The Memo Story Is Just Stupid Enough For Cable News

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Do you remember where you were when The Memo was released? I do. I was in my apartment when I first saw tweets from a handful of right-wing, Trump-friendly outlets—Fox News, The Federalist, and The Washington Examiner—claiming that they had somehow gotten their hands on the long-talked-about internal House document that Republicans believe will discredit the Russia investigation and benefit Donald Trump.


So I flipped on Fox and have since then been masochistically glued to cable news coverage. It turns out the memo makes for the perfect TV news story. It’s hotly partisan, overly urgent, disconnected from ordinary people’s lives, and allows plenty of room for “expert” commentary. Those are also the reasons why I feel dumber than I was just hours ago.

A breaking news sampler: Fox News continued broadcasting as if the memo was a Watergate-Pentagon Papers lovechild. “Our top law enforcement officials lied to a FISA court in order to spy on people!” Outnumbered panelist Melissa Francis said. It was even a bridge too far for Howard Kurtz, who protested, “It does not say that.”

CNN instantly revved up its characteristic panel discussion to offer up political analysis so granular and acronym-laden that I couldn’t even pretend to understand it. Anchor Dana Bash held up a stapled packet of paper—the memo—in front of the camera as if it were forensic evidence. Vague words only understood by people professionally connected to media and politics were bandied about: Fusion GPS, FISA application, Carter Page. “I think a lot of what we anticipated beforehand seems to be in here,” CNN Political Director David Chalian said with a straight face.

Over at NBC News, respected legal analyst Pete Williams beamed with his own instant reaction to what was framed as crucial breaking news: “It basically was what everybody expected it to be.”


The instant coverage of the memo is a testament to a right-wing propaganda campaign going back several weeks. The campaign has been pushed by people like Sean Hannity, who, by coordinating at times directly with the Trump administration, not only trumped up the importance of a poorly understood and dubiously noteworthy document, but also pressured the mainstream press into treating it as important before they even saw it.


Take a look at this morning’s New York Times, where the lead story slots were occupied by the memo and its basically unknown champion, Representative Devin Nunes, rather than, say, the possibility of armed conflict with North Korea or the United States’ casual stance towards authoritarianism around the world:

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Such placement sets the tone for TV coverage throughout the day. And even now, as the discussion turns to how the document is largely underwhelming, the constant churn of “BREAKING NEWS” chyrons are still a win for Trump’s partisan media warriors. “The memo” has been effectively seared into the public imagination. And the narrative on Fox News and elsewhere will presumably treat any media skepticism as a new chapter in an ongoing anti-Trump conspiracy.

Resist that pressure. The blindingly apparent story here is how the Republican Party, aided and abetted by conservative media, is collaborating in blatant partisan fraud. We’re all dumber for it, even without the mainstream media’s megaphone.

I write about media for Splinter. I have redeeming qualities, too.