Thanks to Greg Weiner for calling our attention to the recent provocative column by George Will on legislative oversight of the media ecosystem. I am a long time fan and a friend of George Will. The issues he raises here, and almost always, are worth taking very seriously.
But there are two serious errors in this column. The first mistake is to stipulate in advance that there is no legislative oversight role for the problem of a polluted media ecosystem because it is hard to envision legislative solutions. Oversight hearings are useful precisely because they help the citizenry understand what is and what is not legislatively possible. For example, the nation previously had a governmentally enforced fairness doctrine. That regulatory regime had virtues and vices but it was well within the purview of governmental authority to experiment and attempt to implement it. Although the solution(s) to the pollution of the media ecosystem may be complex or beyond easy resolution, investigations can themselves be part of a solution if conducted well.
Oversight hearings are part of a this nation’s necessary reckoning as it attempts to come to grips with what Trump and Trumpism has meant for the denigration of democratic discourse in our time. They are components of a needed and necessary program of de-normalization. One can see just how needed such a program is as evidenced by George Will’s column where one of the nation’s most thoughtful commentators seems himself to be enveloped in the normalization of the politically obscene.
The second error is to suggest a false equivalence between GOP and Democratic denigration of democratic discourse. Will says this: “The pollution is undeniable. So are progressives’ contributions to it, e.g., their obsession with 2016 “Russian collusion,” their ludicrously solemn and extensive interviewing of Stormy Daniels’s felonious lawyer, Michael Avenatti, and their beatification of New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo (D) during the pandemic.”
Anyone who has actually read the Mueller Report will know that Russian collusion was a genuine and legitimate problem for investigation. Collusion is not a legal category. There was not sufficient evidence for conspiracy, which is a legal category. And one reason their may not have been sufficient evidence for conspiracy is because there was more than sufficient evidence for obstruction of justice and obstruction of Congress. Despite his Never-Trump bone fides, George Will has bought into the Trump narrative regarding the Mueller investigation.
What is striking about the Democratic missteps and mistakes — the excesses of Michael Avenatti, and the misdeeds of Andrew Cuomo, for examples, is that unlike the GOP’s embrace of Trump’s lies and conspiracy theories, Democrats have been quite critical of mistakes, errors, and misdeeds of fellow partisans. The criticism of Cuomo regarding the possible cover-up of nursing home data has been extensive, harsh, and bi-partisan. Again, despite his Never-Trump bone fides, George Will buys into a false equivalence that marks the typical rhetoric of unthoughtful Trump supporters.