Fox News and its peers in the mainstream media seldom find common cause, though extraordinary circumstances occasionally give them opportunity to do so. Like the time in 2009 that the Obama people tried to bar Fox News from an interview; other media protested. Or the revocation of the White House press pass of Jim Acosta last year; Fox News joined the fight against this whimsical act.
The events of Tuesday afternoon appeared to present another such occasion. “I have no obligation to be honest with the media, because they’re just as dishonest as anybody else.” That’s what former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski said in testimony before the House Judiciary Committee. Talk about a middle finger thrust in the face of journalism.
The remark came in response to questions from committee consultant attorney Barry Berke, who had played a clip of Lewandowski on the MSNBC show “The Beat” with Ari Melber in February 2019. He said he didn’t remember the president asking him to get involved in a matter involving former attorney general Jeff Sessions and the Justice Department.
That recollection conflicted with Vol. II of the Mueller report, which details explicit instructions from President Trump to Lewandowski to have Sessions meddle in the special counsel’s investigation. The Berke-Lewandowski exchange continued:
BERKE: Do you hear that, sir? That was you saying, on MSNBC, you don’t ever remember the president ever asking you to get involved with Jeff Sessions or the Department of Justice in any way, shape or form. That wasn’t true, was it, sir?LEWANDOWSKI: I heard that.BERKE: And that was not true, was it.LEWANDOWSKI: I have no obligation to be honest with the media, because they’re just as dishonest as anybody else.BERKE: So — so you’re admitting, sir, you were not being truthful in that clip. Correct?LEWANDOWSKI: My interview with Ari Melber ...BERKE: Yes.LEWANDOWSKI: Can be interpreted any way you'd like.BERKE: Let me — would you like me to play it again?LEWANDOWSKI: You're welcome to, please.BERKE: All right. One more time.(BEGIN VIDEO)LEWANDOWSKI: I don’t ever remember the president ever asking me to get involved with Jeff Sessions or the Department of Justice in any way shape or form ever.MELBER: OK. So — so ...(END VIDEO)BERKE: And sir, it is true in May 2019 you absolutely remembered when the president asked you to deliver a message to the attorney general of a speech for him to give related to the special counsel investigation, isn’t that correct?LEWANDOWSKI: I’d have to think about it.
There was a bit of commotion in the hearing room when Lewandowski pronounced his freedom to lie to the media. Denunciations piled up on social media. Here was a Trump associate confessing to supplying fake news to the “fake news” media. When pressed by Berke on whether he’s a truth teller, Lewandowski responded, “I’m a truth teller every time I stand before Congress or a committee of jurisdiction and raise my hand and swear to God under oath.”
Did Lewandowski’s family and friends hear that?
Anyhow, the whole scenario presented Fox News host Martha MacCallum with a chance to stick up for the very pursuit of journalism. Instead, she asked Lewandowski, “How did you think it went?”; she asked him why he decided to testify in spite of the hours of previous testimony he’d given; she asked him about his reaction to someone saying he should be fined; she asked him to repeat that he’d never delivered the message to Sessions; she provided a talking point to Lewandowski about how Trump didn’t end up impeding the special counsel investigation; and she asked Lewandowski to address the “optics” of the Democrats pursuing Trump.
Not the “optics” of unapologetically lying to the media, mind you.
We asked Fox News about this omission by one of the network’s self-described “straight news” anchors. In this great land of ours, Fox News has every right to abandon journalistic imperatives in favor of preaching Republican talking points and fluffing the pillow of a Trump devotee in a public hearing. They lose, however, the right to gripe about being viewed as a one-sided outlet.
When the Democratic National Committee earlier this year, for example, declined to allow Fox News to moderate its primary debates, a Fox News executive said, “We hope the D.N.C. will reconsider its decision to bar Chris Wallace, Bret Baier and Martha MacCallum, all of whom embody the ultimate journalistic integrity and professionalism, from moderating a Democratic presidential debate.” The DNC now looks prescient.
There’s more to this story, too. Among the problematic clips that Berke played during his excellent questioning of Lewandowski was an appearance on Fox News in January 2018. “You take the Fifth when you’re in trouble,” said Lewandowski in the interview, regarding his testimony before the House Intelligence Committee. “I didn’t do anything, and the campaign didn’t do anything, and so I have no reason to take the Fifth. I’m going to answer every question.” However: Berke had questions about Lewandowski’s posture vis-a-vis his testimony to the special counsel. “Isn’t it a fact, sir, that contrary to your testimony that you voluntarily appeared in front of the special counsel, when you were called to provide answers to the special counsel, you indicated your intent to assert your rights under the Fifth Amendment not to self-incriminate. Is that true?”
“Not to the best of my recollection. Was that in the report, sir?” responded Lewandowski. As the discussion continued, Berke kept the pressure on. “Do you agree with your statement that you would assert the Fifth Amendment if you believed that you were ‘in trouble,’ to quote your words to Fox News?”
Here’s how Lewandowski answered: "I don’t think I was under any obligation when speaking to Fox News to not engage in hyperbole, if I so chose. I was not under oath at any time during that discussion."
To quote the late Howard Cosell: “Right there!” Right there, Fox News, a Trump associate asserted his right to lie on Fox News. Your network! And one of your top three “straight news” anchors lets him slide?
There’s a third dimension to Lewandowski’s duplicity. When he appeared on that February 2019 edition of Melber’s “The Beat,” he was asked about an extensive New York Times investigative report on Trump’s obstructive behavior. “Intimidation, Pressure and Humiliation: Inside Trump’s Two-Year War on the Investigations Encircling Him” was the headline of a piece with four bylines: Mark Mazzetti, Maggie Haberman, Nicholas Fandos and Michael S. Schmidt. Among the details: “The president even called his former campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, over the Fourth of July weekend to ask him to pressure Mr. Sessions to resign. Mr. Lewandowski was noncommittal and never acted on the request.”
A few days later, Melber asked him about that claim. Here’s how Lewandowski initially replied: “Well, I think this. You know, I think that we have seen time and time again mainstream media outlets getting stories wrong. And I can tell you unequivocally that I didn’t speak to the New York Times for the story. They didn’t validate any of the facts about me for the story with me. So look, that’s not to say everything in the story is wrong.”
Later in the discussion, he said that he didn’t remember getting pulled into any such affair. Months later, the Mueller report emerged, confirming the New York Times account. It also confirmed that Lewandowski was not just a liar, but a dumb one.