Special Counsel John Durham Discredits the Press

Special counsel John Durham leaves federal court in Washington, May 16.


Manuel Balce Ceneta/Associated Press


John Durham

can say why he proceeded as he did. The 45-year veteran prosecutor was assigned to examine the FBI’s decisions related to the Trump collusion investigation. Aside from an early guilty plea from an FBI lawyer who falsified evidence, he pursued only two outside informants for allegedly lying to the agency.

Some on the right blame him for not going after FBI officials directly, though it’s not clear what these officials might be charged with. Incompetence is not a crime. Illegal leaks are a crime but notoriously hard to prove in court.

The dumbest journalism, though, reasons (without saying so) that Mr. Durham is a colossal failure because he was somehow assigned, or assigned himself, to fulfill the fantasies of

Donald Trump.

An adjective-overloaded piece by

Margaret Carlson

in the Washington Monthly dissolves into nothingness when you realize how completely she relies on this premise without betraying any awareness that she’s relying on it.

My own guess is Mr. Durham viewed his informant indictments as merited but orthogonal to his larger purpose. He was counting on civil society, i.e., the press, to lead a necessary conversation about the FBI’s role in 2016 and after.

In both trials, Mr. Durham himself filled the record with information to make conviction difficult, showing the FBI wasn’t fooled by alleged lies told by Clinton associates and perhaps even welcomed the lies. I would be insensate not to notice that, in his closing arguments in the Danchenko case last week, he adopted phraseology similar to two columns here a year ago, when he told jurors the FBI’s own behavior was the “elephant in the room” and stressed the importance of law enforcement not letting itself be manipulated for political ends.

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However, in such matters, our media doesn’t believe the important question right now is “Is it true?” The important question is, “Is the truth pro-Trump?” If it is, it must not be reported. Never mind the clear lesson that such an approach only discredits the press while providing Mr. Trump the only real asset he has—the revolting qualities of his enemies.

The Washington Post is a particular conveyor of red herrings while ignoring the obvious, that the FBI made no effort to abort the furor over the Steele dossier even after it knew the allegations it contained were false and fraudulent. The greatest media dereliction, though, still concerns the adjacent matter of the FBI’s improper, insubordinate actions in the Hillary Clinton case. If Mr. Durham’s hopes for the press, not to mention the hopes before him of Justice Department Inspector General

Michael Horowitz,

had been fulfilled, I doubt Obama CIA veterans would have had the chutzpah to manufacture the

Hunter Biden

laptop misdirection in the closing days of the 2020 election. It would have seemed an unrealistic stratagem in a world where the press was still holding institutions to account even if those institutions shared its anti-Trump motives. Now Hunter Biden is just another asset to Mr. Trump.

The press’s unspoken justification is that playing it straight in such matters would be bad for the country and good for Mr. Trump. Don’t buy it. What might hurt the country is not what worries our media elites. It’s what might hurt them. Somebody might call them Trump supporters. Social media might demand their cancellation. Their web traffic might fall off. Turned upside-down is the traditional motto “without fear or favor.” Every choice by our media elites now must be understood in terms of the fear and favor they show their own interests.

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Here it’s worth recalling three essentials of Trumpism. He was the most known person ever to run for president, and most of what was known was conventionally disqualifying. His rise was aided by democratic flukes, starting with the never-more-than-minority support that propelled him to the GOP nomination in a crowded field, then a freakish outcome in the Electoral College that landed him in the White House.

The third consideration is the real killer. The behavior of his enemies and opponents, especially the media, is what gave him his real power and still does. An astute analysis in the Columbia Journalism Review criticized MSNBC not for opposing Mr. Trump reflexively but for doing so stupidly—in ways that strengthened him. Bingo.

The collapse in societal trust that some perceive is, first and last, a collapse in trust in the media that creates the environment in which elites either get away with their lies or don’t. This has been a hell of a moment for our major press institutions to be overrun by epistemological chaos, to be tangled up in a foolish quest for “post-objectivity” that predictably (as with Trumpism) delivers the opposite of the desired result precisely because it discredits the media. It’s a hell of a time, while almost everybody worth reading heads to Substack, for our remaining news-reporting elites to be hiding behind “without fear or favor” when it’s the opposite of how they do business.

Journal Editorial Report: The week’s best and worst from Kim Strassel, Collin Levy, Allysia Finley & Kyle Peterson. Image: Samuel Corum/Zuma Press

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Appeared in the October 26, 2022, print edition as ‘John Durham Discredits the Press.’

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