On the evening of Aug. 14, Donald Trump and 18 co-defendants were indicted on criminal charges in Fulton County, Georgia for their efforts to subvert the 2020 election vote count in Georgia. Prosecutors charged Trump with 13 counts, including violating the state’s RICO (Racketeer Influenced Corrupt Organization) Act, soliciting a public officer to violate their oath, conspiring to impersonate a public officer, conspiring to commit forgery in the first degree and conspiring to file false documents.
Trump has now been indicted four times on 91 charges in just four months, including Special Counsel Jack Smith’s federal charges for conspiring to subvert American democracy, the adult film star hush money case, and the Mar-a-Lago classified documents case that will likely go to trial next year.
Given the serious felony charges Trump faces as he runs to win the Republican party presidential nomination, it’s clear that the 2024 election campaign will be like no other in modern American history. Between The Lines’ Scott Harris spoke with Chris Lehmann, D.C. bureau chief for The Nation magazine, who talks about his recent article titled, “The Press Can’t Wait to Do 2016 All Over Again,” and concern that corporate media’s coverage of Trump’s 2024 election campaign is already repeating many of the same serious journalistic mistakes made in 2016.
CHRIS LEHMANN: There’s a lot of, in my view, rudderless and pointless debates swirling around First Amendment freedoms at this moment where we’re only interpreting them as they apply to Donald Trump as he faces the legal consequences of his action. But in reality, freedom of the press and the First Amendment were a critical part of the founding of this country because it’s essential for a democracy to have an informed citizenry.
You have citizens who are up to date on the issues of the day, who know the candidates running for office, who are able to make reasoned choices and conduct public deliberation about the most pressing issues before them.
None of that, I would argue, occurred in 2016. In fact, we did have this kind of rudderless spectacle, and Jeff Zucker, the former head of CNN, which is the network to run all those unfiltered Trump rallies and pointless footage of empty podiums and on tarmacs said in defense of of that completely counter-journalistic decision that we just had to keep our cameras trained on Trump because, “We just didn’t know what he would say next.”
That has nothing to do with an informed citizenry or, you know, advancing knowledge of the issues of the day or promoting public deliberation. It is pure, witless spectacle for the sake of witless spectacle. And Jeff Zucker is a master of that because he was, after all, the producer at ABC who wooed Trump to star in The Apprentice that nearly a decade-long reality TV show that basically gave the second life to Donald Trump’s public career.
SCOTT HARRIS: How should, in your view, U.S. media be covering this election coming up in 2024 and specifically for Donald Trump? What do they need to do different?
CHRIS LEHMANN: First of all, rather than just rote effects of, you know, going parachuting out to diners in the hinterlands to talk to Trump supporters, talk to people who personally supported Trump and who are disillusioned. There are plenty of them. That’s a big reason Joe Biden won in 2020. And yes, he did win the election. That’s another facet of it, the corrosive effect of continually platforming, not just Trump, but Rudy Giuliani, Sidney Powell, the whole menagerie of liars and grifters in the Trump movement is key to creating this corrosive delegitimization of our democracy.
You talk about political violence, but also right after Jan. 6, there was a brief moment where Republicans were appalled by what happened at the Capitol. They were appalled by the violence there. They were appalled by the clear and present threat to democratic order. And they were on the verge of having to break from him.
Mitch McConnell sanctioned Republican senators to vote their conscience in the second impeachment proceedings.
So did Kevin McCarthy, amazingly enough, who’s the most quisling and invertebrate Republican I’ve ever had to cover in my life. But, you know, they flipped right away. And so we went from this moment where there was a time not that long ago where a significant plurality of Republican poll respondents said they did not agree that the election had been stolen over time because of the uncritical coverage accorded to election deniers in the press.
And, you know, the failure to call these things out for what they are — dangerous lies that attack the basic functioning of our democracy — it’s now an overwhelming majority of Republicans who believe that Joe Biden illegally stole the election.
So, it’s a simple fix, but it desperately needs to be done — like every time you mention Donald Trump on the air, you say “who plotted the illegal coup to overthrow the U.S. government.”
That is a fact. And that is a very important piece of information that has been crowded out by all the noise and empty spectacle that the press just reflexively gives to campaign coverage writ large and especially to Donald Trump.
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