Politics 'Comey Rule' exposes entertainment reporting's blinding partisanship

18:25  05 october  2020
18:25  05 october  2020 Source:   thehill.com

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If you only read the news surrounding "The Comey Rule" - Showtime's two-night series based on fired FBI director James Comey's memoir, "A Higher Loyalty" - you'd think it accurately shows how Donald Trump colluded with Russia to steal the 2016 election.

Jeff Daniels wearing a suit and tie: 'Comey Rule' exposes entertainment reporting's blinding partisanship © Getty Images 'Comey Rule' exposes entertainment reporting's blinding partisanship

And you'd be wrong, of course.

We've known since the Mueller Report dropped last year that the narrative surrounding President Trump and Russia wasn't what we were told. It wasn't for lack of trying or a dearth of investigative cash.

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That hotly anticipated report dealt the collusion narrative an uppercut. The last few months supplied the knockout punch. Consider what we've just recently learned:

  • FBI agents snatched up liability insurance during the Russia investigation, knowing how rickety the framework was at the time.
  • The Steele Dossier, a key source driving the investigation, disintegrated upon inspection. The latest sign? We just learned that a suspected Russian operative served as a primary sub-source for the report.
  • The New York Times, of all outlets, confirmed there were no Trump-Russia ties revealed by the president's taxes.

You'd think some of this information would have made it into the entertainment stories covering "The Comey Rule," starring actor Jeff Daniels as Comey. After all, those three items alone broke in the last week or so.

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And you'd be wrong, of course.

The Los Angeles Times waxed philosophical about actor Brendan Gleeson's turn as President Trump in the production, while playing cutesy with writer/director Billy Ray. NBC News ran an op-ed dragging Comey for a variety of reasons - and then letting the Russian collusion hoax off the hook.

Nothing even remotely tough about the exchanges. No awareness that the story in play distorts reality. No hard but fair questions posed to Daniels or his colleagues about the film's thesis.

It wasn't just the news stories tied to "The Comey Rule" that ignored the Dumbo in the room. TV critics weighed in on the Showtime miniseries by rarely, if ever, mentioning these oh-so-critical facts, let alone the Mueller Report.

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Seems important, right? It's as if Showtime revisited Geraldo Rivera cracking Al Capone's vault and pretended it held all the surprises we expected instead of ... bupkis.

IndieWire calls President Trump a monster, repeatedly, in its cartoonishly biased review. Nothing outrageous there; it's just hyperbolic opinion. Then we get this splash of "reportage": "The show doesn't offer any breaking news about the Russia investigation, but it's clear in its message that Trump already destroyed one election - via meddling, blackmail, and all-around discord - and he's absolutely trying to do it again."

Rolling Stone certainly doesn't blink about the film's massive flights of fancy. It endorsed them: "We don't need to tell you how Comey and Trump's 'relationship' sours, or how this story ends. It's as gut-wrenching fictionalized as it was in real life."

Critics could still enjoy the dramatics behind "The Comey Rule" while acknowledging that the story doesn't come within a mile of the truth. A reviewer can admire, for example, Oliver Stone's "JFK" without adhering to its conspiratorial theories. Except, in this case, critics treated the material in "The Comey Rule" as the gospel truth when it's "fake news" on steroids.

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The film's key players, from lead star Daniels to writer/director Ray, hit the promotional circuit and smacked the softball queries lobbed at them by professional journalists.

Had those scribes somehow missed the Mueller Report's rollout? It clogged up the news cycle for weeks, if memory serves. Yet, nevertheless, reporters filed puff pieces about "The Comey Rule." Chortled Ray to one outlet: "Oh, will Trump be mad at me for making this."

Well, he'd have a right to be grumpy, no?

Let's flash back to another politically-charged TV miniseries and recall how the press treated it:

ABC's two-part series, "The Path to 9/11," came under heavy attack in 2006 for what critics claimed was an inaccurate look at what preceded the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and an unfair depiction of former President Clinton's lack of action against al Qaeda before the attacks occurred. Democratic senators weighed in on the matter, demanding changes and even threatening ABC's broadcast license for allowing the miniseries to air.

ABC backpedaled, and then some. The network wiped commercials from the presentation, presumably costing itself millions in lost revenue. It aired a disclaimer to help people process the notion that it had "dramatized" actual events. And then, ABC memory-holed the highly rated project.

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Reporters covered every twist in that story, repeating the critiques lodged against it from the political left, an appropriate response.

What happened with "The Comey Rule," then?

Showtime has a partial excuse regarding the maddening distortions rampant in the miniseries, which debuted Sept. 27: Some of the most damning revelations about the Russian collusion narrative broke in recent weeks. Still, the film started production last November, months and months after special counsel Robert Mueller dropped his signature report.

Weeks later, the report by Justice Department inspector general Michael Horowitz went public, revealing serious mistakes, miscalculations and other behavior unworthy of the FBI. Even Rolling Stone - a far cry from Breitbart News or the Daily Caller - noted how the inspector general shredded the collusion narrative: "(The) Horowitz report shows years of breathless headlines were wrong."

Yet, the brave, hard-working FBI agents depicted in "The Comey Rule" would make Boy Scouts look suspect by comparison.

Now, miniseries events are allowed to have their creative biases. The same is true of newspaper op-eds, documentaries and other cultural products. A film can argue, for example, that President Trump's unconventional style proved a tonic for a reeling nation - or that his sharp-elbow shtick intensified our political divide.

All fine. And no one should call for "The Comey Rule's" cancellation.

When something as dishonest as the Showtime miniseries appears, though, it's up to news organizations to let readers know that the fix is in - not regurgitate the miniseries' fictional talking points to attack the president.

That so many outlets did nothing of the kind reminds us why trust in so much of the media continues to crater: They've earned it.

Christian Toto is the editor of the conservative entertainment site "HollywoodInToto.com, the Right Take on Entertainment," and host of the weekly "Hollywood in Toto" podcast.

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