Like virtually everything in life worth doing, writing a weekly column comes with some challenges. Having the right story to write about can be something of a balancing act. Timing can be everything. If a big story breaks too soon, it can be played out by Thursday when I sit to write. Everything worth saying would have already been said. If it comes too late, it may require a rethinking or even a re-writing based on last-minute developments.
So when Donald Trump posted on his social media platform last Saturday that he would be “arrested” on Tuesday in the Manhattan district attorney investigation into the Stormy Daniels hush money affair, it was as if the heavens opened up and provided the story that would marinate in anticipation for three days and still have legs to write about on Thursday. Thanks, Donald, you made my life easier for the better part of a week.
All I had to do was watch the media churn the story, and for three days they sure did. Commentators commented, legal experts provided analysis, and presidential historians lined up to provide their brand of context. Cameras were dispatched to catch the erecting of barriers in case the protesting that Trump called for might get out of hand. The New York Times reported that Trump’s post “carried unmistakable echoes of the incendiary messages he posted online in the weeks before the attack on the U. S. Capitol.” Well, game on!
I figured by “arrested” Trump probably meant “indicted,” which is what happens to people at the top of the pyramid who have criminal attorneys on retainer. We were reminded ad nauseam of the unprecedented nature of the imminent indictment of Trump, who himself had been “un-presidented” in 2020. After Tuesday, the media would have two days to cuss and discuss the actual indictment before I would sit down to write.
In those two days, the story would still be strong, and I felt sure the media would be looking at it through whichever lens got the biggest audience. Fox would do what Fox does, even though its relationship with Trump seems a bit the worse for wear lately. Online and print media could be counted on to provide both reporting and opinion pieces, which for the most part would cover the same territory calibrated to support the outlet’s particular narrative.
CNN and MSNBC would have a field day with this, developing about one to two hours of content delivered by rotating hosts, experts and pundits, repeated endlessly and varied only by the particular quirks of the various speakers. But I could work with that.
If the tone of all this coverage took the legal lane, there would be political aspects available to discuss. Should the narrative veer into the political, there would still be a space for social commentary. I was confident the media, being famously myopic, would leave something on the table for me. The fan was turned on, and all we needed was for the inevitable to hit it.
Admittedly, there were some cooler heads, even among Trump supporters, who tried to walk the story back, sort of, but this was too good to miss. Those same heavens that opened to give me certainty about what I would write about today also gave the media the story that attracts eyeballs and clicks. The cat was out of the bag, the horse had left the barn, but it turns out that dog may not be able to hunt.
Apparently, Manhattan district attorney Alvin Bragg did not have his inevitable together to throw into the fan, despite Trump’s creating what Bragg has called a “false expectation” and the wishful thinking of much of the media and the American citizenry.
So no indictment on Tuesday. Or Wednesday. Maybe next week, maybe not. In my head, I’m channeling Sam Cooke and Cat Stevens, singing a la Randy Rainbow, “Another Saturday night, and there ain’t no indictment. I got the feeling that we just got played.”
A media frenzy, as close to full-blown as possible without a perp walk, was set off because Trump posted something unverifiable. With his track record, the honest media response would have been, “Trump says he will be arrested on Tuesday but provided no evidence to support his assertion. If true, this will be a hell of a story, but here at the Honest News Network, we’ll believe it when we see it.”
I’m still getting a column out of all this, just not the one I thought it would be. The truth is we need to be careful of believing what we want to believe. People doing just that got us into this mess, and others doing it sure as hell isn’t going to get us out of it.