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Analysis | How the pro-Trump media covered the Comey trial

The Washington Post logo The Washington Post 9/06/2017

Former FBI director James B. Comey delivered some pretty damning testimony about President Trump in a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing Thursday. He accused Trump of lying and, though he offered no opinion on an obstruction-of-justice charge, made clear his belief that the president tried to derail an investigation of former national security adviser Michael Flynn.

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Yet those are not the key takeaways presented by some conservative news outlets, which have moved quickly to construct a parallel, pro-Trump universe in which other points related to Hillary Clinton or the media merit more attention.

On Thursday afternoon, the Drudge Report led with a banner that quoted Trump's outside counsel, Marc Kasowitz, who accused Comey of making “unauthorized disclosures” to the media. A headline at the top of the page similarly focused on Comey's account of directing a friend to leak a nonclassified memo to the New York Times.

The second headline on the page highlighted Comey's statement that during the 2016 presidential campaign, Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch asked him to refer to the Clinton email investigation as a “matter” rather than an “investigation.”

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Breitbart News played up the same elements of Comey's testimony and trumpeted a “media bellyflop,” referring to the absence of new evidence to show that Trump's campaign colluded with Russia to meddle in the election.

This was the relevant exchange between Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) and Comey:

COTTON: Do you believe Donald Trump colluded with Russia?

COMEY: That's a question I don't think I should answer in an open setting.

Hey, he didn't say yes.

© Provided by WP Company LLC d/b/a The Washington Post Infowars promoted the convoluted theory that Comey committed perjury when he testified that he “understood the president to be requesting that we drop any investigation of Flynn in connection with false statements about his conversations with the Russian ambassador in December.”

Comey had testified May 3 that he was never “told to stop something for a political reason.” The two statements are contradictory, according to Infowars. Therefore, the reasoning goes, Comey perjured himself.

In reality, the statements are not inconsistent. Comey reiterated Thursday that Trump never explicitly told him what to do. Comey said he interpreted Trump's words (“I hope you can let this go”) as “a direction.”

“I mean, this is the president of the United States with me, alone, saying, 'I hope' this,” Comey said. “I took it as — this is what he wants me to do.”

© Provided by WP Company LLC d/b/a The Washington Post On LifeZette — the site founded by conservative radio host Laura Ingraham, who was a candidate for White House press secretary — the lead story was about “fake news,” a reference to Comey's rebuttal of a February New York Times report.

Comey did say that “in the main, it was not true.” It is worth noting, however, that he also corroborated other Times reports by saying that Trump sought a loyalty pledge and that Comey asked Attorney General Jeff Sessions not to leave him alone with the president.

The fairest assessment of Times reporting, based on Comey's testimony, is that it is imperfect but generally reliable. That was certainly not conveyed by LifeZette, however.

© Provided by WP Company LLC d/b/a The Washington Post Comey gave the conservative media plenty to work with. Relatively minor points in his testimony easily can be inflated to marquee status by outlets inclined to shield the president from the former FBI director's central criticisms.

For voters who prefer to live in a world where Thursday's hearing was a win for Trump, there is no shortage of reading material.

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