Saturday, October 06, 2018


We can complain all we want about White House suck-ups at The New York Times, but right now the worst piece of Trump hagiography is in The Washington Post, carrying a byline that names four of the paper's top reporters. How bad is it? Here's the headline on the front page of the Post site:

The story itself begins with a different breathless quote about Trump: "Willing to go to the mat."

It gets worse -- and more breathless -- from there:
Again and again, President Trump was instructed not to do it. A cadre of advisers, confidants and lawmakers all urged him — implored him, really — not to personally attack the women who had accused Supreme Court nominee Brett M. Kavanaugh of sexual assault.

So he did it anyway.

Addressing thousands at a boisterous rally in Mississippi, Trump relied on his own visceral sense of the moment and mocked Christine Blasey Ford for gaps in her memory, directly impugning the accuser’s credibility.
(Emphasis added.)
Establishment Republicans initially reacted with horror. But Trump’s 36-second off-script jeremiad proved a key turning point toward victory for the polarizing nominee, White House officials and Kavanaugh allies said, turbocharging momentum behind Kavanaugh just as his fate appeared most in doubt.
Was that really "a key turning point toward victory for the polarizing nominee"? Trump flacks in and out of the White House are clearly pushing this line, but that was no reason for credulous Post reporters (Philip Rucker, Ashley Parker, Sean Sullivan, and Seung Min Kim) to believe it.

More flattery:
Tuesday evening in Southhaven, Miss., Trump laid into Ford with the ruthlessness of an attack dog and the pacing of a stand-up comedian.
How presidential.
The crowd roared with laughter and applause. Aides privately crowed as footage of the performance was played and replayed many times over, shifting the national discussion from scrutiny of Kavanaugh’s honesty and drinking habits to doubts about Ford’s memory. And in Washington, Republican senators — though they condemned Trump’s mockery of Ford — felt emboldened to aggressively demand Kavanaugh’s confirmation, which became a near-certainty Friday and looks to become official with a vote Saturday.
The reporters present exactly zero evidence that this was responsible for "shifting the national discussion from scrutiny of Kavanaugh’s honesty and drinking habits to doubts about Ford’s memory." It's my recollection that before Trump attacked Dr. Blasey Ford, half the country was engaged in "scrutiny of Kavanaugh’s honesty and drinking habits" and the other half was focused on "doubts about Ford’s memory." Afterward? We were having exactly the same discussions. And how can these reporters argue that a Trump insult riff was why Senate Republicans "felt emboldened to aggressively demand Kavanaugh’s confirmation"? Those same senators were planning to start ramming Kavanaugh through the Friday before Trump's insult. They've aggressively demanded his confirmation from Day One and haven't let up.

What follows these passages is a conventional tick-tock story of how the nomination was managed. It gives a lot more credit to Don McGahn team of nomination managers in the White House, and says that the series of sexual accusations against Kavanaugh actually backfired by persuading conservatives that the nominee was the victim of a smear campaign. (Lili Loofbourow has called this the Anti-Bandwagon Fallacy: "the belief that a news item's truth content actually diminishes as more people come forward with corroborating stories.")

I think McGahn's people got the job done, with a few serious stumbles. I think the successive sexual accusations stirred up a lot of team-building rage on the right. But the obvious point is that Republicans were hell-bent on this and had the votes. Even self-styled moderates and mavericks in the Senate are terrified of base voters' wrath and thus unwilling to risk it.

I have quibbles, but the latter part of the Post story isn't really objectionable. But the high praise for Trump is galling. Trump didn't get this done, and reporting that he did is falling for dishonest spin.

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