Donald Trump fears and loathes Lawrence O’Donnell. And Lawrence revels in Trump’s fear and loathing. O’Donnell was the first major media commentator to just come out and call Trump a bald faced liar a full four years before he was elected president. O’Donnell is one of the many media figures that Trump has threatened to sue over the years for statements made on air. Of course he never followed through on his threat because he fears nothing more than the discovery process that comes along with executing a civil lawsuit. During discovery, a plaintiff has to answer questions under oath and on the record and there is no way in hell Donald Trump would ever subject himself to that horror again. If you need a visual aid, just look up his recorded deposition from the suit he filed against a reporter who wrote that Trump was not a billionaire as he had been claiming for years. It was brutal for him to be forced to either tell the truth or say he can’t remember over and over. So I repeat: Trump will NEVER bring a substantive lawsuit for libel or slander and put himself through that hell again.
Which is all the more reason I was disappointed to see Lawrence O’Donnell make a public apology and retraction of a story he ran on his MSNBC nightly broadcast about a reliable tip that he had received about Trump having Russian co-signers for his most recent Deutche Bank loans. I am not upset with Lawrence for making the apology and issuing the retraction, but I am royally pissed off at NBC for making him do it. It was the kind of gutless move that encourages a bully to keep bullying when he was on the verge of being vanquished and slinking away to crawling back into his hole.
There is no question that the story was inflammatory but what story about Donald Trump isn’t? How many inflammatory stories has he told in the last five years? I can think of a few big ones. Lawrence made the point repeatedly throughout the broadcast that the story was based on a single source and still needed to be vetted further “but if true, this story is devastating.”
Under normal circumstances, perhaps it would have been reckless for Lawrence to run the story on a single source- even if it is a reliable source. But these are not normal circumstances. The lying, conniving, hiding and obstruction of the Trump Administration is on a scale that we have never seen in American politics before. Richard Nixon never lied with the frequency and conviction of Donald Trump. Bill Clinton never lied with the reckless abandon of Donald Trump. And neither of those men ever obstructed justice with the brash daring of Donald Trump. Based on all of that, and considering the broader back-drop, former rules simply do not apply.
Lawrence O’Donnell might never be able to corroborate the story about Trump having Russian oligarchs co-signing for his Deutche Bank loans specifically because Trump has the entire weight of the Executive Branch fighting against the corroborating information coming out. Between his personal lawyers, the D.O.J., and the craven G.O.P. he has a descent chance at burying all of the most damning evidence until many years after he has died of a Big Mac attack. So it was the right thing for Lawrence to do to ring a bell for the public that can’t be un-rung. Because any informed and reasonable person can tell you that if Trump actually wanted to prove that Lawrence’s story was wrong, he could simply release the loan documents to the public. Perhaps even his tax returns.
The fact that he won’t do that is why it was a weak move for NBC to make Lawrence retract the story. He will NOT be proven wrong. He may not be proven right but in the era of Trump that standard is far to stringent for the media to be held to. They did not pick the fight but they had better understand that they are in one with the Trump Administration. Being called “fake news” and assailed as an “enemy of the people” means that all bets are off in dealing with this guy. The more they proceed as if these are normal times the worse the public is served. Having to hit the “reset” button after Trump gets out of office is nothing for major media outlets to fear. They need to embrace the reality that as the 4th estate it has a duty of self-preservation that allows them to take shots at Trump that they may never have taken at Bush 41, or W, or Regan or even Clinton.
The good news is my man Lawrence is going to be alright regardless. He’s been financially secure for a long time from those great West Wing residuals and its hard to feel too sorry for a guy who ever got a chance to squeeze the ever-immaculate and still amazing Tamryn Hall.
Even still, if he lost his platform for any reason whatsoever it would hurt him because the stakes are so high right now- although I believe it would hurt the public much more. We desperately need his brand of unapologetic truth telling when it comes to Trump- even if a corner is cut here or there to deliver that truth.