Today's media more Nixonian than ever

Today's media more Nixonian than ever
© Greg Nash
The media establishment “news-hawks” of yesterday have become today’s ostriches. Desperately desiring to retain their former plumage, they are no longer birds of a feather with the forebears. Nothing demonstrates their devolution more clearly than their handling — or lack thereof — of the Nunes Memo and the increasing questions arising from growing sources about the investigation of the Trump campaign and the Obama administration’s role in it.
 
The media establishment forever migrates back to their glory days, like the swallows returning to Capistrano. They regularly sing of their memories of actual reporting; their call of “Watergate” lilts eternal. There is even the Oscar-nominated The Post to recall their former soaring selves, lest we forget. Sadly, it is not our forgetfulness that now defines them, but theirs.
 
In 1971, The New York Times broke the story of what came to be known as “the Pentagon Papers.” This leaked secret study of the Vietnam War, predominantly detailing the Kennedy and Johnson years, set off a battle between The Times, and later The Washington Post, with the Nixon administration. Ultimately it reached the Supreme Court.    
 
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Just a few years later came The Washington Post’s dogged reporting of the bungled burglary of the Democratic National Committee headquarters in Washington D.C.’s Watergate office complex. Starting with the arrest of the five relatively minor figures in the break-in itself, the story stretched over years, into Congressional hearings, and ended in President Nixon’s resignation to avoid certain removal from office.
 
 
How times have changed.
 
Today instead of Nixon, we have the “Nunes Memo.” It outlines in four short pages the serious questions about official surveillance of a minor Trump campaign operative. The FBI and Department of Justice used the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act to obtain a probable cause order allowing electronic surveillance of Page.  After initial authorization on Oct. 21, 2016, three renewals were obtained. 
 
As the memo states, throughout this process, “material and relevant information was omitted.” The memo raises valid questions whether the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court was forthrightly informed of the questionable nature of the information used to obtain FISA authorization and the nature of the involvement of those seeking it.  
 
The memo is hardly the only source for such questions. Nor is the surveillance of the Trump campaign the only questionable aspect of the FBI and DOJ’s role in the 2016 campaign.  
 
The House Intelligence Committee released the Nunes Memo on Feb. 2. On Feb. 4, The Washington Post’s first headline read: “Party of law and order picks defiance.” The headline beside it stated: “At FBI, fears of lasting damage.” The paper that began covering Watergate immediately and continued for over two years, was done with this story before it began.   
 
Elements described in the Nunes Memo have parallels to both the Pentagon Papers and Watergate. The Pentagon Papers were assuredly secret before they were leaked. And they dealt with details of an ongoing war. However the establishment press at the time decided to print them and go to court to be allowed to continue to do so. Yet in the current instance, they made the case against Republicans releasing the Nunes Memo on these very grounds.
 
The Watergate burglary was committed by comparatively low level individuals. There was little obvious initial connection of any particular importance to anyone of any particular importance. Yet the story was followed relentlessly and the coverage helped drive interest — ultimately leading to the cover-up — and the trail up the food-chain. However in this current case, important individuals appear throughout the narrative — from the creation of the dossier that served as the evidence, and to the FISA court requests it repeatedly obtained.  
 
This is not to say that the current case outlined in the Nunes Memo is either the Pentagon Papers or Watergate. It is also not to say that this case is not. What it does say is there are ample reasons for real scrutiny — reasons the establishment media used to find compelling — and the real reporting in which the establishment media still prides itself.   
 
If anything, today’s establishment media is playing the opposite role. Instead of Bradlee and Graham and Woodward and Bernstein, they are Nixon.  
 
With such similarities, yet such dissimilar diligence, it is hard to overlook one glaring difference: The former investigations were against the Nixon administration and ultimately President Nixon himself. Today’s investigation would immediately involve members of the Obama administration and the Clinton campaign. With today’s media establishment it is impossible to not see this as the determining factor.  
 
The news media of the past, which established today’s establishment media, is long gone. Today’s media revel in past “glories” they have no interest or intention of replicating. It is not surprising that both their audience and influence have fallen commensurately, or that the public’s perception of their image has diminished as well.

Long gone is any hint of objectivity. And long past are the simple charges of bias that have followed the establishment media for decades, leading to the growth of alternative conservative media. Today’s establishment media have gone from being birds on the wing to being birds on the run.  

With Special Counsel Robert MuellerRobert Swan MuellerSasse: US should applaud choice of Mueller to lead Russia probe MORE’s latest indictments and no new evidence of “collusion,” that story’s trail grows colder by the day. Perhaps the establishment media could now finally turn its attention to the story of the Obama administration's misdeeds, a story that was hot from the beginning and only grows hotter. In so doing, the media could more closely reflect its imagined self-imagine.
 
J.T. Young served under President George W. Bush as the director of communications in the Office of Management and Budget and as deputy assistant secretary in legislative affairs for tax and budget at the Treasury Department. He served as a congressional staffer from 1987-2000.