Thursday 20 February 2020

Barr humbug

Yesterday’s London Evening Standard gets to American news on page 24. According the headline: Angry law chief “threatens to quit” over Trump tweets on cases. There’s a photo of Attorney General William Barr with a caption in bold that reads: “Great integrity”. [1]

At first glance it looks as if the Attorney General, a man of great integrity, is threatening to resign to protect the justice system from Trump’s interference.

I’m not a professional journalist and I don’t follow the US political scene all that closely, but it looks to me as if the Standard has swallowed the spin and missed the story. If you’re alert to quotation marks, you may want to quibble with my assessment, but sometimes quotations marks are not enough. Has the Attorney General actually threatened to quit or has he only “threatened to quit”? And after months of acting as Trump’s henchman, does he have a shred of actual integrity left? That word came out of Trump’s mouth, which means that as a character reference it’s worse than useless, but you have to reach paragraph eight to know that.

The Standard’s story begins: America’s top law officer is considering resigning after Donald Trump ignored his warning to stop tweeting about Justice Department cases, according to reports today. That last phrase is another way of disowning responsibility for the rest of the sentence, but not enough to actively question its truthfulness.

Image result for William Barr picturesThe second paragraph tells us that Barr took a public swipe at the president, saying that the President’s interference had made it “impossible” for him to do his job. And yet here he is, still, sort of, doing it.

The most telling sentence in the article draws directly on a report in the Washington Post: “He has his limits,” the newspaper quoted one person close to Mr Barr as saying. The trouble is that when it comes to colluding with the President to help his criminal friends and harass his political opponents we are yet to discover Barr’s limits, and a person close to Mr Barr is the last sort of person you would expect to acknowledge that. 

It’s not until paragraph seven that we hear that Barr’s threat has already been withdrawn by a Justice Department spokeswoman: “The Attorney General has no plans to resign.” So what's left of the story?  

If this report appeared on a Fox News website I’d know what to make of it. But the Evening Standard is surely not in Trump’s pocket. What accounts for it then?

[1] To avoid confusion, quotations from the Standard are in italics throughout this post. All quotation marks are theirs.

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