Watergate 2.0: Why are the editors of The Washington Post so opposed to investigating?

Image by Don Hinchcliffe via Flickr Creative Commons https://www.flickr.com/photos/dionhinchcliffe/ License: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/

When The Washington Post introduced it’s new banner logo, “Democracy dies in darkness,” it was assumed to be a shot at President Trump, who had excoriated the credentialed media as purveyors of #FakeNews and in general just being lying (insert slang term for the rectum here). The Post said, ‘Oh, no, we’ve been contemplating this since before the election:

The Washington Post’s new slogan turns out to be an old saying

By Paul Farhi | February 24, 2017

It may be the most widely debated and commented upon newspaper slogan since . . . well, has there ever been a widely debated newspaper slogan?

The Washington Post added a new phrase beneath its online masthead this week — “Democracy Dies in Darkness” — and the commentary flowed immediately. The slogan quickly trended on Twitter, drawing tweets even from the People’s Daily newspaper in China. It was fodder for a few late-night cracks from Stephen Colbert, who suggested some of the rejected phrases included “No, You Shut Up,” “Come at Me, Bro” and “We Took Down Nixon — Who Wants Next?”

WaPo logoOthers called it “ominous,” “awesome,” and “heavy-handed.” Slate offered an alternative list: “15 Metal Albums Whose Titles Are Less Dark Than The Washington Post’s New Motto.”

The addition of the dramatic and alliterative phrase was generally misinterpreted as an indirect reply to President Trump’s phrasemaking about the news media (“dishonest,” “the enemy of the American people,” etc.). But that’s not the case.

The Post decided to come up with a slogan nearly a year ago, long before Trump was the Republican presidential nominee, senior executives said. The paper hasn’t had an official slogan in its 140-year existence, although it did get some mileage with a long-running advertising tag­line, “If you don’t get it, you don’t get it.”

The paper’s owner, Amazon.com founder Jeffrey P. Bezos, used the phrase in an interview with The Post’s executive editor, Martin Baron, at a tech forum at The Post last May. “I think a lot of us believe this, that democracy dies in darkness, that certain institutions have a very important role in making sure that there is light,” he said at the time, speaking of his reasons for buying the paper.

Bezos apparently heard the phrase from legendary investigative reporter Bob Woodward, a Post associate editor. Woodward said he referenced it during a presentation at a conference that Bezos attended in 2015 in which Woodward talked about “The Last of the President’s Men,” his most recent book about the Watergate scandal.

There’s more at the original, but I just love how the Post article referenced Bob Woodward, who, with Carl Bernstein, won a Pulitzer Prize for the Post for their investigative reporting on Watergate.  One would think that the editors of the Post would celebrate investigative reporting, probing every corner to shine light into that democracy-killing darkness, to send the rats and roaches scurrying for cover.

Well, if one would think that, he would seem to have erred.  As we noted previously, The New York Times, the masthead logo of which claims that they publish “All the News That’s Fit to Print,” is claiming that the ‘informant’ used by the FBI to investigate Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign wasn’t there to ‘spy’ on Mr Trump, but to ‘investigate Russia ties to campaign.’

Yeah, uh huh, right. Apparently, that’s what the editors of the Post believe as well, as opinion writer Eugene Robinson wrote yesterday:

Stop waiting for the constitutional crisis that President Trump is sure to provoke. It’s here.

On Sunday, via Twitter, Trump demanded that the Justice Department concoct a transparently political investigation, with the aim of smearing veteran professionals at Justice and the FBI and also throwing mud at the previous administration. Trump’s only rational goal is casting doubt on the probe by special counsel Robert S. Mueller III, which appears to be closing in.

Trump’s power play is a gross misuse of his presidential authority and a dangerous departure from long-standing norms. Strongmen such as Russia’s Vladimir Putin use their justice systems to punish enemies and deflect attention from their own crimes. Presidents of the United States do not — or did not, until Sunday’s tweet:

Rather than push back and defend the rule of law, Justice tried to mollify the president by at least appearing to give him what he wants. The Republican leadership in Congress has been silent as a mouse. This is how uncrossable lines are crossed.

The pretext Trump seized on is the revelation that FBI source Stefan A. Halper made contact with three Trump campaign associates before the election as part of the FBI’s initial investigation into Russian meddling.

With the full-throated backing of right-wing media, Trump has described this person as a “spy” who was “implanted, for political purposes, into my campaign for president.” This claim is completely unsupported by the facts as we know them. Trump wants you to believe a lie.

