It could be mere coincidence, or a level of coordination that we don’t know about, or a sign that it’s just simply time. Regardless of the reason, over the past week it’s been revealed that DOJ Special Counsel Jack Smith and Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis are now each likely within mere weeks of bringing indictments in their separate criminal investigations into Donald Trump.
Here’s what got me thinking. These probes are both investigating aspects of the same overall Trump crime spree, from the same stretch of time. They’ve each progressed through grand jury stages and testimony stages at a roughly similar pace. And now they’re each entering their indictment phase.
So why is it that the DOJ probe is widely considered to have been slow moving, heel dragging, and cowardly, even as such words have rarely if at all been spoken about the Fulton County DA probe. After all, these two probes have basically had the same timeframe, pace, and endpoint. Yet we’re constantly hearing about how Merrick Garland’s DOJ waited way too long to do anything, supposedly still isn’t doing anything, and has allegedly dragged its heels so badly that no one has any remaining hope that the DOJ is even going to do anything. If this is true of the DOJ probe, wouldn’t it also be true of the Fulton Country probe?
And that brings us to the only real difference here: the manner in which the media and pundit class has framed these two probes. From the very start, not a single day has gone by in which some media pundit, either on TV or Twitter, hasn’t tried to score cheap points by attacking Merrick Garland. For as long as he’s had the job, the daily media narrative about Garland has been that he’s hiding under his desk, trying to avoid doing his job, in way over his head, and – we hear this phrase over and over and over ad nauseum – doing nothing.
It doesn’t matter that it’s never been true. It doesn’t matter that these same major news outlets have all periodically reported scoops about major grand jury breakthroughs. It doesn’t even seem to matter that the DOJ had the FBI raid Trump’s home and seize evidence. When these things happen they get covered for a day or a week, before getting pushed aside in favor of the more outrage-inducing (and thus ratings-friendly) narrative that Garland and the DOJ are “doing nothing.”
But if all the activity we’ve seen from Garland and the DOJ has indeed been so dissatisfactory and outrage inducing, then why hasn’t the Fulton County DA’s exact same pace also been dissatisfactory and outrage inducing? The answer is simple: the media just hasn’t gone there when it comes to the Fulton County probe. The media knows it can gin up ratings on any slow news day simply by kicking the U.S. Attorney General. But the media also knows that the Fulton County DA is seen as something of an underdog, a local District Attorney trying to take on a former U.S. President, so the media doesn’t dare try to stir up outrage against the DA for ratings.
Come to think of it, there is a potential argument to be made that the DOJ, with its broader resources, should be able to move more quickly than a local District Attorney. In reality, the reason why the DOJ and the DA have taken roughly the same amount of time to complete their Trump probes is that they’re each beholden to the same glacially slow American court system.
But even among the loudest Garland bashers, you never hear that argument presented that the DOJ should have been able to move more quickly than a District Attorney. Instead the angry rant you hear is always that no prosecutor should ever take as long as the DOJ has taken to indict Trump, under any circumstances. And yet it doesn’t even seem to register for them that the District Attorney has taken the same exact amount of time.
The reality is that the slow pace of both these criminal cases against Trump hasn’t really mattered. Trump, a politically crippled has-been, hasn’t done anything since leaving office beyond running his mouth. Even when he announced his long-hyped 2024 campaign, it elicited mostly laughs.
The average American doesn’t have any opinion on how long it’s taken to indict Trump, and when he is indicted, they’ll simply say “Oh wow okay, that happened, no surprise, that guy was a crook.” It’s only those who have made a point of sitting around every day, working themselves into a tizzy over the fact that Trump hasn’t been indicted yet, and inventing doomsday scenarios in their head about how we’re all doomed unless Trump falls through a trap door right this minute, who seem to have a problem with the amount of time that Trump’s indictment is taking. It’s also a reminder that most Americans don’t spend every day of their lives actively consuming political news.
But when it comes to those who do spend every day consuming political news, there’s a rather disturbing pattern here. Simply by near-unanimously repeating the same ratings-driven narratives every day, the mainstream media and pundit class has conditioned audiences to believe that the DOJ’s Trump probe has taken far longer than any probe ever should, while simultaneously being fine with the other big Trump probe having taken the exact same amount of time.
There’s a real danger to how the mainstream media and pundit class is able to get audiences to hold completely paradoxical beliefs, simply by unanimously repeating the same ratings-driven narratives over and over until those narratives “feel true.” Media outlets can report the latest progress in the DOJ’s Trump probe at the top of the hour, and then spend the rest of the hour insisting the DOJ is doing nothing regarding Trump, and that somehow doesn’t faze audiences. What’s going on here?
We talk a lot about how obvious it is that Fox News and right wing propagandists use repetition and emotional manipulation to condition their audiences to eagerly believe absurdly false things that deep down even those audience members know can’t be true. We need to be just as careful when it comes to letting the mainstream media use more subtle versions of those same tricks on us. When we’re completely outraged about how long one Trump probe is taking, but it doesn’t even register that the other Trump probe is taking the exact same amount of time, it’s time for us all to start asking questions about the media narratives we’re being fed and the impact those narratives are having on our psychology.
Bill Palmer is the publisher of the political news outlet Palmer Report