Win­ners, losers and fac­toids

The pur­suit of the pres­i­dent re­sumes af­ter Mr. Comey’s big day

The Washington Times Daily - - EDITORIAL -

Sort­ing out the win­ners and losers in the James Comey soap opera is al­most as much fun, for me­dia groupies, as the hear­ing it­self. Whether the sacked FBI di­rec­tor re­paired his rep­u­ta­tion, or Don­ald Trump was se­verely dam­aged by hav­ing mean things said about him, de­pends, as al­ways, on par­ti­san point of view.

The main­stream me­dia, so called — The New York Times, The Wash­ing­ton Post and the tele­vi­sion net­works — didn’t emerge from the day look­ing so hot, ei­ther. Mr. Comey, the cap­i­tal’s new leaker-in-chief, likened the re­porters who gath­ered in his drive­way in pur­suit of news bits as “seag­ulls at the beach.”

Mr. Comey re­vealed him­self to be more short­winded and as­sail­able than a chief G-man is ex­pected to be, telling Sen. Dianne Fe­in­stein, who asked him why he didn’t stand up to Pres­i­dent Trump’s en­treaties to go easy on Lt. Gen. Mike Flynn if he thought it was wrong. He replied, with no manly shame, that he might have if he were “stronger.” Cit­ing weak­ness as an ex­cuse for mis­fea­sance of duty must surely be a first for a G-man.

The pres­i­dent him­self demon­strated once more that he thinks he can ap­ply the ethics of lawyers, bull­dozer driv­ers and build­ing in­spec­tors to the busi­ness of govern­ment, which is sor­did enough. Govern­ment ethics are no greater, but they’re clothed in clever dis­guise. “Ease up and maybe you can keep your job.” The pres­i­dent never said that, even in so many words, but Mr. Comey, like a Philadel­phia lawyer, thought he rec­og­nized the lawyerly eth­i­cal code be­tween the lines of what the pres­i­dent said.

The me­dia, and par­tic­u­larly the press, had a par­tic­u­larly bad hair day. Mr. Comey chal­lenged the ve­rac­ity of The New York Times, which re­gards it­self as the fount of all wis­dom, in a story breath­lessly head­lined “Trump Cam­paign Aides Had Re­peated Con­tacts With Rus­sian In­tel­li­gence.” This was the story that put the cat among the pi­geons, taken by the press mob as the long-sought smok­ing gun, prov­ing that Don­ald Trump had sold out to the Rus­sians. He would now be driven from of­fice. The only thing wrong with this ter­rific, Pulitzer-wor­thy story, Mr. Comey tes­ti­fied, was that “in the main, it was not true.”

The Comey hear­ing was a tri­umph of the “fac­toid,” nov­el­ist Nor­man Mailer’s fa­mous in­vented word to de­scribe some­thing that looks like a fact, sounds like a fact, but in fact is not a fact. Wash­ing­ton is the great in­cu­ba­tor of fac­toids. Fac­toids ex­plode in pub­lic dis­course like the mush­rooms in the for­est af­ter a warm spring rain. Fac­toids bounced around the room like Ping-Pong balls at a grade-school tour­na­ment.

Mr. Comey de­clined, sev­eral times, to say that the pres­i­dent’s im­por­tun­ing him to go easy on Mike Flynn con­sti­tuted an ob­struc­tion of jus­tice. He had suc­ceeded in leav­ing that im­pres­sion, but hav­ing never used the word that might in­voke im­peach­ment. A fac­toid would do the dirty work as the pur­suit of a pres­i­dent re­sumed.

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