On Monday, Special Counsel Robert Mueller announced that his investigation into the Trump campaign’s potential involvement with Russia yielded charges against two individuals who worked on the campaign: Paul Manafort and Richard Gates.
It was also revealed Monday that George Papadopoulos, a former Trump foreign policy adviser, pleaded guilty on Oct. 5 to lying to the FBI about his contacts with Russia.
With Mueller’s indictments and guilty plea now public, U.S. news media have swooned over the indictments of former Donald Trump campaign aids Manafort and Gates (who had little to do with the Trump campaign) while giving less coverage to the Papadopoulos guilty plea (which has everything to do with the Trump campaign).
In so doing, they’re playing into right-wing opinion narratives and obfuscating the issues at hand.
Manafort and Gates were charged for undisclosed lobbying work done on behalf of Ukrainian government interests, while Papadopoulos was charged for lying to the FBI about conversations with individuals associated with the Russian government concerning “dirt” on Hillary Clinton and “thousands of emails.”
— Jake Tapper (@jaketapper) November 1, 2017
Writing for Daily Wire, editor-in-chief and controversial conservative thinker Ben Shapiro stated that the Papadopoulos indictment was “more problematic” and “far more damaging” for Trump than Manafort, asking: “If all of this was aboveboard, what was Papadopoulos trying to hide?”
Joan Walsh, The Nation’s national affairs correspondent, stated that “the indictments [against Manafort and Gates] don’t provide an obvious through-line … to Trump,” but “the Papadopoulos guilty plea is today’s worst news for the Trump Administration.”
Similar sentiments have been echoed by writers at the New York Times, CNN and the National Review, and it isn’t difficult to see why. While the charges against Manafort are arguably more serious than those brought against Papadopoulos, and Manafort played a significant role in the Trump campaign, Manafort’s wrongdoing (which includes money laundering) occurred before he was a part of Trump’s team.
"I worked for Paul Manafort. He always lacked a moral compass."https://t.co/5NjKUuoL9g
— Kyle Griffin (@kylegriffin1) November 1, 2017
Papadopoulos’ wrongdoing, on the other hand, directly involved the Trump campaign and its alleged efforts to obtain “dirt” on Hillary Clinton from Russian officials. Emails cited in the guilty plea itself refer to emails Papadopoulos sent that tried to arrange meetings with the Trump campaign and the Kremlin “over a period of months” while he was working as a foreign policy adviser. The meeting never ended up happening.
Despite this, data from MediaCloud (a media database out of MIT and Harvard University) shows that U.S. media has focused on Manafort’s indictment while focusing less on Papadopoulos. Stories released last Monday from various outlets with different political leanings contained more than twice as many sentences about Manafort than about Papadopoulos.
The data shows nearly 12,000 sentences concerning Manafort, but only about 5,000 concerning Papadopoulos. Similarly, 2,300 stories mentioning Manafort were published that day, yet only 860 mentioned Papadopoulos.
Opinion writers on the Right have taken advantage of this misplaced focus. Pointing out that Manafort’s wrongdoing is unrelated to the Trump campaign has become a popular theme in the conservative media realm over the past couple days.
At Town Hall, columnist Andy Schlafly wrote that Mueller had become “out of control” because his directive was to investigate possible Russian interference in the 2016 election, and the Manafort indictment is (mostly) unrelated to that directive. Conveniently, Papadopoulos and his guilty plea is not mentioned in the article.
At Fox News, Gregg Jarrett argued that there was “no evidence” of collusion between Trump and Russia, and that the Clinton campaign was guilty of far more collusion than the Trump campaign.
Opinion: One network had 60 minutes of Manafort news. Another, 57. A third, 25. Can you guess which was which? https://t.co/kdyN6MC8bq
— The New York Times (@nytimes) November 1, 2017
He at least mentions Papadopoulos, but he significantly downplays the charge brought against him as a “single charge of making a false statement to the FBI,” pointing out that “it is not a crime to talk to a Russian.”
Talking to a Russian is, of course, not what Papadopoulos plead guilty to, and the question surrounding why he lied about his contacts in Russia is a significant one that Jarrett does not address.
Regardless, Jarrett was able to bypass the genuine concern surrounding Papadopoulos with impunity because of the lack of coverage dedicated to that indictment in the mainstream press.
Because newsrooms have paid less attention to Papadopoulos’ involvement (for whatever reason, perhaps because Manafort had already been long recognized as a shady character), they are allowing writers like Jarrett and Schlafly to skirt by substantive indictments to deal with issues more favorable to their position.