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Truth wins one battle in 2018

December 16, 2018

Few journalists will argue with the choice by Time magazine for Persons of the Year in 2018, but it’s a decision that few people outside the profession would have made. Yet Time wasn’t simply patting some colleagues on the back for a good career choice.

The people chosen were symbols of the increasing dangers that journalists face for reporting the truth and exposing corruption. In newsrooms, we call that “comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable.” Time rightly called these people “the guardians” of the public’s right to know. In fact, some of the journalists on the list died for this cause.

The posthumous individuals were Jamal Khashoggi, the Saudi dissident and Washington Post columnist who was murdered in a Saudi consulate in Turkey, and five members of the Capital Gazette in Maryland who were gunned down in their office in June.

The other three people on this list are still alive, but hardly safe Philippine journalist Maria Ressa and two Reuters reporters in Myanmar, Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, have been locked up by tyrants who don’t appreciate them rocking the boat in their countries.

Journalists have always faced threats like this, but never when a U.S. president mocked the concept of truth almost daily and routinely complains about “fake news,” which invariably means something that is quite legitimate but unflattering to him. That clearly had an impact on Time’s choice.

Speaking of Donald Trump, he was an obvious candidate for Person of the Year by virtue of his job. It’s the most important one in the world, and whoever sits in the office will influence the country, and the world, one way or another.

Trump was Time’s choice in 2016, and deservedly so. Almost every new president deserves this honor, but especially someone like Trump who was so, er, different from other politicians.

Trump didn’t get the nod this year but he has to be an early favorite for 2019. That is, unless the winner is special prosecutor Robert Mueller, for his curious connection with the same person.

Mueller could have also been the choice this year, even though he didn’t finish his investigation. He has already gotten convictions or guilty pleas from a growing list of Trump associates, and some truly big fish could be pulled in next. Mueller has clearly rattled Trump and dominated the news for much of the year.

In 2019, however, Mueller will close out his probe, and that’s where it gets interesting. If he indicts Trump or causes the House to begin impeachment proceedings, you could make a good case that he had a bigger impact on 2019 than anyone else. Mueller’s dogged professionalism and thoroughness cannot be denied, especially when Trump has done all he can to undermine him.

Yet paradoxically, if Trump isn’t charged next year with anything serious by Mueller, or if he survives impeachment in the Senate, he would look like the ultimate survivor. His supporters will argue that he withstood everything that Mueller and the Democrats threw at him, something that would be unprecedented in our history.

Everything hinges on the final report from Mueller: Will it prove the Trump campaign colluded with Russia … or just list a bunch of incidental contacts that never really amounted to anything? Will Trump’s sons and son-in-law be charged with crimes, or will they have enough separation between them and whatever happened?

Then, how will the Democratic House react to all this? Will it begin impeachment proceedings, as many members want? Or will Speaker Nancy Pelosi steer them away because conviction in the Senate is unlikely and Trump could strangely emerge stronger for 2020 and his re-election bid?

It’s all coming in ’19. It won’t be pretty either way, but let us all hope that no one ends up on that cover because they died in pursuit of a noble cause.

Thomas Taschinger, TTaschinger@BeaumontEnterprise.com, is the editorial page editor of The Beaumont Enterprise. Follow him on Twitter at @PoliticalTom

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