The media is making a huge blunder by taking Republicans' complaints about impeachment seriously
Nancy Pelosi called the GOP's impeachment bluff this week, and in doing so she completely undercut the "process" attacks they have been making about the House inquiry. Demanding that a formal House vote be held on impeachment, Republicans have insisted the lack of a vote represents a tell-tale sign that the inquiry is unfair. But now that vote is scheduled to take place on Thursday, robbing Republicans of a preferred talking point.
Suggesting it's everything from a coup to a "lynching" to the crucifixion of Christ, Republicans and the conservative media have been wallowing in impeachment hysteria mode for more than a month. During that time, we've seen very little hard-nosed defense of Trump's open collusion with Ukraine. Republicans clearly don't want to get into the weeds on this story, where revelation after revelation has pointed to Trump wrongdoing. Instead, we've seen incessant conservative attacks on the impeachment "process": It's too secretive, it's too restricted, and there are no cross-examinations allowed, etc. The attacks are comically thin and the press ought to be saying so and being upfront about it in the news coverage, instead of suggesting that ‘Both Sides’ differ on how the impeachment inquiry is unfolding.
Indeed, the Beltway press often prefers to focus on whatever is making Republicans angry, and reporters love pretending that's the real news. When Republicans recently broke House rules and staged a protest by pushing past Capitol Police officers in order to barge into secure rooms occupied by the House Intelligence Committee, where impeachment investigators have been conducting private interviews, the press took the bait, playing it up as a huge event.
From The New York Times: “This is a Soviet-style process,” Rep. Steve Scalise, the No. 2 House Republican, charged Wednesday of the closed-door deposition for a Pentagon official. “It should not be allowed in the United States of America. Every member of Congress ought to be allowed in that room.”
But heated rhetoric like that isn't the news. What is news is that Republicans are completely fabricating claims about how Democrats are handling impeachment. It's news that Republicans now routinely lie about everything—and that's how the story ought to be covered.
By the way, the reasons for Democrats holding private interviews, and conducting them like grand jury hearings, are obvious: They minimize political grandstanding by lawmakers and witnesses. They allow staff attorneys to ask questions for extended blocks of time, and private interviews prevent witnesses from lining up their stories in advance by simply watching what other witnesses say during public hearings.
To its credit, The Washington Post recently published a stinging editorial condemning Republicans for their bogus "process" attacks. "There is an old Washington saying that if you’re arguing about process, you’re losing," the Post editorial board wrote. "A follow-on maxim might be: If you are wrong on process, too, you must really be in trouble."
But this frank discussion should not be restricted to the opinion pages. The fact is, Democrats are following the established rules, as National Memo's Joe Conason helpfully pointed out. "House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), today insists the impeachment inquiry shouldn’t proceed unless the Republicans are permitted to issue subpoenas — but the rule that awards subpoena power exclusively to the majority is precisely what he and his cronies approved four years ago," Conason wrote.
That rather central point was completely omitted by The New York Times in a recent news article headlined, "Republicans Fight Trump’s Impeachment by Attacking the Process." The story presented a partial, Both Sides picture (i.e. Republicans are attacking the process, and Democrats say it's fair). But that leaves out a lot. For instance, during the impeachment inquiries of Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton, the minority power did not enjoy unilateral subpoena power, and fact-finding interviews were often held behind closed doors. (The public hearings came later.)
What the Times article did contain though, were many, many quotes from angry Republicans denouncing the "process." And again, that is what has been shortsighted about the coverage: reporters scrambling to collect outraged Republican quotes without including proper context that the GOP beefs are utterly unwarranted.
Most Republican senators are supporting an unusual, non-binding resolution that publicly condemns the House for how it's handling its business—in this case, the impeachment business of Trump. The GOP move has generated lots of press coverage even though it's little more than a stunt, since the Senate, by design, has no say in how the House conducts its hearings. And the coverage has consisted of little more than journalists transcribing (surprise!) angry quotes from Republicans. A Hill dispatch on the resolution last week included seven quotes from Republicans, and zero quotes from Democrats. The article also completely failed to point out House Democrats are following rules established by Republicans.
That Times report also quoted a portion of the Senate resolution denouncing the House, claiming the House inquiry "ignores the procedural rights given to the investigating committee’s minority in previous presidential impeachments." And yes, that would have been a good moment for the Times to point out the House is following rules previously passed by Republicans.
Meanwhile, The Wall Street Journal reported Democrats were being forced to "defend" hosting private impeachment interviews, as the paper embraced GOP talking points. And the Post suggested the House Republican protest last week was "weird" because instead of being locked out of the impeachment hearings, lots of Republicans were attending them and asking questions. (They often use their question time to push debunked conspiracy theories.)
Using the word "weird" suggests Republicans simply can't see the flaw in their logic. But they can. They know their claims are hollow and bogus. They're just hoping the press doesn't say so.
Eric Boehlert is a veteran progressive writer and media analyst, formerly with Media Matters and Salon. He is the author of Lapdogs: How the Press Rolled Over for Bush and Bloggers on the Bus. You can follow him on Twitter @EricBoehlert.