Previewing the Michael Cohen testimony before Congress last week, Donald Trump, Jr. had this warning on Fox & Friends: “[They’re] bringing in a convicted felon and known liar. It’s pretty pathetic, but it really shows you how much the Democrats hate Trump. They hate Trump more than they love America, by a long shot, and it’s pretty disgusting that they would do that,” he said.
His motives in discrediting Cohen, the president’s longtime protector turned sellout, are obvious to a third-grader. Of course those in Trump World are going to insist the convicted liar isn’t to be believed when he sings a sordid tune about the president’s dealings.
But that doesn’t make them wrong. Michael Cohen is, to remind everyone, a convicted liar. He lied to the very body before which he testified Wednesday.
He did it early, often, and with great panache while employed by Donald Trump—and in many cases was employed to serve that very function.
Many in the press rightly spent months, if not years, accusing Cohen of the very thing we now insist (again rightly) that our vaunted justice system proved true: that he lies.
But few in the media brought the same skepticism to what he said about Trump before Congress. Many appeared to believe every word as proof the president is a criminal.
To wit, The New York Times’ lead story following his first day of testimony treated Cohen with a sense of awe:
“The allegations … exposed a dark underside of Mr. Trump’s business and political worlds in the voice of one of the ultimate insiders. Perhaps no close associate of a president has turned on him in front of Congress in such dramatic fashion since John Dean testified against President Richard M. Nixon during the Watergate scandal.”
Elsewhere, headlines across print and online media called Cohen’s testimony extraordinary, scathing, and damning.
Why is Cohen suddenly believable? Because he said things we like and intuitively believe?
He said the president directed him to pay off two women he had affairs with before the campaign, after he insisted he didn’t. He implicated Trump in the Trump Tower/Russia meetings, after saying he wasn’t aware of them. He called Trump a racist and a con man and all sorts of things that we want to believe are true.
An NBC News subhead was unsubtle in admitting this: “The president’s former lawyer unloads on his ex-boss, giving voice to what every critic would like to say.”
Living vicariously through Cohen, his harsh words for Trump pleased many of us because we suspect Trump is wholly corrupt. We all may be right—trust me, I’m there. But wanting to validate our urges isn’t the same as wanting to prove our suspicions. And that’s a problem for journalism.
One argument in favor of Cohen’s veracity is that the threat of perjury gives his words more weight. Two things on that, though. One, I’m old enough to remember when an actual president lied under oath and was impeached for it. Two, it’s hard to imagine that a man who spent the better part of his career professionally lying for Trump—and who is already facing prison—will suddenly be moved to truth-telling, just for the honor and posterity of it. I can’t imagine, in fact, a less credible witness.
I expected no courage from members of Congress on this front. Partisans all, Democrats appeared to trust his every word and Republicans discredited him entirely.
But the media should be held to a different standard.
Believe me, no one wants to get to the bottom of the president’s possible corruption and collusion more than I do. And Cohen may in fact have told the truth in these hearings. But if we’re not intellectually consistent, suspicious and scrutinous about what he said, we’re just vouching for a liar because it feels good. S.E. Cupp is the host of Unfiltered on CNN.