How Trump inspired a golden age

The Washington Post Sunday - - SUNDAY OPINION - DANA MIL­BANK Twit­ter: @Mil­bank

The pres­i­dent has the great­est self-pity. The best!

“No politi­cian in his­tory, and I say this with great surety, has been treated worse or more un­fairly,” Don­ald Trump said last week as he heard the spe­cial pros­e­cu­tor’s foot­steps.

Thus did our as­sured head of state, equal parts nar­cis­sis­tic and un­in­formed, rank his treat­ment worse than that of Ben­ito Mus­solini (ex­e­cuted corpse beaten and hung up­side down in pub­lic square), Oliver Cromwell (body dis­in­terred, drawn and quar­tered, hanged and head hung on spike), Leon Trot­sky (ex­iled and killed with ice pick to the skull), William Wal­lace (dragged naked by horses, evis­cer­ated, emas­cu­lated, hanged and quar­tered) and the head­less Louis XVI, Mary Queen of Scots and Charles I.

Trump hasn’t been treated badly. He has been treated ex­actly as he de­served, a re­ac­tion com­men­su­rate with the ac­tion. He took on the in­sti­tu­tion of a free press — and it fought back. Trump came to of­fice af­ter in­tim­i­dat­ing pub­lish­ers, bar­ring jour­nal­ists from cov­er­ing him and threat­en­ing to re­write press laws, and he has sought to dis­credit the “fake news” me­dia at ev­ery chance. In­stead, he wound up in­spir­ing a new golden age in Amer­i­can jour­nal­ism.

Trump pro­voked the ex­tra­or­di­nary work of re­porters on the in­tel­li­gence, jus­tice and na­tional se­cu­rity beats, who blew wide open the Rus­sia elec­tion scan­dal, the con­tacts be­tween Rus­sia and top Trump of­fi­cials, and in­ter­fer­ence by Trump in the FBI in­ves­ti­ga­tion. Last week’s ap­point­ment of a spe­cial pros­e­cu­tor — a cru­cial check on a pres­i­dent who lacks self-re­straint — is a di­rect re­sult of their work.

I sus­pect they won’t be get­ting Pres­i­den­tial Medals of Free­dom any­time soon, so let’s cel­e­brate some of them here. At The Post: Adam En­tous, Greg Miller, Ellen Nakashima, Matt Zapo­to­sky, Devlin Bar­rett, Sari Hor­witz, Greg Jaffe and Julie Tate, along with colum­nist David Ig­natius. At the New York Times: Michael Sch­midt, Matthew Rosen­berg, Adam Gold­man, Matt Apuzzo and Scott Shane. The two ri­vals, com­bined, have pro­duced one breath­tak­ing scoop af­ter an­other, in­clud­ing:

The Post’s Feb. 9 re­port that na­tional se­cu­rity ad­viser Michael Flynn, con­trary to the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion’s claims, talked with the Rus­sian am­bas­sador about U.S. sanc­tions be­fore Trump took of­fice. Flynn was out soon there­after.

The Post’s March 1 re­port that Jeff Ses­sions also spoke with the Rus­sian am­bas­sador but did not dis­close the con­tacts when asked about pos­si­ble con­tacts dur­ing his con­fir­ma­tion as at­tor­ney gen­eral. He was forced to re­cuse him­self from the Rus­sia in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

The Post’s March 28 re­port that the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion tried to block former act­ing at­tor­ney gen­eral Sally Yates from tes­ti­fy­ing on the Trump cam­paign’s pos­si­ble Rus­sia ties. She later tes­ti­fied about the White House’s fail­ure to act on warn­ings about Flynn.

The Times’s March 30 re­port that two White House of­fi­cials helped pro­vide Devin Nunes, the Repub­li­can chair­man of the House In­tel­li­gence Com­mit­tee, with in­tel­li­gence that Nunes made pub­lic. Nunes was forced to re­cuse him­self from the com­mit­tee’s probe.

The Post’s re­port last week that Trump shared highly clas­si­fied in­tel­li­gence with Rus­sian of­fi­cials, jeop­ar­diz­ing the co­op­er­a­tion of al­lies.

And the fi­nal blow: the Times’s re­port last week that Trump asked FBI Di­rec­tor James B. Comey to shut down the FBI’s Flynn in­ves­ti­ga­tion, ac­cord­ing to a con­tem­po­ra­ne­ous memo Comey wrote be­fore Trump fired him.

There were many more, and other out­lets have flour­ished, too. On one day last week, the United States awoke to a re­port from Reuters that the Trump cam­paign had at least 18 undis­closed con­tacts with Rus­sians; a McClatchy re­port that Flynn, who had been paid as a Turk­ish rep­re­sen­ta­tive, stopped a mil­i­tary plan that Turkey op­posed; a Times re­port that the Trump team knew Flynn was un­der in­ves­ti­ga­tion be­fore he started work at the White House; and a Post re­port that the House ma­jor­ity leader told col­leagues last year that he thought Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin was pay­ing Trump.

This jour­nal­is­tic tri­umph, made pos­si­ble by name­less gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials who risked their jobs and their free­dom to get the truth out, is all the more sat­is­fy­ing be­cause it came as a cor­rec­tive af­ter one of the sor­ri­est episodes in mod­ern jour­nal­ism: the un­crit­i­cal, un­fil­tered and un­end­ing cov­er­age of Trump — par­tic­u­larly by ca­ble news — that pro­pelled him to the Repub­li­can nom­i­na­tion and on­ward to the pres­i­dency.

It’s a great re­lief to have spe­cial pros­e­cu­tor Robert S. Mueller III now keep­ing his eyes on the ex­ec­u­tive — a re­gent, if you will, to pro­tect against fu­ture abuses. This doesn’t mean Trump won’t nuke Den­mark to­mor­row. But those racked by anx­i­ety for the past four months can ex­hale: Grown-ups within the gov­ern­ment have re­stored some or­der.

Trump may feel as if he’s been drawn and quar­tered, but what he’s ex­pe­ri­enced is the power of a free press in a free coun­try. That is en­tirely fair, and fit­ting.

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