Wednesday, June 14, 2017

The Way It's Done

When you listen to a song, you can listen to the music or the lyrics and yesterday, the mainstream media (and probably everyone else) heard the music.

Consider the reaction to a small portion of Attorney General Jeff Sessions' testimony Tuesday before the Senate Judiciary Committee. From least credible organ to most credible, we have:.

-New York Post: "A defiant Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Tuesday slammed the suggestion that he colluded with Russians as 'an appalling and detestable lie' — but said questions about his conversations with President Trump were off limits."

-Fox News: Attorney General Jeff Sessions, in dramatic Senate testimony, on Tuesday decried suggestions he colluded with Russian officials during the 2016 campaign as an “appalling and detestable lie” -- while staunchly defending his role in the firing of former FBI Director James Comey.

-Politico: Attorney General Jeff Sessions forcefully defended his integrity on Tuesday, testifying that any suggestion he colluded with Russian officials to affect the 2016 election was “a detestable lie,” even as he repeatedly refused to answer questions about his conversations with President Donald Trump.

-Wall Street Journal:  Attorney General Jeff Sessions told a Senate panel on Tuesday that he never met with any Russian officials last year to discuss the presidential campaign and any suggestion that he colluded with them to help Donald Trump was “an appalling and detestable lie.”

-New York Times:   Attorney General Jeff Sessions offered an indignant defense on Tuesday against what he called “an appalling and detestable lie” that he may have colluded with the Russian effort to interfere in the 2016 election, but he declined during an often contentious Senate hearing to answer central questions about his or President Trump’s conduct.

There are two elements present in each of these accounts.  All five note that Sessions termed allegations of collusion with Russian officials "an appalling and detestable lie."

And each of them failed to quote Sessions in full, thus failing to quote him accurately. In his opening statement, the Attorney General had pled

Let me state this clearly: I have never met with or had any conversations with any Russians or any foreign officials concerning any type of interference with any campaign or election. Further, I have no knowledge of any such conversations by anyone connected to the Trump campaign. I was your colleague in this body for 20 years, and the suggestion that I participated in any collusion or that I was aware of any collusion with the Russian government to hurt this country, which I have served with honor for over 35 years, or to undermine the integrity of our democratic process, is an appalling and detestable lie.

Sessions at first stated definitively that he has "never met with or had any conversations with russians or any foreign officials concerning any type of interference with any campaign or election." That's fully inclusive but then he clarified, remarking "any suggestion that I participated in any collusion or that I was aware of any collusion with the Russian government to hurt this country..."

To hurt this country. Sessions may have colluded with the Russian government. But if he did, he probably thought it was in the best interests of the USA, whether to advance a beneficial policy agenda or to assist in the election of Donald J. Trump, which he believed would "make America great again."

While therein appearing to be forceful and honest, Sessions cleverly left an escape hatch.  But that only partially explains the effectiveness of this portion of the Attorney General's statement.

An appalling and detestable lie.  Righteousness indignation, whether sincere or trumped-up, is an effective weapon in the arsenal of any politician or celebrity. In 1991 Judge Clarence Thomas appeared before the Senate Judiciary Committee to consider his nomination to the United States Supreme Court. The detestable Thomas vehemently denied Anita Hill's charges and as Sherrilyn Ifill would recount years later

With his white wife seated behind him, Thomas described his Supreme Court confirmation hearing as "a high-tech lynching for uppity blacks who in any way deign to think for themselves." The words and imagery were shocking and powerful, and reset the course of his confirmation hearings.

Anita Hill, as seen in the video below, testified in reasoned, reasonable, and measured terms, carefully avoiding making any dramatic accusations of sexism.   Despite Thomas' "deliberate invocation of the most hideous and grotesque of racial crimes to shield their own conduct from scrutiny" (or maybe because of it) more Americans believed Thomas than Hill. At the time, it was obvious to me- as now has been virtually proven- that Thomas was lying, but his staged, emotional denial carried more weight in the court of public opinion than did Hill's calm testimony.

Jefferson Beauregard Sessions knows this history and it's likely his testimony, though perhaps indirectly, was informed by it.  He'll face criticism, deserved and underplayed, for claiming executive privilege without doing so, or not claim it while doing so.   But he didn't get where he is by being stupid, and slick was on display Tuesday.

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