The Media Today

Rudy Giuliani’s un-vanishing act

September 30, 2019

In mid-March, Jonathan Swan, of Axios, published an article headlined “Inside Rudy’s vanishing act.” In it, Swan noted that Rudy Giuliani, the former New York City mayor turned personal attorney to the president, hadn’t done a major TV interview since January, when he put his foot in it by saying that talks related to a Trump Tower project in Moscow may have continued through election day in 2016. (Some context, for the scandal-fatigued: Robert Mueller’s office had just issued a rare statement rebuking BuzzFeed’s claims that Trump told Michael Cohen to lie to Congress about the project, and that Mueller had evidence proving this; as Swan put it, the interview Giuliani messed up ought to have been “a victory lap.”) Giuliani walked back his flub; nonetheless, sources told Swan that Trump had griped about Giuliani’s TV hits, and thought it best that he be benched for a while. Giuliani denied this account, telling Swan that he’d decided to avoid the limelight so as “not to upset the apple cart” as the Mueller probe neared completion.

Six months on, Giuliani is back on our screens, and apples are strewn everywhere. He has emerged as a central character in the Ukraine scandal: Giuliani, acting on Trump’s behalf, reportedly worked Ukrainian officials for dirt on the Democrats in general, and Joe Biden in particular. On September 19—when we knew of a whistleblower complaint involving Trump and Ukraine, but did not yet know its details (that Trump pressured Ukraine’s president to investigate Biden and his son)—Giuliani exploded back into public view via a shouty interview on Chris Cuomo’s CNN show. “Did you ask Ukraine to investigate Joe Biden?” Cuomo asked. Giuliani said no, then promptly contradicted himself. “So you did ask Ukraine to look into Joe Biden?” Cuomo interjected. “Of course I did!” Giuliani exclaimed. The interview went on like that for 28 excruciating minutes. “Have a good night,” Cuomo said at the end. “Well, you shouldn’t have a good night, because what you’re doing is very bad for the country,” Giuliani countered. (The Washington Post cut the most ridiculous moments into a video, and underscored them with “In the Hall of the Mountain King,” by Grieg.)

Related: How I missed the Ukraine story

Giuliani was just warming up. As the Ukraine story has spiraled, he’s been ubiquitous on the networks—spouting convoluted theories about the Democrats (with conspiracy-lightning-rod George Soros’s name frequently thrown into the mix); referring to himself as a simple “country lawyer” (he’s not); and yammering on while bewildered anchors try desperately to cut to commercial. Last week, he had a Cuomo-esque row with Chris Hahn, a Democratic Fox News contributor, on Laura Ingraham’s show; Giuliani called Hahn an “idiot,” and mimicked a fish with his mouth while Hahn talked. Yesterday, Giuliani was back on Fox; he appeared on ABC’s This Week and CBS’s Face the Nation, as well. His streams of consciousness may be familiar at this point, but they still boggle the mind. On This Week, he waved what he said were affidavits signed by Ukrainian prosecutors at anchor George Stephanopoulos. “How about if I tell you that over the next week, four more of these will come out, from four other prosecutors?” he said. “And they will all be investigated,” Stephanopoulos insisted, trying to move on. “No, no, no, George, they won’t be, because they’ve been online for six months,” Giuliani replied. Huh?

Some of Trump’s allies long for the days of “Rudy’s vanishing act.” “I think it would be a good thing if he would go take a vacation,” one Congressional Republican told Politico Friday; “I wish he would shut the heck up,” said another. Giuliani’s free-range punditry, they worry, isn’t helping Trump’s cause. Not that Democrats think it benefits them. Yesterday, in an unusual step, aides to Biden’s campaign wrote to the major networks, demanding that they not book Giuliani going forward. Giuliani, they said, is using his airtime to push “debunked conspiracy theories on behalf of Donald Trump… While you have been aggressive in pushing back on him in real time, it is well known that the dedicated liar always has the advantage, pushing out outlandish falsehoods and disinformation in the knowledge that it is hard for the corrections to catch up.”

This request, of course, puts the networks in a bind: if they were to stop booking Giuliani, they’d now face accusations that they caved to political pressure. That’s a shame, because Giuliani’s confusing appearances are doing viewers a disservice. If anything, the Biden campaign’s claims of “aggressive” pushback seem generous. Loud arguing is not the same as sharp scrutiny—and some of Giuliani’s interlocutors have, at times, looked hesitant and befuddled. Faced with a volley of absurdities, insults, and righteously waved props, who can blame them?

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Giuliani is the personal lawyer of a president facing possible impeachment; more than that, he is himself a key player in the possibly impeachable offense. In normal times, that would make him a coveted booking. But these are not normal times. The scandal here stems from efforts to weaponize misinformation against Trump’s political opponents; in trying to hold Giuliani accountable for his role in that, the networks are handing him a great big platform to do the weaponizing. Giuliani—for all he may look like an out-of-control motormouth—likely knows this. After his interview with Cuomo, he told the Times: “I represent my client, and I’m going to prove it to you that he’s innocent. Whether you like it or not, somehow I’m going to eventually get you to cover it.” Up to now, he hasn’t had to work so hard to get his talking points across.

