White House Demands More Media Spin against House Impeachment Inquiry
The White House’s first priority after House Republicans launched an impeachment inquiry was to direct the media how to cover it. It’s arrogant. It’s a gamble. And it’s exactly the sort of behavior that typifies this administration. “The letter has an uncomfortable feeling of marching orders to the media,” suggested George Washington University law professor Jonathan Turley.
“It’s time for the media to ramp up its scrutiny of House Republicans for opening an impeachment inquiry based on lies,” insisted the memo from Ian Sams, Special Assistant to the President and Senior Advisor and Spokesman for White House Counsel’s Office. The memo proceeded to tell the media how to do their jobs, urging that the impeachment inquiry “should set off alarm bells for news organizations,” that “House Republican leaders should be held accountable,” and that “it is the responsibility of the independent press to treat their claims with the appropriate scrutiny.”
Specifically, the White House demanded that press reports underline the fact that, “After nearly 9 months of investigating, House Republicans haven’t been able to turn up any evidence of the President doing anything wrong.” The report lingered on the alleged lack of evidence, citing the more cautious Republican members of Congress as proof that it didn’t exist. But, just because a member not involved with the investigating committees is not up to speed on the bank records, text messages, FBI reports, eyewitness interview, and other receipts they have obtained, does not mean that the evidence does not exist.
The White House further objected to the press “Covering impeachment as a process story,” by which they meant a story which lays out, “Republicans say X, but the White House says Y.” That sort of fair-and-balanced presentation of the facts is simply unacceptable coming from “an independent press,” as the White House labelled its lackeys in the same sentence. More than that, such truthful reporting “is a disservice to the American public who relies on the independent press to hold those in power accountable,” insisted those in power. The memo goes on, “process stories … obscure the truth.” Or rather, it would render an outlet of no further use to the Biden administration’s propaganda machine.
This is no idle threat from the Biden White House. This summer, the Biden administration re-wrote credential rules to disfavor smaller, less-established news outlets like the conservative Daily Signal, slashing the White House press pool by 30%. If other media organizations fail to heed the Biden administration’s directive, what fresh forms of retaliation could they face?
“This is nothing new,” Rep. Bob Good (R-Va.) told The Washington Stand. “Rather than pursuing truth above all else and holding government accountable, the media parrots Democrat talking points and runs cover for President Biden and his family. Americans see right through it, which is why faith in the media right now is at a historic low.”
The Biden administration was so confident in its ability to overawe media organizations that it took their obedience for granted. “As you begin to cover the House GOP’s impeachment push more intensely,” concluded the 2-page memo, “enclosed you will find a 14-page appendix that comprehensively addresses the 7 key lies House Republicans are suggesting they are basing an impeachment on.”
If they wanted to keep it quiet, perhaps the Biden administration should have considered not including conservative outlets, or even sending it to the entire White House press list. As it happened, it seems nearly every outlet to receive the memo also published it — including non-conservative outlets such as Axios, CNN, The Hill, and NBC News. Oops!
It was all so unnecessary. Left-leaning mainstream media outlets hardly need to be coaxed to closely scrutinize congressional Republicans, and they’ve treated Joe Biden with kid gloves for literally half a century. Only hours before the White House demanded the media “ramp up” scrutiny, the Associated Press wrote that Republicans “have aggressively investigated Biden and his son, claiming without evidence that they engaged in an influence-peddling scheme.” Ramp up how?
“We know the media was going to run interference on trying to cover up for this president anyway. You just don’t expect the White House to be this brazen in admitting their collusion,” tweeted Rep. Rudy Yakym (R-Ind.).
Axios’s report complained that the White House memo will actually undermine media attempts to bash Republicans. “The White House is clearly frustrated that media outlets are not pointing out more clearly that House investigations have turned up no evidence suggesting any impeachable behavior on Biden’s part,” they wrote. “Yes, but: The Biden team’s messaging could backfire, since news outlets that point out the weakness of the GOP case will now look like they’re kowtowing to White House pressure.” The media likes to thumb the scales for progressives with a wink and a nod; they don’t like flaunting their bias explicitly.
Conservative columnist Seth Mandel agreed. “I actually think posting this is helpful, because this is the [White House] telling reporters how to report on the [White House,] and it makes for an easy checklist to see which ones are simply following explicit instructions.”
Some passages of the memo were particularly rank. “For years, Republicans in Congress have tried to muddy the waters by attracting media coverage of their allegations,” the memo alleged. Here, the White House takes aim not at the truth or falsehood of Republican claims, but simply at their determination to publish an alternate viewpoint to the official narrative — the audacity!
