level, such as former Cambridge professor Stefan Halper?
Those interactions are what congressional Republican Devin Nunez has been scrutinizing for months. The FBI maintains that it's acted in all proper ways since the origin of the Russia investigation, going back to George Papadopoulos' conversation with the Australian ambassador and the talk of the Clinton e-mails. And they have maintained that, from the beginning, that all these FISA warrants are based on evidence, and based on conduct they wanted to investigate.
But George Papadopoulos and Carter Page, talking to Congress constantly and on television, have always said that they felt like they were almost entrapped by the way the government handled the investigation. And that's what the Attorney General was referencing today. That's what's important. If he's actually seen that as a legitimate argument, that's what he's pursuing, that's why it matters.
That said, Costa's background lies in the conservative world. In that exchange, he dropped the MSNBC script long enough to explain what conservatives have been talking about and possibly even believing.
On MSNBC, you're supposed to be told that Barr's remarks about "spying" referred to the FBI's acquisition of FISA warrants. You're then supposed to be told, by your host and then by a series of guests, that those warrants were approved by FISA judges and were therefore completely regular.
Briefly, Costa abandoned that simplified script. He said that Barr may have been speaking to other suspicious and other concerns—to suspicions that the Australian diplomat who spoke with Papdopoulos was some sort of "plant;" to complaints about the role played by Professor Halper, who engaged in a slightly peculiar sort of surveillance of both Papadopoulos and Page.
Papadopoulos has even suggested that the "nutty professor" who introduced him to Putin's supposed niece was some sort of American agent. Like you, we have no idea if that could be true, but we'd say that, absent further explanation, it's absurd to assume that it couldn't be.
Costa briefly dropped the script and explained what conservatives have been saying and hearing and in various cases believing. This is rarely done on MSNBC, where the story is kept as simple as possible for easy tribal consumption.
By the next day, Costa had dropped this line of chatter. But for one brief shining moment, our tribe got to hear a glimmer of what the other tribe constantly hears.
That same night, we were struck by the conduct of David Gergen and Carl Bernstein on CNN. At long last, the pair had finally decided to be skeptical about Barr's conduct and intentions.
After watching Barr go on about all the "spying" that has him concerned, the boys told Anderson Cooper that they'd been wrong, oh so wrong, when they kept giving Barr the benefit of the doubt up until that point.
Below, you see the fellows backtrack. We were especially struck by Bernstein's belated research into Barr's previous tenure as attorney general:
GERGEN (4/10/19): I was among those who wanted to give [Barr] the benefit of the doubt when he came in. I just felt—assumed a man of his—having done this job once at his age, I think in his 60s now, mid-60s, he's got a legacy, I just felt he would want to protect his reputation for integrity and would want to show that he was independent and much the same way Mueller went over much of the public."All reporters should go back and read those Safire columns?" Shouldn't Bernstein have performed that piddling amount of homework when Barr re-emerged within the past year?
And he's now repeatedly acted in ways which have called all of that into question, whether he, in fact, is going to turn out to be a toady for Trump and that is I think very disturbing...
COOPER: Carl, I mean, looking at Barr's statements today on "spying"—again, what we saw echoed what Fox News essentially has been saying for years. I mean, it does sort of feel like we're no longer discussing state-run TV, we're now talking about TV-run state.
BERNSTEIN: It's the party line. The attorney general of the United States is uttering the party line that's coming from the White House. But you know I, like David, was one of those who said Bill Barr would not seek to do something that would hurt his reputation, and I seem to have been wrong.
And so I went back and I looked up some things that Barr—that had been reported about Barr, particularly a series of columns in the New York Times by Bill Safire, the former Nixon speechwriter, great conservative, who wrote in the New York Times as an op-ed columnist in 1992, especially a column of October 19th, 1992.
He called Barr, then the attorney general, the "cover-up general of the United States" because of what Barr had done to obscure a number of actions by the Bush administration in terms of selling weapons of mass destruction to Saddam Hussein.
It's a very involved tale. But Safire, in a whole series of columns, goes back to actions by Bill Barr in which he did exactly the kind of thing that we're watching Barr do now. And all reporters should go back and read those Safire columns, remembering Safire's credentials as a Republican, as a Nixonite, as a conservative.
(Here's the main column in question.)
Barr's apparent cover-up in the 1990s has been discussed since roughly forever. Does anyone know why a top-end CNN pundit had to wait until last week to review the material in question?
The woods are lovely, dark and deep. Our "cable news" is largely a series of scripted charades, followed perhaps by convivial nights in D.C. watering holes.