CNS On Impeachment: The Second Time Around
CNSNews.com did a lot of complaining that Donald Trump was going to face a second impeachment -- then largely refused to report on the impeachment trial itself.
By Terry Krepel
As talk heated up of impeaching President Trump again following the Jan. 6 Capitol riot that he played a major role in instigating, CNSNews.com reverted to its old Trump-protecting stance of the first impeachment the year before -- reverting back to form after being briefly shocked into reality after the riot.
Susan Jones wrote in a Jan. 4 article that "With 16 days left in the Trump presidency, the talk on MSNBC on Monday morning turned to impeaching President Donald Trump once again, this time over his phone call with Georgia election officials," complaining that the call was "apparently taped without Trump's knowledge by a person not identified" and that "the left-wing media went ballistic" over the call.
But after the Capitol riot spurred by Trump's riling up his supporters with bogus election fraud conspiracy theories, CNS at first started out started by echoing its earlier impeachment-call article with an anonymously written piece under the headline "Pelosi Calls for Trump to be Removed or Impeached13 Days from the End of His Term." Then it fell into the same state of shocked balance that followed its coverage of the riot itself, with a Jan. 11 article by Melanie Arter surprisingly citing a prominent Republican senator admitting that Trump committed impeachable offenses. That was followed by an article by the usually highly biased managing editor Michael W. Chapman offering a straight recounting the article of impeachment filed in the house. Then followed a fleet of articles by commentators denouncing any possible impeachment:
This was joined by a column from Pat Buchanan -- whose failed 1996 presidential campaign CNS editor Terry Jeffrey managed -- histrionically calling impeachment an attempt by "the establishment" at a "last opportunity to stomp him and his movement to death.
Once impeachment proceedings started, it was back to form by heavily focusing on defenses of Trump, whataboutism and attacks on the impeachment itself:
By contrast to these six articles supporting Trump, only one CNS article -- "Rules Committee Chairman: 'I Saw Evil, Mr. Speaker'" -- was offered in support of impeachment. Afterwards, an anonymously written article reiterated claims in support of impeachment.
CNS also gave space to attacks on Republican Rep. Liz Cheney for voting for impeachment. A Jan. 13 article by Chapman highlighted how Republican Rep. Jim Jordan planned to force her out as chair of the House Republican Conference, and the next day he touted how "the Wyoming Republican Party sent her a message on Wednesday, stating that she had 'aligned herself with leftists,' was helping Democrats to 'smear the entire conservative movement,' and had 'denied President Trump due process'" by voting for impeachment.
Jones then helped Trump with a little cleanup work afterwards:
President Donald Trump, speaking to the nation Wednesday evening through a video posted on the White House Twitter site, "unequivocally" condemned the "troubling events of the past week."
Even Jones seemed a bit exhausted at having to do this kind of cleanup.
Still, that grousing about impeachment continued over the next couple weeks, featuring complains from Republican politicians:
CNS also uncritically repeated Sen. Rand Paul's counterfactual recounting of the shooting of Rep. Steve Scalise and other Republican politicians at a baseball field:
I was at the ball field when the Bernie Sanders supporter showed up and shot Steve Scalise, almost killed him, shot four other staffers, shot one of the staffers 10 feet from me. It was a very violent episode, but as the guy was shooting at us, he was saying “this is for healthcare," and at that time, the Democrats were saying that the Republican health care plan was “you get sick and then you die.” You can see how that kind of language might have incited this person. But I never in my wildest dreams or any kind of sense of fairness would’ve said “oh we need to have a hearing to impeach Bernie Sanders, and that it’s his fault that this crazed gunman came.”
ConWebWatch could find no contempraneous accounts from Paul claiming that the shooter said "this is for healthcare" as he was shooting. Further, Paul has never identified anything Sanders personally said that could possibly have incited the shooter; to the contrary, Sanders quickly condemned the shooting.
In this particular time period -- Jan. 18 to Feb. 1 -- CNS published only two article featuring a Democratic politician's view of impeachment: a Jan. 19 piece by Craig Bannister featuring Rep. Rashida Tlaib arguing that had President Obama did what Trump did in inciting the Capitol, he would almost certainly be convicted by the Senate, and a Jan. 26 piece by Susan Jones featuring Rep. Eric Swalwell claiming that Trump incited the riot to disenfranchise Black Americans. There was also a Jan. 26 article by Patrick Goodenough framing President Biden's statement that the impeachment trial "has to happen" as being made even though he "came into office aiming for 'unity'."
CNS was also dismissive of Republicans who supported impeachment. In a Jan. 25 article, Jones editorialized that "Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah), never a Trump supporter, sounded a lot like Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) on Sunday when he was asked about the impeachment of former President Donald Trump," adding that "Schumer used some of the same words in a speech on the Senate floor last Friday."
When Paul's Senate motion to declare Trump's impeachment trial unconstitutional failed when five Republicans chose not to support it, Goodenough devoted ample space in a Jan. 27 article to Paul's arguments for it -- 11 paragraphs of statements from Paul and GOP Sen. Thom Tillis, compared with three paragraphs from Democratic Sen. Chuck Schumer -- and named the five Republicans who voted against it, pointing out that they "are all known critics of Trump," further complaining that one of them, Romney, "was the lone Republican to vote to find the president guilty of one of the two charges he faced abuse of power" and that two others "both called on Trump to resign, following the January 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol."
Goodenough encapsulated the partisan, pro-Trump framing that CNS would go on to use for the impeachment trial itself -- just as it did last time.
Largely ignoring the trial
The week before the trial began, CNS kept pushing the pro-Trump takes:
By contrast, CNS published only three articles on the pro-impeachment side -- two of which quoted House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. The third misleadingly framed Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy as agreeing with Rand Paul while burying the fact that he also said that "I come to a different judgment."
When the actual trial started on Feb. 9, CNS had surprisingly little interest in covering what was actually being said and done on the Senate floor -- perhaps because its editors knew that the evidence did not look good for Trump. So it sought to distract attention from it; one early story by Craig Bannister on a Rasmussen poll carried the headline "Only 36% of Voters Will Watch Most or All of Trump’s Impeachment Trial And, Pres. Biden Isn’t One of Them." Instead, its focus of coverage was what (mostly Republican) politicians said outside the trial being critical of it:
By contrast, only three articles that week focused on the case against Trump:
Of the above 15 articles, the three above articles followed by asterisks are the only ones published during the week of the trial that directly reported testimony given during the actual trial.
And it wouldn't be CNS if it couldn't work an anti-LGBT angle into things. Thus, we have an anonymously written article complaining that "Rep. David Cicilline (D.-R.I.), who is now serving as a House Impeachment Manager in the Senate impeachment trial of former President Donald Trump, also serves as the chairman of the 'Congressional LGBTQ+ Equality Caucus.'" No explanation was given as to why CNS felt the need to inform readers of this or what relevance it has to impeachment.
It was only after Trump was safely acquitted that CNS felt it could publish numerous articles critical of him on Feb. 15, two days after the end of the trial:
Only one impeachment-themed article published that day defended the acquittal, and it quoted Trump-friendly attorney Alan Dershowitz.
Unlike Trump's last impeachment, CNS largely restrained itself from presenting ridiculous defenses with a straight face. But because it knew Trump's actions were indefensible, it apparently decided that its coverage would be as minimally impactful as possible. Which, of course, still makes CNS a pro-Trump shill, not the "news" organization it proclaims itself to be.