The big news all over the world continues to be that US President Donald Trump’s former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn admitted to lying to the FBI. He has pleaded guilty to one count, although the court documents detail evidence of other lies.
This is going to have huge ramifications for the Trump administration. I would go so far as to say this could be the beginning of the end of the Trump presidency.
I won’t go too much into what happened. If you’ve been keeping up with the news you probably have a pretty good idea of that already. What I’m going to write about here is the different way the two US cable news networks we get in New Zealand covered the story. The difference was startling.
One of the reasons I found the difference interesting is because there’s a frequent theme on Fox News of commenting how much time other networks spend on stories they think are important. They will frequently note how the “mainstream media” all but ignores stories that Fox News dedicates significant time to. To be fair, sometimes they are right – the story is one that other outlets should spend more time on.
However, their complaints that other news outlets should be spending more time on the story of Hillary Clinton approving the Uranium One deal, for example, are beyond ridiculous. There are reporters on Fox News who are genuinely fair and balanced, and Shepherd Smith is one I’ve admired for a long time. He openly debunked the Uranium One story on his show. It didn’t, of course, stop several of his colleagues going on about it with the dedication of a True Believer.
Smith’s methodical explanation of the truth behind the accusations has Trump’s base mad as hell. Several are even calling for Smith’s sacking because of this! Despite Smith’s clear explanation, they continue to believe that Clinton is evil and the accusation against her is true.
Fox News frequently displays graphics of the time different networks spend on particular stories, like Uranium One. Then they make the case that the “mainstream media,” unlike them, is failing to inform viewers of these “important” stories. That, of course, riles up their viewers in support of Fox News and against other outlets.
When it comes to the Michael Flynn story, the shoe is firmly on the other foot.
Fox News: ‘The Five’
The first show I watched on Fox News following hearing about Michael Flynn was ‘The Five’. (Remember, NZT is 18 hours ahead of EST.) It’s an opinion show, not a news show, though they have strong pretensions to being a news show.
The original plan was clearly to make the first segment of their show that day about the acquittal of Kate Steinle’s killer. Then Michael Flynn happened, so that story shared the first segment.
I’m not sure how long the first segment is, though it is longer than the others. I’m guessing fifteen minutes, of which about half was spent on Flynn. In general, the whole story was minimized.
There was a lot of focus on the fact that Flynn spent 33 years in the military, including five years on active service in Afghanistan. They spoke of the dignified way he carried himself in court, and how his military service had given him the ability to be calm and collected in difficult circumstances.
The discussion was that he had only been charged with one thing, and that happened after the election. Therefore, there was still absolutely no evidence whatsoever of any Russian collusion.
Two of the five panelists saw this as a nothing-burger. One was in two minds. The two others, one of whom is a Democrat, thought this was serious. However, the last two didn’t get much chance to discuss why it was serious. The first two dominated the discussion.
Fox News: ‘Special Report’
‘Special Report’ is the second show I saw on Fox News. It’s a news show anchored by Bret Baier. Baier has just been awarded “the 2017 Sol Taishoff Award for Excellence in Broadcast Journalism” by the US National Press Foundation. He’s also executive producer of ‘Special Report’.
Baier was on location at the Ronald Reagan Library in preparation for the annual Reagan National Defense Forum, so perhaps was caught off guard.
Baier’s story on Michael Flynn began with the same reporter that ‘The Five’ cut to: Chief Intelligence Correspondent Catherine Herridge. She repeated similar lines as before. That is, her focus was Flynn’s long career and the way he conducted himself.
As with ‘The Five’, it was clear that Baier had already prepared a schedule for the day’s show, and the Michael Flynn story got in the way of that. He spent time on it, but it was largely minimized.
The probable involvement of Jared Kushner, for example, was not mentioned as far as I recall. (If it was, it was only in passing.) This is extremely important as, without being named, another person was mentioned in the court documents as directing Flynn. All media I have seen are naming that person as Jared Kushner. It is, of course, unlikely that Kushner acted independent of Trump.
A viewer who got their news only from Fox News could be forgiven for not realizing the seriousness of the situation. Therefore, when the investigation exposes illegal behaviour by those closer to Trump (like Kushner), or even Trump himself, they will not be prepared and likely to respond badly to the news. Denial and anger will be common responses amongst those not ready. This is dangerous in a country already riven by partisan politics.
Fox News: ‘The Story’
I didn’t watch Fox News‘s ‘The Story’ but I saw the beginning as it followed ‘Special Report’. The lead story was the acquittal of Kate Steinle’s killer.
At this point I should note that the Michael Flynn story was the lead on the 6 o’clock news in New Zealand. Normally, our news is lead by stories about New Zealand. Overseas stories wait until after the first ad break unless there’s something major. We’re over 14,000 kilometres (over 8,700 miles) away and our genuinely fair news can see the importance of the Michael Flynn story to the world, but Fox News can’t.
The acquittal of Kate Steinle’s killer is seen as a major miscarriage of justice by the far right, which I really can’t understand. Many think it should be first degree murder despite the fact that Ms Steinle’s was around 100 feet from her killer and was killed by a ricochet.
