Scandal is not an exact science. But on a scale of “nothingburger” (Bret Stephens of the New York Times) to “worse than Watergate” (GOP congressman Steve King), the information in the House Intelligence Committee FISA Memo comes in at about a solid seven. It now seems very likely the FBI and Department of Justice deceived a FISA court with an uncorroborated piece of Democrat-funded oppo research in order to obtain a warrant to spy on American citizen Carter Page. If, as seems reasonable to conjecture, the broader target turns out to have been the Donald Trump presidential campaign for which Page had recently worked, the needle on the scandal meter will begin to edge up into the red zone.
Let’s put it this way: if this sort of thing had gone on under President Trump or even George W. Bush, the Times would have announced the news in front-page headlines so large it would have taken two strong men just to carry the letters to the press room. An enormous collection of Times reportage on the subject—with a black cover and some title like “The Path to Tyranny”—would have been on the bookstore shelves within the month.
And yet mainstream journalism’s reaction to the memo has so diverged from its past practices—and indeed from the media’s usual narrative about its own heroic role in our republic—that it constitutes a sort of meta-scandal within the scandal that in some ways is more dispiriting than the FISA scandal itself.
America’s news centers—from 42nd Street in Manhattan all the way to 57th Street in Manhattan—did everything within their power to suppress, taint, and minimize the impact of the memo, even before they knew what was in it. “President Trump’s assault on the nation’s law enforcement apparatus is unlike anything America has seen in modern times,” wailed a Times “analysis” (the paper’s term of art for front-page editorializing). “The memo is the most explicit Republican effort yet to discredit the FBI’s investigation into Trump and Russia,” reports CNN, increasingly the most trusted name in hysteria.
One CNN commentator—former CIA guy Phil Mudd—actually threatened that the memo would set off a vendetta by the Deep State against our elected president: “So the FBI people, I’m going to tell you, are ticked. And they’re going to be saying . . . If you think you can push us off this because you think you can intimidate the director, you’d better think again, Mr. President. You’ve been around for 13 months. We’ve been around since 1908. I know how this game is going to be played. We’re going to win.” It was almost as if Mudd were channeling The Onion’s satirical headline: “FBI Warns Republican Memo Could Undermine Faith in Massive, Unaccountable Government Secret Agencies.”
All this comes after a solid year of media whining about Trump’s criticism of their biased and dishonest coverage of his presidency. The general idea, in the words of one Times op-ed writer, is that “the unrelenting attacks on the news media damage American democracy.”
But is it Trump who is doing the damage? After all, those of us who still go to the movies have just sat through Steven Spielberg’s The Post, a two-hour left-wing talking point about how brave The Washington Post was when it defied President Nixon’s concerns over national security in order to expose government malfeasance by publishing the Pentagon Papers. Yet now—even before the FISA memo was published—news outlets, including both CBS and NBC, were highlighting and giving credence to dire warnings that the FISA memo would damage national security and, channeling The Onion again, undermine trust in unchecked law enforcement. After decades of listening to leftists screech about J. Edgar Hoover’s unjustified wiretapping, we are suddenly told to believe that a little unjustified FBI wiretapping now and again is a “nothingburger.”
In short, a press that should on principle raven for every piece of information that might be damning to the powerful of every stripe—a press that has shown itself willing to publish anonymous anti-Trump leaks that sometimes turned out to be false—has made it clear that they do not want you to know what they do not want to know themselves.
The truth is both the memo itself and the press’s unforgivable lack of curiosity and outrage about the memo are part of a much bigger scandal that has gone further to damage our republic than anything Trump has done or said. The memo represents just one more jigsaw piece in a picture of the Obama administration as a Chicago-style Democratic machine rife with cronyism and abuse of power, a machine to which the media closed its eyes.
We know this. It’s not conjecture. We know that Obama’s IRS made successful efforts to silence conservative voices during the president’s reelection campaign. After a settlement agreement in Z Street’s lawsuit against them, we know that the IRS also targeted Jewish groups that supported Israel. We know that Obama appointed one attorney general who styled himself the president’s “wing-man . . . there with my boy” (imagine Jeff Sessions saying that), and another who held a secret meeting with Bill Clinton while Hillary Clinton was under investigation. And now we begin to learn that the Obama Justice Department may have colluded with a Democrat’s campaign to spy on a Republican’s. Obama misled us about much of this and more: about the IRS; about when he himself gained knowledge of Hillary’s secret email server, a server he used under a pseudonym; about his secret dealings with Iran; and about the effects of his signature health-care bill.
All this—really a steady stream of deceptions and abuses of power—while journalists kowtowed to, flattered, and ultimately raved about the administration being “scandal-free.” The press sacrificed its credibility with eight years of willful blindness. Those who asked with the ancient Roman poet Juvenal, “Who will guard the guardians?” were answered by the self-styled heroes of journalistic truth-telling: “Not us.”
That’s the real scandal here, and it’s beginning to come out.