VILLAINS AND US: A villain today, a hero back then!

WEDNESDAY, MAY 17, 2017

Part 3—Andrew McCabe transformed:
The villain's conduct was "a scandal," Rachel Maddow told millions of viewers last week.

In this way, the cable star handed us liberals our latest villain. It happened in the dramatic opening segment of last Wednesday night's Maddow Show.

The villain in question was Andrew McCabe, acting director of the FBI. In a wonderfully dramatic monologue, Rachel Maddow angrily told us what he did last winter.

Plainly, it sounded bad! Back in February, McCabe "improperly discussed the investigation into the Trump camp's ties to Russia with Reince Priebus." In this way, he "became part of the Trump disinformation campaign."

We're quoting from the official synopsis, at Maddow's site, of what McCabe allegedly did. Plainly, it sounded very bad, pleasingly so.

Maddow told a dramatic story in a twenty-minute opening segment. Here's the problem:

Back in February, in real time, Maddow told this same story in an "alternative" way. Back then, McCabe was the hero of the tale! Reince Priebus was cast as the villain.

Back in February, did Andrew McCabe really become part of the Trump disinformation campaign? We know of no reason to say so.

We don't know what McCabe may have done. We do know how Maddow originally told this tale.

Did McCabe do something villainous last winter? We have no idea! Back in real time, reporting on the alleged incident was limited, murky, unprofessional, puzzling, in highly familiar old ways.

We also know this. Last Wednesday night, Maddow's new story was wholly based on accepting a set of unproven accusations by Priebus! On that remarkably shaky basis, we liberals were handed our latest villain tale.

Yesterday, we showed you the dramatic story Maddow told last week—the dramatic story in which McCabe was defined as a villain. For today, let's review the way she told this story in February, with McCabe in the hero role.

We're talking about the same events. Only the casting is different.

It all began with a fiery report on Thursday evening, February 23. As she often does, Maddow started her show this night with one of her interminable historical digressions. After almost eleven minutes of prologue, the rubber at last met the road.

In the passage shown below, Maddow begins to tell a dramatic story. Priebus tried to lean on the FBI—but Andrew McCabe said no!

To watch the whole segment, click here:
MADDOW (2/23/17): CNN reports tonight that White House chief of staff Reince Priebus, earlier this month, leaned on the FBI, leaned on the FBI personally and specifically, about FBI investigations into contacts between the Trump campaign and Russia.

CNN was first to report this. NBC News has now confirmed it from NBC News justice correspondent Pete Williams.

The story is that a White House official—CNN says specifically it is Reince Priebus—a White House official contacted the deputy director of the FBI and told that deputy director that the FBI should make public statements about their ongoing investigation, about this ongoing question of Trump staffers communicating with Russian government or intelligence officials during the presidential campaign while Russia was working to influence the outcome of our presidential election campaign.

The question of those contacts, of course, between the Trump campaign and Russian government, those contacts are the subject of multiple ongoing FBI investigations.

According to the reporting this evening, the White House told the FBI they should publicly knock down press reports about contacts between the Trump campaign and Russia. Again, the FBI is currently investigating contacts between the Trump campaign and Russia. You want us to do what now?

The FBI deputy director—and this is confirmed by both CNN and NBC—the FBI deputy director refused that request from the White House. Said no. We're not going to do what you want on this investigation.

And now, of course, unnamed officials are telling reporters at multiple news organizations about the White House leaning on the FBI with regard to this incredibly important, incredibly sensitive investigation.
The story was quite basic. Priebus had tried to tell the FBI to shoot down certain reports. The deputy director of the FBI had refused to comply with these demands. On-screen, we saw the CNN headline:

"FBI refused White House request to knock down recent Trump-Russia stories"

That deputy director was Andrew McCabe. This is the same incident Maddow described on her program last week.

Last Wednesday night, Maddow savaged McCabe as the villain of the piece. The way she told the story last winter, Priebus was the villainous figure. McCabe had pushed him away.

Andrew McCabe had refused to submit! As she continued telling the story last winter, Maddow helped us see how villainous Priebus had been:
MADDOW (continuing directly): You can't do that! I mean, one—take a civics class, right?

