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Monday, December 09, 2019 {{ new Date().getDay() }}

Reprinted with permission from PressRun, Eric Boehlert's essential media newsletter (subscribe today!)

The staggering weight of America's pandemic continues to come into view with each passing day, as the death toll and the number of lost jobs catapult to new heights. Politically, the carnage represents the worst possible news for the incumbent president, who now has to run for re-election against the grim backdrop of 50,000 deaths and 26 million unemployed, as consumer confidence collapses in record time.

Yet incredibly, the political press remains committed to its longtime 'Dems In Disarray' narrative, deriding Democrats as being forever confused and outsmarted. (They're not.) Specifically, the campaign coverage for November seems oddly focused on the supposed woes hounding Democratic nominee, Joe Biden.

Left out or glossed over as the 'Dems in Disarray' drums bang loudly? In the last 42 polls regarding the Biden vs. Trump match-up, Biden leads in 39. And two of the other three are ties. How does the press look at that data and conclude that Biden's the one facing steep hurdles? It's Both Sides journalism on steroids. It's a stalwart commitment to pretend the two candidates are facing equal challenges this campaign. (Did I mention the apocalyptic job losses under Trump?)

The 'Dems in Disarray' coverage, particularly at the New York Times, has been a loud and steady lately: Biden doesn't have enough money! Biden doesn't have enough YouTube followers! Biden doesn't have enough young voters!

Some context. Biden recently posted his largest fundraising month ever, $47 million, yet the Times immediately framed the announcement as bad news for Biden — Trump has more! In 2016, the Trump campaign was badly outspent and won the election. But in 2020, it's fatal for Democrats if their candidate is outspent?

Yes, Biden's trailing on the digital front and I'm sure Democrats wish that weren't the case. But it should be pointed out that Biden trailed on the digital front during the primary season, and won that contest in a rout. The same goes for the youth vote. Biden didn't harness it during the primary, and he won the nomination walking away. Yet the Times remains obsessed with the topic, suggesting there's a deep rift within the party. Polling suggests otherwise.

Fact: Biden is making historic inroads among seniors, a voting block that has backed Republicans for the last three decades. But the Times even tried to hide that good news. This was the paper's recent headline: "Is Biden Gaining Older Voters, and Losing Young Ones?" Readers would assume Biden was looking at a wash, right? He is picking up older voters, losing younger ones. In fact, there's been a huge 15-point swing toward the Democratic nominee among older voters, as compared to the 2016 election. This, while Biden holds steady among younger voters, as compared to 2016. So why the pessimistic, Biden-struggles headline?

I admit I have no idea who's going to win in November. So I'm not suggesting that polling in April guarantees a Biden victory. Traditionally however, polling has played a large role in campaign coverage, and the idea that the candidate who has clearly established a solid, consistent lead in dozens of polls this year is the candidate who's struggling, really does defy journalism norms. If roles were reversed, does anyone think with Trump leading Biden in nearly 40 straight polls the Times would habitually publish stories about the campaign hurdles Trump faces?

This pattern has been weirdly consistent. Twelve months ago, the Times had no idea what the Democratic convention in 2020 would look like. But that didn't stop the paper from warning about a chaotic, "agonizing" nominating event. Incredibly, even the Democrats' historic midterm election wins in 2018 were presented under the 'Dems in Disarray' banner.

As for presidential campaigns, there simply seems to be different media standards for Democrats and Republicans up for re-election. Back in 2011, as President Barack Obama eyed his second term, the campaign press raised all kinds of alarms about his prospects when polls showed him tied with likely Republican opponents.

At the time, there was this memorable headline from a 5,000-word New York Times magazine piece that ran in November 2011, surveying his odds for re-election: "Is Obama Toast?" The Times announced that "Obama has gone from a modest favorite to win re-election to, probably, a slight underdog," and that was treated as a very big deal. Can you image the hysterical 2012 coverage if a Republican had been polling ahead of Obama in nearly 40 straight surveys, the way Biden leads Trump today?

Beltway journalists love to portray Trump as super savvy and always two steps ahead of disarrayed Democrats. Today, that's hard to do when he's got 50,000 deaths and 26 million lost jobs wrapped around the neck of his campaign.

UPDATED: Hours after I posted this column, the Times published another Dems in Disarray piece about the Biden campaign. You can't make this stuff up, folks.


