Puzzle In A Box

Most of us have spent some time putting together jigsaw puzzles. We open the box and scramble the pieces all over the table and then proceed to figure out how they all fit together to make the picture on the box. Investigative reporters also put together puzzles—but without the picture on the box. They start in one place and often end up in a completely different place. They sometimes start with one picture in mind and when they are done a different picture emerges. The best reporters find and follow the facts, often supplied by leakers doing what they think is their patriotic duty.

Since Tr-mp was illegitimately elected in November, a lot of reporters have been busy, day after day, finding and following facts, trying to piece together a puzzle: How did we end up with Tr-mp in the White’s House? How significant was the role the Russians played to help him? How much direct collaboration (we know there was plenty of indirect collaboration) was there between Tr-mp, or people associated with his campaign, and the Russians? How are Tr-mp’s business dealings involved in all of it? Why did FBI Director James Comey very publicly criticize Hillary Clinton last summer and keep silent about an investigation into whether Tr-mp’s campaign colluded with Russia? And on and on. Pieces of that puzzle are being reported day after day. We are learning more and more with every leak, with every distressing and depressing fact being exposed. (The latest report, that James Comey may have been fooled by a phony document produced by the Russians is, well, Image result for trump jigsaw puzzlesickening.)

While it may be somewhat puzzling how Tr-mp ended up where he is, what is not puzzling is what he has done and is doing to the country. Many of us knew what Tr-mp’s America would look like once he got his hands on power. We had the picture on the puzzle box.

As you all know by now, a Republican candidate— a rich guy running to represent Montana in the United States House of Representatives for God’s sake grabbed a British journalist by the neck and body-slammed him on the eve of a special election. He then punched him while he was on the ground. The assault occurred after the reporter persisted in asking a question about the GOP millionaire’s position on the party’s “health care” bill that the CBO scored again yesterday. The candidate, Greg Gianforte, did not want to answer the question on the night before the election, and the reporter, doing his job, thought voters should know the candidate’s position before they voted, not after. Violence was Gianforte’s response and then his campaign lied about the incident, blaming it, predictably, on the “liberal” reporter being too aggressive by “asking badgering questions.”

The Tr-mp supporting millionaire, a phony Focus on the Family-type Christian warrior who thinks the Earth is 6,000 years old, has a history of threatening reporters. In April, the Billings Gazette reported what Gianforte said “at a meeting hosted by a constitutional Christian group”:

…during questions at the end of his talk, Gianforte took one from a man who said: “Our biggest enemy is the news media. How can we rein in the news media?”

The man then looked at the Ravalli Republic reporter sitting next to him and raised his hands as if he would like to wring his neck.

Gianforte smiled and pointed at the reporter.

“We have someone right here,” the candidate said. “It seems like there is more of us than there is of him…

This stuff isn’t happening in a vacuum. Conservatives have attacked the “liberal media” as long as I can remember. I used to be one of those conservatives. I listened for years as Rush Limbaugh called the press the “drive-by media.” Right-wing talkers on the radio and television and on the Internet make a lucrative living demonizing legitimate journalism and replacing it with false or misleading stories. That’s part of the reason why we have Tr-mp. And we all know how Tr-mp, a rabid consumer of Fox “News,” has treated the press both during the campaign and after assuming office. In February he said: 

The FAKE NEWS media…is not my enemy, it is the enemy of the American People! SICK!

Now you understand why that questioner in Montana, standing in front of Greg Gianforte in April, prefaced his question with, “Our biggest enemy is the news media.” This stuff is cultivated. It is done for a purpose. People like Rush Limbaugh do it for money. People like Tr-mp and Gianforte do it for power. Whatever the reason, it is dangerous. Because of it, America, values and all, is disintegrating before our eyes.

