Media’s ‘reporting’ on the Mueller probe is deepening our divide

Is Michael Cohen in legal jeopardy? Given the federal government’s seizure of his records, that’s probably a safe assumption.

President Trump’s longtime personal lawyer is being investigated by the office of the US Attorney for the Southern District of New York, and — given the government’s immense power to take deep dives into Cohen’s business and legal dealings — most observers assume there is probably something the feds can dig up to threaten him (and anyone remotely connected to him) with prosecution unless he gives them information that will incriminate the man they’re really after: Trump.

That’s why cable news channels not named Fox have spent the last couple of weeks airing nonstop speculation about whether Cohen will flip and if this means the president is doomed.

But there are two problems with the reporting and commentary on this subject.

The first is that no one commenting on the subject actually knows any of the facts about what the pair might have done that would merit scrutiny or what Cohen will do now. They are all assuming Cohen has knowledge or was an active participant or enabler of illegal activity involving Trump.

On top of that assumption, they have put forward a series of possible scenarios based on other assumptions about the likelihood that Cohen would rat out Trump.

All of that might turn out to be true. But as of now, it’s just a matter of unproven assumptions.

The man known as Trump’s fixer is on the hot seat, but the fishing expedition into his records is motivated by other assumptions on the part of prosecutors who were given information on Cohen from the probe into alleged collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia, which is being led by Robert Mueller.

The second problem is that this chain of assumptions should be familiar to those who have been following the coverage of the Mueller probe.

Every time anything happens — the indictment of men like Paul Manafort and Rick Gates on charges completely unrelated to the Trump campaign, George Papadopolous’ guilty plea for lying to investigators, the indictments of 13 Russians accused of meddling in the 2016 election — it has set off an orgy of breathless media speculation.

Each time we were told by panels of pundits that this was the turning point in the investigation that would lead to someone spilling their guts about Trump’s alleged misdeeds.
In this way, the president’s liberal foes have clung to the hope that, in spite of the seeming dearth of any proof of collusion, Trump is still doomed.

Every possible twist and turn into the Mueller probe has been reported in a manner that creates an assumption that the end of Trump is always just around the corner — even if these stories have been more the product of wishful thinking on the part of journalists who detest the president than evidence that he is really in trouble.

It’s possible the pressure being placed on Cohen will lead to a different outcome. But we’ve been down this road before, and each time it’s led to a dead end.

Trump’s never-ending trial by assumption has allowed the talking heads on CNN and MSNBC and op-ed columnists at The New York Times to keep reassuring liberals that, sooner or later, some smoking gun will emerge that will finally make the Trump nightmare go away.

Trump’s predictable over the top reactions to them keep the story going until the next false hope emerges.

This is unfair to those who are kept in a constant state of anticipation of an event that may never occur. But the real cost is to the already tattered credibility of the press.

Before the Cohen story — or the next one that is served up to us — gets cold, Americans would do well to ponder how these assumptions are killing what’s left of the public’s trust in the media, as well as widening the partisan gap between those who will believe anything about Trump, no matter how unsubstantiated, and loyalists who wouldn’t believe even credible proof of wrongdoing.

Jonathan S. Tobin is editor in chief of the Jewish News Service and a contributor to National Review.

Twitter: @jonathans_tobin

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