Question: what do you do when the president of the United States is a serial, pathological liar as well as an aspiring despot, and the speaker of the House is an entirely sane leader trying to do her job? Answer: You treat them symmetrically, as rival, squabbling politicians.
No! That’s the wrong answer. But The New York Times, following the conventions of “objective” journalism, has been treating Donald Trump’s “spat” (the Times’s word) with Nancy Pelosi in exactly that fashion. Sample Times headline: “Trump and Pelosi Trade Barbs, Both Questioning the Other’s Fitness.”
Are you kidding? The special counsel, in a 448-page report, has virtually invited Congress to do its constitutional duty and pursue Trump’s obstruction of justice. Trump has also flagrantly violated the Emoluments Clause of the Constitution, and is engaged in total stonewalling of Congress’s right to subpoena documents and witnesses.
Nancy Pelosi points out, accurately, that Trump is engaged in a cover-up. Trump replies with his usual name-calling tantrums, calling her “Crazy Nancy,” and adding, “She’s a mess, she’s lost it.”
And the best the Times can do is to play it straight as an ordinary political tiff? (Latest Times headline in the Friday print edition: “A Capitol Spat Turns Personal As Jabs Poke at Mental Fitness.”)
Pelosi is trying to do her job of holding the president accountable, in the face of tactical divisions within the House Democratic Caucus about how best to proceed. Trump is trying to hijack the Republic. To that end, he tries to reduce his stonewalling of the House efforts to find the facts to a schoolyard game of insults.
By playing it Trump’s way, as a symmetrical standoff of “personal jabs,” the Times helps Trump win. Surely our paper of record can do better.