June 9, 2017
This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
It’s Friday, June 9, 2017. I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
Analyzing the media's reaction to James Comey's hearing before the Senate Intelligence Committee
Well, it certainly was political theater; time will tell if it was much more than that. I’m speaking of the hearings yesterday held by the Senate Intelligence Committee. Appearing before the committee was the former director of the FBI, James Comey, and at the center of discussion was conversations that the former FBI director had with the President of the United States. The political theater was exaggerated by the fact that just about all the national media dropped everything in order to broadcast and to comment upon at least the public segment of the hearings held yesterday. The hearings were divided between a classified section and that which preceded it, which was open to the public, and the public certainly had plenty of access to those hearings. Not only did the major cable news network give live coverage and commentary as the hearings were unfolding, but they were joined by at least for part of the time the three older broadcast networks.
There was certainly a level of drama in terms of the hearings yesterday: the dynamic of the conversation, the give-and-take between the former FBI director and members of the Senate. But for the most part, Mr. Comey stayed to his script and that script was largely revealed by the statement that he released to the media over 24 hours before the hearings were actually held. At this point, it would be timely for us to consider how we absorb this kind of information, how we analyze this kind of event, and what kind of commentary or analysis would be most trustworthy.Show Full Transcript
One of the things to note here is that even though we have a plethora, indeed an enormous magnitude of media options available to us, including many news options, they are not all equal, not only in terms of their editorial viewpoints, but also in terms of their velocity, in terms of the speed of their reporting, their commentary, and their analysis. It’s helpful for us to recognize that the advent of these live cable networks, largely 24/7 in terms of timing, that that has brought certain advantages to the American public, certainly access in terms of unfolding news story that Americans never had before. But we also need to recognize that in terms of this live cable news network programming, the analysis outstrips the reporting. That’s the danger. The camera is notoriously live, these television networks increasingly put together panels who join the anchor in order to discuss the events of the day. And most importantly these days, those events have been focused on the White House and the unfolding investigation concerning Russia’s involvement in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. The anchor is surrounded by commentators who have to keep on speaking, often arguing, exchanging only soundbites, often not even communicating with one another. But the important thing to recognize, perhaps more important than anything else, is that they have to keep talking whether or not there’s anything new or substantial about which they could speak.
It’s important at this point to understand the distinction between television, cable or otherwise, on the one hand and print media on the other. Just consider the difference in terms of the amount of attention that has to be given to sitting down for example and writing an article, writing an analysis, being willing to put one’s name at the top of the article. And furthermore, having to go through successive rounds of editing and eventually having a newspaper take responsibility for publishing the article. Add to that, furthermore, that that written article will continue to be accessible and thus there is a continued accountability. Contrast that with what goes on in terms of the cable news. There’s a great deal of information being exchanged. There are endless words that are being developed and offered, but most of those words are forgotten and, for that matter, virtually inaccessible almost as soon as they are spoken.
This distinction is not to say that we need print media and we do not need television or vice versa, it is to say that the informed consumer of the news understands there is a role for both. But in this kind of news story and especially as we look to the coverage of the hearings yesterday, it is clear that there is a much greater responsibility and maturity that is demonstrated by most in the print media, especially the older print media, that is to say the print media that still offers a product in print. For that reason, in terms of analysis of something such as the hearings yesterday, I would turn to newspapers such as the New York Times and the Washington Post. Now both of those papers had a crusading role in terms of previous political controversies. Both of them are predictably liberal, understanding that it’s interesting to look and to see what kind of analysis appeared in the print editions and online for those two very venerable newspapers.
For example, the Washington Post offered some analysis that from the very beginning made it clear that nothing major actually happened yesterday. It was not unimportant, but it wasn’t a major turning point in terms of the investigation or the unfolding story. You might not really know that if you were listening to the cable news coverage. For example, in the Washington Post yesterday, Amber Phillips offered what she called seven takeaways from the Comey testimony. The first six are just about what you would expect, but the seventh was really interesting. She said this,
“No side comes off well in Comey’s telling of events.”
