On Tuesday evening, Republican Rep. Justin Amash conducted a town hall meeting in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and depending on whether you read CNN or The New York Times, he was either greeted with a standing ovation or challenged by disappointed voters in MAGA hats. But whether Amash’s welcome was warm or icy, one thing is certain: He’s getting a ton of attention, especially from Republican megadonors who have pulled their support and from Trump supporters eager to take his seat.
Amash is no Democratic hero. He’s in no way progressive. In fact, he’s one of the founders of the ultra-conservative Freedom Caucus, a group that in past days was guaranteed to be on the right-most edge of every issue. But when the Republican Party packed away its principles, abandoned its long-held positions, and signed on to Whatever Trump Tweeted Last … it seems that Amash did not.
In the last few weeks, Amash has come forward as the lone voice in the Republican Party still willing to actually read the Mueller report rather than drop the talking points prepared inside the Trump White House. In looking at the actual report, Amash saw what everyone else who bothered to read it could not miss: multiple instances in which Trump engaged in behavior that was meant to obstruct the investigation. And he saw that Mueller had intended that the whole situation be resolved in Congress rather than in a three-page insta-verdict cobbled together out of sentence fragments by William Barr. He saw that Trump had committed impeachable behavior that no congressman, left or right, should either support or ignore.
Amash’s willingness to point out the emperor’s puffy orange nakedness has earned him attacks from Trump, from other Republican lawmakers, and from would-be congressmen eager to step into his slot and award Trump another whatever-you-say vote. And it has also earned him some bizarrely divergent news coverage. Coverage so different that it begins to seem there are other players in the Trump camp than just ambitious would-be congressmen and nervous donors.
In reporting on the Tuesday town hall event, CNN begins by saying that, while Amash may have thought he would encounter critics for his remarks about Trump, “instead he got a standing ovation Tuesday.” The Times, meanwhile, says that Amash met with “mixed” support and begins its coverage with a woman who “did not have the words to express her disappointment in him.” Believe it or not, both of these reports were on the same town hall.
The Times article devotes its first three paragraphs to the “disappointed” voters. And here’s how it presents a challenge to Amash.
“How can you become a Democrat when we voted you in as a Republican?” asked Ms. Luke, a 57-year-old from Grand Rapids, as boos, hisses and heckles rumbled through the crowd on Tuesday at his first town hall-style meeting since publicly declaring that President Trump’s behavior had reached the “threshold of impeachment.”
The same voters get a mention in the CNN article, but … you might not recognize them.
Attendees even booed and heckled a woman in a Make America Great Again hat who defended Trump, prompting Amash to step in. "Let's be respectful," he urged the crowd.
The article from The New York Times clearly implies that Amash got a cold reception and was the subject of “boos, hisses, and heckles.” The CNN article shows an Amash who gets a powerful greeting, with the objections being to the woman who speaks against him.
Here are that actual person, her actual statements, and what actually happened in the room.
What genuinely happened is that the woman rose, Amash insisted that she be respected, and she proceeded to talk about Hillary Clinton and Robert Mueller trying to launch a “silent coup” and the horror of dealing with bureaucrats. Her statements were so out in far, far Trump field that she, not Amash, attracted a lot of shouts, boos, and just plain old moans.
What’s interesting is that The New York Times decided to edit past everything else the woman said about “coups” and the “deep state” and pull up a single sentence to make it seem that her statement was reasonable. And, of everyone who spoke, it went to this woman. And, when everyone there was clearly expressing their impatience with her rambling diatribe, the Times made it sound as if the complaints were aimed at Amash.
The one thing the party of Donald Trump cannot tolerate is a conscience. Someone with even the slightest glimmer of principles could not possibly go along with a raging bully whose every action begins in hate, and whose “strategy” is that his every notion deserves unquestioned support. Fortunately for Trump, that hasn’t really been an issue. Republicans don’t believe in tariffs? They do now! Supporting dictators in Russia, North Korea, Saudi Arabia? They’re all in. In the era of Trump, Republicans have demonstrated that every principle they ever claimed was no more than a temporary tattoo, easily washed off when the time came to get in line.
On almost every matter of any import, Justin Amash is wrong. He’s wrong on taxes, on fiscal policy, on social services, and on the basic function of government. But that he’s willing to stick to his principles when everyone around him is falling in line is admirable.
What’s less admirable is the coverage. The Times’ description of the town hall was a massive distortion of what actually happened, one that abbreviated and slanted events toward Trump. Has The New York Times been taking journalism lessons from William Barr?