Friday, September 7, 2018

Existential threats, soft landings, and the questionable ethics of access journalism – – a few more thoughts on that over-discussed op-ed.

I always have mixed feelings about jumping on trending topics, but this does relate to at least a couple of our ongoing thread's (and it gave me a couple of good ideas for our Friday videos).

I assume you're already sick of hearing about this anonymous editorial that recently appeared in the New York Times, but if you been off spelunking for the past few days here's an excellent piece of commentary from David Frum and a very good (given that it was so hastily written) monologue from Stephen Colbert.

First, as many have noted, this is a self-serving and not completely honest piece from an author who unquestionably is trying to serve a personal and partisan agenda. Particularly egregious is the section about not invoking the 25th amendment out of fear of creating a "constitutional crisis." As Colbert points out, taking steps spelled out in the Constitution is by definition a constitutional remedy, not a crisis. Furthermore, there is no conceivable situation where members of the cabinet are justified in undermining an elected president that does not rise to the standard set in the amendment.

[It should be noted that removing a president through these means is more difficult than most people realize, but the relevant aspect here is that a cabinet official is obligated to take these step if he or she is convinced that their boss is a danger to the country.]

Invoking the 25th amendment would, however, create an existential crisis for the Republican Party. The conservative movement has spent the past few decades cultivating what would come to be the Trump voters to serve as useful idiots and cannon fodder. Now the party is completely dependent on them and publicly jettisoning Trump would drive a lasting wedge between the GOP and the voters it needs the most. The results would play out like the collapse of the Whig party with the fast-forward button pressed.

Part of the calculus of the Republicans' approach to Trump has always been weighing the dangers he presents against the agenda items he helps them advance, but events all the past few months have changed the math. The acceleration and metastasizing of the Mueller investigation (particularly to the Southern District of New York), the tell-all book and revelations of widespread covert taping, the opening of the National Enquirer's Trump safe, and the Woodward book along with myriad other bad news stories have combined to make the possibility of a catastrophe-triggering event (a public meltdown and/or collapse, mass sweeping pardons, firing Jeff sessions and ordering that the Mueller investigation be shut down, etc.) far more likely between now and the midterm elections.

It is important to note that the op-ed was timed to come out just before Woodward's book thus making it a "blockbuster" story that didn't actually tell us anything that wasn't about to be a matter of public record. In this context, the piece has to be approached not as an attempt to inform, but as an attempt to put a positive spin on incredibly negative revelations (from an "unsung hero" no less). At this point, the author and his or her party are looking for at least the possibility of a soft landing.

All of this raises serious ethical questions about the New York Times agreeing to publish this while allowing the author to remain anonymous. The gray lady's greatest strength and greatest weakness has long been its journalistic reputation and its resulting symbiotic relationship with the political and business establishment. This relationship has yielded enormous benefits for the paper, making it the default choice for powerful and famous people who want to get their side of the story out, but it has also compromised its editorial standards to an extent where it may actually be doing more damage than good to the discourse.

No comments:

Post a Comment