There is a test coming up for the news media. I can’t wait to see how they do.
As you probably know, Fresno Rep. Devin Nunes has a memo. It’s four pages long. It’s classified. It’s the subject of a relentless conservative Twitter campaign called #releasethememo. And it will blow the FBI out of the water.
Sight unseen, I’m willing to say this: No it won’t. It will show nothing. It will not show that the FBI illegally surveilled anyone. It will not show that the FBI warrant to wiretap Carter Page was based on the Steele dossier.¹ It will not show that a secret cabal within the FBI was trying to elect Hillary Clinton. It. Will. Show. Nothing.
Everybody in Washinton is keenly aware that Devin Nunes has pulled this kind of stunt before. Everybody knows he will do anything to defend Trump. Everybody knows this includes flat-out lies of any sort. Everybody knows there’s about zero chance that his memo actually has any substance at all.
We’ve seen this movie before, after all. Republicans in Congress spent all of 2016 dripping out “bombshells” about Hillary Clinton’s emails that turned out to be nothing. Some of them misrepresented testimony. Some of them misrepresented simple facts. Some of them were just lies. And yet the press gobbled them up every time, printing headline after headline about the latest “scandal” in emailgate. This peaked with the Comey memo 11 days before the election, which took up the entire upper half of the New York Times the next day.
So here’s the test: Republicans are doing the same thing again. They’re dribbling out FBI conspiracy theory stories constantly, hoping that the press will feel obligated to write about them. Eventually, no matter what the stories themselves say, the public will vaguely get the idea that the FBI is kind of dirty and anti-Trump.
The Nunes memo is an especially egregious part of this campaign. There’s nothing there. I guarantee it. This is because the story makes no sense. It’s because Devin Nunes is a known fabricator. It’s because there’s no real scandal around the Steele dossier anyway. So if and when the memo is leaked or released, will the press give it the attention it deserves—a couple of paragraphs on A17—or will it get a big headline on the front page? I don’t have high hopes. My guess is that the memo will be leaked to one outlet, which will give it banner coverage bcause they have an “exclusive.” Then everyone else will feel like they have to fall in line. And the memo will have done its job. Its contents hardly even matter.
But maybe not. I can still hope.
UPDATE: Jonah Goldberg writes that he’s surprised the Nunes PR stunt has worked so well:
After all, Republicans insinuating that a memo written by a Republican committee chairman in a Republican-controlled Congress during a Republican presidency is being hidden from the public by some force or entity other than the Republicans strikes me as kind of hilarious. As is the idea that all of these Republicans saw it, but no one leaked it because leaking is just wrong. (It is wrong, but come on.) That said . . . hey, it was just crazy enough to work.
¹As a side note, it’s amusing that half the time Republicans insist that Carter Page was a nobody, just a minor staffer in the Trump campaign who had no influence at all. The other half of the time it’s an outrage that the FBI was investigating a senior assistant to a guy running for president.