Previewing the Michael Cohen testimony before Congress this week, Donald Trump, Jr. had this warning on “Fox & Friends”:
“[They’re] bringing in a convicted felon and known liar. It’s pretty pathetic, but it really shows you how much the Democrats hate Trump. They hate Trump more than they love America, by a long shot, and it’s pretty disgusting that they would do that,” he said.
His motives in discrediting Cohen, the president’s longtime-protector-turned-sellout, are obvious to a third-grader. Of course those in Trump World are going to insist the convicted liar isn’t to be believed when he sings a sordid tune about the president’s dealings.
But that doesn’t make them wrong.
Michael Cohen is, to remind everyone, a convicted liar. He lied to the very body before which he testified this week. He did it early, often, and with great panache while employed by Donald Trump — and in many cases was employed to serve that very function.
Many in the press rightly spent months, if not years, accusing Cohen of the very thing we now insist (again rightly) that our vaunted justice system proved true: that he lies.
But mark my words, few in the media will bring the same skepticism to what he said Wednesday about Trump before Congress. Many will believe every word as proof the president is a criminal.
But why? Why is Cohen suddenly believable? Because he’s said things we like and intuitively believe. He’s said that the president directed him to pay off two women he had affairs with before the campaign, after he insisted he didn’t. He’s said all sorts of things that we want to believe are true.
That pleases many of us, because we suspect Trump is wholly corrupt. We all may be right — trust me, I’m there, too. But wanting to validate our urges isn’t the same as wanting to prove our suspicions. And that’s a problem for journalism.
One argument in favor of Cohen’s veracity is that the threat of perjury gives his words more weight. Two things on that, though. One, I’m old enough to remember when an actual president lied under oath, and was impeached for it. Two, it’s hard to imagine that a man who spent the better part of his career work professionally lying for Trump — and who is already facing prison — will suddenly be moved to truth-telling, just for the honor and posterity of it. I can’t imagine, in fact, a less credible witness.
Now, I expect no courage from members of Congress on this front. Partisans all, Democrats will believe his every word, and Republicans will discredit them all.
But the media should be held to a different standard.
Believe me, no one wants to get to the bottom of the president’s possible corruption and collusion more than I do. And Cohen may in fact be telling the truth in these hearings. But if we’re not intellectually consistent, suspicious and scrutinous about what he says, we’re just vouching for a liar because it feels good.