Four months after the Beltway press badly failed in its coverage of special counsel Robert Mueller's congressional testimony on the Russia scandal, the D.C. press corps has a chance at redemption this week with the first public impeachment hearings of Donald Trump. Hopefully, newsrooms will be up to the important task at hand.
“The stakes don’t get much higher when it comes to fulfilling [journalists’] core mission: informing citizens of what they really need to know,” wrote Washington Post media columnist Margaret Sullivan. Agreed. And here are simple instructions for the impeachment hearings coverage: Don't Both Sides it with lots of phony false equivalencies. Don’t treat it as theater. Don't obsess over optics. And don't pretend Republicans making wild, hollow, conspiratorial claims in defense of Trump are serious people.
The committee room in the Longworth House Office Building on Wednesday will host the first hearing. There, three diplomats will recount what they know about Trump's dealings with Ukraine, and how that government had to agree to investigate completely bogus allegations of corruption against Joe Biden's son Hunter, who served on the board of a Ukraine gas company, in order for Ukraine to receive nearly $400 million in U.S. aid.
Journalists are already keenly aware that there's mountainous evidence, mostly coming from officials who worked in the Trump administration, that an attempted bribery of Ukraine took place. They also know that Republicans have been utterly incoherent with the various Trump defenses they have tried to float, including the claim that the White House is too inept to pull off an international bribery scheme. So it's imperative that news reports do not pretend the hearings revolve around a Both Sides claim, or that it's just not possible to tell which side is dealing with established facts and which side is basically making stuff up.
The press needs to redeem itself with the hearings this week because the way journalists covered Mueller's day of hearings in July was largely a disgrace, as the press gleefully echoed GOP spin about what a supposed bust the event was. Within hours of the two Mueller hearings ending that day, journalists followed Trump's lead and announced that the day's events had been a “flop,” and that he had emerged the clear winner.