Right up through the end of Rep. Adam Schiff’s (D-Calif.) impeachment hearings, the media were impeachment’s most enthusiastic supporters. While they’ve been convinced of the need to impeach President Donald Trump for several years now, the hearings convinced them even more of the urgent need to do so.
The media weren’t entirely clear on exactly what grounds he should be impeached, a problem shared by Schiff and his team, but that didn’t dint their enthusiasm one bit.
Instead of making the case that Trump had committed some sort of high crime or misdemeanor meriting immediate removal, they instead just asserted that an unspecified crime had occurred and that witnesses had testified unambiguously that it had occurred. People who actually suffered through the hearings might be forgiven for not having the same impression.
Sure, viewers saw a bunch of hand-selected bureaucrats assert that Bad Orange Man wanted Ukraine to investigate various things, but we already knew that from Trump’s release of the transcript of his call with the Ukrainian president and his many public statements on the matter. The question was never about whether Trump wanted these investigations, or even whether one involved the Bidens, but whether it was criminal, much less impeachable, to want these things from a country that receives hundreds of millions of dollars in American taxpayer funds each year.
Trump’s well known efforts were so anodyne and frankly ineffective that — despite the media’s promises of bombshells after bombshells — the best evidence there was for him wanting these things were his own public statements, and not any of the testimony from third- or fourth-hand witnesses.
Having lost the argument, the media switched to asserting that the case had already been successfully argued by the Democrats. A pitch-perfect example of assertion over argument was the Washington Post headline “Trump’s GOP support hardens despite damning impeachment testimony.”
In Philip Rucker’s opinionated writeup of the week’s events, he asserted — without evidence — that witnesses “implicated the president in a scheme to pressure Ukraine to influence the 2020 election.” He appeared to be recasting efforts to investigate Ukrainian meddling in the 2016 election, and the involvement of Biden family members in Ukrainian corruption, as a “scheme” focused on 2020. Rucker appeared oblivious to the fact that last week’s impeachment hysteria appeared to be a scheme by the media and Democrats to influence the 2020 election, as he puts it.
Supposedly objective reporters and the NeverTrump pundits that are overrepresented at all the networks tweeted out their frustration and rage that even the squishiest of squishy Republicans was not falling for the impeachment effort, which, again, they asserted was conclusive.
They knew that for impeachment to have even a fig leaf of legitimacy, it needed strong bipartisan support. In fact, given the establishment Republican participation in the anti-Trump Resistance, it needed even more than the usual bipartisan support. Instead, it had no Republican support. What’s more, the opposition was bipartisan, and giving every indication it might grow.
Media Pumping Brakes
After the high of their impeachment hearings wore off, it appeared that the media realized that their approach wasn’t quite working. Vanity Fair did a polling analysis with truly devastating results for the media and Democrats.
Independents say that the impeachment issue is ‘more important to politicians than it is to me’ (62% to 22%) and ‘more important to the media than it is to me’ (61% to 23%). It is hard to read this as anything but a warning to the Democratic leadership and candidates: Stop talking about issues that matter to you, not to me. Impeachment proceedings are viewed as bread and circuses for the anti-Trump crowd in Washington and the media—or, as Stanford political science professor Morris Fiorina described it to me, ‘entertainment and confirmation.’ That’s a dangerous perception as Democrats approach one of the most consequential and fraught elections of our times.
It’s dangerous for Democrats, but a stunning indictment of the media.
It is impossible to overstate how much the media marched in lockstep together in their view that Trump’s criminality was obvious and proven. Nearly every headline and every article read as if they were written by Schiff himself, instead of an objective look at the witnesses, the evidence, the fairness of the proceedings, or any of the issues that were in the minds of non-Resistance voters.
The complete rejection of this narrative by those outside their shared political milieu is revealing. The corporate media simply don’t have the power that they once did to control the narrative and control political outcomes.
