As has become common in the Trump era, a book tour just jump-started an important news cycle. Last Thursday morning, 60 Minutes dropped clips from its interview with Andrew McCabe, the former acting director of the FBI, pegged to his new memoir, The Threat: How the FBI Protects America in the Age of Terror and Trump. Around the same time, The Atlantic released an excerpt. McCabe’s claims on 60 Minutes—that officials discussed how Trump might be removed from office under the 25th Amendment and that Rod Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general, offered to wear a hidden wire to record the president—have driven sustained media interest in the book, even though, according to NPR, they don’t specifically appear in it. As The Threat hits shelves today, McCabe will be plugging it on NBC’s Today show.
Amid the excited amplification of McCabe’s claims, some outlets took time to assess the reliability of his narrative. Some reporters scrutinized McCabe’s sourcing, stressing, for example, that another striking claim—that Trump took Vladimir Putin’s word on North Korea over that of his own intelligence staff—is second-hand, not a personal recollection. Others pointed out that McCabe was fired from the FBI last year; in a report subsequently delivered to Congress, the Justice Department inspector general accused him of violating the bureau’s media policy, then misleading investigators about it. Writing on Friday, Josh Campbell, an FBI staffer turned CNN analyst, asked, “With so many people involved in the book now caught lying, how are we to make sense of things?”
The Justice Department’s motives in painting McCabe as dishonest should be handled with care. Beyond this wheel of intrigue, however, simpler questions beg answers. As Katy Tur asked on MSNBC, is McCabe believable, or is he just selling a book? But those options aren’t mutually exclusive. In McCabe’s case, the answer might be: both.
Many commentators pointed out that McCabe’s allegations about the 25th Amendment and Rosenstein’s wire confirm reporting, by Adam Goldman and Michael S. Schmidt, that first appeared in The New York Times last September. Barbara McQuade, a former US attorney, told Tur, “McCabe is not really revealing any new facts here.” Lawfare’s Quinta Jurecic and Benjamin Wittes struck a similar note; the book rollout, they wrote, “should not in any profound respect change one’s understanding of L’Affaire Russe or the investigation of it.” Nonetheless, McCabe’s media round has moved this story forward. McCabe denied suggestions, ventured in response to the Times’s initial reporting, that Rosenstein may have been joking when he offered to wear a wire. And, as Jurecic and Wittes note, McCabe has moved the story beyond the murky realm of anonymous sourcing.
As has often been the case in the Trump era, the president himself has helped hold an insider account of administration chaos in the spotlight. Ever since the 60 Minutes clip dropped on Thursday, Trump has excoriated McCabe in a series of wild tweets. Per usual, his anger has spiraled round the right-wing mediasphere, with Fox hosts and commentators, in particular, lining up to describe the 25th Amendment discussions McCabe recalls as an attempted “coup.” Last night on Twitter, Trump made the TV–White House feedback loop explicit, quoting Fox News’ Sean Hannity on the “coup” and exclaiming, “Treason!” An hour or so later, Trump followed up: “Remember this, Andrew McCabe didn’t go to the bathroom without the approval of Leakin’ James Comey!”
All this, of course, has done wonders for McCabe’s book sales—overnight, it ascended to the number-one spot on Amazon’s best sellers list, ending the long reign of Michelle Obama’s Becoming. (As of this morning, The Threat is at number two, with Becoming at three.) It’s hard to escape the feeling, once again, that we’re trapped in some sort of Trump–Twitter–media–publishing industrial complex. But the Trump era’s slew of insider accounts—and, at least in McCabe’s case, the publicity surrounding them—helps build a real-time historical record of Trump’s presidency. Massaging egos and bank balances may be an unavoidable side effect of covering it.
Below, more on books:
- “The president that doesn’t read”: Throughout his presidency, Trump has taken a special interest in books that cover him—often taking to Twitter to promote those that praise him and trash those that don’t. In November, the Times’s Katie Rogers shared a round-up.
