If there’s a common thread to all the dismal stories being reported right now, I’d have to say it’s the toxic news environment. Whenever there’s breaking news, it’s hard to see past all the pointing fingers to try to figure out what really happened and why. This being the start of campaign season, it’s worse than usual, and bound to get even more poisonous.
Ironically, I myself am pointing a finger –- straight at that toxic news environment. The media create a narrative and distort what people (especially the President) say and even think in order to further the story they want to tell. In the case of the horrific shootings over the weekend, for example, they decided what the story would be --- THIS IS ALL TRUMP’S FAULT --- and twisted what he has said to try to make it seem as if he’s a racist who’s “dog whistling” to white supremacists. That is a total lie. But when you lie to your audience enough times, the lie becomes “their truth.”
Consider the case of John Ratcliffe’s withdrawal from consideration as the new Director of National Intelligence due to what Trump termed “unfair coverage.” Ratcliffe reportedly did not prosecute a major terrorism case as he had claimed but had only played “a research role.” Also, he had not in fact arrested over 300 illegal immigrants in one day during a 2008 sweep but had only played “a supporting role” and the number was more like 45. Okay, fine. Howard Kurtz of FOX News’ MEDIABUZZ referred to this as “solid reporting,” and even Trump acknowledged that the press sometimes “do the vetting for me,” with varying results.
Kudos to anyone reporting facts. But the media have gone on to promote the narrative that Ratcliffe is not qualified for the intelligence job. A hit piece by CNN national security analyst Samantha Vinograd terms the nomination a “disaster.” She slams Trump for what she perceives as his failure to rely on the intelligence community “to inform policy decisions and public statements.” To that, I would say that in light of how the intelligence community has treated HIM, first as a candidate and then as the duly elected President, it should come as no surprise that he shows little confidence in it.
Vinograd rips Ratcliffe for his “conspiracy-minded approach to the intelligence community and “disregard for established oversight mechanisms,” and asserts that he lacks the extensive national security experience that is legally required of the DNI. “By nominating Ratcliffe,” she says, “the President signaled that he doesn’t want a DNI who knows what he’s doing --- he just wants a DNI who will do what Trump wants.”
To say that Ratcliffe doesn’t know what he’s doing is an unfair and unsupported criticism. Again, I would say that after one has seen the evidence, as Ratcliffe has, of a conspiracy at the highest levels of the intelligence community, one might be excused for being at least somewhat conspiracy-minded and skeptical of oversight mechanisms. That is called BEING REALISTIC. If you’d like to read her whole piece, it’s at the link, but I think you get the idea.
There appears to be more behind the story of Ratcliffe’s nomination and quick withdrawal. As you’ve probably gathered, Rep. John Ratcliffe of Texas seemed to me like the perfect choice for the job of Director of National Intelligence. (Considering that James Clapper once held this position, the idea of Ratcliffe having this responsibility instead of him made me feel positively giddy.) A conversation on SUNDAY MORNING FUTURES between Maria Bartiromo and former Rep. Trey Gowdy offered a glimpse of the behind-the-scenes activity that most of us never see.
To preface this, it did seem curious to me when the Senate leadership greeted the news of the President’s choice with a distinct lack of enthusiasm. They hardly seemed to know who he was, but how could they not know him after the major role he played in Congress’ “Trump/Russia” hearings? And then on Sunday we learned that according to Bartiromo’s sources, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and North Carolina Sen. Richard Burr “basically blew him off” when he called them about getting together for a meeting. These sources also said the two men felt they wouldn’t be able to deliver the vote of Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, because she had said Ratcliffe was “awfully rough on Mueller” when he testified before the House.
If this is true, it’s extremely disconcerting, as Ratcliffe has done a masterful job in these hearings. And, as Trey Gowdy pointed out, he had been offered the DNI job before Mueller ever testified. Gowdy said that “all the stories about Johnny ‘auditioning’ for the DNI” were false, as he had already accepted the job by that time. Gowdy speculated that Ratcliffe “may have been something of an unknown commodity” to the senators, but it’s dismaying to me to think of them as that out of touch with the House committees investigating the FBI’s role in the “Trump/Russia” investigation.
Gowdy admitted that when Ratcliffe was running for Congress, he endorsed his opponent. But after Ratcliffe won, the two congressmen got to know one another. Ratcliffe because “my favorite member of the House,” Gowdy said. “So last week was a tough week for those of us that know and care about him on a personal level. It was also a tough week for people who care about FACTS, while I’m reading he’s auditioning for a job he’s already accepted. And it was also a tough week for people who care about equality and being treated justly.”
To those like Vinograd who say Ratcliffe isn’t qualified for this job, Gowdy suggests they compare his background to that of Kamala Harris, who is being seriously considered for the job of Commander-in-Chief. They’re both former prosecutors. She’s the only senator who is a member of these three committees: Intelligence, Judiciary, and the Senate version of Homeland Security. Likewise, Ratcliffe is the only member of the House who is a member of those three committees, plus he’s on the Ethics Committee. And he’s served longer in the House than she’s served in the Senate. Why is it, Gowdy asks, that she’s qualified to be the leader of the free world when Ratcliffe is said to be poorly qualified “to lead an obscure agency that almost no one’s ever heard of”?
Gowdy is right: Ratcliffe would have been a fine choice to coordinate the various components of the intel community, perhaps better than a career intel insider at a time when there’s serious swamp-draining to be done.
But do you know who was hailed in the Washington Post by former intelligence officials Michael Morell and Mike Vickers for having the kind of “deep experience” needed for this job? The aforementioned James R. Clapper, Jr., who is “widely considered the most effective DNI to date.” Gosh, isn’t it too bad we don’t have HIM any more?