The Minister of Justice Meets the Minister of Propaganda
When I read Maggie Haberman and Katie Benner’s excellent New York Times story “Trump Lashes Out at Fox News Poll as Barr Meets With Murdoch,” I knew that, unfortunately, the smoke would get more attention than the fire. Sure enough, the political class in our Twitter playground is covering Trump’s attacks on the Fox poll more than the profoundly troubling meeting of Attorney General William Barr with Fox CEO Rupert Murdoch.
I want you to imagine Republicans’ reaction if Eric Holder held secret meetings with media CEOs. They would be rabid, instant, and volcanic. There would be a damn gibbet erected on the National Mall, and rightly so.
There would be calls for his immediate removal from office. There would be a hundred baroque conspiracy theories ascribing a sinister plot of liberal subversion against the press and inappropriate pressure brought to bear on media outlets. Editorials and opinion pieces would blast him for playing politics with the office of the senior law enforcement officer of the nation.
The Attorney General — any attorney general — is supposed to be a unique player in our system, above the politics of the White House and Congress, operating without fear or favor. Yes, the AG is a presidential appointment, but by bipartisan norms for generations, he or she isn’t typically… what’s the phrase?
Oh, yes. An obvious political hack.
Like many other conservatives, I called out the moments when Eric Holder got a little too close to active engagement in politics during the Obama administration. He was, at the least, more obviously mindful of the power of his office on the political side. How ironic that seems today; Holder looks like a model of probity compared to William Barr.
So, yeah, every single conservative — and a lot of liberal — media outlets would spend 24 hours a day losing their fucking minds if a Democrat did this.
No one — liberal or conservative — should want a politically active attorney general who puts the president’s personal agenda ahead of the law and justice. The precedent is just too dark.
The monster Rupert helped create is loose upon the land, a douche ‘kaiju,’ untamed, and untamable.
Abuse of power has a kind of terrible Newtonian political physics; it doesn’t result in an equal and opposite reaction toward reform. In the political mind, it justifies that same kind of abuse when the political polarity switches to the other party. “Well, the Democratic AG so-and-so did X, and we hated it, but since he did it, we can too…”
Now let me tell you why the Barr situation is so much worse.
Because he’s meeting with Rupert Fucking Murdoch, that’s why. Rupert’s enormous ratings and massive social power over the Trump base is a two-way street, and Barr knows it.
At first, Murdoch may have believed that the network could play Trump like a violin; that they could shape the perceptions of their audience in such a way that their power was virtually limitless. After all, Rupert helped create the moment that enabled Trump’s election, and his long, long history of success in television may have fooled him into thinking that the Trump mob he monetized so successfully was under his control. Like so many monster origin stories back to the golem, the monster Rupert helped create is loose upon the land, a douche kaiju, untamed, and untamable.
Why did Barr visit Murdoch? The answer, I bet, is obvious: he was delivering a political message for the president. Barr was telling the head of the largest cable television network in the nation to get in line.
“Nice network you’ve got there. Shame if something happened to it.”
The Minister of Justice was bringing the Minister of Propaganda to heel, promising swift retribution unless State Television got back to covering the Dear Leader in the way he desires. More missile parades and rallies, less, you know… news.
The schisms inside Fox have been much discussed of late, with news division hosts and reporters chafing at the bellowing of Fishstick Carlson, Frau Ingraham, and Client #3 Sean Hannity. It’s been even uglier as the dayside covers the Trump/Giuliani/Ukraine scandal with more venom than varnish.
From the beginning, Bill Barr has never viewed his role as a neutral figure empowered to uphold and enforce the law, but rather as an explicit enabler of Donald Trump. He’s quite openly been a man willing to violate every conceivable norm and to serve as an overtly partisan shield against accountability. He applied for the job with a memo promising to have the most expansive view of the powers of Donald Trump, not to uphold the sacred oath of the office.
As I wrote in The Daily Beast six months ago, Bill Barr is the most dangerous man in America. He wields the enormous power of the DOJ not in pursuit of the law and justice, but as a weapon against Trump’s enemies. He knows well how to deploy the levers of the DOJ’s considerable power.
Barr’s view of the absolute and unbounded supremacy of executive power is frightening and dangerous as hell, as any actual conservative would recognize. His direct interference in the special counsel investigation was a Washington, D.C. power play that worked; he managed to pollute and destroy the impact of the Mueller Report, deliberately lying about its contents and import, dismantling ongoing investigations, and constraining Mueller’s testimony.
His personal role in attempting to create a phony Deep State conspiracy to placate Trump has even taken him all the way to Europe, where he’s personally undertaken Deep State investigations on the president’s behalf. Trump’s seeming insistence that Barr undertake these missions personally wasn’t just clownish; it was deeply inappropriate, as was Barr’s acceptance of the order to do so.
His efforts to silence cooperation of White House and administration members who have been requested to testify before Congress isn’t to protect executive privileges; it’s to defend Donald Trump’s political fortunes.
These actions, and likely many more we haven’t seen in the public view at this time, are absolutely disqualifying for an Attorney General of the United States of America.
This isn’t “Better Call Barr.” A president who honored his oath of office and our system of government would never hire someone like this. Far from being the institutionalist many claimed and hoped, Barr’s wildly expansive view of executive power appears to even supersede either his oath of office or any fears he may have about the judgment of history.