August 15, 2022

We’re still feeling aftershocks from the FBI’s unprecedented search of the Mar-a-Lago residence of former President Donald Trump.

And those aftershocks are playing out in different ways depending on where you consume your news.

Most responsible news outlets are reporting the facts and potential implications. Much — not all, but much — of conservative media is in spin mode.

CNN’s Brian Stelter, on his Sunday morning “Reliable Sources” show, had this ominous and very true statement: “So if you choose to live in that Trump information universe, you are hearing one thing over and over and over again: that he is under attack and, thus, you are under attack.”

As Stelter noted, the following banners appeared across TV screens last week:

  • Fox News: “FBI snooped through Melania’s closet.”
  • Fox News: “FBI is filled with a bunch of creeps.”
  • Fox News: “Culture of FBI is rotten to the core.”
  • Newsmax: “FBI raid on Trump’s home displays abuse of power.”
  • Newsmax: “FBI raid of Mar-a-Lago should scare every American.”
  • Fox News: “Politicized FBI undermines faith in justice system.”
  • Fox News: “This FBI cannot be trusted.”
  • Fox News: “FBI now exists to eliminate Democrat Party rivals.”

Speaking on “Reliable Sources,” John Dean, the former White House counsel for Richard Nixon, said, “I think these people are going to have egg all over their face when this is over; while they may not ever admit it, even though they should.”

It’s one thing to see Trump going bonkers on his social media platform. But to see supposed “news” organizations searching for reasons to excuse or explain Trump’s actions is alarming, but ultimately not that surprising given the recent history of right-wing media.

The best point Stelter made was that everybody needs to be patient and see how this story plays out. The FBI exercised a legal search of Trump’s residence and removed the documents they believe Trump should not have taken. Now let’s see where their investigation goes from here. And, to be clear, we’re talking about potentially sensitive and intricate papers. Perhaps we can give investigators more than a couple of days to go through it all.

In other words, this is not so simple. This is not a TV show that can be wrapped up in an hour.

Meanwhile, it’s truly frightening to see some of the rhetoric coming from Trump supporters, chants of “Defund the FBI” and threats against the government. One of those threats even turned deadly when a man, who appears to have been a devoted Trump supporter, was shot dead in a standoff with police when he attacked an FBI office in Cincinnati with a nail gun.

Over the weekend, armed Trump supporters showed up outside an FBI office in Phoenix.

On CBS’s “Face the Nation,” CBS justice correspondent Jeff Pegues talked about a bulletin put out by Homeland Security regarding threats against the FBI. Pegues said, “This is, as you noted, one of the most chilling bulletins I have read. And I have read numerous bulletins dating back to the days of al Qaeda and ISIS. And so this is the domestic threat here. And, according to the bulletin, which I was just looking at, again, part of the concern are some of these drivers, public officials making statements in support of the search at Mar-a-Lago — or against, criticizing the search, criticizing the FBI. And so you have FBI officials right now concerned about the safety of their agents, employees in general, and then, as you noted, that dirty bomb reference. So there is a lot of concern around the country. And this is the kind of bulletin that will go out to all police agencies, so that they are intent on sharing information, because, frankly, you don’t really know where the threat is really going to come from.”

And much of the support for Trump is coming from GOP leaders. New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd wrote, “It’s Pavlovian now. Republicans don’t even hesitate before protecting Trump, even though he’s being investigated for possibly violating the Espionage Act.”

Dowd went on to write about Trump: “This egomaniac is desecrating our democracy, tearing the country apart for his own benefit. Fund-raising emails ranting about the F.B.I. search of Mar-a-Lago should be headlined: ‘Let’s Ruin America So We Can Make Some Money Off It!’ (Actually, Rupert Murdoch could use that as a chyron.)”

And as Dowd points out, whenever Trump is backed into a corner, he starts “whining that someone else should be in trouble, not him.”

Yet Trump has his backers, including prominent ones in the GOP. For example, South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham said, “I think every Republican believes that the FBI, when it comes to Trump and other organizations, have lost their mind.” Florida Sen. Rick Scott said, “This should scare the living daylights out of American citizens. The way our federal government has gone, it’s like what we thought about the Gestapo or people like that.”

Dowd writes, “Even after so many years of this poisonous folly, I remain amazed that the Republicans viciously smeared by Trump on his way up, like Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz and Lindsey Graham, now back up his smears.”

The Sunday shows

Trump and the FBI search was a major topic, of course, on the Sunday morning news shows.

On NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Minnesota Democratic Sen. Amy Klobucher said, “I thought in the old days the Republican Party used to stand with law enforcement. And I hope some of them do today because this kind of rhetoric is very dangerous to our country.”