By Sunday, many in corporate media appeared to realize they’d overstepped. The Sunday shows were all more reticent. Media figures haven’t given up impeachment totally, and still speak as if a Senate trial is more of a foregone conclusion than it likely is, but their rhetoric was neutered from the almost hyper-manic zeal of previous weeks.
It appears that the media have moved into a pause stage, perhaps in preparation for a new impeachment push on more favorable grounds in December. Schiff seemed aware of his failure, not just with his angry closing statement on Thursday, but with the news that he may have to call new witnesses.
Media Use of Polling
While I’m not a huge fan of the overuse of polls, it is clear that polls drive much of the media narrative. Nearly every media outlet put out polls suggesting that impeachment was far more popular than it seemed to be in reality. These polls helped push Speaker of the House Nancy Pelois to open a more formal impeachment process, which she’d been trying to avoid on the grounds it would be politically devastating to the moderates who had secured Democratic control of the House in 2018.
So isn’t it interesting that after the enormous amount of news last week, there are so few polls? Why would the media decide not to do polls after their biggest week of news in a year? Now, maybe they’ll release them here soon, but doesn’t it appear like they made a decision to not poll?
To be clear, the norms of polling are that if media outlets do polls, they are supposed to release them. If results are what they like, they release them quickly. If the results are not what they like for their narratives, they downplay them and quietly release them. So it is possible that they did some polling and are working on their release. But it’s safe to say that if the polling results were bad for Trump and Republicans, we’d know about them.
The lack of polling — or their delayed release, if they did in fact occur — are not a good sign for Democrats or the media.
The Media Are Hurting Democrats Via Taranto Principle
The Wall Street Journal’s brilliant James Taranto is responsible for the “Taranto Principle,” which is described as “the press’s failure to hold left-wingers accountable for bad behavior merely encourages the left’s bad behavior to the point that its candidates are repellent to ordinary Americans.”
That is the best possible version of what the media did to Democrats in recent months. At best, they failed to hold Democrats and other Resistance members accountable for their impeachment fantasies.
The Robert Mueller probe was supposed to be the impeachment vehicle until it exploded under questioning of Mueller. He was the lone Republican on the probe, and picked to give it a protective legitimacy while it was actually run by bureaucratic operatives with far worse reputations. But his testimony revealed someone with limited knowledge of the probe and its claims, a devastating problem considering the failure of the special counsel to find any evidence of any American colluding with Russia to steal the 2016 election, much less anyone close to Trump having done so.
When the Russia hoax imploded, the media didn’t hold Democrats accountable for perpetrating it because they had joined forces with Democrats to perpetrate it.
And when the Ukraine impeachment effort began in the immediate aftermath of the Russia collusion hoax, the media couldn’t ask tough questions of Democrats because they needed the impeachment as much, if not more, than Democrats did. The alternative was to admit their failures over the last several years, and that wasn’t going to happen. Until and unless Trump is impeached and defeated in 2020, they will not be able to be honest about their failures.
So the media presented a map of where Democrats wanted to be instead of where they actually were and where they were actually going. The end result was that they led their Democratic colleagues dangerously close to a cliff. Democrats should think seriously about whether their allies in the media are truly serving their interests or are putting them in increasingly difficult situations.
Deep down, Democrats seem to understand “Collusion 2: Ukraine Boogaloo” isn’t selling all that well at the box office. Thus many are shifting back to the Mueller probe, of all things, as the real basis for impeachment against Trump.
What they don’t seem to understand, though, is that their never-ending impeachment mania isn’t failing because they haven’t stumbled upon the right combination of magical words to cast a spell on Americans to get them to support overturning the 2016 election. Their main problem, and one they seem completely incapable of realizing, is that their entire approach is what’s being rejected.
Americans will go to the polls less than a year from now and decide for themselves whether Trump deserves to stay in office. Voters understand that it’s their job to make that decision, not the job of Trump-deranged politicians and media personalities whose Trump obsession has led them to push for his removal rather than the things that people actually care about, like a strong economy, border security, and lowering health-care costs.