A bold proclamation from erratic Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani graced the most prized real estate in media on Monday morning:
The Times’ story—written by reporters Maggie Haberman and Michael Schmidt—quotes Giuliani saying that Special Counsel Robert Mueller intends to wind down his inquiry into whether Trump obstructed the Russia investigation by Sept. 1. “[W]aiting any longer would risk improperly influencing voters in November’s midterm elections,” the Times paraphrased, continuing:
Mr. Giuliani said that the office of the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, shared its timeline about two weeks ago amid negotiations over whether Mr. Trump will be questioned by investigators, adding that Mr. Mueller’s office said that the date was contingent on Mr. Trump’s sitting for an interview. A spokesman for the special counsel’s office declined to comment.
The story—which was aggregated by many other sites, including Splinter—relies heavily on an interview with Giuliani, who doesn’t have a particularly sterling track record when it comes to telling the truth, and includes no official confirmation from the Mueller team. To be fair to the Times, the latter might be near-impossible to get, given the special counsel office’s buttoned-up PR strategy. But the notion that Giuliani’s statement is worthy of A1 treatment in and of itself gets even shadier in the story’s eighth paragraph, where the Times includes some analysis of the Trump lawyer’s media strategy:
[B]y putting an end date on the obstruction inquiry, [Giuliani] is apparently seeking to publicly pressure Mr. Mueller to stick to that timeline and trying to assuage the president by predicting the inquiry will end soon, a strategy that some of his other lawyers tried, with mixed results.
In other words, by sharing this supposed timeline with the press, Giuliani is attempting to throw some political weight around for his boss. Isn’t that detail a little more important than an eighth-paragraph placement would suggest?
Making things even more complicated, hours after the Times published this account online Sunday, Reuters quoted an anonymous U.S. official “with knowledge of the probe” who said the timeline shared by Giuliani is “entirely made-up” and “another apparent effort to pressure the special counsel to hasten the end of his work.”
What to make of this? The situation bears all the hallmarks of a tried-and-tested Trump media ploy: Drive the narrative by flooding the zone with new information, while opponents remain silent due to political or legal constraints. Was the new information atop the Times’ front page this morning true? Maybe! The chance that it’s not—or that Trump’s unwillingness to sit down with Mueller makes it overwhelmingly unlikely—would seem to at least warrant softer framing than this headline on the Times’ site, which essentially casts Giuliani as a spokesman for the special counsel’s office:
It all brings us back to the age-old question of how to treat statements by Trump aides who have previously shown no qualms with lying to journalists in order to please the boss. CNN’s Brian Stelter likewise took flack on Sunday for hosting noted liar Kellyanne Conway in a live interview. His response touched on both access to the president and representation for Trump voters:
There is some value to watching Trump aides dodge questions in real time, or read about them doing so after the fact. But Giuliani is—at best—a seriously conflicted source who once urged TV viewers to Google conspiracy theories about Hillary Clinton. Taking his word as the central thesis of a page-one article neatly encapsulates the national media’s bias toward the SCOOP.
An attempt to “publicly pressure” Mueller and “assuage the president” by speaking to media outlets would also seem to be newsworthy on its own. I emailed Haberman and Schmidt to ask if they had any additional reporting that backed up their framing—in addition to what was in the story—and will update this post if I hear back.
How such decisions get made might make for a good column topic for a public editor, if the Times still employed one. In lieu of that, I’m eagerly awaiting the next EXCLUSIVE.