The Monday news cycle took a bizarre turn when Sam Nunberg, who briefly worked for the Trump campaign, did a parade of interviews on CNN, MSNBC and NY1 that left many viewers convinced they were watching a likely drunken man close to a nervous breakdown. The base story was that the Mueller investigation, which has interviewed Nunberg, has now subpoenaed his emails and he feels disinclined to comply, or to testify before the grand jury.
Throughout the barely comprehensible statements made in the interviews we learned that Nunberg is considering a failure to comply, because he says doesn’t have the time. He stated that he doesn’t have 50, or 80 hours to go through the requested emails because he has work to do.
He also suggested that he isn’t complying because he thinks Mueller is trying to set up a perjury charge against his mentor Roger Stone. He also mentioned that Republicans face a double standard from law enforcement, using Hillary Clinton’s emails as an example, and that is why he maybe might not comply with the subpoena. By night’s end he had started to reconsider, and according to Ari Melber, one of the myriad interlocutors Nunberg faced last evening, he might actually obey the subpoena, after all.
That was about 6 hours of news. What we learned was that it could be that Mueller is interested in emails sent by Roger Stone, who boasted about connections to Wikileaks but assured congress those connections were indirect. Maybe that was a lie. Maybe it wasn’t. We still don’t know. All we really know is that an unhinged guy, who one interviewer said had alcohol on his breath, was propped up on the cable news pony over and over because it made Twitter explode and got eyeballs on screens.
Responsibility to Viewers
It was very entertaining television. It was a train wreck of a human being at times almost begging for legal advice from confused TV anchors. But what did the interviews do to help viewers understand the Mueller investigation or the Trump administration? Nunberg really was basically a non-entity in the campaign. He held no role in the administration. Could he have insights in to Trump world? Maybe, but he was pretty clearly in no shape to make any sense of them.
It was obvious early on that Nunberg was making a “have crazy talk, will travel,” offer to any network that would provide muffins in the green room. But why so many takers? Why were serious journalists so breathless over a tipsy Roger Stone ally who had a cup of coffee in the Trump political world?
Was it insight into the Mueller investigation? Nunberg said they were professional in his interview and they impressed him. Was it proof that Trump knew about the infamous meeting in Trump Tower? Well, Nunberg said he thought Trump probably knew, but was not involved in the campaign at the time and offered no actual evidence.
Perhaps news outlets were moved by Nunberg’s various unclear statements regarding how he thinks Mueller must have something on Trump regarding Russia. But he couldn’t say what, he couldn’t even really say why he thought so. He was a tornado of weirdness waiving pieces of paper and talking about his father figures.
The Media Must Do Better
There is a way to handle characters like Nunberg for news organizations. It’s not to say, “Hey, he sounds wasted, lets get him on right now!” What should be done is a process of interviewing him, off camera, drunk and sober if need be, and determine what of his comments have a bearing on news and what are off the wall. Sadly, many in the media opted for off the wall, yesterday. And none of us are much the wiser for it.
The one thing that the news media seems entirely incapable of at the moment is letting Mueller’s investigation run its course. Every night on television journalists, would-be Woodward and Bernsteins are breaking nothing but their own credibility by jumping on rumor, innuendo and now nervous breakdowns. That’s not how The Washington Post got Nixon. In fact, it’s pretty much the opposite.
This is a Nunburger
So, here’s what we know now. Nunberg may testify before the grand jury. He may refuse. He may release his emails. He may refuse. He may go to jail for being in contempt, but also that might not happen at all. What we also know is that an irresponsible news media that didn’t do its homework invited an unstable man to come on and spout nonsense. And even when it found out the guy was drunk, it didn’t back off.
Donald Trump’s attacks on the news media are dangerous. A head of state urging the people to dismiss any criticism of him as biased and fake is not healthy. But come on. Do his detractors in the news media have to keep making his point for him? The Nunberg interview circuit was a disgrace and it’s exactly why so many Americans roll their eyes at the media. Do better.