Klobuchar also had this interesting tidbit: “As a senator, I know when I look at the classified documents, I’ve got to go in a special room. … I can’t even wear my Fitbit.”

Meanwhile, on CNN’s “State of the Union,” Ohio Republican Congressman Mike Turner said, “(Trump) has a lot of questions to answer. … No one is above the law. Donald Trump is not above the law and Attorney General Garland is not above the law either.”

Briana Keilar, who was hosting “State of the Union,” asked Turner a great question: “Do you take home documents marked ‘special access?’”

Turner gave a one-word answer: “No.”

Turner then followed up later by saying he would be “very surprised if (Trump) has actual documents that rise to the level of an immediate national security threat.”

Still, great work in that interview by Keilar.

Also on “State of the Union,” Arkansas Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson said, “Well, if the GOP is going to be the party of supporting law enforcement, law enforcement includes the FBI. As a United States attorney, I work with the FBI, the DEA, the federal law enforcement agencies. Those folks on the ground do extraordinarily heroic efforts to enforce our rule of law, which is fundamental to the Republican Party and to our democracy. The FBI is part of that. And so, yes, we need to pull back on casting judgment on them. No doubt that they have — higher-ups in the FBI (have) made mistakes. They do it. I have defended cases as well. And I have seen wrong actions. But we cannot say that, whenever they went in and did that search, that they were not doing their job as law enforcement officers.”

Powerful interview

Author Salman Rushdie in 2015. (Credit: Dennis Van Tine/MediaPunch /IPX)

Be sure to check out Brian Stelter’s CNN interview with Henry Reese, who was the moderator at the event on Friday when author Salman Rushie was attacked.

Rushdie, the 75-year-old author who has received death threats for some of his writings, was stabbed several times on stage at an event in Western New York. CNN’s Nouran Salahieh, Nicki Brown, Liam Reilly and Samantha Beech report that Rushdie has been taken off a ventilator, but remains in critical condition. His agent, Andrew Wylie, told CNN, “So the road to recovery has begun. It will be long — the injuries are severe. But his condition is headed in the right direction.”

Wylie told The New York Times’ Hurubie Meko and Lauren D’Avolio that Rushdie might lose an eye, that his liver was badly damaged and the nerves in one of his arms were severed.

Hadi Matar, a 24-year-old New Jersey man, as been arrested and charged with second-degree attempted murder and assault with a weapon.

Meko and D’Avolio wrote in the Times, “Mr. Rushdie had been living under the threat of an assassination attempt since 1989, about six months after the publication of his novel ‘The Satanic Verses.’ The book fictionalized parts of the life of the Prophet Muhammad with depictions that offended some Muslims, who believed the novel to be blasphemous. Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, who led Iran after its 1979 revolution, issued an edict known as a fatwa on Feb. 14, 1989. It ordered Muslims to kill Mr. Rushdie.”

It’s not publicly known why Matar attacked Rushdie.

More on the Rushdie story

The Associated Press’ David Bauder has this interesting story: “By chance, AP reporter on scene to witness Rushdie attack.”

Bauder reports that Joshua Goodman, an AP correspondent for Latin America based in Miami, was vacationing with family in Western New York and attended the lecture where Rushdie was attacked.

Goodman told Bauder, “It was very surreal is the only way you’d describe it. This was the last place you’d expect something like this.”

Goodman, naturally, did what a reporter does in such a situation. He went to work.

“I don’t take any satisfaction in witnessing tragedy,” Goodman told Bauder. “I do take satisfaction in informing others.”

Media tidbits

(Photo courtesy of NBC News)

  • With school returning across the country, NBC News’ latest in-depth news series is “Kids Under Pressure.” The series will look at “key issues schools, families and students are facing as they return to the classroom.” Over the next two weeks, there will be special reports on the “Today” show, the “NBC Nightly News,” MSNBC, and NBC News NOW.
  • Poynter media business analyst Rick Edmonds reported a couple weeks ago that Gannett was set for layoffs following its second-quarter earnings report. Well, those layoffs started coming down Friday. Poynter’s Angela Fu has all the details here.
  • The Washington Post’s editorial board with “After 10 years of agony, it’s time for Syria to free Austin Tice.”
  • Also in The Washington Post, Tiffany Hsu with “On TikTok, Election Misinformation Thrives Ahead of Midterms.”
  • OK, this is media related. And, well, it’s a fun pick-me-up in a newsletter that has been filled with grim news. So enjoy this little bit from a Washington, D.C., anchor, Jeannette Reyes.

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Tom Jones is Poynter’s senior media writer for He was previously part of the Tampa Bay Times family during three stints over some 30…
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