Trump Unleashed - Does The Press Know How To Handle His Authoritarian Ways?
February 15, 2020

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America's facing a rule-of-law crisis as Trump moves forcefully to complete his mission of turning the Department of Justice into his person legal backstop, designed to protect him at his allies at all costs. But you might not know a crisis was raging based on the week's news coverage.

Make no mistake, when an angry Trump tweet is able to get the DOJ to instantly rip up its sentencing recommendation for convicted felon, and former Trump adviser, Roger Stone, there's a rule-of-law emergency in this country.

This, of course, comes after Trump enlisted the help of the Department of Justice to investigate a political opponent, Joe Biden. It's the same DOJ that ran interference for the White House following the completion of the Mueller Report on Russian interference in the 2016 election. Last year, Barr released a three-page press release that insisted the investigation had exonerated Trump. (That was a brazen lie.)

In other words, the integrity of the DOJ has been shredded in plain sight with obvious acts of partisan corruption. It's a stunning crisis in American justice to have the nation's top law enforcement officer actively enabling the White House and doing it so brazenly. (Barr went before the cameras on Thursday and claimed he was upset by Trump's meddling in the Stone case. Don't believe the hype.)

Under Barr's radical DOJ, new rules dictate that the Republican president cannot be prosecuted; Congress can't investigate the president; Congress can't subpoena his top aides; the Department of Justice will investigate anyone at the FBI who previously tried to uncover the truth about Trump's actions; if needed, the DOJ will investigate the president's political rivals; and now the DOJ will suddenly ask judges to go easy on Republican operatives facing ten years in prison.

This behavior is straight out of the authoritarian rulebook, and it's the type of crass political maneuvering usually seen in developing countries where democracy hasn't taken root. So why isn't the media stating clearly that Barr no longer actually functions as an independent attorney general? Where are the echoing calls from newspaper editorial boards for Barr, and Trump, to resign?

Barr now essentially serves as Trump's mafia consigliere his fixer. If this were any foreign country and that nation's top law enforcement official engaged in such blatantly corrupt behavior, the American press corps would loudly call out the corruption as dangerous and anti-democratic. But because it's happening here and overseen by a Republican president, the press chalks up the stunning Stone interference as an "unusual reversal," as the Wall Street Journal put it. "Awfully suspicious," reported the Washington Post. And "Highly unusual," according to CNN.

A Twitter follower of mine reported that a recent NPR report on the Stone sentencing scandal, "consist[ed] literally of repeating Trump’s statements on the matter and noting that it’s “highly unusual.” Not a single word from anyone who might have a negative take on the sentencing reduction."

Note that Trump's obvious interference in the Stone case came after he urged the Pentagon to look at disciplining of Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman for testifying against the president during recent House impeachment hearings. Vindman was previously awarded a Purple Heart for his service in the Iraq War.

The sub-headline for a New York Times article on the Vindman controversy announced that Trump's move represented, "one sign of how determined the president is to even the scales after his impeachment." Even the scales, what?? That suggests the "scales" were ever tipped against him. The Nation's Joan Walsh suggested a more accurate headline for the Times story: "Trump's reign of lawlessness enters new stage."

But that exactly the type of bold, factual language the Beltway press doesn't use in its news coverage of Trump, and specifically the context about authoritarian lawlessness. Indeed, most American journalists have no experience covering creeping authoritarianism.

We have a POTUS dictating sentencing recommendations in regards to a jury trial that involved his political ally convicted on charges of obstructing justice, making false statements and witness tampering in a case connected to the president's election, and we're going with "unusual" and "suspicious? (Dan Froomkin rounded up some examples of more admirable, forceful coverage this week, here.)

Keep in mind that this is the same press corps that treated as a Very Big Deal when Bill Clinton and then-Attorney General Loretta Lynch exchanged greetings on an airport tarmac during the 2016 campaign. The media claimed it all looked bad considering the DOJ was investigated Hillary Clinton's emails at the time. Today, Trump basically ordered the DOJ to help protect his felonious associate and the news media reaches for "unusual."

At what point do news organizations break the glass on the fire alarm and start forcefully describing what's at stake, and start treating Trump's authoritarian behavior as the obvious threat to democratic rule that it is?

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