The last several days have been packed with fake drama and intrigue about the “secret memo” released publicly Friday over the objections of the FBI, Democrats and many others who say releasing this kind of document simply isn’t done.
Let’s cut the stagecraft and hype around this frankly boring memo. None of us would have read it if not for all the efforts to keep us from reading it.
The objections from the simply-isn’t-done-ers have has played into the hands of President Donald Trump and his defenders, by creating the impressions that the memo contains some shockers. It doesn’t: It is a document in which people trying to protect Trump accuse people investigating him of being unfair.
Documents of this sort have a name. They are called press releases.
There’s nothing wrong with press releases. Everyone in politics should express their views as cogently as possible. It is good to hear all positions, even if only to improve your responses to them.
But to call this document a “secret memo” imbues it with a drama it doesn’t deserve. Go ahead, read it. Your eyes will glaze over.
There’s an old, charming saying in journalism: “Whatever a patron desires to get published is advertising; whatever he wants to keep out of the paper is news.” In other words, news is what someone, somewhere doesn’t want you to know.
By presenting the “secret memo” as something someone, somewhere doesn’t want you to know, the pro-Trump crowd has tried to present it as major news. Is it, though? It was prepared, the Washington Post reports, by “Republican staffers to House intelligence committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) and alleges surveillance abuses by law enforcement against former Trump campaign aide Carter Page.” It was released by House Republicans after Trump declassified it.
Nunes is an ardent defender of President Trump. Is it news that people who work for him sent him a memo telling him what he wanted to hear? The accusations are worth reporting, yes. But the hand-wringing over whether the memo should be reported has turned it into, as of this writing, the top story at The Washington Post and the New York Times, as well as most other major American outlets.
As CBS News noted, “Democrats have expressed concern that Republicans are using the memo to undermine the credibility of the FBI and DOJ as [Robert] Mueller investigates Russian election meddling and any ties to Russia.”
But Democrats’ objections to the memo’s release have made it look like there’s something within it worth hiding. Is there?
I’m not saying the supposed abuses are or aren’t real. Sure, let’s find out. But let’s also remember that people who are accused of wrongdoing — or even under investigation — will always say they are being treated unfairly. And those who actually read the document — far more than would have read it if not for this silly drama over its release — will find that it goes very deep into the weeds.
Go ahead, read it.