Analysis & Comment

Opinion | High on Their Own Supply

WASHINGTON — I’ve been waiting for this moment. The moment when some on the left would react indignantly to journalists doing their job.

It was so enthralling and gratifying to assail Donald Trump as a liar and misogynist that it was bound to be jarring when the beast slouched out of town and liberals had to relearn the lesson that reporters don’t — or shouldn’t — suit up for the blue team.

The moment came on Wednesday in the Capitol basement when Seung Min Kim, a respected Washington Post reporter, asked Lisa Murkowski, a Republican senator from Alaska, if she had seen a 2017 Neera Tanden tweet about her.

She hadn’t. So Kim showed it to her. Tanden was responding to a Murkowski tweet about lowering the corporate tax rate, calling the senator high on her own supply and dismissing her argument as “garbage.”

“High on my own supply?” Murkowski said, reading the tweet on Kim’s phone. “That’s interesting.”

Murkowski’s reaction to the tweet was relevant because her vote on the Tanden nomination to be President Biden’s budget director could sink or save Tanden. And Tanden’s tetchy Twitter fingers counted among the reasons Joe Manchin and Susan Collins had announced their intention to vote against her, given President Biden’s preaching that it was time to leave Trump’s toxic atmosphere behind.

After HuffPost’s Igor Bobic posted a picture and summary of the exchange between Kim and Murkowski, Kim’s email and social media feeds were inundated with racist and sexist comments. (Liberals had also been quick to make the ugly leap to call moderate senators who opposed Tanden’s nomination racist and sexist. It shouldn’t be so reflexive to reach for that button.)

One person labeled Kim a “snitch” for supposedly messing up “another POC nomination on behalf of whites.” Another wrote, “That is not her job and that’s extremely inappropriate.”

Actually, yes, that is her job. The truth is, many on the left don’t understand what a reporter is.

They loathe Fox News but assume that the mainstream media are basically on their side, the same way Fox commentators are on Trump’s, laying the groundwork for him to start his second coming at CPAC this weekend.

For the left, over the past four years, a reporter has been an ally and a superhero comrade in the epic mission of destroying Donald Trump. Liberals lionized any cable hosts and runaway Republicans who blasted Trump, even if they had previously been on the G.O.P. payroll, selling the Iraq war and Sarah Palin.

Let’s be honest. It’s a lot more pleasant to be hailed by the left than demonized, as you are during periods when you’re holding a Democratic president to account, because the left can be just as nasty as the right.

When I went to the Vanity Fair Oscar party with A.G. Sulzberger in 2017, movie stars rushed up to thank him for fighting President Trump. Over and over again, he explained that it was not the mission of The New York Times to be part of the resistance. Rather, he said, the paper would be straight and combat lies with the truth.

As the Trump years went on and the outrages piled up, with the renegade president making it clear that he would not be bound by decency or legality, the left declared it a national emergency and acted as though all journalistic objectivity should be suspended. Some thought that the media should ignore Trump’s news conferences and tweets and that the only legitimate interview with Trump was one where you stabbed him in the eye with a salad fork.

Many reporters offered sharp opinions, the kind not seen before in covering a president. The tango between Trump and the media — his most passionate relationship — was as poisonous as it was profitable. For reporters, who hadn’t been this chic since Ben Bradlee battled Richard Nixon, fat cable, book and movie contracts flooded in. CNN was on “Breaking News” for four years straight, thanks to Trump’s dark genius at topping himself with outlandish narratives.

Lines were blurred that would inevitably need to snap back when normality was restored.

Some of the new assertiveness was good and should continue. After many years when I had to comb the thesaurus to find a synonym for “liar” to use about Dick Cheney, The Times finally allowed us to call high-ranking politicians who lied, liars. Thank you, Donald Trump!

But the press, bathed in constant adulation and better remuneration, will have a tough adjustment. A whole generation of journalists was reared in the caldera that was Trump’s briefing room.

Some Washington reporters have been worried about this for some time, that the left would “work the refs,” as one put it, and turn on the media and attack if they dared to report something that could endanger the Republic (a.k.a. hurt a Democrat).

But the role of the press in a functioning democracy is as watchdog, not partisan attack dog. Politicians have plenty of people spinning for them. They don’t need the press doing that, too.

Believe me, you want us on that wall.

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