For those living on another planet, or perhaps simply lacking access to cable television, the official release week of former FBI Director James B. Comey’s book has arrived with much hype and presidential umbrage. Indeed, President Donald Trump’s Twitter account has been so active in recent days with over-the-top denunciations of Mr. Comey that one might suspect he was on the payroll of Macmillan, publisher of “A Higher Loyalty: Truth, Lies, and Leadership,” trying to make sure it stays on the bestseller list.
Mr. Comey, whom President Trump fired, of course, came across in his first major interview, with George Stephanopoulos first broadcast Sunday on ABC, as the class do-gooder who sits in the front row warning the teacher that she’s dismissing early. The former prosecutor and lawman obviously considers himself a person of considerable integrity but also someone who wishes to make sure everyone knows about that integrity, too. It was the same impulse he displayed in his 2016 news conference excoriating Hillary Clinton for her email practices (while also announcing that she would not face charges). The guy likes to moralize, to the point that he can come across like a pious version of the self-possessed Gaston of “Beauty and the Beast:” “For there's no man in town half as manly. Perfect, a pure paragon. You can ask any Tom, Dick, or Stanley. And they'll tell you whose team they prefer to be on.”
That’s not to suggest Mr. Comey isn’t credible when it comes to Mr. Trump’s shortcomings. His accounts of interactions with President Trump and the latter’s more-than-a-suggested nudge that Mr. Comey should pledge loyalty to him or curtail the FBI’s investigation into then-national security adviser Michael Flynn are not only deeply troubling but eminently believable. The real problem is that they’re also quite familiar. Mr. Comey described those same encounters during his testimony last June before the Senate Intelligence Committee just a month after he’d been fired. But that was for free. Now, the story is $17.99 on Amazon (and free shipping for Prime customers, Mr. President).
So instead of further exploration of whether President Trump obstructed justice through the pressure he tried to assert on Mr. Comey, the coverage centers on how vulgar and inappropriate Mr. Comey finds President Trump and, weirdly, the vulgar and inappropriate responses to all this coming out of Mr. Trump’s Twitter account. Calling Mr. Comey a “slimeball,” or the “WORST FBI director in history, by far,” doesn’t quite hit the Abraham Lincoln or John F. Kennedy level of eloquence and grace the job is usually associated with, but then the nation is surely accustomed to that by now. We have a coarse and undignified president who is, as Mr. Comey writes, “untethered to truth.” Duh.
If anything, the Comey book tour is a lesson in 21st century media saturation. It’s not about liberal versus conservative or Democrat versus Republican. It’s about ratings and best seller lists, and the hype transcends political affiliation. You know you’re in strange waters when the Republican National Committee dedicates a section of its web site to “Lyin Comey,” a piling on of anti-Comey criticism, before the book is even officially released. Are they in Macmillan’s employ, too? Or is this all an effort to steer more attention to Mr. Comey and his thoughts about the president’s tan lines or tie length and less on Michael Cohen and the fight over sensitive records taken from Mr. Trump’s personal lawyer by the FBI under authority of the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York?
Here’s the bottom line. For all the hue and cry, Mr. Comey’s thoughts aren’t exactly revelatory. He’s trying to sell a book, and plenty of people in the media are apparently eager to help him, even if it means listening to him say the same thing over and over and over again. But that’s not an exoneration for the man in the Oval Office either. History will have to judge how honorably — or even how competently — Mr. Comey acted when he handled the Hillary Clinton email investigation, both in closing and then reopening it. Perhaps when all the cards are on the table and special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s probe into Russian election meddling has run its course and there’s a full accounting of any crimes committed and who did what, the country can have a proper perspective on all of it. For now, the Comey parade has more the look and feel of one of those “Real Housewives” programs on Bravo — even to the point of featuring a Reality TV “villain” calling the protagonist “slippery” and “not smart!” Worst. Side show. Ever.
Become a subscriber today to support editorial writing like this. Start getting full access to our signature journalism for just 99 cents for the first four weeks.