Mainstream media outlets face a serious moral test: Will they give the same degree of front-page headlines and saturation TV coverage to news that former President Donald Trump may have mishandled classified materials, that they did to the infamous James Comey letter targeting Hillary Clinton in 2016?
The Washington Post reported Wednesday that the National Archives and Records Administration has asked the Department of Justice to examine Trump’s mishandling of official records, which has in turn set off discussions about whether Trump could potentially be criminally charged. This follows the news earlier this week, also from the Post, that the National Archives recently recovered 15 boxes of documents and other items from Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida which he had illegally removed from the White House.
A key line in the latest article ought to raise red flags: “Archives officials suspected Trump had possibly violated laws concerning the handling of government documents — including those that might be considered classified — and reached out to the Justice Department, the people familiar with the matter said.”
Unfortunately, mainstream media outlets already are off to an unpromising start in covering Trump’s mishandling of these documents.
The Post’s article Wednesday also contained this odd paragraph, with a number of contradictory and unsourced claims that Trump’s ignorance and incompetence might shield him from legal jeopardy (emphasis added):
Federal law makes it a crime to destroy government records, but it requires that a person know specifically they are breaking the law when doing so. That could be difficult to do for Trump, who advisers say tore up documents out of habit, leaving staffers to retrieve and reassemble piles of torn paper. According to people familiar with the matter, Trump had been counseled by at least two chiefs of staff and the White House counsel to follow the law on preserving documents.
The article also meanders for several paragraphs about descriptions of souvenirs that Trump took from the White House, such as a model of his proposed border wall, or his proposed redesign to Air Force One. It then finally returns to a much more important point: Throughout his 2016 presidential campaign, Trump had called for his Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton, “to be jailed” over her supposed mishandling of government emails containing sensitive or classified information.
The public was subjected to nearly two years of false stories suggesting that Clinton had committed crimes. (In fact, Clinton did not violate federal laws: She did not abuse any regulations or ignore any guidance with her use of a private email.) In the following years, Trump was treated with kid gloves for his chronic breaches of information security.
And as for this latest story, mainstream media outlets have so far bought the line from Trump advisers that he was simply too busy trying to overthrow American democracy to keep track of paperwork. So no big deal, right?