April 2, 2017

Let’s Not Whitewash the Flynn Firing

On the whole, mainstream media seem to be doing a good job covering the Trump administration. (Coverage of the presidential campaign is another story, of course.) I am gratified that Trump or his surrogates are. with some frequency, accused of lying. Use of the actual words “lie“ or “lying” is becoming increasingly common. I have been disappointed on one front, however. Stories about General Michael Flynn often identify him as having been fired “for lying to the Vice President,“ or words to that effect. This is bad reporting that overlooks the uncertainty concerning Flynn’s dismissal.

Lt. Gen. Michael T. Flynn
Lt. Gen. Michael T. Flynn
Defense Intelligence Agency photograph
We don’t know the real reason Flynn was fired. We do know that the administration asserted that it was because he was untruthful in his dealings with Vice President Pence, who proceeded to make false public statements based on Flynn’s representations.

Acting attorney general Sally Q. Yates warned the White House weeks before the Flynn firing that the general could be blackmailed because he had discussed sanctions on Russia with the Russian ambassador, but he had publicly denied categorically having done so. The real question is not why Flynn was fired but why he was not fired after the Trump team was told that he was compromised. Only after Yates’s damaging information became public was Flynn dismissed. It is possible, though uncertain, that Pence knew the truth when he defended Flynn in a television interview.

In any case, it is far from established fact that Flynn was fired for lying to Pence. Media outlets know this and should report accordingly. When Flynn is identified in news reports, I want to hear locutions like “Flynn, who allegedly was fired for lying to Pence” or “Flynn, who was ostensibly fired for lying to Pence,” or “Flynn, who reputedly was fired for lying to Pence.” Perhaps it would be even better to say “Flynn, who was fired weeks after Sally Yates told the Trump administration that he had lied about his communications with the Russian ambassador.”

The public should not be allowed to forget that Flynn was likely sacked not because he lied but because he was caught lying. It is ironic that the administration has lied about Flynn’s lying. Unfortunately, the same personnel policy that ended Flynn’s government career is not being applied to his former boss.

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