By Kent R. Kroeger (April 13, 2018)
An exchange from CNN Tonight with Don Lemon between the host and conservative CNN commentator Jason Miller (April 12, 2018):
Don Lemon: Jason, Jason, I can’t. Please! Be respectful. When you come on and give this information and other Trump supporters give disinformation, I spend most of my time trying to debunk falsities and lies instead of educating the American people.
Jason Miller: Don, what did I say that was a lie?
Lemon: Every single night you talk about no collusion. You don’t even know the original focus of the Russia investigation. You’re feeding talking points that aren’t true to the American people.
Jason Miller: What did I say that was incorrect?
Lemon: If you’are going to be on this platform, respect the American people. It is a privilege to come here. Don’t come on CNN and lie or deflect about what’s going on. Come here and be honest with the American people. It is a privilege to come on here, not a right. I gotta go.
Click here to watch the exchange: https://youtu.be/w5P2FbkeSCQ
This is not the first time CNN’s Don Lemon has scolded a “guest” for pushing a fake news story or a Trump administration talking point.
To survive in the competitive world of prime time cable TV news, anchors must find their niche, their sui generis attraction to the viewing audience.
Some do it well (Rachel Maddow, Tucker Carlson) and then there is Don Lemon.
Don’t get me wrong. I like Don Lemon. He has possibly the cleanest, most polished presentation in cable TV prime time news. His natural charm jumps off the screen.
But he, or someone in CNN corporate, has decided he needs to corner the market as broadcast journalism’s ‘fake news’ watchdog. Joy Reid serves that function at MSNBC.
Unfortunately, every time Lemon embarks on one of his ‘we don’t do fake news here’ tirades, it comes across as contrived and, in fact, becomes itself a close cousin to fake news —fake outrage.
Lemon’s first error is that he ignores the established roles of his guests. In the case of Jason Miller, a former Donald Trump senior communications adviser who now works for CNN as a political commentator, he was on CNN Tonight to represent someone sympathetic to the Trump administration’s point of view.
Lemon doesn’t have to like Trump administration’s point of view. He can even call it ‘fake news.’ But to excoriate a guest on his show for playing a pre-determined role is a tad bit disingenuous.
It comes across (at least to this audience member) as a setup and Lemon’s indignation as nothing but bad playacting.
Lemon’s second error is more substantive and is a problem throughout the anti-Trump media’s coverage of the Mueller probe. Collusion is not a well-defined legal term and therefore not the best term to use regarding the Mueller probe. The term gets confounded with acts of coordination which, while they may be in violation of Federal Election Commission (FEC) rules and potentially subject the Trump campaign to stiff fines, are not what Trump’s critics expect to see as the final outcome of the Mueller probe. The anti-Trump media wants Mueller to find evidence of a criminal conspiracy.
A conspiracy indictment is the holy grail for Trump critics.
[Full disclosure: It is my opinion that operatives within Trump’s campaign did coordinate with Russians on the release of the hacked e-mails and possibly with the sharing of Cambridge Analytica’s voter database. I can’t prove it yet, and neither can CNN.]
Roger Stone getting a heads-up from the Russians on the possession and release date of the hacked Podesta emails would be coordination (or collusion, if you prefer that term). It is more likely a violation of campaign ethics rules than a conspiratorial act.
Even so, direct evidence of this coordination between Stone and the Russians (or Wikileaks) is circumstantial. The most direct evidence is the fact that Wikileaks released the Podesta emails soon after the “Access Hollywood” tape was released. But, of course, the Russians and Wikileaks didn’t need to coordinate with the Trump campaign to come up with that timing idea.
So far, what the public revelations more likely tell us is that, during the 2016 campaign, George Papadopoulos or Stone actively sought Hillary Clinton’s 30,000 destroyed emails or other similar information (e.g., Podesta and DNC hacked e-mails).
The Russians may very well have coordinated their release of the hacked e-mails with the Trump campaign. Unethical that would be, for sure. Maybe even illegal. But not a presidency-ending conspiracy.
Mueller needs to find evidence of a conspiracy to defraud the American people to satisfy the desires of those who want to see Trump removed from office.
An example would be if: the Trump campaign helped (or just had prior knowledge) the Russians were going to hack the DNC/Podesta e-mails, or knew that Russia’s Internet Research Agency (IRA) was working on a social media-focused communications campaign on Trump’s behalf.
That is what a conspiracy would look like. And how high that knowledge went up the Trump campaign’s organizational chart would determine if it would end the Trump presidency.
Those are two titanic ifs before Mueller would have enough to indict Donald Trump himself on a conspiracy charge related to Russian meddling.
[Obstruction of justice is a different matter. Based on what is known, it does appear more likely Trump could see an indictment on that offense. And money laundering? I have no idea what Mueller has or may be seeking in that area of his probe.]
As of now, there is no direct evidence of collusion, even at lower levels within the Trump campaign.
So when Donald Trump says, “There was no collusion with the Russians,” he may not be lying. It is a legitimate opinion.
Or when Jason Miller reiterates Trump’s claim of ‘no collusion,’ he is not propagating fake news, he’s stating an opinion regarding the facts as we know them today.
CNN, and the anti-Trump media, are doing a great disservice to their audiences when they push unproven allegations as established fact. It is, well, a form of ‘fake news.’
When Trump or his surrogates say ‘there was no collusion’ that is an opinion regarding an unproven allegation. Period. Jason Miller wasn’t deceiving the audience, but Lemon was. He wanted Miller to state something as fact when legitimate doubt about its veracity still remains.
Miller had every right to say ‘there was no collusion,’ even if Lemon didn’t agree with that opinion. Lemon implying Miller was a liar was no way to treat a guest.
Lemon needs to hope CNN corporate doesn’t heed his own advice. It is a privilege to be a CNN prime time host, not a right.