Former White House adviser Hope Hicks has to decide whether to comply with a subpoena and publicly testify against Donald Trump, or commit a criminal act by refusing to testify so she can protect Trump. A new article from the New York Times, and its author, are being widely slammed across social media for painting Hicks’ choice as an “existential” matter instead of a legal or matter. But that’s not the real upshot here.
Newspapers publish puff pieces like this in order to keep the subject of the article happy, so that the person will continue giving quotes and information to that newspaper writer in the future. This kind of thing happens all the time; it’s just not usually quite so blatant as this Hope Hicks puff piece. The questionable ethics of this Hicks article probably aren’t as important as the mere fact that it was written, because it wouldn’t have happened unless Hicks wanted it to.
This means that Hicks is trying to steer public opinion toward seeing her current plight in sympathetic fashion. Fat chance of that, as Trump supporters will hate her if she testifies and love her if she refuses to testify, while mainstream Americans will respect her if she testifies and condemn her if she refuses to testify. Still, this puff piece signals that Hicks cares what the public thinks when it comes to her decision. This article can almost be seen as a trial balloon, to try to figure out whether she’s more likely to come out ahead or behind in the court of public opinion if she does testify.
This is very different from how Don McGahn handled things when he recently found himself in a similar situation. He went ahead and committed a criminal act by refusing to show up and testify, gambling that the criminal consequences of not testifying and the destruction of his reputation wouldn’t be as ugly as what Donald Trump might illegally do to him if he did show up and testify. McGahn will have to testify after the courts order him to, but that could take months – and he seems to be hoping that by then, someone else will have stepped up and taken the heat for being the first former Trump White House adviser to publicly testify against him.
The fact that Hope Hicks wanted a puff piece like this out there painting her as a sympathetic figure? It suggests that she hasn’t made up her mind yet about what to do, and that she might indeed end up agreeing to testify according to the House’s schedule, instead of waiting for the inevitable court order. The NYT article in question is trash and deserves the negative feedback it’s getting – but it’s also unwittingly given away something important about what might happen next.
Bill Palmer is the publisher of the political news outlet Palmer Report