I didn't take notes of what the Trump defense team said in the Senate impeachment trial on Saturday because I thought I could pick it up in the next day's coverage.
So, this morning I turned to nearly the same Associated Press story, bylined Eric Tucker, Lisa Mascaro and Zeke Miller, in the Chicago Tribune and the Chicago Sun-Times. First, I was somewhat surprised that the two papers, both having reporters based in their Washington bureaus, went with a wire (AP) story instead of depending on their own talented staffs.*
As I read the stories, I expected to come across an elucidation of the defense team's argument, hopefully point by point. I kept reading and reading, but...very little. Mostly warmed over
background, explanations of the Democrat's impeachment arguments, reminders about what Trump and Republicans have done and the briefest of explanations about the thrust of the defense arguments: That Trump had the right to set foreign policy as he saw fit and that his concerns about corruption in Ukraine were valid.
The Republican team replayed excerpts from the prosecution's own witnesses in a point-by-point rebuttal of some of most serious charges. You may or may not agree with the argumentation, but it was made and should have been reported in detail. If anything it rebutted the frequent assertion by Democrats that Trump's defenders have utterly failed to debate the substance in favor of the "process."
There were other not-so-small hints of which side the AP reporters were on:
- That Trump "...sought the investigation of the debunked theory that Ukraine interfered in the 2016 U.S. election." [My emphasis] It might be true that the theory was effectively "debunked," but the claim was made without attribution. It shouldn't have been hard to find who made that claim.
- Then there's another claim that needs attribution: "One of the president's lawyers, Alan Dershowitz, is expected to argue next week that an impeachable offense requires criminal-like conduct, even though many legal scholars say that's not true." [My emphasis] Again, perhaps Dershowitz stands alone, but what are the merits of his argument? Are they so weak that a supposedly "hard news" report required debunking even before Dershowitz made the argument?
Apparently not having enough room to adequately report Trump's arguments, the reporters still found room to include this paragraph:
The president’s team arrayed in the well of the chamber also looked different than the House managers — defending Trump were four white men. One woman, attorney Pam Bondi, is also on Trump’s team. The seven-person House manager team reflected a cross section of America that included women and people of color.
The relevance, I suppose, is that there's a racist and misogynist cast to the Trump defense team (and all the "deployable" Trump supporters). It's a way of saying it, without saying it. This is the kind of crap that discredits the journalism profession. This is the first introduction of race and sex into the impeachment fight that I've seen, and it is irrelevant.
So, how would I, as a former newspaper reporter, have written the story. This will give you an idea: I owe Tribune columnist Mary Schmich for leading me there in today's column, "From the man who brought you the @MayorEmanuel Twitter parody, a newsletter on Trump’s impeachment" She talked about a popular newsletter, impeachment.fyi, published by Dan Sinker
Sinker did what I imagined that every professional journalist should and would do: Enumerated the defense argument, bullet point by point point. Sinker is a self-described progressive, and so he sprinkles his viewpoints throughout the post. It' probably not how I would have written each point, but my version at least would have been accepted by my old-school editors as the preferred way to cover the defense response.
*By the way, I found both stories on the papers' websites. For the Tribune's e-paper, I found that it played the lead story on the printed page 1. But when I tried to find the same story on the updated website, it wasn't there. In fact, that site had no story about Trump's defense that I could find. If it was there and I missed, it, I apologize. If it indeed wasn't there, it was either a spectacular blunder or cause for a serious internal investigation of the paper's editorial judgment.
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