Ledes At The Bottom Of The Mariana Trench

The ledes in news reports, like pocket change, are sometimes found much further down than was hoped. In two recent stories of national import, the ledes weren’t buried; they were deposited at the bottom of the Mariana Trench.

Let’s survey the inhospitable depths.

Story One: Four top law firms turned down requests to represent Trump by Michael Isikoff for Yahoo News.

The opening paragraph: 

Top lawyers with at least four major law firms rebuffed White House overtures to represent President Trump in the Russia investigations, in part over concerns that the president would be unwilling to listen to their advice, according to five sources familiar with discussions about the matter.


The lede: 7 paragraphs in, we’re told

Others mentioned potential conflicts with clients of their firms, such as financial institutions that have already received subpoenas relating to potential money-laundering issues that are part of the investigation.

State or federal investigations into Trump-connected money laundering have entered the subpoena stage. But let’s talk about how the president is high-price lawyer kryptonite. Good plan.

Story two:

Intelligence Contractor Is Charged In First Leak Case by Charlie Savage for The New York Times.

The opening paragraph:

An intelligence contractor was charged with sending a classified report about Russia’s interference in the 2016 election to the news media, the Justice Department announced Monday, the first criminal leak case under President Trump.

The lede: A staggering 15 paragraphs in, it’s confirmed

The American intelligence community has concluded that Russia conducted a broad influence campaign for the purpose of undermining Hillary Clinton’s candidacy and sowing doubts about the democratic process if she had won.

In October, when the Obama administration accused Russia of stealing and releasing Democratic emails, it also said there was a pattern of probing of voter registration-related systems that was traceable to Russian servers but stopped short of saying the Russian government was behind it. The intelligence report, citing unspecified information the N.S.A. obtained in April, suggests the government is now satisfied that Moscow was the culprit.

The leaked report shows Russian interference with the 2016 election extended to hacking voting machine software, so you’ll excuse me if I forego the obvious “Reality Winner” jokes.

One shouldn’t stay in the Mariana Trench too long. The pressure is immense. The human body is not designed to withstand it for too long. Remember to take your time returning to the surface, as you most certainly don’t want to get the bends.

(Year Zero/Day One Hundred and Thirty-Eight)

In Which We Accurately Predict The Remainder Of Today’s Breaking News Headlines

“Bored and left alone for five minutes, Trump reveals existence of intergalactic alien visitors to foreign press” (The New York Times)

“Trump denies providing name and location of every American spy to Vladimir Putin” (Washington Post)

“Jesus confirms end times are nigh, that believers are idiots if they didn’t figure that out after latest American election” (Christian Science Monitor, Deseret News, L’Osservatore Romano)

“Report: Kushner Imposed ‘Breathing Fee’ On Tenants” (TIME)

“US president caught on hot mic proclaiming Prophet Mohammed can ‘suck my dick'” (Al Jazeera)

“Trump denies stealing NBA players’ talent with magic orb” (ESPN)

“Officials: Trump did not realize Saudis were actually Bond villains” (Wall Street Journal)

“Putin denies ever speaking to President Trump, even after his inauguration” (RT)

“Source: Trump plans to name Michael Flynn to FBI Director”  (Associated Press)

“Sean Spicer Breaks Down In Tears During Press Conference, Whimpers ‘I Only Asked For One Thing'” (McClatchy)

“Four ancient Egyptian jars discovered in White House, Jeff Sessions still missing” (Reuters)

“FBI Denies Witch Hunt, Confirms Wizard Hunt” (Los Angeles Times)

(Year Zero/Day One Hundred and Twenty-Six)

Working For The Weekend

I’m not sure what to make of Liberal critiques of Donald Trump’s weekend retreats to his “Southern White House”. Case in point: Mary Papenfuss’s How Much Does Trump Actually Work At Mar-A-Lago? Maybe Not So Much! for The Huffington Post.

The criticism is in some sense understandable from a financial angle.

Trump’s frequent golf jaunts are becoming enormously expensive. Politico has estimated that each trip to Mar-a-Lago costs taxpayers at least $3 million. (Protecting wife Melania and son Baron back in New York has been estimated to cost an additional $1 million a day.)

The Washington Post makes the case that Trump could fund the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness for nearly four years if he had skipped the resort trips he’s taken so far. But the newspaper also notes that estimating accurate costs is challenging.

…though the idea that Trump would fund the Interagency Council on Homelessness if only he weren’t golfing is highly dubious. Besides, the amounts in question may be larger than we’re used to, but any time any president goes anywhere it’s going to cost taxpayers money. The “Your travel is costing us money, Mr. President!” argument carries with it the parenthetical “(and I’m bringing it up because I don’t like you or your politics)”. The selfsame has been lobbed at Obama, Bush II, Clinton, Bush I, Reagan, ad absurdum.

The main thrust of Papenfuss’s article, though, hinges on an ideology embedded so deeply in the American collective unconscious that any deviation from it causes reflexive reaction: the Protestant work ethic. Donald Trump isn’t working on the weekend! Donald Trump isn’t doing his job!