One final example of how Tr-mpism—which, oddly, pre-dates Tr-mp’s rise to power—is damaging our democracy, perhaps beyond repair:

A 27-year-old employee of the Democratic National Committee, Seth Rich, was shot and killed last July in Washington, D.C. The police are still trying to solve the crime. But many in the right-wing media, including Fox “News,” thought they had it figured out. Their various conspiracy theories involved the idea that Rich was the one who leaked to Wikileaks the infamous DNC emails that helped pollute the political campaign of Hillary Clinton and elect Tr-mp. The conspiracists posited that Rich was leaking in order to expose the corruption at the DNC and was murdered for doing so. And, of course, the conspiracists alleged that the D.C. police and the FBI acted to hide the fact that Rich was killed because he was the leaker and not the Russians, thus dissociating Tr-mp and his campaign from Putin’s efforts to muck up our democracy and saddle us with a big-mouthed buffoon who can’t keep quiet about the nation’s top secrets.

Of course, as Snopes points out in detail, the right-wing attempt to un-smear Tr-mp by smearing Seth Rich, the D.C. police, the FBI, and the entire Intelligence Community who asserted that the Russians did the dirty deed, is all fiction. Even Fox “News” had to retract the story, although its fading star, Sean Hannity, still promotes it, despite pleas from Rich’s family to stop. Hannity tweeted on Tuesday in true Tr-mp-speak:

Ok TO BE CLEAR, I am closer to the TRUTH than ever. Not only am I not stopping, I am working harder. Updates when available. Stay tuned!

Despite the fact that numerous fact-checkers and news outlets have debunked this nonsense, Hannity continues. But that’s what he does. That’s how he got wealthy and he isn’t going to stop until Fox executives stop him, after advertisers start abandoning him like they did Bill O’Reilly. But elected officials ought to know better. Elected officials ought to be better than a liar like Hannity. But many of them are not. Many right-wing Republicans in Congress repeat this type of trash in one way or another. That’s what happened yesterday morning on CNN, when a Texas congressman named Blake Farenthold alluded to the Rich conspiracy theory during an interview with Poppy Harlow and John Berman. Here’s CNN’s transcript of the exchange:

FARENTHOLD: “My fear is our constant focusing on the Russians is deflecting away for some other things that we need to be investigating. There’s still some question as farenthold on cnnto whether the intrusion of the DNC server was an insider job or whether or not it was the Russians.”

BERMAN: “What evidence — I’m sorry. I’m sorry. The insider job, what are you referring to here? Because I hope it’s not this information that Fox News just refused to be reporting.”

FAHRENTHOLD: “Again, there’s stuff circulating on the internet.”

BERMAN: “What’s circulating on the internet that you think is worthy of a congressional investigation? Because the DC police are investigating this, and so far they haven’t said there’s any there there.”

FARENTHOLD: “Yet the DC police nor no federal investigator has ever had a look at the DNC computer. We’re relying only on the report that someone that the DNC contracted to examine their computer rather than having federal officials. To me, we need to let the feds look at it.”

I want to quote at length CNN’s Chris Cillizza on Farenthold’s appearance and what it means:

To believe what Farenthold is saying, you have to believe that Rich’s family is in on the “inside job” DNC hack. Which, on its face, is ridiculous.

As an aside, Farenthold also appears to equate his conspiracy theory spinning with the news media’s use of anonymous sources, despite the fact former CIA Director John Brennan said Tuesday at a public congressional hearing that he’d seen evidence of contact between Russians and President Donald Trump’s campaign.

“I think the same is true with what the media is doing with Trump,” Farenthold told CNN. “We’re basing allegations on anonymous sources.”

The problem with what Farenthold — and Hannity — are doing is that by acting as though this is some sort of grand conspiracy theory with real evidence supporting it gives cover and fodder to the Internet kook crowd who believe that the DNC is evil and of course they would murder a leaker in their ranks.

What that forgets is this: Two parents lost a son. Someone lost their brother. That’s hard enough. To watch his death transformed into a political football must be excruciating.

Yes. And it is excruciating to watch, day after day, American democracy, and the values once embedded in it, die a slow death at the hands of people who can’t find it within themselves to condemn crazy conspiracy theories or, when it matters, condemn what a Montana millionaire running for Congress did yesterday to a journalist merely doing his job. As I write this, not one Republican in Congress has bothered to say the obvious: that a candidate who beats up a reporter for asking him a question is unworthy to hold any office, much less sit in the People’s House. But in the age of Tr-mpism, the People’s House isn’t what it used to be. Some of what has happened to our country is puzzling, that’s for sure. But some of it is as predictable as a puzzle in a box.

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