The informant was not embedded or implanted or otherwise inserted into the campaign. He was asked to contact several campaign figures whose names had already surfaced in the FBI’s counterintelligence probe. It would have been an appalling dereliction of duty not to take a look at Trump advisers with Russia ties, such as Carter Page and George Papadopoulos, when the outlines of a Russian campaign to influence the election were emerging.

The obvious question arises: if what Mr Robinson, along with The New York Times, are claiming is true, that the FBI weren’t really spying on Mr Trump, wouldn’t an investigation reveal that? Wouldn’t such an investigation clear President Obama, his Administration and the Department of Justice of the nefarious claims being made by what Mr Robinson called the “right-wing media”?

The Justice Department rsponded to the President’s instruction by announcing that it would expand the Inspector General’s investigation to “include determining whether there was any impropriety or political motivation” by the FBI. Shouldn’t the editors of the Post welcome that? Shouldn’t the newspaper which did more to investigate Watergate want to see that, and, indeed, be assigning a couple of this generation’s Woodward and Bernstein to start turning over rocks?

Mr Robinson thinks not:

None of this is normal or acceptable. One of the bedrock principles of our system of government is that no one is above the law, not even the president. But a gutless Congress has refused, so far, to protect this sacred inheritance.

Trump is determined to use the Justice Department and the FBI to punish those he sees as political enemies. This is a crisis, and it will get worse.

Yet, if what has been credibly alleged is correct, then the President who broke the law that he is not above would be Barack Obama, not Donald Trump. Mr Robinson should want that investigated.

And it appears that Mr Robinson is not alone; the Editorial Board is also aghast.

In their paranoid partisan war on the Justice Department’s Russia probe, President Trump’s allies have been pushing for the dangerous disclosure of national security information, including information about a top-secret FBI and CIA informant. If Mr. Trump took his responsibility to protect the nation seriously, he would tell his allies to be quiet. Instead, he joined them Thursday. “Word seems to be coming out that the Obama FBI ‘SPIED ON THE TRUMP CAMPAIGN WITH AN EMBEDDED INFORMANT,’ ” Mr. Trump tweeted, in an apparent reference to the confidential source. “If so, this is bigger than Watergate!”

Rudolph W. Giuliani, Mr. Trump’s lawyer and a former Justice Department official who should know better than to spread such slander, told The Post that the president thinks that there is a law-enforcement conspiracy against him. “The prior government did it, but the present government, for some reason I can’t figure out, is covering it up,” he said. He also said: “I don’t know why the current attorney general and the current director of the FBI want to protect a bunch of renegades that might amount to 20 people at most within the FBI.” Yet Mr. Giuliani admitted Friday that the president does not really know whether the FBI planted anyone in his campaign. CNN also reported Friday that U.S. officials insist that no informant was embedded.

The GOP’s escalating campaign against the FBI is extremely dangerous. Protecting the country is not just about having the biggest weapons. Trust is a key national security asset. Vast networks of informants relay information to the U.S. government daily. Sometimes their tips prove faulty. Sometimes they prevent terrorist attacks or provide the key piece of information necessary to bring down major criminals. If confidential informants conclude that they cannot rely on the assurances of the U.S. government, they will think twice about sending in tips, wearing wires or approaching malicious actors. That is why intelligence and law enforcement agencies spend vast amounts of time and money protecting the identity of sources and informants.

I’m sorry, but if “trust is a key national security asset,” shouldn’t we be able to trust that an outgoing Administration is not using the power of government, the police power of the state, to ‘investigate’ the political campaigns of the opposition party?  Shouldn’t the newspaper which tells us that ‘democracy dies in darkness’ want to have this credibly and reasonably investigated?

And am I wrong to suspect that, had it been the outgoing Bush Administration which ‘investigated’ Mr Obama’s campaign in 2008, the editors of the Post would have been almost apoplectic in their outrage, and determined that not only the Obama Department of Justice, but their own reporters should be digging deeply in their attempts to investigate this?

Well, who knows?  Perhaps a thorough investigation will reveal that Dr Halper’s ‘inquiries’ were nothing more than what those two august newspapers have claimed, simply checking to see if Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin was manipulating the Trump campaign.  But we won’t know that without an investigation.  One wonders why the Post doesn’t want one.
Cross-posted on The First Street Journal.