Firmly adopting Republican spin as the best way to view the House impeachment of Donald Trump, The New York Times in recent days appears to have forfeited much of its news coverage to the GOP. Adopting Republican talking points that impeachment is "a political plus" for Trump; "risky" for Democrats; that the White House’s impeachment war room is humming on all cylinders; Democrats are in danger of devaluing impeachment; and that nobody can really tell which party has the facts on their side, the Times is doing the GOP an incalculable favor by refusing to be aggressively honest with readers about the historic events that are unfolding.
Over and over during the past week, Times reporters have defaulted to a clearly Republican perspective, framing the impeachment as a looming political loss for Democrats, who have been largely outmaneuvered by their more savvy counterparts across the isle. This, despite the fact that half of Americans support the extraordinary action of removing a sitting Republican president from office.
The sad truth is that Times impeachment coverage has collapsed into a newsroom marveling at how Democrats haven’t been able to convince the GOP to support the congressional oversight, and therefore it represents a political loss for Democrats. Do you notice the calculation there? By simply opposing Democrats, Republicans are declared the winners.
The case of impeachment is even more incendiary because not only are Republicans stuck in obstruction mode, but they've dived headfirst into the swamp of conspiracy and lies and refuse to engage in a public debate on the facts. Remember, Trump has admitted to pressuring the Ukraine government to launch a bogus investigation into Trump's political rival at home, yet Republicans now routinely parade in front of microphones categorically denying Trump ever made any such public admission. Given that behavior, you'd think the dominant media narrative would be about how radical and detached from reality Republicans have become, and what the deep and lasting implications are for our democracy.
Instead, the press is playing along and suggesting it's Democrats who are faltering.
Wallowing in Both Sides journalism, the Times recently insisted impeachment is playing out against a backdrop where "conspiracy theories are everywhere and conspiracy theorists are in the White House and Congress." But of course, the Times cannot point to a single "conspiracy theory" at the heart of the Democrats' fact-based impeachment claim against Trump. Indeed, most of the wrongdoings that Democrats claim are things that have happened in plain sight, or have been reported by officials in Trump's own administration. By contrast, the entire so-called Republican impeachment defense is built on a completely debunked lie about how Ukraine worked on behalf of the Hillary Clinton campaign in 2016.
Yet the Times continues to feign confusion as to which party is telling the truth regarding the impeachment allegations. "Throughout the committee’s debate, the lawmakers from the two parties could not even agree on a basic set of facts in front of them," the Times marveled, making little or no effort to determine which party was dealing with facts and which party was dealing with fantasy. "They called each other liars and demagogues and accused each other of being desperate and unfair."
It's the news equivalent of the Both Sides Olympics, as the Times noted "the different impeachment realities that the two parties are living in." Once again, Republicans abandoned all pretense of facts and truth telling during impeachment. But the Times doesn’t want to dwell on that, so instead the paper tsk-tsks about how messy and angry the process was—a "sideshow atmosphere," as one print headline read.
In a front-page piece comparing and contrasting the Trump impeachment with the Bill Clinton trial of 1998 and how the Trump affair today seems less pressing, the Times completely omitted the fact that twice as many Americans today want Trump impeached than ever wanted Clinton driven from office. Meaning, only when all context is stripped away can the Times argue that Trump's impeachment has failed to strike a chord nationally.
And that's the point the paper has hammered over and over in recent days: Impeachment has been a nonstarter and people just can't figure out which side is telling the truth. Like when the paper worried impeachment has become "weaponized" by Democrats and will now become commonplace in American politics:
With the House poised to impeach President Trump on a mainly party-line vote and Republicans already threatening retribution, fears are mounting that presidential impeachment might, like the filibuster, become a regular feature of America’s weaponized politics, with members of the party out of the White House but in control of the House routinely trying to oust a president they find objectionable.
That's literally a Republican talking point—Democrats are “normalizing” impeachment—which the Times typed up in the form of analysis.
Elsewhere, the paper has leaned hard on the idea that Trump's impeachment just didn't seem to matter. "Three years of intensity, nonstop ... conflict in Washington and this just feels like yet another chapter in that, rather than something unique," Times White House correspondent Peter Baker stressed on Meet The Press. In other words, half the country wants our sitting president removed from office, and the Times' D.C. bureau signals that it's all ho-hum.
Over and over, Times reporters have lamented the lack of impeachment civility (i.e. a deliberate GOP strategy) and decried that as being perhaps the most important take-away from the historic proceedings. That, plus the fact the hearings were boring, apparently: "The session soon fell into a going-through-the-motions rhythm. The words came loud and fast and were also tired with inevitability—like a cruise-controlled drive to a familiar destination."
As for the White House during impeachment, the newspaper recently suggested the GOP War Room communications effort was running exactly as planned. And who told the Times that? "White House officials" who agreed to talk to the Times to tell them how great the War Room effort is going. Elsewhere, the Times announced Trump himself appeared "more energized" in recent days. As proof, the newspaper pointed to the 123 tweets he posted in a single day last week. Some journalists might look at that mind-bending figure and conclude Trump is not well mentally, and that the Democratic inquiry was driving him to distraction. The Times though, concluded it meant Trump has been "energized" by impeachment.
Far being being energized, the Times’ impeachment coverage feels like it has essentially given in to GOP spin.
Eric Boehlert is a veteran progressive writer and media analyst, formerly with Media Matters and Salon. He is the author of Lapdogs: How the Press Rolled Over for Bush and Bloggers on the Bus. You can follow him on Twitter @EricBoehlert.
This post was written and reported through our Daily Kos freelance program.