Discover more from Letters from an American
March 30, 2022
CBS News has hired Mick Mulvaney as a paid on-air contributor. In his first official appearance on Tuesday morning to talk about President Joe Biden’s budget proposal, anchor Anne-Marie Green introduced Mulvaney as “a former Office of Management and Budget director,” and said, “So happy to have you here…. You’re the guy to ask about this.”
Mulvaney was a far-right U.S. representative from South Carolina from 2011 to 2017, when he went to work for then-president Trump as the director of the Office of Management and Budget. While in that position, he also took over as acting director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the government organization organized by Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) after the financial crisis of 2008. In its first five years, the CFPB recovered about $11.7 billion for about 27 million consumers, but in Congress, Mulvaney introduced legislation to abolish it. At its head, Mulvaney zeroed out the bureau’s budget and did his best to dismantle it.
While retaining his role at the head of the Office of Management and Budget, Mulvaney took on the job of acting White House chief of staff on January 2, 2019. This unprecedented dual role put him in a key place to do an end run around official U.S. diplomats in Ukraine and to set up a back channel to put pressure on newly elected Ukraine president Volodymyr Zelensky to announce he was launching an investigation into the actions of Joe Biden’s son, Hunter.
As director of OMB, Mulvaney okayed the withholding of almost $400 million Congress had appropriated for Ukraine’s protection against Russia. In May 2019, he set up “the three amigos,” Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland, special envoy Kurt Volker, and Energy Secretary Rick Perry, to pressure Zelensky. When the story came out, Mulvaney told the press that Trump had indeed withheld the money to pressure Zelensky to help him cheat in the 2020 election. “I have news for everybody,” he said. “Get over it. There’s going to be political influence in foreign policy.” He immediately walked the story back, but there it was.
This event was the basis for Trump’s first impeachment. While Republican senators refused to hold Trump accountable, the Government Accountability Office found that withholding the money was illegal. Ironically, the GAO report came out during Trump’s second impeachment.
And yet, CBS News hired Mulvaney and simply introduced him as a former director of the OMB, saying he was the guy to explain Biden’s budget. (After the episode, the CBS News standards department reminded staffers they should always identify people with their relevant biographical information.)
Jeremy Barr of the Washington Post tonight revealed that he had reviewed a recording of a phone call in which the co-president of CBS News, Neeraj Khemlani, suggested they had hired Mulvaney to guarantee access to Republican lawmakers. “If you look at some of the people that we’ve been hiring on a contributor basis, being able to make sure that we are getting access to both sides of the aisle is a priority because we know the Republicans are going to take over, most likely, in the midterms,” Khemlani told staff. “A lot of the people that we’re bringing in are helping us in terms of access to that side of the equation.”
People on the right have talked about a “liberal media” now for a generation. It has come to represent the idea that the media is slanted toward the Democrats. But initially, the phrase meant media based in facts.
In the 1950s, those eager to get rid of the government system instituted by the Democrats during the Great Depression of the 1930s grew frustrated because people liked that system, with its business regulation, basic social safety net, and promotion of infrastructure. In 1951, in God and Man at Yale: The Superstitions of “Academic Freedom,” William F. Buckley, Jr., rejected the Enlightenment idea that rigorous debate over facts would lead toward truth; the fondness of a majority of Republicans and Democrats for the newly active national government proved people could not be trusted to know what was best for them. Instead, he called for the exclusion of “bad” ideas like an active government, and for universities to push individualism and Christianity.
Three years later, Buckley and his brother-in-law, L. Brent Bozell, Jr., would divide the world into “Liberals,” by which they meant the majority of Americans from both parties who liked the New Deal government, and “Conservatives” like themselves, who were determined to overturn that government. Movement Conservatives lumped Soviet-style socialism and the New Deal government together.
With its focus on facts, the media, like the universities, was “liberal,” and Movement Conservatives wanted their ideology to be heard. In 1987, President Ronald Reagan’s appointees to the Federal Communications Commission killed the Fairness Doctrine, which had required public media to present issues fairly, and right-wing talk radio took off. In 1996, Australian-born Rupert Murdoch started the Fox News Channel, calling it “fair and balanced” because it presented the Movement Conservative ideology that fact-based media ignored.
Twenty-five years later, that ideology had become so powerful that true believers tried to stop a legitimately elected Democrat from becoming president, and in the year since, their conviction has only become stronger. Now CBS News has hired a member of the administration that urged the attack on our democracy.
“When, oh Lord, when will the elite political media treat the current Republican Party as the threat to the republic that it most obviously is?” asked Charlie Pierce in Esquire.
Here’s what’s at stake: On the one hand, Biden is trying to rebuild the old liberal consensus that used to be shared by people of both parties, instituted by Democrat Franklin Delano Roosevelt to protect workers from the overreach of their employers and expanded under Republican Dwight Eisenhower to protect civil rights. To this, Biden has focused on those previously marginalized and has added a focus on women and children.
Biden’s new budget, released earlier this week, calls for investment in U.S. families, communities, and infrastructure, the same principles on which the economy has boomed for the past year. The budget also promotes fiscal responsibility by rolling back Trump’s tax cuts on the very wealthy. Biden’s signature yesterday on the Emmett Till Antilynching Act, making lynching a federal hate crime in the United States, is the culmination of more than 100 years of work.
Biden and Secretary of State Antony Blinken are defending democracy against authoritarianism, working to bring together allies around the globe to resist the aggression of Russian president Vladimir Putin.
On the other hand, the Republican Party is working to get rid of the New Deal government. While Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell wanted to face the midterms without a platform, Senator Rick Scott (R-FL), who chairs the committee responsible for electing Republican senators, has produced an “11-point plan to rescue America.” It dramatically raises taxes on people who earn less than $100,000, and ends Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and the Affordable Care Act.
With a 6 to 3 majority on the Supreme Court, Republicans have also taken aim at abortion rights and are now talking about ending other civil rights protected by the federal government after 1950: the right to birth control, interracial marriage, and same-sex marriage.
The Republicans have sided with authoritarianism as they back former president Trump and his supporters, over 2,000 of whom stormed the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021. This week, federal judge David Carter wrote that it was “more likely than not” that Trump committed a federal crime when he encouraged the attack, and yesterday we learned that there are more than 7 hours of phone records missing from the official White House logs of that day. At The Guardian, Hugo Lowell today reported that Trump made at least one call from the White House that day that should have been on the logs and was not, opening up the possibility that Trump’s people tampered with the phone records.
And while Putin has launched a war of invasion on our democratic ally Ukraine, just yesterday, Trump asked Putin to help him dig up dirt on a political rival, just as he did in 2016.
Voters cannot choose wisely between these two paths unless their news is based in facts. Earlier this week, fact triumphed over ideology on the Fox News Channel, when anchor John Roberts noted that Senator Rick Scott’s 2022 Republican platform calls for raising taxes on most Americans and ending Social Security. Scott said that Roberts was using “a Democrat talking point.” But Roberts stood firm on facts: “It’s in the plan!” he said. “It’s not a Democratic talking point. It’s in the plan!”