- “A rapid-fire G-man memoir”: The Times’s Dwight Garner weighs The Threat’s literary merits: “McCabe’s prose is lean. (Not that he wrote this book. In his acknowledgments, he thanks ‘a great writing and editing team,’)” Garner writes. The result is “better than any book typed this quickly has a right to be.”
- “Time to Panic”: The Uninhabitable Earth: Life After Warming, in which David Wallace-Wells lays out the existential threat of climate change, is also out today. Wallace-Wells, who wrote about the subject for New York in 2017, previewed the book in a weekend op-ed for the Times.
Other notable stories:
- For CJR, Mya Frazier reports concerns about cost-cutting within the AP’s foreign press service: “Current and former correspondents and bureau chiefs detail a litany of changes, including the shrinking of its global footprint as bureaus are quietly closed; the phasing out of the salaried ‘expat package’ for correspondents; and the reliance on local stringers and staffers, who often are paid far less than full-time American correspondents once were.”
- CNN hosted its third town hall of the 2020 election cycle last night, with Amy Klobuchar taking voters’ questions in Manchester, New Hampshire. (The broadcast was an improvement on CNN’s previous town hall, with Howard Schultz.) The Post’s Paul Farhi reports that other Democratic candidates are wondering when, exactly, their CNN town hall invite might drop; the network has kept quiet about its selection criteria, Farhi writes. Those candidates now include Bernie Sanders: the Vermont senator just announced he’s running in an interview with CBS This Morning’s John Dickerson.
- The Post’s Dave Weigel has a useful reminder that, when it comes to covering the campaign, Twitter may not be the most reliable source: “The Democratic electorate showing up to meet its candidates is far less ideological and skeptical than the one that lives on social media,” he writes. Relatedly, the Times’s Astead W. Herndon finds that voters don’t really care about Elizabeth Warren’s DNA-test blunder, despite pundit preoccupation with the issue.
- Keith Burris, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette editorial director whose Martin Luther King, Jr., Day editorial last year was condemned by that paper’s staff, has been promoted to executive editor, The Incline’s Colin Deppen reports. Burris, who was also linked to the high-profile firing of Rob Rogers, an editorial cartoonist, will continue to direct the editorial pages of the Post-Gazette and Toledo Blade, which were controversially merged last year. Burris’s appointment follows last week’s extraordinary newsroom outburst from John Robinson Block, the Post-Gazette’s publisher. For CJR, Kim Lyons runs through the details.
- Capitol Forum, a subscription service that produces policy reports on topics including consumer protection and antitrust enforcement, is suing Bloomberg for “free riding” on its output. The case marks a rare claim of “misappropriation” under the “hot news” doctrine, an arcane legal principle that has not faced proper scrutiny in the digital age, Jonathan Peters writes for CJR.
- In France, 10 government ministers, including Edouard Philippe, the country’s prime minister, are spending today taking questions on Twitch, the video-game livestreaming platform, Politico’s Rym Momtaz reports. Ministers are hoping to engage young people in France’s ongoing “grand debate,” a response to the recent Gilets Jaunes protest wave.
- German prosecutors are investigating a journalist from the Financial Times as part of a probe into possible market manipulation, Reuters’s Arno Schuetze reports. The paper, which has published a series of stories alleging fraud at Wirecard, a Munich-based payment processing company, denied any suggestion its reporting had been unethical.
- In the UK yesterday, seven lawmakers broke away from the opposition Labour Party to form a new independent grouping in Parliament, citing, among other things, Labour’s lackluster efforts to eradicate anti-Semitism from its ranks. As one of the seven spoke at a press conference, an unknown voice on a BBC livestream was heard muttering, “between this and Brexit, we’re fucked.”
- And Aaron Sorkin is reportedly in talks to reboot The Newsroom. Media Twitter does not seem impressed.