Jonathan Adler wonders whom Adam Schiff thinks his audience is. The answer is simple: the media.
The same people who spent years passing along every falsehood and selective leak the California congressman gave them to fuel the Russia-collusion hysteria, and the same people who still accept his allegations — knowing his long history of fabrications — without much skepticism, spent yesterday pretending that Schiff was a modern-day Cicero.
All of it was about believable as Schiff’s contention that he is pursuing impeachment to defend the Constitution. But we expect partisans to behave a certain way. The excessive fawning by pundits and reporters over a middling speech by a middling congressman was just insufferable.
If you think I exaggerate, take Greg Miller, a national-security correspondent for the Washington Post, who contended that Schiff is perhaps the most “underestimated” politician California has ever produced, and “will leave a mark on history, exceeding nearly all contemporaries.”
Richard Stengel, the former editor of Time magazine — and now an advocate for overturning the First Amendment — declared: “When we get back to teaching civics in this country—as we must do—Adam Schiff’s sweeping, beautifully-wrought opening argument, should be on the syllabus.”
CNN chief legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin, an ostensibly unbiased observer, prefaced his remarks by saying, “I don’t want to sound like a partisan,” before praising a “dazzling” performance — the second-best courtroom appearance he’d ever witnessed. “Adam Schiff knows the facts. That is something that you can’t fake,” Toobin told the panel.
The Washington Post’s Jennifer Rubin disagreed with both, insisting that Schiff had delivered “the most brilliant legal presentation I have heard. None comes close. The tone, the facts, the anticipated defenses. I am in awe.”
Former Mueller probe investigator Andrew Weissmann, another CNN commentator, said that Schiff’s speech reminded him of quote (perhaps falsely) attributed to Lincoln: “’To sin by silence, when they should protest, Makes a coward of men.’ That’s the people who are thinking it’s better to stay silent and ‘I can do better by trying to do the right thing.’ This is really an ‘I am Spartacus’ moment where people really need to stand up.”
Paul Begala, who spent time during the late 90s arguing that a president who had committed a felony shouldn’t be impeached, claimed Schiff’s oratory was, “Sweeping yet specific. Eloquent yet clear. Relentless recitation of damning facts, but with a tone more of sadness than anger. Rooted in our deepest traditions – opening with Alexander Hamilton – yet as current as Trump’s latest tweet. Brilliant.”
That’s just a sampling of some of the most preposterous reactions, but the dominant tone of coverage I witnessed on news networks, save one, had a similar, if less unqualified, veneration towards Schiff’s speech in partisan spectacle.
The flip side of panic-stricken rhetoric about the Trump presidency is an equally bizarre impulse to revere anyone who declares himself an enemy of the president. The more over-the-top and passionate he is about it, the more attention he will get. (Where have you gone, Michael Avenatti?)
Yes, the reverse is true, as well. We live in silly era where everything is either perfect or evil or seditious or patriotic. But simply because someone says something you happen to agree with doesn’t necessarily make that person brilliant.