Here’s a story that encompasses the total, flaming, corrupt disaster of U.S. politics and media all at once. In late 2020, Donald Trump told then-Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell about his plans to overturn his election loss—and McConnell remained silent because saying publicly that Trump should stop trying to overturn the election would have jeopardized Republican chances in January 2021’s Georgia Senate runoffs. That’s the flaming corrupt disaster of U.S. politics part. The flaming corrupt disaster of U.S. media part is that we are learning this now, in 2022, because some New York Times reporters saved it for a book.
Yes, once again we are learning information that it would have been good to learn at the time it was happening, or at least as soon as reporters became aware of it, more than a year later so that people with regular salaried jobs as reporters can juice their book sales.
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The reporters this time are Jonathan Martin and Alexander Burns. Back in February, it was fellow New York Times reporter Maggie Haberman, who waited for her book to reveal that White House residence staff would find toilets clogged with paper and believed that Trump was trying to flush documents. In Nov. 2021, ABC News reporter Jonathan Karl came out with a book revealing that, in the run-up to the January 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol, then-White House chief of staff Mark Meadows had sent Mike Pence’s top aide a memo outlining a plan to overturn the election. In September 2020, Bob Woodward released a book revealing that in February and March of that year, Trump had repeatedly told him how dangerous the coronavirus was, in complete contradiction to his public message or his administration’s actions, and admitted that he “wanted to always play it down.”
I am almost certainly missing some.
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Time after time, reporters get information that is genuinely important for the general public to learn about, important for the future of the democracy, and … they sit on it for months, the better to collect a big advance and rack up sales. In the past, these after-the-fact revelations were more likely to be gossip, details about internal blow-ups, and backstabbing. Thanks to Trump and the increasingly extremist, anti-democratic Republican Party, these days, the revelations are literally information about an attempted coup. That’s not something you save for the book, unless your sole concerns are money and a glitzy book roll-out with lots of high-profile coverage. Which, to be real about it, is how the entire New York Times politics desk operates these days, to a degree that shows it’s coming from the top.
So, yeah, it’s terrible that a Senate leader heard about plans to overturn an election that he knew to have been legal and fair and kept his mouth shut because he was worried about losing the next election. But it’s not the first time McConnell has done something like that, as when he blocked the Obama administration from blowing the whistle on Russian election interference in 2016. Mitch McConnell has one concern in the world, and that is Republican power. He will always act to get more of it.
But people like McConnell get the ability to act that way when no one holds them to account. When, for instance, the media doesn’t hold them to account. When the media reports brazen lies from one party as holding the same weight as largely truthful statement from the other party. And when the media simply does not report what’s going on until months after the fact because it benefits the careers of individual reporters to hold back information.
How much did Mitch McConnell know about Russian interference and when did he know it?
Woodward has Trump on tape admitting he deliberately underplayed the threat of COVID-19