Trump and Russian collusion: why aren’t the media eating humble pie?

So Donald Trump isn’t a Russian spy after all. What a lack of relief.

Normally you’d be glad to have such a claim behind you, and puzzled that it ever seemed plausible. But in the poisonous atmosphere of American politics, half apparently intend to carry on as if the President were guilty, and the other half to incinerate the first.

As far as I can see, the Kremlin did try to influence the US election in many ways including dangling bait in front of members of the Trump election team. But election “teams” are vast, sprawling affairs filled with people suffering delusions of grandeur or in some cases adequacy so it is not reasonable to assume the candidate knew or approved everything any of them did or said.

Unfortunately, it is also not reasonable to say Donald Trump is morally upright and scrupulous about details, facts and rules. Including on obstruction of justice. The American prosecutorial juggernaut has a nasty habit of hurling so much legal mud at defendants that even design guru Martha Stewart and Canadian media baron Conrad Black were nailed on trivial procedural missteps even while clearing themselves of the original charges. But Trump is clearly capable of reckless disregard for truth and probity.

So the whole thing was a hideous mess. Yet not nearly as bad as it might have been. Unless partisans on both sides can salvage disaster here.

It is understandable that Republicans, conservatives and Trump loyalists, by no means synonyms, are annoyed that the other side spent years saying your guy is clearly in the pay of the Kremlin or being blackmailed by it. Though as I’ve observed before, after Trump defiantly linked Ted Cruz’s father to the Kennedy assassination he forfeited any right to object on grounds of decency or honesty. But might this be a good time to bury the hatchet?

Liberals and Democrats say no. Admittedly they’d look silly eating the large plate of crow sitting before them. But apparently they have no appetite for it. I cannot count the stories immediately saying yeah, well, Mueller said Trump wasn’t a Russian spy but obstruction probably was true. And worse.

As the Columbia Journalism Review noted, “The New York Times’s Dean Baquet told The Washington Post: ‘I’m comfortable with our coverage. It is never our job to determine illegality, but to expose the actions of people in power. And that’s what we and others have done and will continue to do.’ And Esquire’s Ryan Lizza said: ‘Contra a lot of commentary: given the issues, stakes, and seriousness with which special counsel treated all of this, the media’s coverage of Russia-Trump connection and possible obstruction over the last two years was somewhere between about right and not quite aggressive enough.’”

Except for the bit where you said he was obviously guilty and Mueller would nail him and it didn’t happen. Still, as if to make up for lost time on the aggression front, NBC immediately snorted “Just hours after the public learned that Robert Mueller had not found sufficient evidence of collusion between President Donald Trump and Russia, Trump’s most passionate defenders attacked the many news outlets that had closely covered Mueller’s investigation… But journalists pointed out that their reporting had demonstrated contacts between the Trump campaign and Russia, even if Mueller decided he couldn’t prove those contacts were criminal.” So guilty as not guilty, huh?

By March 26, the same network was breathlessly headlining: “EXCLUSIVE: Obstruction, not collusion, worried Trump’s legal team”. So guilty as not charged, huh? The New York Times’ David Leonhardt was writing “much of the media was too credulous about [Attorney General William] Barr’s letter, producing banner headlines and chyrons that treated it as an objective summary of Mueller’s work rather than as a political document meant to make President Trump look good” while his newspaper said “Barr’s decision to declare that Mr. Trump had not committed a crime — despite the fact that the special counsel, Robert Mueller, stopped short of exonerating the president — has renewed a debate about the role of American law enforcement in politically charged investigations.” Oh really? Not about wildly irresponsible, often lurid allegations?

Democrats in office also doubled down. Six House Committee chairs demanded the full report, perhaps hoping if enough of them read it carefully enough they’d find that Barr had lied about its contents. And Mazie Hirono, a Hawaii senator, told MSNBC “So just because there was not enough evidence for a criminal charge of conspiracy does not mean that this very cozy relationship that Donald Trump has with Vladimir Putin—who, by the way, must be really happy that this came about—that this kind of cozy relationship that is not good for our country, in that it’s not transparent, will continue.” So Trump will keep doing what he didn’t, the evil man.

Years ago Stephen Colbert coined the term “truthiness” to expose this sort of thinking among Republicans. As he explained: “People love the President [George W. Bush] because he’s certain of his choices as a leader, even if the facts that back him up don’t seem to exist…. I really feel a dichotomy in the American populace. What is important? What you want to be true, or what is true?” Colbert assumed the dichotomy was between truthful liberals and truthy conservatives. Which seems itself to have been “truthy”.

As for conservatives, I can forgive serving the stale “Nothingburger” cliché. But a typical right-wing news site sneered “‘Happy’ — but ‘Angry’: Trump, W.H. Fired Up After Mueller Kills Russia Hoax”. Likewise Fox News’s Sean Hannity tweeted “CNN, MSNBC, and the mainstream media have lied to the the American [sic] for 2 plus years.” Again, hoaxes and lies are deliberate fraud. This is conspiratorial language, suggesting that major journalistic outlets said things they knew were false, either thinking investigators would do the same or believing they could lie about what the investigators said. And now it’s time to scorch some liberal earth. So no hatchet-burying from them either… except in someone’s skull.

To reiterate the obvious, I am not a fan of Donald Trump. I think he’s a jerk. And a moral relativist of the sort conservatives, and Christians, normally and rightly find alarming. So just because he’s poking people we dislike in the eye is no reason to lose our morals or our minds. In a way it serves liberals and feminists right for dismissing a mountain of real evidence against the Clintons in the ‘90s with “La la la la la we can’t heeeear you”. But as the Chinese proverb says, before setting out for revenge, dig two graves.

The best outcome here would have been for liberals to say: "We are very relieved that these accusations turned out to be unfounded. We continue to oppose many of Donald Trump’s policies and deplore his style. But thank heavens Putin’s efforts to ensnare him and his campaign failed, and we’re sorry we doubted that the President of the United States, for all his failings, is a loyal American." And for conservatives to accept the apology with as much grace as is compatible with a stiffly worded request to be more careful next time. Instead it seems malevolence will rage on both sides to the detriment of the Republic.

As Colbert also said, with truthiness “[t]here’s not only an emotional quality, but there’s a selfish quality.” And people who won’t eat crow over this issue, or triumph gracefully, are being selfish, because the American public needs an example of putting truth ahead of wishful thinking, and decency ahead of malice.

Trump is not a KGB plant. Why aren’t more people happy?

John Robson is a crowdfunded documentary filmmaker and freelance journalist in Ottawa, Canada. See his work and support him at


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