Good, I say. Do you want Trump to actually do his job? Every time he does with any sustained concentration, something kind of awful happens. If the president is uniquely terrible as some contend, he should do as little as possible. Not only should he be taking weekends off, he should take entire months off. How about a six-month furlough for the Steves (Bannon, Miller) while he’s at it?

(Year Zero/Day Fifty-Nine)

Supergluing The Broken Vase

Despite the president’s proclivity for shattering democratic norms like they’re a fragile vase, some members of the media really want everything to go back to normal. And so they gather up the fragments, superglue the vase back together and fill it with fresh water and flowers.

Never mind the leaks it’s sprung.

One school of thought, here embodied by Vanity Fair’s T.A. Frank and Politico’s Zachary Karabell, finds comfort in the idea that Trump, stymied by his own ineptitude, has done little of substance and probably isn’t all that scary. Another school, to which Van Jones and Tom Brokaw belong, was overjoyed the president was acting so darn presidential. Amusingly, Jones was convinced he’d witnessed the transmutation of lead into gold during Trump’s speech to Congress.

Over at Medium, Amy Siskind has done a wonderful and consistent job of reminding us that we can’t normalize what’s happening here. Prima facie, we get the sense that at least a cohort of the chattering classes are doing just that, rationalizing hey, sure, Donald Trump is unpredictable, boorish and vindictive, but he’s the president for Pete’s sake, and the president can’t be all that bad.

Or is this self-preservation? Are media elites scrambling to put themselves in enviable positions when the Trump administration’s repression of the Fourth Estate intensifies? Too often, the cocktail circuit crew’s main concern is social climbing, which requires staying in the good graces of those in power.

Or does the political media get bored with the truth so readily that after 41 days, they need a new angle to keep them engaged? It needs a constant struggle to see what is in front of one’s nose, after all.

Whatever the root cause, their vicissitudinal shift from adversarial to reservedly fawning is already having an impact on the administration’s behavior. The revised travel ban, originally slated for its grand debut today, was rescheduled to some time in the near future so Trump can ride the wave of good press.

(Year Zero/Day Forty-One)

It’s A Day That Ends With “Y”. Trump Must Be At War With One Of The Pillars Of A Democratic Society.

It’s not difficult to imagine the president sitting in his bedroom late at night, bathrobe-clad, unable to divert his attention away from picking at the scabs on his legs. He never meant to let it get this bad, and he knows he has to let them heal, but the acute relief has driven him to *pick* *pick* *pick* until blood red intermingles with the Nor-rich Blend hue of his skin.

While the vision I’ve presented may cause distress, it’s no more disturbing than the metaphorical obsessive scab-picking Donald Trump can’t seem to stop himself from doing when it comes to perceived or actual slights. Whether by the judicial branch, the Democratic congressional bloc, the Deep State, ordinary citizens practicing their right to assembly or the news media, Trump finds dissent intolerable and will do everything in his power to quell disagreement.

In the case of the media, there’s been not so much a creep as an all-out offensive against the Fourth Estate meant to neutralize any impact their reporting might have. Trump’s style, and in point of fact the preferred method of modern authoritarians, is direct communication. Hence his ruining Twitter forever, hence taking progressively bolder steps to deligitimize uncomplimentary purveyors of information by branding them “fake” and “the enemy of the people”.‡ With the media no longer able to dilute or question his message with any efficacy, his consolidation of power will be that much harder to resist.

His latest affront is in some ways his most openly boundary-pushing to date.

The White House on Friday blocked a number of media outlets, including CNN and POLITICO, from an off-camera briefing with press secretary Sean Spicer, while allowing in a select group of journalists that included many conservative outlets.

The White House had earlier planned on having an on-camera gaggle with Spicer in the briefing room, but the administration later in the day changed it to a restricted off-camera gaggle in Spicer’s office.

As the administration’s controversies proliferate at an astounding rate, their need to bottleneck the flow of communication to preserve their legitimacy in the eyes of The Movement is ever more pressing. A secondary but no less vital function of icing out their critics is that the Trump faithful eat up a “ballsy” strike against the Liberal Media like it’s a plate of grilled red meat and potatoes. As long as they’re sating their appetite for symbolic violence against the enemy, they aren’t thinking about the reporting that led to the off-camera briefing in the first place.

Acting at the behest of the White House, the officials made calls to news organizations last week in attempts to challenge stories about alleged contacts between members of President Trump’s campaign team and Russian intelligence operatives, U.S. officials said.

The calls were orchestrated by the White House after unsuccessful attempts by the administration to get senior FBI officials to speak with news organizations and dispute the accuracy of stories on the alleged contacts with Russia.

The Deep State war rages on…

*  *  *

‡ Not to suggest that corporation-controlled media establishments are always on the side of the American people. That their interests seem to coincide with the public so closely right now speaks more to how unusual this moment in our country’s history is.