President Donald Trump announced Tuesday afternoon that he has authorized the release of a transcript from his July phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. The call has become the center of controversy over allegations that Trump pressured the Ukrainian government to launch an investigation against Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden — while the Trump administration was also withholding military aid for that country.
Given the nature of the story, and the fact that the transcript is related to an anonymous whistleblower report, the media should not be contented with just the transcript nor present it as providing the full context of the controversy at hand. Reporters should be seeking to uncover the contents of the whistleblower report that set this investigation in motion because it is reportedly based on multiple events beyond Trump’s phone call.
The press has already shown a disappointing track record of buying (and amplifying) the initial spin from the administration’s selective releases. This past spring, press coverage largely went along with Attorney General William Barr’s four-page memo on special counsel Robert Mueller’s report of the Russia investigation — which Trump then used to declare that he had been exonerated. Two months later, Mueller had to make a public statement to explain that he and his team had not cleared Trump of committing a crime.
There’s no reason to think that the release of just a call transcript, isolated from other actions surrounding the story, won’t be used by Trump and conservative media outlets to further an “exoneration” narrative. And the administration has a history of lying about information damaging to the president. Just the release of the Mueller report shows how easily a lot of mainstream press outlets can fall into the trap of repeating the administration’s line uncritically.