The New York Times published an article Wednesday afternoon laying out a stark picture of how President Donald Trump is seeking to use the full power of his office for retribution against anyone who took part in the impeachment investigation or objected to the withholding of security aid from Ukraine — as well to reward his friends who are in legal trouble.
But the Times surely missed the mark with its headline, “Trump’s War Against ‘the Deep State’ Enters a New Stage,” that seemingly legitimized Trump and right-wing media’s collective paranoia about a supposed “deep state” of saboteurs.
The sub-headline of the piece read: “The suggestion that Lt. Col. Alexander S. Vindman should now face punishment by the Pentagon was one sign of how determined the president is to even the scales after his impeachment.”
The Times initially framed Trump’s retaliatory action toward Vindman, who was subpoenaed to testify in the House impeachment inquiry, as an attempt to “even the scales as he sees it,” overlooking the fact that Trump is the president of the United States — now seemingly granted carte blanche by the Republican-controlled Senate — and Vindman is a military officer under his authority as commander-in-chief.
The text of the article has important context and qualifiers that reasonably seem to depict Trump as genuinely out of control. Yet in other ways, the manner in which it frames some arguments can still be read as the author giving Republican paranoia too much credit.
This is an unsettled time in Mr. Trump’s Washington. In the days since he was acquitted in a Senate trial, an aggrieved and unbound president has sought to even the scales as he sees it. Colonel Vindman was abruptly marched by security out of the White House, an ambassador who also testified in the House hearings was summarily dismissed, and senior Justice Department officials on Tuesday intervened on behalf of Mr. Trump’s convicted friend, Roger J. Stone Jr., leading four career prosecutors to quit the case.
The war between Mr. Trump and what he calls the “deep state” has entered a new, more volatile phase as the president seeks to assert greater control over a government that he is convinced is not sufficiently loyal to him. With no need to worry about Congress now that he has been acquitted of two articles of impeachment, the president has shown a renewed willingness to act even if it prompts fresh complaints about violating traditional norms.
Multiple commentators were quick to criticize the Times’ approach: