Zandardad texted me yesterday about the impeachment hearings and mentioned he thought that the case against Trump was going to be distorted into sound bites of Republicans yelling and claiming victory over the "dismantled" Democratic argument.
I wanted to know what President Trump was hearing about day one of the televised impeachment hearings. So I decided to mute all my other TVs and just watch Fox News on Wednesday night.
I heard White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham say that "today was a joke." I heard Donald Trump Jr. say "it's insanity." I heard Jeff Sessions ask, "Where's the beef?"
Here's how I would sum up everything I heard from Fox's prime time hosts: Wednesday's hearing was a bust. It was all just hearsay. It was a "disaster" for the Democrats and a "great day" for the Republicans. Impeachment is "stupid." Impeachment is "fake." There's nothing impeachable here. There's no reason to hold hearings. This inquiry needs to stop right now.
The message was one-sided and overwhelming. Every host and practically every guest said the Republican tribe is winning and the Democrat tribe is losing. I'm sure the president loved watching every minute of it. That's one of the reasons why this right-wing rhetoric matters so much -- because it is reassuring and emboldening Trump.
I decided to write it all down because of something that CNN's Oliver Darcy wrote earlier in the day. "Don't expect viewers, listeners, and readers of right-wing media to walk away from Wednesday's impeachment hearings with a different opinion of President Trump's behavior," Darcy said. "In fact, it's possible they might be more convinced than ever that Trump did nothing wrong. Why? Because right-wing media has largely -- and unsurprisingly -- focused on the moments in the hearing favorable to its preferred narrative."
He was right.
If Fox News had existed during Watergate, Nixon would have been re-elected in 1976 in a landslide.
Oliver Darcy writes: All day long, pro-Trump websites hyped clips of GOP stars like Jim Jordan and Devin Nunes "eviscerating" or "destroying" their opponents. THOSE were the moments that generated focus -- not the instances when Taylor or Kent shed new light on the Ukraine scandal. And after the hearings wrapped, Trump's defenders in media dismissed the hearings as "boring" and a bust for the Democrats. If you were watching the hearing through the lens of the right-wing media, you probably didn't see a case against the president being built. You probably walked away thinking the Democrats' case collapsed...
Which is the point. Fox News is the last line of defense for Donald Trump's ongoing years of criminality. He would have never been elected without them, let alone survived the last three years in office without being tossed out on his ass. Meanwhile the rest of our media was just as broken, as Alternet's Joshua Holland observes.
Yes, the first day of testimony was “consequential.” There was “substance”–new evidence that the President of the United States* personally directed that security aid to a vulnerable ally in the middle of a war be blocked in order to coerce them to pursue widely debunked conspiracy theories about his political rivals–but where was the pizzazz?
Impeachment week featured no sharks whatsoever. No nubile young women bared their breasts during the hearing and nobody in the chamber was injured in an amusing accident like on America’s Funniest Home Videos. No Republican was forced by the overwhelming weight of the evidence to halt his questioning and concede that the leader of their party really is a narcissistic charlatan. Jim Jordan didn’t have a sudden epiphany and tearfully apologize for turning his back on the abused wrestlers he used to coach. It was just some more boring details of high crimes in the Oval Office revealed during the fourth presidential impeachment process in the nation’s history. At least Clinton’s impeachment had some sex to spice up the proceedings.
These kinds of analyses are born of a deep cynicism that pervades so much of the media (I’m often guilty of it myself). It stems from the sense that, in a society as polarized as ours, nothing really matters. Opinions are locked in. Motivated reasoning leads readers and viewers to reject reporting that doesn’t support their worldviews.
The Republican base won’t abandon Trump and Senate Republicans fear primaries more than they do a slide into authoritarianism. Trump isn’t going to be escorted kicking and screaming from the Oval Office by the Marshal of the Supreme Court, so what’s the point? Ambassador Bill Taylor and Deputy Secretary of State George Kent offered gripping some really testimony–there was substance–but we all knew how Tucker Carlson would cover it at 8 pm. Same shit, different day when you really think about it.
That’s not entirely wrong. Investigative reporters sometimes unearth damning stories that bring down a politician or drive an effort for some new legislation, but most reporting doesn’t change people’s minds and won’t change the world. But even if there’s a kernel of truth to it, that cynicism blinds one to the importance of crucial moments in history like the one we’re living through now, and renders one incapable of covering it with the appropriate gravity.
It’s also, at least to a degree, a self-fulfilling prophecy. Most people worked yesterday and didn’t catch the hearings live. They rely on the media not only for the facts, but also for cues about how to interpret them. Some of those people woke up this morning to the message that while there was some sort of substance to yesterday’s, nothing interesting happened. There’s nothing to see here. Move along.
Which is exactly what Zandardad feared.
Republicans in the Senate enable Trump. But Fox News enables them, and it's even more dangerous. They are going to kill the hearings any way they can for their viewers, and take the country down with them.
But what's worse is our own cynicism about a "doomed" process.