No side? Well she meant the Republicans and the Democrats, President Trump and, for that matter, former FBI Director Comey himself. Comey accused the White House and President Trump specifically of misrepresenting the circumstances concerning his firing. But Comey’s statement and his testimony yesterday also revealed his own actions and judgments often to be if not suspect then at least extremely unusual for an FBI director. Going beyond his written statement released before the hearings, Comey did at least offer some new information or new analysis in terms of his exchange with Senators. For example, he was very clear in claiming that Republicans, including the White House, had tried to interfere with his investigation, that means the FBI investigation into Russia’s involvement in the 2016 presidential election. But at the same time, he also indicated that Democrats have tried to interfere in the FBI investigation into the Hillary Clinton email scandal. That’s why I think Amber Phillips’s analysis in her seventh point was perhaps the most apt I have yet seen,
“No side comes off well in Comey’s telling of events.”
As I said at the onset, what happened yesterday was perhaps more than anything else political theater. But in a democracy, political theater is still important. It can sometimes even be historic. The most substantial investigation now underway is being headed by former FBI director Robert Mueller acting as a special counsel in terms of the investigation. His investigation actually now in terms of legal priority supersedes that of the United States Congress. We also need to keep in mind that the kind of public hearings held yesterday are really intended to be public theater. After all, every one of those Senators is an elected official, every one of them has an electorate that the senator has very much in mind. Every single one of them understands that in the television age, they have the opportunity either to score some political points, or to embarrass themselves. The goal of every senator is to score points without losing them. But one thing to keep in mind is that once you put television cameras in the room, that camera does indeed change everything, including the behavior of all of those within the camera’s eye. We should soberly remember that there are huge issues at stake in terms of our republic when thinking about this investigation and all of the issues related to it. We need to hope and to pray that indeed the truth will be revealed, and that this nation will then deal with the truth responsibly. This story will not be over anytime soon.
Stunning the world, Theresa May's Conservative Party loses overall majority in Britain's snap electio
Next, the news out of Great Britain yesterday is absolutely stunning. The British conservative party that had been solidly in control of Parliament, the very party whose Prime Minister called the election three years earlier than was necessary, that party lost its majority in the British Parliament and it was a massive political miscalculation, so much so that it might go down as one of the most strategic leadership mistakes experienced by any modern democracy. The British Prime Minister did not have to call this election, that was obvious. She did so because she wanted to gain a political advantage. Instead, she gave the advantage away, which could lead to the fall of her government. As she called the election, the Conservative Party she headed had 331 seats. As of yesterday, it’s likely down to 318; 326 are necessary for a parliamentary majority.
The Labour Party headed by Jeremy Corbyn, a man of the left–and by this we should say the far left–increased its seats to 262, a gain of 30. The Labour Party is not in a position, it’s expected, to put together a government, but the Conservative Party cannot now establish a government by itself. There are a couple of really big issues here. For one thing, most Americans actually don’t have a very clear understanding of the distinction between our form of democratic government and the British form or the parliamentary form that’s not only found in Britain, the mother of parliaments, but in many other nations as well. In the British Parliament, there are a certain number of seats and the party that gains a majority, in this case 326, is then asked to form a government. There are advantages to a parliamentary system of government. For one thing, it effectively comes down to one party rule, a majority in terms of the parliament with the parliament electing the Prime Minister as its presiding officer and the head of government means that, by definition, the ruling parties should never lose a vote. That is extremely efficient.
When you compare the parliamentary system to the American system of three separate branches of government, the checks and balances between them, the distinction is that in the parliamentary system gridlock is at least in theory impossible. You have the Prime Minister who by virtue of being Prime Minister heads a government that can never lose in Parliament, especially if party discipline is maintained in terms of voting. But the downside to the parliamentary system is what we now see in terms of Great Britain. As of this morning, Britain is looking at a so-called hung Parliament, neither party actually has a sufficient number of seats to form a government. One of the interesting and fairly recent developments on the British political scene is that the two major political parties are now moving even further apart and, furthermore, what we see in Britain is the virtual disappearance of the political middle.
