There is a competitive, aggressive appetite among reporters and news outlets to move the Trump-Russia story — no matter how remote or inconsistent the nexus might be. The media is straining to draw inferences any time they can make “Trump” and “Russia” appear in the same paragraph.
Tuesday, the media tried to turn stories about Carter Page and Erik Prince into two more logs on the supposed fire of the Trump-Russia non-scandal. But, in fact, these reports have no connection to or evidence of wrongdoing by the president, his staff, or his campaign.
First, the Trump team’s naming of Carter Page, who nobody in Washington had ever even heard of until last year, as a foreign policy adviser was a mistake the campaign made at a time when they were desperate for names. And even though every reporter knows that, they embellish Page’s role as if to rub it in.
Describing Page as “an adviser to Trump” is dishonest. But even if Page had been close to Trump, there still wouldn’t be a legitimate story. This week’s reports say that Page shared portions of his college lectures, which included nothing more than publicly available information, to a junior attache at the Permanent Mission of the Russian Federation to the United Nations. It’s not at all uncommon for so-called spies to engage in lame conversations with nobodies just to submit a report.
Another media fixation concerns The Washington Post’s reporting that Erik Prince was part of an effort that sought to establish a communications back channel between the United States and Russia. And considering the volume of secondary coverage that story received, one might think this revelation is a smoking gun that shows that President Trump was somehow in Putin’s pocket. But it isn’t.
I know Erik Prince. And if the president were to ever need a back channel, pretty much anywhere, Erik Prince would be a good guy to call. He is reliable, selfless, and a true patriot. The notion that he might want to advance U.S. interests is a good thing. What is the issue with an American ally like the United Arab Emirates and a seasoned leader like Erik Prince trying to send the message that Russia should behave?
All this breathless reporting is taking place while some in the media have proudly affirmed, as if it is a badge of honor, to actively suppress the Susan Rice “unmasking” story. On Monday night, CNN’s Don Lemon told his audience that he would not “aid and abet the people who are trying to misinform you, the American people, by creating a diversion.” Can a story with these essential facts be considered a diversion? No way. And comically, CNN’s chief national security correspondent Jim Sciutto tweeted that according to a source close to Susan Rice, “the idea that Ambassador Rice improperly sought the identities of Americans is false.” Wow, breaking news.
The unmasking story has legs, though the president didn’t help by telling the New York Times that he thought Rice had committed a crime. Tuesdday, a letter signed by Reps. Lou Barletta, R-Pa., Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., and Chris Collins, R-N.Y., was sent to leaders of the House and Senate intelligence committees, arguing that Rice should be called to testify before Congress as “her behavior appears negligent at best and criminal at worst.”
Still, the media will contrive stories they think add to the Trump-Russia connection. That a back-channel meeting may have occurred in the Seychelles in January before the inauguration is interesting, but it’s completely irrelevant to and inconsistent with the notion that Mr. Trump is somehow in collusion with the Russian government.
And all Carter Page did was meet with a Russian in 2013. Four years ago, who thought Donald Trump would be president? The two stories aren’t evidence of anything, even if the president’s critics would like for you to think otherwise.
Ed Rogers is a contributor to the PostPartisan blog, a political consultant and a veteran of the Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush White Houses and several national campaigns. He is the chairman of the lobbying and communications firm BGR Group, which he founded with former Mississippi governor Haley Barbour in 1991.