With the second day of the impeachment trial behind us, if you look past the likes of misguided right-wing news, the wide consensus among the media went something like this: Nailed it! Reporters and pundits all declared that the Democratic impeachment managers presented a methodical, persuasive timeline, one drawn in stark and stomach-turning detail in never-before-seen videos. According to prosecutors, the former president had his finger on the scale dating back to May 2020, when he laid the groundwork for provoking a mob in his name should he lose the election. “If you look at the evidence, his purposeful conduct, you’ll see that the attack was foreseeable and preventable,” proclaimed impeachment manager Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-TX).
Unfortunately, while the country is damned lucky that an array of forces aligned against Donald Trump’s plan, with few exceptions we are not doing nearly as well when it comes to the people who talk about it. Because after more than four years, the media still have not learned how to deal with Trump and his anti-democratic Republicans.
Evidence? If you turned on the TV or looked at your computer screen on Feb. 9, you almost certainly were bludgeoned with headlines like this one from Vox:
Trump won’t be convicted.
Impeachment is still worth it.
Or this one from Politico:
Trump on path to acquittal despite stunning evidence
Here’s an exchange that took place between Brian Williams and A.B. Stoddard on MSNBC, the evening after the impeachment managers presented the devastating videos that showed just how close the rioters got to our elected officials:
STODDARD: But we’re not going to see 17 senators vote to convict.
WILLIAMS: Sometimes we have to be real around here.
And a seemingly straightforward analysis that appeared in The Washington Post that same day:
“Throughout a day of excruciating evidence, showing police officers screaming in pain and rioters screaming angrily, some Republican senators reacted with visible emotion. Yet there was little indication they would change their minds and vote to convict Trump, … it remained clear that Democrats would almost certainly fall far short of the 17 Republicans they need to join them for conviction.”
It’s all around us. This absolute certainty that Senate Republicans will acquit Trump, which is being advanced not just by those same Republicans, but by the people who report the news.
Let’s be very clear. The media’s certainty that the Senate will fail to convict Trump stems from the lowest of the low expectations we already have for Republicans. After four years of Trump, journalists — from broadcast to cable to print — still don’t understand that if you hold the bar low, the Republicans will only stoop lower.
Imagine, for one moment, what our world would look like if the media took their responsibility for reporting the news more seriously and stopped making so many assumptions. Or to put it more simply: If they applied more thought to what they communicated to the public instead of regurgitating purported common knowledge. Right now they say, Of course Republicans are not going to acquit, but what if they turned it around? What if they said, Wow, the evidence is overwhelming! Based on what the impeachment managers have shown us, it’s impossible to imagine how Senate Republicans could justify voting for acquittal. Where is the acknowledgment that when people with influence speak, their words matter?
Take another moment to think about a comment Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-OK) made in response to what could change his mind about Trump’s innocence? “Not … anything I’ve seen so far,” he said. “And I can’t imagine what else is out there. We’ve had all this time for everyone to use every possible argument they could use.” So what happens if tomorrow unrolls something bigger, something more incriminating? I imagine that Inhofe — and those just like him — will shrug off the new transgression. And the media will reward him with another pass.
Of course, a few rogue voices pierce through the noise, as Neil Katyal’s did on The Reid Out on Feb. 9. He said:
“If I were Trump, I’d be worried at this point, because yes, they got away … on a dry constitutional issue … and it’s a way for Republican senators to try and dodge a vote on the facts. But they lost. Now there’s a vote, there’s a trial on the facts, Joy. And that’s an easier question for people to grasp. … All these people are going to have to vote on the up or down question, did what Trump did on Jan. 6 and the days preceding it, was that legitimate or not?”
Or this from Asha Rangappa:
And we know it is possible to change hearts and minds. Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-LA) flipped his vote on the constitutionality of impeaching the out-of-office Trump after opening arguments. Why did he do so? He said: “If I’m an impartial juror, and one side is doing a great job, and the other side is doing a terrible job, on the issue at hand, as an impartial juror, I’m going to vote for the side that did the good job.”
While continuing to point out to the media that they are failing in their jobs, the rest of us, most of whom are not “people of influence,” need to exert pressure wherever we can. We can shape the narrative in our neighborhoods, families, and the social media sphere. We need to share the true story behind Trump’s second impeachment, which goes something like this: A Trump-inspired mob assaulted our Capitol. Rioters ransacked the halls of Congress, hunting for V.P. Mike Pence and Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and any member of Congress they could find. Hard stop. Note that nowhere do we add the words, but of course the Republicans will acquit.
And while we’re on the subject, media, no more rewarding Republicans who claim to maintain an “open mind” about the verdict. Instead, counter with: The trial isn’t actually over. That’s the usual time to render judgment. So CNN, you don’t get a pat on the back for reporting that Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) won’t say for sure that he will vote to acquit.
I’m not naive. Numerous Senate Republicans have acknowledged the “damning,” “distressing,” and “powerful” graphic evidence presented in the impeachment trial. Yes, I can believe they may still vote to acquit Trump. I just don’t want to make it any easier for them.
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