Jeremy Corbyn, the head of the Labour Party that gained seats in yesterday’s election, is not only effectively to the left of Hillary Clinton, but is arguably considerably to the left of even Bernie Sanders. We don’t know what’s going to happen in terms of the British election now that it looks like the nation faces a hung parliament, the question will come down to which party can put together a coalition to achieve a majority in the parliament. It might lead to a loss of confidence in the conservative Prime Minister on behalf of her own party. She may be forced to resign. She only became Prime Minister last July. This shows something of the volatility of modern politics.
And the other thing we need to note in closing on this story is that it’s quite easy for Americans to say, well, that’s Great Britain, what does it have to do with us? But the reality is that over the last 40 years, there has been something of a reciprocity in terms of the political pattern in elections in the United States and Great Britain. Just consider the rather spectacular rise of Conservative Party leader Margaret Thatcher to be British Prime Minister in 1979, then followed by the election of the conservative United States President Ronald Reagan in 1980. Consider also the election of someone identified as a centrist Democrat, Bill Clinton, in 1992, followed by a centrist Labour Prime Minister, Tony Blair in 1997. Even more recently, the so-called Brexit vote by which a majority of British voters decided to leave the European Union, what was interpreted as a populist revolt, was followed just a matter of a very short time later by the unexpected election of Donald Trump as President of the United States. Winston Churchill once famously quipped that the United States and Great Britain were two great peoples separated by a common language. We are bound together in ways more numerous than most British or American folks think about. There’s a reason why the British parliamentary election makes the front page of major United States newspapers.
The NFL officially opposes gambling. So why did it relocate the Oakland Raiders to Las Vegas?
Next, passing through the airport in Las Vegas yesterday I picked up the local newspaper, the Las Vegas Review-Journal, and looking at the editorial page I found something really interesting. The editors of the Las Vegas newspaper are very upset at what they identify as the hypocrisy of new advertising policies undertaken by the National Football League. The editors write,
“The National Football League’s hypocrisy on gambling is well documented, despite its recent decision to relocate the Oakland Raiders to Las Vegas, just off the Strip. But the league’s peculiar tendencies go well beyond its aversion to legal wagering.”
Now the editors are upset about the fact that recent reporting about the NFL’s changes indicate that what’s going to be cut out is casino gambling, and they point out the irony of this coming just months after the NFL decided to allow the Oakland Raiders to not only relocate to Las Vegas, but to relocate right off of its infamous strip. Las Vegas’s casino gaming interests feel left out and outright discriminated against in terms of these new policies. and the local newspaper protests writing,
“But while viewers tuning in to see the league’s orgy of controlled violence will now be treated to 30-second spots promoting various spirits [that means hard liquor], the NFL’s list of taboo advertising categories remains wildly inconsistent and downright hilarious.”
Now why spirits? Well, it’s because the draft NFL policy indicates it’s going to allow for the first time the advertising of hard spirits, that is a very high alcohol content alcoholic beverages. The editors continue,
“Gambling, of course, is strictly verboten — unless it isn’t. The league prohibits ‘ads for any hotel that features gambling,’ according to the Wall Street Journal, “or tourism ads for places that allow gambling.”
The editors then ask,
“Does that mean during Raider home games the league will ban panoramic shots of Las Vegas and its prominent gaming palaces?”
Again, claiming hypocrisy, the Las Vegas newspaper complains that the NFL’s new policy will allow the advertising of state lotteries, horse and dog tracks, or off-track betting parlors, as the editors say, they’re “hunky-dory,” but as for casinos they are completely forbidden. There’s a background to the NFL policy, of course, and when you look at the intersection of sports and gambling, that’s a very troubled intersection indeed. As a matter of fact, gambling has often been one of the major scandals undermining any credibility in terms of sports at virtually every level. That’s the reason why sporting leagues, including the NFL, at least in the past have done just about everything possible to distance themselves from any form of gaming. But the NFL has been chipping away at that policy for some time, and that leads to the charges of hypocrisy now leveled by the Las Vegas newspaper.
