The Australian political media isn’t any different from political media elsewhere in the west. Leaning left or right in opinion journalism has been the norm for decades. Only the blurring of fact and opinion is relatively new, as is the reluctance of editors to cut it out. An earlier case study was based on local political issues, but for Australia it seems that Donald Trump can be negatively misinterpreted by journalists, whereas Barrack Obama whilst also narrowly covered in his day, nearly always positively in his case. Even those Australian journalists who live in America as “Washington Correspondents” of Australian media outlets have flawed coverage at times.
Troy Bramston is a well-known Australian journalist, a former aide to a Labor Party PM Kevin Rudd over 10 years ago, but seemingly a fair journalist when he took up writing for the Murdoch paper The Australian. He has interviewed people from all over the political spectrum, written well-received books on political figures and been a commentator on many TV politics shows without standing out as a hardline partisan. He is not considered a hack by any means.
Until the Trump impeachment, that is, when a Bramston article hit the pages of the Australian newspaper and brought criticism. This article had many questionable arguments/statements and while it is behind a paywall, I will try and analyse a fair reading of it.
From the article:-
Despite being impeached by the US House of Representatives, and the case for his removal from office having been met based on evidence and testimony, Donald Trump will be acquitted by the Senate and run for re-election as president in November.
The case for his removal from office having been met? Hardly. There is room for unbiased observers to come to different opinion as to how evidence can be interpreted, but there should be a duty imposed upon journalists to take account of what the actual evidence was – and, in this case, especially, how it was taken and what was not taken.
Based on whose ”evidence” and “testimony”? Only the House Democrats called witnesses, the Republicans being denied their witnesses. The defence (President Trump) was not allowed even to be represented or to call or to cross examine any witnesses. All such restrictions were the opposite of what was allowed to Bill Clinton at his impeachment.
the transcript of Trump’s phone call …shows quite clearly that he wanted Ukraine to open an investigation into former US vice-president Joe Biden and Biden’s son Hunter… Trump withheld $US391m in military aid to Ukraine as a quid pro quo. This was an abuse of power and it has been confirmed by his closest aides,
It is quite clear from the transcript of the actual conversation that the investigation was of the interference in the 2016 US election (1st paragraph p3 of the transcript) and that the investigation of Ukraine corruption, present all through the conversation by both men was clearly aimed at Burisma, the Hunter Biden company. It was also related to the actions of Joe Biden in pressuring the Ukraine to dismiss the man who was leading the investigation into the company or else lose one Billion dollars in US aid. (pages 3 & 4 of transcript)
As for the quid pro quo, no direct evidence is available anywhere to show that withheld aid was part of a quid pro quo at all. All the direct evidence says it wasn’t.
The fact of aid being withheld wasn’t even known to the Ukrainians at the time of the call and while nothing was done by the Ukrainians, the funds were released before the leaks about the call were even made known. There was no meeting, no investigation, no announcements. On top of that, not only Trump, but also the Ukrainian president repeatedly said there was no pressure in the call.
An abuse of power and it has been confirmed by his closest aides? No, not “his” aides at all. Every so-called “aide” witness was hostile to him and the Trump chief of staff Mick Mulvaney in his “Get Over it” press conference, was referencing “politics in foreign policy” (a truism if ever there was one). Talking about withholding aid money to have some or other action to be done by a foreign country was common but he stressed that this investigation was about interference in the 2016 US election was a policy matter of the administration, a perfectly legal matter. The vital parts of the press conference are here.
Of the witnesses allowed by the Democrats, all but one had their evidence on the call as total hearsay. The one witness who did hear the call, Lt Colonel Vindman, could not and did not claim any specific words of such intent at all, but talked about an impression that it was wrong. Highlighted parts of his testimony can be seen here.
Yet Alan Dershowitz, Trump’s lawyer, told the Senate pressuring Ukraine was not illegal or impeachable if the President thought it would help his re-election.
He called it “absurd and dangerous” , This was way over the top. Bramston seems to fail to mention or account for the context of his words, which clearly show Bramston to be wrong. Perhaps he didn’t hear the words himself, but the reader can hear (from 2.00).
many polls show that most voters think he did abuse his power and obstruct congress — the two articles of impeachment — and should be removed from office.
As if that, even if true, was a justification for this supreme action against a president! Many don’t show that and the Trump popularity increased all through the impeachment process..
The majority vote not to call witnesses — as the Senate did in the impeachment trials of Andrew Johnson (1868) and Bill Clinton (1998) — was a disgrace
This is one of the most egregious errors of the whole work, not least because Bramston claims it was a “disgrace”, adding scorn to his mistaken opinion. There was a well-argued constitutional issues about the calling of witnesses by both the House and the Senate and Bramston has missed them completely. They have been well-publicised and were even argued publicly by the brilliant Deputy Counsel for Trump, Patrick Philbin, at the Senate impeachment trial.
Remember these facts: The Democrats, at least nominally under the direction of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, bypassed the constitutional provisions relating to the creation of an impeachment hearing and did note authorise an impeachment investigation/enquiry by a vote of the whole House. She bypassed the Judiciary Committee which had historically controlled impeachment enquiries and she merely announced an Impeachment Investigation at a press conference. Thus they did not give themselves true subpoena power and, rather than test their faux “subpoenas – in reality “demand letters” – refused to call those witnesses who were prepared to challenge in court their appearance before the Intelligence committee or were temporarily forbidden to testify on the basis of presidential privilege (which was also challengeable in court if the House had wished/dared to do so).
The Democrats were attempting to changer the historic impeachment and not in any way following tradition. In previous impeachments there had been witnesses called in the Senate but they had all been called in the House impeachment enquiry.
The whole legal and political issues of “witnesses” can be reviewed in this link (and it includes Patrick Philbin’s clear explanation of the law). It was always available to Troy Bramston or anyone else to view.
General criticisms (political) included
pledged to eliminate debt but it has increased…promised to balance the budget…promises to repeal the Affordable Care Act…build a border wall
Had Troy not seen the wall being built, the trouble Trump had with organised congressional opposition? So obvious I am not going to bother mentioning it further. As for matters which need Congress to approve, as a keen reader and supposed expert on the USA Troy well knows about the US House and money bills or budgets, knows about the US Senate where they need a vote of 60 Senators to stop a filibuster and push through any legislation which is opposed. And “opposition” has a new meaning with US Democrats and Trump.
I have spent probably too much time on this, but as I had respect for Troy Bramston as an even handed journalist, though left-leaning, it was a real shock to see an article like this with so many factual errors or, as still might be the case, errors due to lack of research.
One certain thing is that nobody, not in America or Australia or anywhere else can ever allow him or herself to rely on the word of opinion journalists and hardly ever to supposed reports of fact. Other media, independent media, new media. All must be observed and checked against facts. We are approaching a critical time in the west. The USA is under a challenge so serious that the US election of November 2020 will be a turning point, one way or the other. Journalism must fight to tell the truth, fight for true analysis, for full analysis.