The White House already tried once to deplatform its political opposition by colluding with Big Tech companies, and it tried again by establishing a Ministry of Truth — I mean “Disinformation Governance Board,” because that doesn’t sound so Orwellian — which was quickly laughed out of existence. This summer, a federal judge forbade Biden administration officials to meet with social media companies about protected speech. Gosh, censorship would be so much easier — and fun — if it weren’t for that pesky First Amendment.
But let’s play a game of word association, shall we? Here are the phrases: “partisan allegations,” “media coverage,” “muddied waters,” and please make associations from the past 10 years. If you asked 100 people and put the top five answers on the board, Biden corruption might make the list. But so would the Russia collusion hoax, January 6, and probably something related to COVID. And let’s not forget the first Trump impeachment, in which Congressional Democrats claimed he had committed “high crimes and misdemeanors” for trying in a phone call to uncover the very same Biden corruption allegations that Congressional Republicans have now unearthed. I struggle to think of a single Republican in Congress who “tried to muddy the waters by attracting media coverage” quite like Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) or Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.).
In another passage, the memo laments that “every day[,] liars and hucksters peddle disinformation and lies everywhere from Facebook to Fox.” Yet, this very week, President Biden lied about his location on 9/11 — a pointless, easily disprovable lie, no less. He has lied about his LGBT agenda. He lied about Dobbs. He has lied about other aspects of abortion. And his administration has promoted a host of false ideas across the whole spectrum of social policy. The White House throws stones like they’re David fighting Goliath, not understanding that they really live in a glass house.
Readers of a certain age may be thinking that they’ve heard this same story before: a president running for re-election, facing potential impeachment charges, and badgering the press for reporting on the scandal too even-handedly. The parallel comes from 1972, the year in which Joe Biden was first elected to the Senate.
The incident began when “Walter Cronkite decided to try to explain Watergate himself,” wrote progressive historian Rick Perlstein in his lengthy biography, “Nixonland.” Wrote Perlstein:
“The [October 27] report lasted fifteen minutes, diagrams and photographs alternating with filmed segments featuring Dan Rather and Deniel Schorr — a compelling, suspenseful narrative, with three-dimensional characters. Every White House denial was given a full airing. The difference was that[,] for the first time, the story was as coherent as the denials. It even ended with a cliff-hanger: ‘Next time, the money behind the Watergate affair.’ Which was what promised to lay the whole thing on the threshold of the Oval Office.
“But there would be no next time — at least not in its intended form.
“[Nixon henchman] Chuck Colson [— the same who was later converted and founded a prison ministry after his prison sentence —] was put on the problem the next morning. He bragged in a memo to [White House Chief of Staff Bob] Haldeman, ‘[CBS CEO William] Paley was pleading.’ “CBS’s chairman ‘sounded like a whipped dog and was almost on the verge of tears. My voice was steely cold ….’
“The follow-up report was also supposed to last fifteen minutes. Cronkite was ordered to cut it down to six. The slow, patient narration became a cubist-like incoherence.”
It’s nothing new for a corrupt administration to bully the press into burying damaging information. What is new is for an administration to be so insecure and image-obsessed that it will even rebuke friendly media outlets for publishing articles that are not sufficiently glowing. For Nixon, a steady drip of press reports that only later triggered a congressional investigation, which in turn took years to sour public opinion. By contrast, President Biden enjoys rose-colored press coverage, despite a steady drip of damaging revelations from a congressional investigation, and the public is already clued in.
According to a CNN poll conducted in late August, 61% of Americans believe President Biden did have some involvement in Hunter Biden’s business dealings, and 55% believe the president has acted inappropriately regarding the investigation into his son. That’s a curious result if, as the White House alleged, “After nearly 9 months of investigating, House Republicans haven’t been able to turn up any evidence of the President doing anything wrong.”
Speaking of Hunter Biden, a federal grand jury indicted him Thursday on gun charges related to his 2018 drug use. At first, the DOJ contemplated not indicting him before IRS whistleblowers fingered their obstruction. Then, they offered him an unusual, sweetheart plea deal — which deferred any indictment on the gun charges — that fell apart when the judge got curious. After that, the U.S. Attorney General appointed as special counsel was the very same prosecutor who had already demonstrated his lack of objectivity with the plea deal.
Given this recent history and the Biden administration’s obsession with its image, it seems reasonable they only approved this indictment of the president’s son as a way to take heat off the White House. Why was there heat on the White House? Perhaps because they commanded the press to “ramp up” scrutiny on the House Republicans’ impeachment inquiry — and the press subsequently published that damaging memo. For a political cover-up to backfire so spectacularly seems eerily like, well, Watergate.
Joshua Arnold is a senior writer at The Washington Stand.