Several of the major professional sporting leagues are trying to find some way to increase revenue not only in terms of advertising, but also getting a slice of the pie in terms of the expanding gambling enterprise. And we should note a couple of things here. First of all, hypocrisy is found just about everywhere. And one of the tributes to our moral sense is to understand that hypocrisy is wrong and it’s still important that we have some kind of detector in terms of hypocrisy in both others and ourselves. But we also have to note that when it comes to hypocrisy, the NFL has really put itself in a pickle here, relocating a major NFL team from Oakland, California, to Las Vegas right off the strip at the very same time that the NFL is trying to act like it will have nothing whatsoever to do with casino gambling. Well, that’s a rather untenable proposition. The drawings for the proposed new NFL stadium in Las Vegas show a massive hypermodern facility open on one end so that those inside the stadium can have an incredible view of the Las Vegas strip. That just about says it all. At the end of the day, you can’t put an NFL team and its stadium in Las Vegas right off the strip and then act like it’s there by accident.
Israel, the only democracy in the Middle East, fought and won the Six Day War 50 years ago this week
Finally, it’s very important that this week we recognize the 50th anniversary of what is most famously known as the Six-Day War in Israel and the Middle East. It took place between the 5th and the 11th of June in the year 1967. Israel, that had come into existence in 1948, had been opposed by its Arab neighbors from the very beginning and its very existence was questioned not only from 1948 to 1967, but Israel found itself under threat by those who very clearly wanted to annihilate the state. In 1967 in particular, Israel found itself in a very vulnerable position with Armed Forces poised to attack from Syria, from Jordan, and from Egypt. But the Israeli Air Force launched a daring strike on Egypt and as the fighters reached Egypt, it was very clear they had caught the Egyptian Air Force on the ground. That Air Force was largely destroyed in a matter of just six hours, completely changing the balance of power in the Middle East.
By the time the Six-Day War was over, Israel was in a very different position than it was just less than a week earlier. It was still vulnerable, but its vulnerabilities had been reduced significantly by its defeat of Syrian, Jordanian, and Egyptian forces so conclusively and so quickly. At the end of that period, Israel also found itself in possession of an incredible amount of territory that had been claimed by Syria, for example the Golan Heights, by Jordan and also by Egypt. And what’s noteworthy but often forgotten is that just nine days later, Israel offered to give back the Syrian and Egyptian territory if those nations would only accept and recognize Israel as a neighbor. Those nations and the larger Arab League denied Israel’s offer and thus the Middle East has been in turmoil ever sense.
Furthermore, looking back to 1967, Israel is now in the position of having occupied those territories it conquered in 1967 for the better part of 50 years. Now the Sinai Peninsula was returned to Egypt, but only after the famous Camp David Accords in which Egypt and Israel signed a peace treaty and Egypt officially recognized the existence of Israel and Israel’s right to exist, even exchanging diplomatic recognition. Anyone who has visited the state of Israel understands why Israel will not and cannot return the so-called Golan Heights to Syria, especially given serious militaristic ambitions against Israel and the fact that Syria openly allows the enemies of Israel to use its territory in which to launch attacks, especially rocket attacks on Israeli citizens.
In one of the strangest ironies of history, that also meant that for the last 50 years Israel has effectively occupied and governed territories populated by about 4.5 million Palestinians. Finding a just way of dealing with the rights of the Palestinians and the right of Israel to exist and to exist securely, that is a problem that has vexed the most statesmanlike of world leaders; it is one of the most difficult moral quandaries of our time. But 50 years after the Six-Day War, we need to recognize just how remarkable those six days really were and how they changed the map of the world and established Israel on a whole new footing than it had existed in those vulnerable years between 1948 and 1967. The aggressors intended to put Israel out of existence, but instead they greatly strengthened Israel’s hands and they themselves were defeated.
One of the saddest realities in this entire picture is that if you go back to 1967, there was one and only one actual democracy in the Middle East, and that was Israel. And today there is one and exactly only one functioning democracy in the Middle East; it’s still Israel.
Friday Book Recommendation: "Six Days of War: June 1967 and the Making of the Modern Middle East"
That leads me in conclusion to mention this week’s worldview book of the week, and it has to do with the Six-Day War. It is Michael Oren’s book, “Six Days of War,” his historic account of those six days and how they change the history of Israel and of the entire Middle East. Some years after writing the book, Michael Oren became the Israeli ambassador to the United States of America.