Below, more on Ukraine and impeachment:

  • Hard questions: Also yesterday, CNN’s Jake Tapper and Fox News’s Chris Wallace won plaudits for tough interviews with GOP Congressman Jim Jordan and hardline Trump aide Stephen Miller, respectively. “Chris, I understand—you have your question, I have my answer,” Miller said, as Wallace pressed him on Giuliani’s work in Ukraine; “You have your non-answer, at this point,” Wallace pushed back.
  • Adamant: It’s not just Giuliani who is ubiquitous right now: in recent days, Adam Schiff, the Democratic chair of the House Intelligence Committee, has been touring the networks, too. According to the Post, moderate Democratic lawmakers pushed Speaker Nancy Pelosi to make Schiff the public face of the impeachment probe—offering her an opening to sideline Jerry Nadler, the House Judiciary chair who is seen as more liberal.
  • Volker dots: On Friday, Kurt Volker, who got caught up in Giuliani’s shadow diplomacy, resigned his post as US special representative to Ukraine. Remarkably, the story was broken by the State Press, a student paper at Arizona State University. (Volker runs ASU’s McCain Institute.) Andrew Howard, the 20-year-old managing editor of the State Press, got the scoop while he was on duty at the Arizona Republic, where he works as an intern. (ICYMI on Friday, Keith Gessen wrote for CJR about his recent interview with Volker.)
  • But what about Clinton’s actual emails?: On Saturday, the Post reported that the Trump administration is investigating as many as 130 current and former State Department employees whose emails ended up in Hillary Clinton’s private inbox. “This has nothing to do with who is in the White House,” an anonymous official told the Post. “This is about the time it took to go through millions of emails, which is about 3½ years.”
  • Twitter and the Times: Gabriel Snyder, CJR’s public editor for the Times, assessed the paper’s recent stories “outing” the Ukraine whistleblower and sharing voter reaction to the impeachment inquiry, both of which drew heavy fire on Twitter. “Given that Twitter is terrible for the public discourse… perhaps neither we nor the Times should see it as a good platform for answering questions or for offering feedback,” Snyder writes.
  • “I hope all the sharks die”: Yesterday morning, Trump shared a slew of tweets about an exchange, on Fox, between Ed Henry and Mark Levin. One account retweeted by the president was “Trump But About Sharks”—a bot that inserts the word “shark” into Trump’s tweets in reference to his apparent hatred of the creatures.

Other notable stories:

  • CJR’s new fellow Savannah Jacobson profiles Voices of New York, a project—now under the umbrella of City Limits, a local investigative outlet—that finds original reporting in the city’s foreign-language press and translates it into English. “Between 2.95 and 4.5 million New Yorkers consume ethnic media,” Jacobson reports. “As a result, many of New York’s most compelling stories originate in non-English publications.”
  • In the UK, Charlotte Edwardes writes, in her debut column for the Sunday Times newspaper, that Boris Johnson, now the prime minister, squeezed her thigh and that of another woman during a lunch in 1999, when Johnson was editor of The Spectator magazine: “His hand is high up my leg and he has enough inner flesh beneath his fingers to make me sit suddenly upright,” Edwardes recalls. The claim, which Johnson denies, is dominating coverage of his Conservative Party’s annual convention.
  • In Iowa, the Des Moines Register fired reporter Aaron Calvin over his past tweets; right-wing trolls dug them up after Calvin himself surfaced offensive tweets by Carson King, a local football fan who raised over $1 million for a children’s hospital. Calvin told BuzzFeed that he was following editorial backgrounding procedures when he found King’s tweets, and feels bosses “abandoned” him after trolls accused him of hypocrisy.
  • The Los Angeles Police Department launched an inquiry after a job posting appeared on Breitbart. Michel Moore, the city’s police chief, said he’s trying to determine whether the listing was posted to “discredit” his department by compromising its “core values,” but Google’s ad-placement service was more likely responsible. The LA Times has more.
  • Management at El Nuevo Diario, one of Nicaragua’s top news outlets, shuttered the paper and two sister titles, citing economic and logistical difficulties; in recent months, the regime of President Daniel Ortega restricted its printing supplies, part of a broader crackdown on the press. The Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas has more.
  • And Joseph Wilson—the diplomat who, in 2003, challenged the Bush administration’s rationale for the Iraq war in an explosive Times op-eddied on Friday. He was 69. After the op-ed landed, a Post columnist outed Wilson’s wife, Valerie Plame, as a CIA agent; a subsequent leak investigation saw Times reporter Judith Miller jailed for contempt.

ICYMI: California’s new 35-story limit for freelancers

Jon Allsop is a freelance journalist whose work has appeared in the New York Review of Books, Foreign Policy, and The Nation, among other outlets. He writes CJR’s newsletter The Media Today. Find him on Twitter @Jon_Allsop.