Fox News did good. Well, Chris Wallace did good. The Fox News Sunday host scored an interview with Russian President Vladimir Putin Monday following his summit with Donald Trump, American president, in which Trump capitulated to his counterpart on the world stage in a moment that was equal parts disgraceful and weak.
Unlike the president, Wallace pressed Putin on the unanimous finding from the U.S. intelligence community that Russia meddled in the 2016 election to help Trump's campaign and hurt Hillary Clinton's. That is to say, because the leader of the United States would not do it, it took a cable news host to challenge the authoritarian leader of a geopolitical adversary on his decision to attack American democracy.
Wallace did so using a new indictment, issued Friday, from the investigation of Special Counsel Robert Mueller. In it, twelve Russian intelligence operatives are charged, and the methods of the Russian intelligence agency known as GRU are laid out in extraordinary detail. In a remarkable moment, Wallace explained this to Putin, then attempted to hand him the indictment so he himself could inspect it:
This moment in particular, where Wallace tried to physically hand Putin a copy of Mueller's indictment was really something. pic.twitter.com/RuxYJXaiBO- Matt Wilstein (@mattwilstein) July 16, 2018
You can see that Putin almost freezes for a beat or two. He is not used to being challenged like this, because he has largely dismantled the free press in his own country. Also, many journalists and political opponents who are critical of his regime end up dead. Wallace also asked him about that one:
Chris Wallace questions Putin on why Russians who oppose him end up dead and Putin gives the most non-responsive deflection I've seen lately. Sadly, Trump's base will eat it up. https://t.co/2MbdSahlIZ pic.twitter.com/nQ3BGNerjb- Amee Vanderpool (@girlsreallyrule) July 16, 2018
This is what should be expected from citizens of a free democratic society when faced with an authoritarian thug in the Putin mold. Wallace should be commended for it, but his performance only re-emphasized the catastrophic failure of the American president in front of the world yesterday.
Elsewhere on Fox, however, the good times would not continue to roll. Chief blowhard correspondent Sean Hannity has a maze of conflicts of interest when it comes to covering this president: they tuck each other into bed with nightly phone calls to discuss strategy; Hannity's close ally Bill Shine was just named White House communications director; Hannity is now considered by some in Trumpworld to be the president's "shadow chief of staff." Oh, and Hannity and Trump shared the same lawyer, Michael Cohen, who now appears to be going under in-and considering cooperation with-the Russia probe or related federal investigations.
None of that stopped Hannity from once again presenting himself as an independent voice when he interviewed Trump, also after Monday's summit. The whole thing was a predictable farce, a festival of lies that included a repeat of the claim the United States pays 91 percent of NATO costs.
Hannity tried to hold Trump's hand and lead him towards a more innocent explanation of his repeated claims that the free press are "the enemy of the people," a particularly egregious claim to make when you're rendezvousing with Vladimir Putin and there was a mass shooting in an American newsroom a couple weeks ago. Trump and Hannity agreed Russia did not meddle in the election because Putin said so, that actually, it was Hillary who colluded, and that Robert Mueller should take Putin up on his offer to try the twelve Russian operatives charged Friday in Russia. This is, obviously, insane.
But the pinnacle of the farce was saved for the very end:
Trump closes his interview with @seanhannity by alluding to the possibility of nuclear war with Russia, and lamenting that Paul Manafort, "who is clearly a nice man," is being treated "like Al Capone."- Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) July 17, 2018
"It's just a sad thing. It's a very sad thing for our country," POTUS says. pic.twitter.com/FlzaUuDAuR
So is the American president suggesting that the investigation into how Russia interfered in our elections had brought us perilously close to nuclear war with Russia-until he, the Artful Dealmaker, stood next to Putin and took his side on every issue, throwing the American republic under the bus? Wow, what a hero.
President Business Deals says Putin told him it would be hard to "make a deal"-on what, exactly?-because of the investigation. We are supposed to 1) believe this, and 2) think that is more important than getting to the bottom of how Russia attacked our democracy-and whether Trump or his allies were complicit in it.
And then we got to hear about the supposedly unfortunate treatment of Michael Flynn, who lied to the FBI and the vice president (which got him fired) about his dealings with Russian officials, and was doing other totally-above-board stuff like working as an unregistered foreign agent on behalf of the Turkish government while serving on a United States presidential campaign and later becoming national security adviser. Then we got to hear about the Young and Beautiful Paul Manafort, "who really is a nice man," according to the president, even though he has spent much of his career lobbying on behalf of foreign dictators and was in league with a Russian oligarch and the pro-Russian former president of Ukraine.
Unfortunately, this is the kind of joke on journalism you can more readily expect from Fox News than Wallace's admirable performance. This might be why a Russian journalist readily described it as essentially state-run media. A network that employs people like Chris Wallace and Shep Smith has something to hang its hat on. But a network that employs Sean Hannity-or at least, that allows him to do an interview like this without disclosing his massive and extensive conflicts-of-interest-cannot call itself a legitimate journalistic enterprise.
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