I thought watching Watergate unfold on the evening news was a mind blowing experience back in the 1970s when I was a young reporter starting out in the business.
But as extraordinary as that was, it is nothing compared to what’s happening today with the presidency and media. We have sailed so far into uncharted waters thanks to the reckless behavior of Donald Trump and the massive proliferation of media that one has to wonder if we will ever get back to something resembling normalcy in our media, political and cultural lives.
Sunday night network TV has traditionally been about prime-time dramas or live sporting events, but there was James Comey, former head of the FBI, telling ABC’s George Stephanopoulos last night that he believes Trump is “morally unfit” to be president.
If that’s not enough to make you put down your Cheetos and stare at the TV, how about Comey comparing Trump to a mob boss or saying he can’t rule out the Russians having something compromising on Trump that involves prostitutes in a Moscow hotel? And, by the way, it is on tape.
Sure, Comey’s angry, and he’s settling some scores with a president who has called him a “slimeball” on Twitter, but this is also a career law enforcement official who until he got caught up in the partisan crossfire of the down and dirty 2016 presidential election was widely hailed for his honesty and integrity.
And let’s just pause for a second and think about our nation having a president who uses words like “slimeball” to trash someone he doesn’t like.
Trump and Comey have been feuding in the media for months. But with the publication of Comey’s book, “A Higher Loyalty,” scheduled for Tuesday, the battle kicked into a much higher and crazier media gear Sunday night. You will not be able to turn on a TV without seeing Comey in the next two weeks.
Tuesday, he’s on “Good Morning America,” “Fresh Air” and “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert.” Wednesday, he’s on “The View.” Thursday, it’s “Rachel Maddow,” and on and on it will go in bookings that were announced as far back as a month ago.
ABC’s interview was the big get by nature of being first. But the strangest show by far was “The Trial of James Comey” Sunday night on Fox News.
God have mercy on my soul, but I actually watched it: one of the most fact-deficient and empty-headed discussions I have seen on a news channel all year. (I know I might be stretching the word “news” in using it to characterize anything on Fox that purports to cover Trump these days, but the official name of the channel is Fox News.)
The host of the show, Steve Hilton, desperately tried to make a run of the mill discussion show feel like there was a legitimate legal conversation to be had about trying Comey for such crimes as perjury and obstruction of justice. But even Hilton’s most partisan panelists didn’t have the stomach to go there with him.
This telecast was another example of Fox News going down the alternate reality rabbit hole with Trump and somehow thinking the best defense against Comey saying the president is “untethered from the truth” is to call Comey an even bigger liar.
Trump has his own massive social media following and a right-wing messaging machine that runs from Breitbart News through Fox News down to folks like his former aide, Boris “Must Carry” Epshteyn, on Sinclair stations nationwide.
Comey, meanwhile, has the bulk of mainstream media eager to debrief him on what he bore witness to in his dealings with Trump — as well as any intelligence community findings on the mercurial commander-in-chief that he might be willing to share.
Toss in all the enmity toward Comey from the right and the left for some of his actions during the 2016 presidential race, along with Trump’s own lack of impulse control when it comes to tweetstorms, and you have one red-hot and unpredictable story line.
The question is: How long can this keep going on? How long can we, as a nation, afford to be distracted and jangled by this crazed dance between our president and the media?