Opinion

Opinion: A Fake Senate Hearing on Fake News

What if the Intelligence Committee took up the president’s request

North Carolina Sen. Richard M. Burr, right, and Virginia Sen. Mark Warner lead the Senate Intelligence Committee, which President Donald Trump called on recently to look into “Fake News Networks.” (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Under Donald Trump’s interpretation of the Constitution, when the president tweets, the Senate must take action immediately.

So it was with Trump’s pointed suggestion last week, filled with the kind of oddball capitalization normally found in ransom notes: “Why Isn’t the Senate Intel Committee looking into the Fake News Networks in OUR country to see why so much of our news is just made up-FAKE!”

Taking a bit of artistic license (a lot harder to get than a gun permit), I have imagined what a Senate hearing built to the president’s specifications might sound like:

SEN. RICHARD M. BURR: I would like to welcome you to this unusual hearing of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence.

SEN. MARK WARNER: Point of order, Mr. Chairman. What jurisdiction does this committee have over freedom of the press?

BURR: To be honest, no jurisdiction. But I was afraid that if I told that to the president, he might get in a bad mood and do something rash with North Korea.

WARNER: Fine.

BURR: I am disappointed that the heads of the television networks have declined to participate on First Amendment grounds.

SEN. JIM RISCH: Even Fox News?

BURR: Yes, though the hosts of “Fox & Friends” have volunteered to testify about their concept of Fake News at a later date.

BURR: I would now like to welcome our first witness, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders.

SANDERS: I will have a brief opening statement and then take questions from the most obscure people in the room. Whoops. I forgot where I was for a moment.

BURR: Do you have a message for us from President Trump?

SANDERS: Yes, it should be illegal to criticize the president on a television show that the president himself is watching.

BURR: Would there be any exceptions to that proposed law?

SANDERS: Only if there was conclusive evidence that the president in question was born in Kenya.

WARNER: Are you familiar with the First Amendment?

SANDERS: Yes, it’s all about freedom of religion. And that means that nobody can be forced to bake cakes for gay weddings.

WARNER: What about freedom the press?

SANDERS: Oh, that. Doesn’t that just apply to newspapers that patriots like Benjamin Franklin printed at home back in the old days?

WARNER: Actually, it is a little more complicated than that.

BURR: I have one last question for the press secretary: Does the White House consider Steve Bannon, who until recently was a close adviser to the president, to be a reputable expert on Fake News?

SANDERS: President Trump regrets that Steve’s new opportunities in the private sector forced him to leave the White House staff. But the president appreciates his wise counsel on Fake News whenever Steve calls him on the secret cellphone number that Gen. Kelly doesn’t know about.

BURR: Our next witness is Steve Bannon, the executive chairman of Breitbart News.

BANNON: I just want to say that we are witnessing a conspiracy of vast dimensions linking the giant corporations that control the TV networks, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, who owns The Washington Post, and other sinister forces to bring down President Trump.

BURR: Is all criticism of President Trump, by your definition, Fake News?

BANNON: Strong criticism of the president is sometimes justified. Like when he falls under the sway of the globalists and threatens to break his campaign promises on immigration and trade.

WARNER: So who decides what’s fake and what’s real? Breitbart News?

BANNON: I think it is clear to the discerning reader when news has an agenda and when it doesn’t. There is a basic test of fairness.

BURR: You have said that Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and the Republican establishment are “trying to nullify the 2016 election.” So when Breitbart News writes about Sen. McConnell, does it have an agenda?

BANNON: Less of an agenda than CNN.

BURR: Unfortunately, we have to cut this short because Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has a very tight schedule. Sen. Risch will take the lead in questioning the secretary of State.

RISCH: Various so-called news organizations have claimed that you, Secretary Tillerson, called the president a “moron.” Is this the sort of language that you would ever use?

TILLERSON: I’m sure that I was misheard by whoever peddled this to the media. What I probably said was “We have to err more on the side of diplomacy.” You see, “more on” sounds almost like “moron.”

WARNER: Would the chairman please remind the secretary that he is under oath.

TILLERSON: Well, perhaps I expressed my policy frustrations in overly dramatic terms. Being in government, as I am learning, is far different than running the world’s greatest corporation, Exxon Mobil.

RISCH: President Trump has attacked as “Fake News” an NBC story claiming that you threatened to resign. He said, “Low news and reporting standards. No verification from me.” So, Secretary Tillerson, tell us if this story was indeed fake.

TILLERSON: As you know, the president welcomes vigorous policy disagreements. So it is possible, in the course of analyzing options surrounding the North Korean nuclear threat, I might have expressed a few intemperate words about my future career plans.

SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN: I have just one question for the secretary. Do you consider President Trump to be an honest man?

[Long silence]

FEINSTEIN: Secretary Tillerson?

TILLERSON: I invoke my rights under the Fifth Amendment not to answer that incriminating question.

BURR: Hearing adjourned.

Roll Call columnist Walter Shapiro is a veteran of Politics Daily, USA Today, Time, Newsweek and The Washington Post. Follow him on Twitter @MrWalterShapiro.

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