Welcome to bread and circuses, Washington style. Instead of the Roman Colosseum, viewers got the House Oversight and Reform Committee in a televised hearing Wednesday. The hearing turned into a battle between Donald Trump and the Lyin’ King – Michael Cohen.
But the principle was the same – blood sport. Democrats turned Cohen loose and the anti-Trump media cheered.
ABC, CBS and NBC based their evening news programs out of Hanoi for the summit between Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, yet all three networks emphasized the Cohen testimony and downplayed the nuclear negotiations going on in Vietnam.
In the words of NBC News Political Director Chuck Todd, the testimony of Cohen – Trump’s former personal attorney – was "the first unofficial hearing of the impeachment process.”
NBC anchor Lester Holt described the Cohen testimony as a “dark and damning portrait” and said Cohen delivered “a withering public takedown of his ex-boss before Congress.”
CBS went “full Watergate” and kept hyping the words "criminal conspiracy." “This Morning” co-host Norah O’Donnell described “what might be the most damaging testimony for a president since former White House Counsel John Dean testified against President Nixon during the Watergate hearings.”
ABC’s professional Democrat anchor George Stephanopoulos unsurprisingly took Cohen’s side, making no pretense of being neutral. “A lot of the anecdotes – a lot of the personal anecdotes – have the ring of truth,” Stephanopoulos told his viewers, many of whom probably recall his time working for truth-limited President Bill Clinton.
Yet Holt admitted the far more important event was the negotiation in Vietnam, which later concluded Thursday with no agreement being reached.
CBS Evening News anchor Jeff Glor delivered the typical media comparison, noting: “The future of nuclear weapons and sensational criminal allegations colliding on one unprecedented afternoon.”
And where those two collided, the press hyped the testimony over the chance to “change the course of history.”
The Washington Post’s website’s front page was focused on Cohen, with 10 separate links about the testimony at the top of the page before showing the talks even existed. The Post showed its bias, headlining: “Trump’s bid for history in Hanoi is overwhelmed by Michael Cohen’s spectacle in Washington.”
To give a true measure of media, the Post actually had its theater critic cover the testimony. Peter Marks wrote: “The Michael Cohen hearing wasn’t a hearing at all. It was cheap theatrics.” So was the media coverage.
The entire top of The New York Times site was devoted to Cohen’s testimony, along with several opinion pieces. The Times relegated the nuclear talks to one story with the uninspiring headline of: “Latest Updates as Trump and Kim Meet in Vietnam.” The story was accompanied by a travelogue of “some of the week’s best images from Vietnam.”
Nuclear weapons. Fate of the world. But here are some pretty pictures we took on our trip to Vietnam.
CNN leaned all in with 14 separate links on its home page to stories including one with the weird headline, “You need to listen to Rep. Cummings' closing remarks.” That was accompanied by an oddball GIF of an angry, gaveling Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., from the hearing. The video was just another chance for the Democrat to criticize Trump. The network featured just one U.S.-North Korea summit story.
Yet CNN also noted how the convicted liar Cohen, well, lied again. To Congress. Again. At one point during the testimony, House Oversight Committee Ranking Member Rep. Jim Jordan quizzed Cohen about wanting to work in the White House. Cohen denied it.
CNN Chief Political Correspondent Dana Bash called Cohen out on the lie. "He very much wanted a job in the White House," she said, to agreement of the panel. Anchor Jake Tapper added about the Cohen claim: “All of our reporting suggests that’s not true.”
In Jordan’s words, “Michael Cohen. Fraudster, cheat, convicted felon, and in two months a federal inmate.” Cohen even admitted he had lied to first lady Melania Trump, though the convicted liar said he regretted it.
New York Times Contributing Opinion Writer Peter Wehner wrote about Cohen that “Republicans on the committee tried to destroy the credibility of his testimony, not because they believe that his testimony is false, but because they fear it is true.” Actually, it was pretty obvious Republicans on the committee didn’t believe the convicted liar had any credibility.
Like all such stories, the media didn’t care if what Cohen said was true. They desperately wanted it to be true and that was enough. Just like Jussie Smollett. Just like Covington. And the testimony didn’t have to be true or even be delivered by someone honest. It just had to fit the anti-Trump narrative.