Media critic

There’s a lot about Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein that we don’t know right now. Like, how long will he survive in his job after the big story on Friday in the New York Times that said he discussed ousting the president via the 25th Amendment. Or just what he said in a recent conversation with the president.

What we do know for sure is that he left his house on Monday morning in a dark suit with a red-and-white striped tie. And if anyone harbors any doubt about that matter, check archival footage at MSNBC.

Over a roughly 10-minute span starting at 10:47 a.m., MSNBC ran and ran and ran the same clip of Rosenstein emerging from the door of his brick house, navigating his front steps and hopping into a Chevy SUV. We counted about 20 repeats, many of which came on a loop as ace NBC News justice correspondent Pete Williams was breaking down Rosenstein’s job situation. As he did so, he couldn’t resist a little on-the-fly NBC News ombudsmanning:

“If you think about the history of Rod Rosenstein, as we watch and try to set a record of how many times we can show the video of him leaving his home this morning,” said Williams. Shortly thereafter, MSNBC moved to a text box with some facts about Rosenstein. People noticed the repetition:

In fairness to MSNBC, a story about the job status of the deputy attorney general lacks an obvious visual display. What do you do — show a head shot of Rosenstein? Archival footage of him at some event? Or do you just put the front-door scene on a loop?

Meanwhile, as Rosenstein was headed to the White House, a plume of reporting/speculation/triangulation emerged in the U.S. media. The word from Williams on MSNBC was that the White House was saying Rosenstein will resign, and the Justice Department was saying he would not resign. Over at Axios, meanwhile, Jonathan Swan reported that Rosenstein “verbally resigned.” In a “clarification” to a story about the matter, Axios reported, “This article and headline have been updated to add that it’s unclear whether the resignation offer has been accepted.”

Sniping descended on Axios, with Vanity Fair’s Gabriel Sherman raising the possibility that the whole Rosenstein job drama was a Trumpian way of distracting from the media’s focus on the troubled nomination of Brett M. Kavanaugh to a Supreme Court vacancy: “According to a source briefed on Trump’s thinking, Trump decided that firing Rosenstein would knock Kavanaugh out of the news, potentially saving his nomination and Republicans’ chances for keeping the Senate. ‘The strategy was to try and do something really big,’ the source said. The leak about Rosenstein’s resignation could have been the result, and it certainly had the desired effect of driving Kavanaugh out of the news for a few hours.”

To the suggestion that he was used to accomplish the White House’s PR agenda, Swan responded strongly, noting that the Justice Department wasn’t “denying he offered his resignation.”

A New York Times headline, meanwhile, migrated from “Rod Rosenstein, Deputy Attorney General, Is Expected to Leave Job” to “Rod Rosenstein, Deputy Attorney General, Is Considering Resigning” to “Rod Rosenstein Will Meet With Trump to Discuss His Fate.”

Katie Rogers, a White House reporter for the New York Times, summed things up: