Nunes Memo Flares Partisanship But You Can Act

Nunes AP Manuel Balce Ceneta

(Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP)

The Nunes Memo and its Democratic rebuttal are emblematic of the vast divide in political opinions. If the Nunes memo is to be believed, there is a vast conspiracy to undermine Donald Trump. If the rebuttal is to be believed, the Nunes memo represents a new age of politicizing intelligence and the GOP manipulating information with wreckless abandon. The stakes are the rule of law. Let’s look at how media drives the divide and what you can do about it.


The Nunes memo is confusing. What happened?:

Prior to the Nunes release, Republicans claimed the memo would show corruption within the intelligence community. The intelligence community claimed the release would endanger intelligence gathering techniques and violate confidence. Democrats claimed the document’s only purpose was to undermine the Mueller investigation.

Last Friday afternoon, the Devin Nunes memo was released.

Here is a summary of the contents:

  1. Christopher Steele, who compiled the Steele dossier, was biased against Trump.
  2. The Steele dossier was funded by Fusion GPS which received funds from the DNC.
  3. The Steele dossier was used to obtain a warrant to monitor Carter Page, a member of Trump’s inner-circle.
  4. This procedure took place under the watch of many, including Rod Rosenstein (who also oversees Mueller).
  5. The warrant would not have been obtained without the (politically funded) Steele dossier.
  6. Therefore no warrant should have been approved.


On Monday, the House Intelligence Committee voted to release the Democratic rebuttal. The rebuttal is currently under review by the White House. Trump will have the choice to block its release, redact portions, or allow the release by Friday.

This issue is divisive. But the two sides on this issue are not equal. Fox News, some Congressional Republicans, and Donald Trump support the Nunes memo. Most other media outlets, Democrats, some Congressional Republicans, and the intelligence community (which leans conservative) question the value of the memo. Do not be lulled into a false equivalence.


Criticism of the memo, the release, and the GOP:

Normally we’d title this section, “The Liberal Reaction” or something confining the response to Democrats. But the criticism has come from Republicans too, especially within the intelligence community.

The Nunes memo quickly came under fire for being insubstantial.


And CNN:


And former GOP presidential nominee, Senator John McCain:


Initial reportage of the memo noted its aims to discredit the Russia probe. News organizations attempted to remain removed from the conflict, framing the issue as a White House vs. Intelligence Committee battle. Here is the front page of the Washington Post shortly after the memo was released:

WaPo 2.2.18

(Washington Post front page 2.2.18)


Soon though, major media sources outside of Fox News were quick to dismantle the faulty logic the memo relied upon.

Here are some examples: CNN, Washington Post, LA Times, Vox…

After dismantling the logic, Democrats began challenging the truthfulness of several of the memos claims. Congressmen have stated the investigation began prior to the Steele dossier.

Congressional sources argued that the warrant would have been approved even without the Steele dossier. Democratic Congressman Mike Quigley stated that it is false that McCabe stated no warrant would have been issued without the Steele dossier.

Which lead to late night hosts disseminating the convoluted track the memo had taken:


As a result, much of the issue has become mired in the GOP and Democratic party contradicting each other on the honesty of certain points. This leaves the public to believe who they want on those contended points.


The Republican Reaction to the Nunes Memo:


Fox News has been a devoted advocate for the White House and all Trump stances. Fox News is also the leading conservative voice in mainstream media. When the Nunes memo was released on Friday, here was their front page:

Fox News front page 2.2.18

This shot is unedited. Fox’s graphics dept receives all credit for the creative flourish. (Fox News main page 2.2.18)

Fox introduces the memo by adopting the White House’s talking points. Before even clicking on the story, readers know that there are serious concerns about the intelligence community.

Also notice Fox immediately published an Op-Ed to help guide viewers opinions. The Op-Ed attacked the Mueller investigation.

By Sunday, the memo had been thoroughly criticized. Fox News backpedaled by scaling down coverage. At one point on Sunday, the memo and all related articles were dropped from their list of major stories. Take a look at the top news stories on Fox on Sunday afternoon:

Fox News trending Sunday afternoon 2.4.18

(Fox News trending stories on 2.4.18)

The top story was the main feature on the front page. Nunes was flailing. Fox was caught between burying the negative response to the memo or caving to the obligation to acknowledge it.

On Monday, Fox adopted a cartoon for its main image. This represents a new step in how Fox conveys news. The image is blatantly partisan and aimed at entertaining over informing readership.

Fox News front page 2.5.18

(Fox News main page 2.5.18)

Fox had decided to acknowledge the memo criticism from the intelligence community. They also frame it in the context of the intelligence community degrading itself and moving away from its traditional stoic place in society.

And what Fox and Trump say matters. Supporters of Trump and/or Fox will form their opinions based on their trust in Trump/Fox. Claiming the FBI is after Trump has shifted opinion, regardless of whether there is valid evidence for that claim or not.

Justified criticisms of Devin Nunes can be counteracted with tweets like this:

According to a HuffPost/YouGov poll, 74% of Trump supporters now believe that the FBI is biased against Trump. 59% of Trump supporters strongly oppose the FBI’s handling of the Russia investigation. By contrast, just 5% of Clinton voters believe the FBI is biased against Trump.

HuffPost Nunes memo poll


The divide is real and people feel strongly about whether the President is justifiably under investigation or not.


What can you do?

This piece should highlight how divided people are. Many news sites take it for granted that Mueller’s investigation is valid, that this is apparent to anybody looking at the timeline of events, and that his authority should not be questioned.

Yet those who depend solely on Fox news and Donald Trump would disagree with each of those presumptions. The viewpoint repeated on Fox is that Mueller is leading a witch hunt, the length of his investigation is evidence that he’s struggling to find damning evidence against Trump, and that his authority should be wrestled away.

1.) So the first thing you can do is broaden your news perspective. If you disagree with Fox, it is still worth checking in on once in awhile. The opinions repeated by their commentators have a habit of becoming the opinions of millions of conservatives in the country. (If you can’t stand to check the other side, you could keep checking The Decoder!)

2.) The second thing you can do is call your Senator and let them know whether you support the Mueller investigation or not. The Nunes memo lays the groundwork for Trump to fire Rod Rosenstein if he feels compelled. The Senate plays a key role because any Rosenstein replacement would have to be approved by a majority vote. With a 51-49 Republican-Democrat split in the Senate, every vote matters.

3.) If you are opposed to the Nunes memo, MoveOn has organized a petition to remove him from the House Intelligence Committee. This is unlikely to result in Nunes actually being removed. But signing the petition raises awareness that there are a lot of people who question his legitimacy. At this time, there are not counter-actions from the right.


And let us know other ways you have taken action on this issue!

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