Her killer is an illegal immigrant, and there’s no doubt she would be alive if he wasn’t in the country. However, that is not relevant to the case.
The far right think the killer’s immigration status and (non-violent) criminal history should be part of the trial and don’t understand why it’s not. Further, they think if those things were brought up, the killer would have been convicted.
They put his acquittal down to the liberal leanings of San Francisco juries.
(See here for more information.)
CNN‘s AC360 with Anderson Cooper was the next show I watched. Cooper lead with the Michael Flynn story. Before five minutes was up I had a far more thorough understanding of the issues than I had from anything on Fox News. There was a detailed timeline of all that’s happened so far. There was an analysis of the court documents. Most importantly, there was an analysis of what it all means.
On Fox News, as I noted above, the charge against Flynn was minimized. The focus was that there was only one charge of lying, and that was related to after the election. Unlike CNN, Fox News had no analysis of the information in the court documents. There is evidence in the documents of other lies to the FBI. They also show the Mueller investigation has evidence of other crimes that Flynn could be charged with.
Most of Cooper’s show was spent on the Michael Flynn story. There was also a detailed examination of the Kate Steinle issue, which looked at both sides of the issue. At the beginning of that, I thought Cooper felt the acquittal of Steinle’s killer was a miscarriage of justice. (He did receive a conviction for illegal possession of a firearm, for which he went to prison.) Once all the details of the case were discussed with experts, he understood why there was an acquittal. This is the difference in proper exploration of an issue.
Note on Prison Sentences for NZers
Only charging Flynn with one lie is significant because US prison sentences tend to be sequential. In New Zealand, of course, they’re usually concurrent.
The charge of lying to the FBI carries a maximum sentence of five years. So, in the US, each additional charge would increase the possible sentence by another five years. In NZ, it is unlikely to make a difference as two (or more) five years sentences would normally be served concurrently.
CNN: ‘Lead Time’
Following ‘AC360’, CNN broadcast a special episode of ‘Lead Time’ with Jake Tapper. This show went into even more depth on the Michael Flynn case. Anyone who watched this couldn’t fail to understand all the ins and outs of the case.
Knowing all the information, as in the Steinle case and the Uranium One case, makes all the difference to making an informed judgment.
Statement from Trump’s Personal Lawyer
Ty Cobb is Donald Trump’s personal lawyer. His statement following Flynn’s guilty plea was bordering on the pathetic. However, there are those (I heard a couple of them on Fox News) who cling to this statement and repeat the talking points as if they are valid. This is it (via CNBC):
Today, Michael Flynn, a former National Security Advisor at the White House for 25 days during the Trump Administration, and a former Obama administration official, entered a guilty plea to a single count of making a false statement to the FBI.
The false statements involved mirror the false statements to White House officials which resulted in his resignation in February of this year. Nothing about the guilty plea or the charge implicates anyone other than Mr. Flynn. The conclusion of this phase of the Special Counsel’s work demonstrates again that the Special Counsel is moving with all deliberate speed and clears the way for a prompt and reasonable conclusion.
This attempt to minimize both the issue and the contact, and to tie Flynn to the Obama administration is patently ridiculous. Besides, Obama sacked Flynn and warned Trump about him personally. Later, Sally Yates, as acting Attorney-General, warned the Trump administration that Flynn was lying.
Michael Flynn was stumping for Trump at a time when almost no other senior military figure would have anything to do with him. His leading of a “lock her up” chant at the 2016 RNC convention is a key moment in the Trump campaign.
Michael Flynn and the “Lock Her Up” Chant
This was the moment when I personally lost all respect for Flynn. The deranged look on his face and the complete lack of judgement displayed in this situation was very concerning to me. He acted like a teenager going crazy over a pop idol. This man was no longer a general with 33 years experience in one of the world’s top militaries.
Former Lieutenant General Mark Hertling, who served with Flynn, spoke about him on CNN yesterday. He said there was something that he believed changed Flynn from the man he was in his earlier career to the man he has become more recently. However, he declined to comment further except to state that it was an episode in his personal life.
More to Come
There will be more developments following this. It is clear from the full analysis on CNN that despite Flynn being a big fish, he’s bait for even bigger fish.
When that occurs, those who get their information solely from Fox News will be in for a surprise. They will believe Flynn’s guilty plea changes nothing. They’ll think a charge of one lie is because that’s all that was found. There will be no understanding that Michael Flynn has taken this plea to protect himself from worse.
In the meantime he will be telling the Mueller investigation all about those further up the food chain. And, if he doesn’t have information about people higher up, there are more charges that will be laid against him. The documentation makes that clear.
However, it is also clear that the Mueller investigation has good reason to believe that Flynn can provide damning evidence against others.
Donald Trump has been a cartoonist’s dream since his announcement that he was running for the presidency. Every possible subject has been part of their art, including Michael Flynn. The following is a slideshow of cartoons I’ve put in tweets since Michael Flynn was fired after 25 days as Trump’s National Security Advisor.
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