As if inspired by Donald Trump, Joe Biden’s presidential campaign shouted “fake news” at TV news on Sunday with a letter calling on the networks to stop booking Rudy Giuliani.
Written by Biden senior adviser Anita Dunn and deputy campaign manager Kate Bedingfield and first disclosed by Politico’s Michael Calderone, the letter denounced the networks for allowing Giuliani, Trump’s personal attorney, “to spread false, debunked conspiracy theories on behalf of Donald Trump.” Specifically, the campaign objected to Giuliani’s spurious claims about Hunter Biden and Joe Biden engaging in “corruption” in Ukraine. The campaign insisted that fact-checking Giuliani in real-time or disputing his wild assertions was insufficient. He must be banished from the airwaves.
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On the surface, a Giuliani ban sounds like a good idea. Early in the Trump administration when the president thought his legal team wasn’t adequately defending him, Trump plaintively asked, “Where’s my Roy Cohn?”—referring to his former say-anything, do-anything personal attorney, a ruthless operator who worked for Sen. Joseph McCarthy in the 1950s. Trump seems to have finally found his contemporary Cohn in Giuliani, who relishes his role as the most unreliable of unreliable narrators in Trump world. Like Cohn, Giuliani will say anything in service of his client, whether that means energetically contradicting the Trump team’s collusion denials or reversing himself inside a single paragraph when asked if he instructed Ukraine to investigate Joe Biden.
But if we’re going to ban Giuliani from the shows for truth-bending, shouldn’t we have to do the same for the other prevaricators who peddle Trump and his talking points on television? Just this last Sunday, an entire squad of Trump dissemblers visited the shows to spread mounds of cock-and-bull for their man. While these mounds might not be as mighty or as stinky as the ones Giuliani spews, they are malarkey just the same. Here’s a brief serving:
On CBS’ Face the Nation, hosted by Margaret Brennan, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) dismissed the whistleblower’s complaint against Trump as being based on “hearsay.” But legal experts agree that the memorandum of Trump’s call with the Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in which Trump leans on the Ukrainian is completely admissible non-hearsay.
On the same network’s 60 Minutes, Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) said with a straight face that the Trump-Zelensky conversation produced evidence of “two leaders having admiration, not intimidation.” McCarthy aped Giuliani’s technique of filling the air with chaff when he accused correspondent Scott Pelley of adding a word to what Trump said to Zelensky. (Pelley got the Trump quotation—“I would like you to do us a favor though”—absolutely right.) Then, when Pelley asked McCarthy how the president’s defense would roll out, McCarthy played stupid, saying, “The defense of what?” Pelley had to answer, “Well, there’s an impeachment process.”
Jake Tapper, the host of CNN’s State of the Union, came close to losing his Cronkite cool in the face of a swarm of falsehoods advanced by Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) on behalf of the president. “That’s not what happened,” Tapper responded to Jordan’s erroneous account of the Biden-Ukraine story. “You’re suggesting that Biden called for the prosecutor to be fired to protect his son,” Tapper said. “That’s not what happened.”
On Fox News Sunday, Chris Wallace did everything but tackle White House senior adviser Stephen Miller and sit on his head to get him to explain why Trump used private attorneys, including Giuliani, to dig up dirt on Biden instead of using a federal government agency. Miller foiled Wallace by repeatedly changing the subject. The stalemate ended when Miller defiantly said, “I understand that you have your question, I have my answer.” Wallace desperately countered, “You have your non-answer at this point.”
Based on these deceitful responses, if you’re going to insist on a TV timeout for Rudy, you’d have to give Graham, McCarthy, Jordan and Miller the same treatment. But who would such timeouts ultimately serve? Earlier this month, Giuliani claimed on Fox News Sunday that “this town protects Joe Biden” and accused the Washington press corps of “covering up” for him for years. Giuliani’s claim is demonstrably false—the press has recently ripped Biden for conflating war stories, looked at his age problem, examined his family’s businesses, and put his shifting views on abortion and criminal justice under their lens. But any move by the TV newsers to heed Biden’s campaign and bar Giuliani from their shows would play to Giuliani’s advantage by making his false claim come true. He could say, “I told you! The press is in the tank for Biden and they’ve proved it by blackballing me, Trump’s most loyal defender, from the shows.” And he’d have an excellent point.
The Biden campaign fails to understand that there is news value in having not just humbug artists like Giuliani on their shows, but also charlatans and beguilers like Graham, McCarthy, Jordan and Miller. When forced to spar with critical news anchors, their lies become transparent and diluted. In his recent appearances, Giuliani has been a shvitzing, manic mess, plotting out imaginary treacheries and schemes by the president’s political opponents. Graham comes off like the president’s useful idiot. McCarthy looks like he’s in over his head, and Jordan sounds like he should be sized for a straitjacket.
Not even the most strident Trump partisan could come away from Sunday thinking that Stephen Miller was doing anything but bicycling away from Chris Wallace. The Trump gang’s panicky, nonsensical answers were enough to convince a viewer with any horse sense that the president has yet to mount a genuine defense to the whistleblower’s complaint. It may be painful for the Biden campaign to watch, but this is valuable news that average news consumer can use to reach independent judgments on who is telling the truth about the Ukraine scandal.
News is made by both angels and devils. If the shows exclude the devils from coverage, they will be doing their audience a disservice. Don’t make Rudy Giuliani a martyr.
If Giuliani becomes a martyr, how long before Pope Francis beatifies him? Send your religious insights to [email protected]. My email alerts have a crush on Jake Tapper. My Twitter feed never watches the news. My RSS feed never goes on TV.