The word of the day is ‘scandal’ … at least in the halls of Congress, the White House, the senate race in Alabama, college sports (see Hugh Curtler’s post) and the entertainment industry. I asked the question just a few minutes ago, while commenting on Hugh’s post, if ‘integrity’ had become a thing of the past, just another archaic word. But, there are two examples of integrity from the news of the past week that I think are important to point out. Both involved actions taken that were likely unnecessary, but were done to prevent any breath of scandal, any possibility of controversy, and I applaud the efforts.
First, Robert Mueller, Special Counselor leading the most important of all the investigations into the Russian interference in our 2016 election and the Trump campaign’s role in said interference, removed a top FBI agent, Peter Strzok, this summer from his investigation. No, the agent had not been a leaker, had not compromised the investigation, but what he had done was sent text messages that were said to express anti-Trump political views. Okay … and??? Well, ordinarily I would be jumping in defense of this agent, for even though he is an FBI agent, was part of Mueller’s team, he is still a citizen with the rights to free speech that we all have, and who among us have not texted or tweeted anti-Trump sentiments? But this is different.
Agent Strzok is considered one of the most experienced and trusted FBI counterintelligence investigators. He helped lead the investigation into whether Hillary Clinton had mishandled classified information on her private email account, and then played a major role in the investigation into links between President Trump’s campaign and Russia.
Mueller moved swiftly in the face of what could be perceived as bias by one of his agents amid a politically charged inquiry into Trump’s campaign and administration. In this day, with Trump grasping at any opportunity to screech and rant about “fake news” and airing his opinion that Mueller’s investigation is a “witch hunt”, it is imperative that Mueller and his team keep their noses squeaky clean, even extending to their personal lives. As much as I hate to see a valuable part of the team removed and re-assigned to a clerical job, it is necessary.
The second item involves ABC News and Brian Ross, chief investigative correspondent for ABC News since July 1994. Early Saturday, on the heels of the news that Mike Flynn pleaded guilty to charges of lying to the FBI and would be cooperating with Bob Mueller’s investigation, I happened to catch wind of Brian Ross’ statement that Flynn would testify that President Trump had directed him to make contact with Russian officials while Mr. Trump was still a candidate.
Now, note that this was not necessarily a falsehood, and in fact I suspect there may be a great deal of truth to it. However, it was jumping the gun, for as officials at ABC News said, “We deeply regret and apologize for the serious error we made yesterday. The reporting conveyed by Brian Ross during the special report had not been fully vetted [emphasis added] through our editorial standards process.”
Mr. Ross, who reports on a number of ABC programs, including ABC World News Tonight with David Muir, Nightline, Good Morning America, 20/20, and ABC News Radio, has been suspended for a period of four months without pay. Again, under normal circumstances I would be yelling “FOUL” at the top of my lungs and claiming this to be a strike against a free press. But these are not normal circumstances. There is a madman at the helm, and his potential reaction must always be considered.
Brian Ross is a professional who stands above all the rest. His response to the suspension was this:
“My job is to hold people accountable and that’s why I agree with being held accountable myself.”
This, folks, is a man of integrity. This sets the standard for what journalism ought to be. I give Brian Ross a two thumbs up for his most superior example.
The importance of Mueller’s investigation cannot be stressed enough. He must get it right the first time, have every duck lined up straight, for there will be no second chances. Incidents such as the two above can only give the appearance of bias, and that appearance, at this juncture, is all-important. Had Mueller not relieved agent Strzok from his team, it could have given an appearance of bias within the investigation, which would have no doubt been seized upon by Trump and his minions, compromising the faith of the public in the results. Had ABC News not taken action against Mr. Ross, it would have played directly into the hands of Trump and those who loudly scream “fake news”.
It is a sad state of affairs that, in this new alternative universe with people of low character in charge of the nation, we must discipline people who are doing a good job, trying to keep us informed and get to the bottom of the crimes against our nation, but that is where we are today. A portion of We The People screwed up royally on 08 November 2016, and now all of us must pay the price. My only hope at this point is that Mr. Mueller’s investigation is not somehow de-railed, for I fully believe that at the end of the day, all the strands of this tangled web lead straight to Donald Trump, and I am looking forward to the day that result is made public, leaving no choice but to run the madman out of town on a rail. Meanwhile, I am thankful for the integrity of Mr. Mueller, ABC News, and others that will be sure to follow in those footsteps.