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  • 1.Why did Trump choose to hide certain specific files and not others at Mar-a-Lago? What were the criteria that Trump used to keep some files concealed and not others? Who selected those files? Did Trump consult or direct anyone in his selection of secret files? Trump was notorious for being too impatient to read his briefing papers, even after they had been drastically shortened and simplified. Is there the slightest evidence that he spirited these papers away so that he could consult or study them? Who besides Trump knew of the presence of the files he had concealed at Mar-a-Lago?
  • 2. Mar-a-Lago has an infamous reputation for being open to penetration even by foreign spies. In 2019, the FBI arrested a Chinese woman who had entered the property with electronic devices. She was convicted of trespassing, lying to the Secret Service, and sentenced and served eight-months in a federal prison, before being deported to China. Have other individuals with possible links to foreign intelligence operations been present at Mar-a-Lago?
  • 3. Did members of Trump's Secret Service detail have knowledge of his secret storage of the files at Mar-a-Lago? What was the relationship of the Secret Service detail to the FBI? Did the Secret Service, or any agent, disclose information about the files to the FBI?
  • 4. Trump's designated representatives to the National Archives are Kash Patel and John Solomon, co-conspirators in the investigations into Russian interference in the presidential election of 2016, the Ukraine missiles-for-political dirt scandal that led to the first impeachment in 2019, and the coup of 2020. Neither has any professional background in handling archival materials. Patel, a die-hard Trump loyalist whose last job in the administration was as chief of staff to the Acting Secretary of Defense, was supposedly involved in Trump’s “declassification” of some files. Patel has stated, “Trump declassified whole sets of materials in anticipation of leaving government that he thought the American public should have the right to read themselves."
  • The White House counsel failed to generate the paperwork to change the classification markings, but that doesn’t mean the information wasn’t declassified.” If Pat Cipollone, the White House legal counsel, did not “generate the paperwork,” was he or anyone on his staff aware at all of the declassifications? The White House Staff Secretary Derek Lyons resigned his post in December 2020. Did his successor, who held the position for a month, while Trump was consumed with plotting his coup, ever review the material found in Trump’s concealed files for declassification? Or did Patel review the material? Can Patel name any individual who properly reviewed the supposed declassification?
  • 5. Why did Trump keep his pardon of Roger Stone among his secret files? Was it somehow to maintain leverage over Stone? What would that leverage be? Would it involve Stone's role as a conduit with the Proud Boys and Oath Keepers during the coup? Or is there another pardon in Trump’s files for Stone, a secret pardon for his activities in the January 6th insurrection? Because of the sweeping nature of the pardon clause, pardons can remain undisclosed (until needed). Pardons are self-executing, require no justification and are not subject to court review beyond the fact of their timely execution. In other words, a court may verify the pardon was valid in time but has no power to review appropriateness. A pardon could even be oral but would need to be verifiable by a witness. Do the files contain secret pardons for Trump himself, members of his family, members of the Congress, and other co-conspirators?
  • 6.Was the FBI warrant obtained to block the imminent circulation or sale of information in the files to foreign powers? Does the affidavit of the informant at Mar-a-Lago, which has not been released, provide information about Trump’s monetization that required urgency in executing the warrant? Did Trump monetize information in any of the files? How? With whom? Any foreign power or entity? Was the Saudi payment from its sovereign wealth fund for the LIV Golf Tournament at Trump’s Bedminster Golf Club for a service that Trump rendered, an exchange of anything of value or information that was in the files? If it involved information in the files was it about nuclear programs? Was it about the nuclear program of Israel? How much exactly was the Saudi payment for the golf tournament? The Saudi sovereign wealth fund gave Jared Kushner and former Trump Secretary of the Treasury Steven Mnuchin $2 billion for their startup hedge fund, Affinity Partners. Do the Saudis regard that investment as partial payment for Trump’s transfer of nuclear information? Were Kushner or Mnuchin aware of the secret files at Mar-a-Lago?
  • 7.Did Trump destroy any of the files? If so, when? Did those files contain incriminating information? Did he destroy any files after he received the June subpoena?
  • 8.Were any of the secrets of our allies compromised? Has the U.S. government provided an inventory of breaches or potential breaches to our allies?
  • 9.Does the resort maintain a copying machine near the classified documents that Trump hid? Were any of the documents copied or scanned? Are Trump’s documents at Mar-a-Lago originals or copies? Were any copies shown or given to anyone?
  • 10.Trump’s lawyer Christina Bobb has revealed that a video surveillance system covers the places where Trump hid the files at Mar-a-Lago, and that the system is connected to a system at his other residences at the Bedminster Golf Club in New Jersey and Trump Tower in New York City. According to Bobb, Trump and members of his family observed the FBI search and seizure of his files at Mar-a-Lago, “actually able to see the whole thing” through their surveillance system. Who has that surveillance system recorded entering the rooms where the files were kept?

Kevin Bacon, right, in "The Following"

The aftermath of the August 8, 2022 search of the Mar-a-Lago club, former President Donald Trump’s Florida home, isn’t the first showdown between the FBI and a cult leader.

The Following, a 2013 Fox Pictures series, played out in similar fashion. Three seasons was enough for the producers and it’s been nine years since our introduction to Joe Carroll, English professor-novelist-serial killer, so there’s a spoiler risk -- but not enough to prevent the comparison.

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