AP's vacuous coverage of the Trump defense team in Senate trial

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

Dan Dan Sinker, who should have been the AP's reporter covering the impeachment trial. Read to end of story to find out why. (Daniel X. O'Neil via the Chicago Tribune.)

Dan Sinker, who should have been the AP’s reporter covering the impeachment trial. Read to end of story to find out why. (Daniel X. O’Neil via the Chicago Tribune.)

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.



My historical novel: Madness: The War of 1812

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  • Dennis, do you, yourself, believe that Trump abused presidential power by asking Zelensky to investigate Joe Biden and his son?

    I don't see anything wrong in describing the makeup of the House Management team and Trump's defense team. The inference you draw might be unfortunately true though.

    Dennis, you forgot to point out that Dershowitz himself said during the Clinton trial that impeachment did not require a crime, or crime-like act. Today, he explains that he was 'less correct' back then.

    Dennis, let's not forget to point out that promoting the conspiracy theory that Ukraine hacked the 2016 election plays into Russia's,
    for which Putin recently thanked Trump and evoked God to bless him.

  • In reply to Aquinas wired:

    I meant above...."Russia's hand'

  • BTW. thanks for including the Dan Sinker rundown. His "sprinkled" viewpoints do a good job of sinking the Trump 'Defense?' team.

  • C'mon, Dennis. Do you really think that Trump will ever get a fair shake from the media? I want to see their heads explode when he gets re-elected.

  • With all due respect, your coverage of the entire Trump presidency has not only been vacuous, but slanted to the point of gross inaccuracies (alternative facts), false narratives and what can only be described as a Fox-esque disregard for the daily reality that we can all see with our own eyes and hear with our own ears.

  • In reply to Bob Abrams:

    What? Have you even read the blog and what I've said about Trump? If you want to continue to post here, I expect you to at least read what I've written. Yes, I've said some good things about Trump's policies (some of which I don't like) and yes i've criticized Democrats. But as far as reality goes, when it comes to reading comprehension, you need to go back to school as a student. Below are some (but not all) of the stuff I've written criticizing Trump. Have someone read them to you.


  • In reply to Dennis Byrne:

    Please, Dennis, I think you can respond to criticism without threatening to silence your critics. This sounds too much like one of Donald Trump's character flaws that I think we would all condemn.

  • In reply to jnorto:

    Perhaps you're right. But the letters-to-the-editor policy we had was not to publish responses that contained factual errors, personal attacks and unwarranted presumptions. Bob was so far off target that he needs to shape up his act.

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