I mean, like as a matter of principle, right? When there is an ongoing serious criminal investigation that affects the president, you can't have people close to the president, you can't have the president's chief of staff meddling in that investigation or giving directives to the people conducting that investigation. Just as a matter of basic principle. Ask a fifth grader.

As a matter of the rules, though, it would appear somebody like Reince Priebus is not cleared in any circumstance to be talking to the FBI about any of their investigations—unless Jeff Sessions changed the rules without telling anybody.

[...]

The White House leaning on the FBI about these investigations overtly, I mean, that's as serious as a heart attack, right?
Priebus had "leaned on the FBI," telling them to knock down press reports about Trump campaign contacts with Russia. That was as serious as a heart attack, we were told.

At that point, pure cable joy—we got have some fun! Maddow engaged in some of the wonderful clowning which makes us love her so much:
MADDOW (continuing directly): That said, maybe it's not a heart attack, maybe it's gas. Sometimes a gas pain can feel like a heart attack. You think it's the most serious thing in the world but it's just a little body burp.
"Oops, how did that happen?"

[Enjoys a good solid laugh]

OK, to extract myself from this metaphor here, what I'm trying to say is this could be death of the republic.

This could also just be stupidity, right? Benefit of the doubt. You really don't know this is a problem? I mean, is it possible the White House, including the White House chief of staff, doesn't know you can't tell the FBI what to do about their ongoing investigation into the White House?

You can't give them directives about that. You can't nudge them on their investigation. You can't tell them what public comment to make about that investigation.

Could it be the White House, including the chief of staff, just doesn't get that that's a bad? "Oops, my bad, sorry, didn't mean to interfere. Am I not supposed to?"

I mean, that's the best case scenario here, presumably that will be their defense.
Was it a heart attack or a body burp? Wonderfully, Maddow wasn't sure—but it could be the death of the republic!

Priebus was the villain here—and McCabe, although he went unnamed, was the obvious hero. The next night—Friday, February 24—Maddow returned to this story, banging on Priebus again.

Yay yay yay yay yay yay yay! Priebus was such a villain now that he might be losing his job!
MADDOW (2/24/17): The second big story tonight is increasingly starting to feel like the open question of whether or not the White House chief of staff gets to keep his job.

When last we left White House chief of staff Reince Priebus, when we last left him in the news, he was being named as the White House official who contacted the FBI about the FBI's reported investigation into contacts between the Trump campaign and Russia while the Russian government was attacking our election last year.

Well, today, the White House got excited to push back on that reporting. We don't exactly know what they thought was the damaging thing about that reporting that they were pushing back on, but in their big, excited, hours-long pushback today, they also actually confirmed repeatedly and emphatically the worst part of it.

They confirmed today, in no uncertain terms, that, yes, Reince Priebus, yes, the White House chief of staff, they now confirm he did discuss with the deputy director of the FBI and the director of the FBI what the FBI knows about contacts between the Trump campaign and Russia.

The White House is confirming that the White House chief of staff contacted and pressured the FBI about that ongoing investigation.
This is the way the story was told in real time. Briefly, let's be fair.

Over the ensuing February 25 weekend, the New York Times and the Washington Post reported on this kerflubble. Meanwhile, Priebus went on Meet the Press and made accusations about McCabe and Comey both.

That said, Maddow didn't return to this topic on her February 27 show, or on any subsequent program. This is the way the matter was left—until last Wednesday, when we were suddenly told that McCabe joined the Trump disinformation campaign during this episode.

Did McCabe do some such thing? We know of no respectable basis for saying that. We can tell you this:

When Maddow launched last Wednesday's attack, she presented no serious basis for her very serious charges. Truthfully, she relied on a highly unreliable source as she made her screeching claims:

She relied on a set on three-month-old claims by Reince Priebus!

We know of no reason to assume that Priebus' claims were accurate. Needless to say, Maddow never told her viewers that she was relying on Priebus.

Why would Maddow base such aggressive charges on such an unreliable source? Is there any reasonable basis for her aggressive charges?

In our view, the answer is no. Still, we need to be fair.

Tomorrow we'll look at some shaky "reporting" on this incident from the Washington Post and the New York Times. We'll also look at the one journalistic source Maddow cited last week, an analysis piece from Time.

Maddow thundered hard last week. She made a very serious claim. As is often the case on her show, it's very, very, very hard to find a serious basis.

Tomorrow: Unsupported claims

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