The News You Didn’t Hear

Reporters only want to talk about Russia, instead of what Team Trump is getting done.

June 2, 2017


Here is what Americans this week were told counted as “news”: Jared Kushner’s past meetings. Russians. James Comey’s upcoming testimony. Russians. Hillary Clinton’s latest conspiracy theories. Russians. Bob Mueller’s as-yet-nonexistent investigation (into Russians). Kathy Griffin, Mr. Met and, of course, “covfefe.” Total words printed on these subjects? At least a duodecillion.

Here’s what actually happened this week, the “news” that holds real consequences for real Americans:

• Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke signed an order to begin reopening Alaska’s National Petroleum Reserve to oil and gas exploration, reversing the Obama administration’s ideologically driven 2013 shutdown. The order even aims at opening the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to production—a move that is decades overdue. This could not only buck up the listless Alaskan economy but cement the U.S. as an oil and gas powerhouse.

• In related news, the Dakota Access Pipeline finally went live.

• The Fish and Wildlife Service took steps that may stop the Obama administration’s last-minute endangered-species listing for the Texas Hornshell, a freshwater mussel. That listing, based on outdated science, threatens significant harm to the Texas economy and was done over the protest of state officials and local industry.

• Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross surprisingly said that he was open to completing the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, or TTIP, a far-reaching trade agreement being negotiated with the European Union.

• Sen. John Thune, the upper chamber’s third-ranking Republican, said his caucus had moved beyond meetings and on to “drafting” the base language of an ObamaCare replacement. The No. 2 Republican, John Cornyn, vowed the Senate would “absolutely” have a bill by “the end of July at the latest.”

And on and on. The Environmental Protection Agency stayed crushing regulations. The U.S. tested the first ground-based system for intercepting ballistic missiles. New numbers showed the private economy adding a rip-roaring 253,000 jobs in May.

Who is to blame for this real-news blackout? The press, obviously. But the co-culprit: Donald Trump.

Americans know that much of the mainstream media is biased in how it presents stories. The dirty little secret is that journalists’ far greater power rests in what they choose to—or not to—report. The country is no better informed about exactly how Russia interfered in the election than it was in October, when intelligence agencies issued a statement expressing their belief that Moscow had helped hack emails. Not a single useful fact has since been added, nor a single investigation completed, nor a single official report produced. Until those inquiries are completed, we will have no new real facts. Yet every day, a new Russia story.

Few expect better from today’s ratings-obsessed media. Especially given its new mission of working with Democrats and Never Trumpers to take down a presidency. That means spewing strategic leaks and suppositions, which create new controversies, which are spun into yet more distant scandals. We are these days reading exposes about former national security adviser Mike Flynn’s work for a Turkish businessman, which is utterly removed from the original question of Russian “collusion.”

The result is a surreal situation in which the near-hysterical press coverage of Trump the man (and potential Russian operative) is utterly divorced from the substantive actions his administration takes or the progress it makes. Mr. Trump’s cabinet, which includes some of the best reformers in the conservative world, is methodically implementing a far-reaching deregulatory agenda. Congress is moving ahead on key promises.

Thus Mr. Trump’s culpability. The president knows better than most the ills of the media; he rails about them constantly. Yet he continues to be the indulger in chief. He daily provides new, explosive tweets that give reporters every excuse to keep up their obsessions about Russia, Mr. Comey, Hillary, Carter Page.

Mr. Trump’s Twitter handle may be the most powerful communications tool on the planet. He has the awesome ability, unlike any president in history, to force the press to focus on his agenda by putting it out into the world every morning (or late night, as it may be). He could use that tool to set the daily discussion. Instead, he’s using it to undermine his own administration.

Mr. Trump also has at his disposal an array of famous surrogates who could spread his message. He has all the free media he could ever hope for, if only he used it in a strategic fashion. He has activist groups to help push for his reforms, but they can’t compete amid the crazy headlines.

Team Trump owes it to voters to get the real news out about its agenda and successes. But that will require doing more than complaining about the press. This White House needs to set and define the daily debate. It’s that, or Russia headlines through 2018.

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