Why I Changed My Mind about Nunberg

Yesterday morning, I watched the entire half-hour video of Sam Nunberg’s interview with Erin Burnett on live television, which may have been a questionable use of my time.

However, I learned a lot — about the effects of being honest and unscripted on live television.
At first, it seemed like totally self-defeating, out of control blather – Nunberg’s repeated assertion that he wasn’t going to sit for 80 hours had me in stitches. He’s going to sit for however many hours they want him to sit for — thinking he was above the legal system, I thought, was really ignorant.

However, in the aftermath, Nunberg clarified to reporters later today that he would spend a couple of days in jail just to sweat everybody, and then produce the material that he’s been asked for.

The more I thought about it, the more Nunberg’s outrage that took over the media cycle resembled my own rant later in the morning to a rep from the extended warranty company that robocalls me every other day — a fierce, sometimes profane protection of one’s productive capabilities and resentment for intrusions that seem labor-intensive and unfair.

“I have work to do,” Nunberg kept saying. “I’m not going to sit for 80 hours.” I feel your pain, fella.
When he talked about the labor-intensive process of going through introducing his past e-mails to the Mueller investigation, he was right about the labor-intensive part of it.

Maybe I’ll just give them my password,” Nunberg said at one point, echoing, perhaps, legions of those audited by the IRS in the past who came up with this kind of passive acquiescence that puts the labor burden on someone else. You want my records? Go get them.

I’ve come to a different perspective about a lot of the rest of it, too.

My first thought on Nunberg admitting blatantly that Donald Trump “probably knew” about the Trump Tower meeting Russians and his assertion that Trump “probably did something” also seemed reckless, erratic and self-defeating. Isn’t Trump going to hit him back? I thought.

In the light of day, though, it seems like maybe he’ll get away with it, and maybe it wasn’t such a bad call after all.

Think about all of these shady personalities who are getting targeted by the federal investigation. One of the commonalities between them is that they’re not talking. Manafort or Kushner or any of those guys wouldn’t come out and start blabbing on live TV about what they think about Donald Trump – and maybe if they did, we would respect them a little more.

They wouldn’t do that partly because any continued defense against the special product prosecutor hinges on taking the fifth in a lot of very specific ways. Of course Trump himself is all about blurting, but even he has some limits and some filters that work in the sense of self-preservation to keep him from spilling his own beans in ways that reporters and law enforcement would jump on.

As I continued to think about what Nunberg read into the public record today, I started seeing the spate of news articles coming out around this problematic daily news cycle — calling Nunberg things like bizarre and erratic and disturbed.

I even saw some journalists politely wringing their hands about the airing of Nunberg’s statements — questions around whether or not he was being exploited or whether there is a sense of decorum that should exist in the press.

This seems particularly disingenuous to me and furthers my interest in promoting the kind of transparency that Nunberg brought to the table.

No, there shouldn’t be decorum, and there shouldn’t be any kind of curtailing of this kind of public testimony. If a person is willing to say those things on the record — you should let them — actually, that’s part of your responsibility to let them, to get those words out there – because that’s really what’s up, not the whitewashed spin coming from White House press flacks. Why do you think everybody read Wolff’s book?

Another thing that the Nunberg case brought to mind is how damnably reticent our print and broadcast media are about reporting anything that’s sensational at all. So much of our news is rigidly curated — drained of all cadence and color, scripted to a T. A quote that makes somebody look bad will be pulled out — because it’s bad for business. Acrimonious exchanges are edited in the interest of not inflaming the readership.

Meanwhile, the civic fabric of our country is in flames. Everybody’s messing with everybody else, and chaos is the order of the day. But you won’t really get that from TV, and you definitely will not get it from most local newspapers. Oh, you’ll get headlines with a two second sound bite – but you won’t get the kinds of backbiting, huckstering and all-out melee that are the hallmark of this administration. They’re usually behind the curtain.

Maybe Nunberg, the political trickster, was onto something. He just doesn’t want to hurt his friend Roger who, as he points out, he’s been through a lot with. He doesn’t feel like being bothered with a bullshit subpoena. He decided to put it all out there – even though it makes him look kind of like a moron. In the jaded halls of Washington, there are worse ways to go.

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