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Lessons learned in Washington, D.C.

March 18, 2021

By van der Veen, Hartshorn, Levin & Lindheim

While serving as impeachment counsel to former President Donald J. Trump, I gave a number of interviews to media outlets across the country, including many prominent national publications that drive the news cycle. I was initially surprised how often the interviews followed the same format. The reporters had a preconceived narrative they wanted to write. The interviews focused through a negative lens on so-called “conflict” within our legal team. They knew what they wanted their articles to say before talking to me, but needed to be able to say they sourced me. In each interview, the reporter ignored most everything I said and told a different narrative. Time and again, I was disappointed. After the first few interviews, I stopped giving them.

Trial lawyers will tell you every trial ebbs and flows and has twists and turns. Every single one. The impeachment trial was no different. Each lawyer on our team worked hard, worked together and respected one another. We bonded well as a team. There was so much ground to cover and so little time to cover it, our instincts drove cooperation. We assigned small teams to cover different areas of the law. They worked on their presentations and then came together again to collaborate as a whole. The lawyers and legal professionals that made up our team did an outstanding job and should be commended for the seriousness of purpose with which they defended our client and our Constitution.

Standing on the floor of the United States Senate, defending our Constitution, was an honor and privilege few lawyers will ever have—and it was a blast. I could write thousands of words about the team or about the lack of due process in the trial or why the First Amendment must apply to all or about the House Managers’ case presentation, but I won’t now because while I have your ear, I need to write what I learned.

Washington is broken. The two sides are so far apart and are filled with such hate and division that they can’t govern effectively. I learned that a major force behind the division is the media. I was astounded to see just how much the actions, decisions and public comments from our elected representatives are dictated by news cycles which now are measured in minutes. Not just the regular news cycles of television, radio and newspaper, but of social media; “trending topics” control what is said and when. The news media has enormous power and they know it.

The power is abused. Cable and network news, the print media and Big Tech running social media have predetermined agendas. They set the narrative. They feed on and create division and conflict. It is their daily assumed posture and it is their only content. They decide—control—what information is disseminated and what is buried.

Left and right leaning media each control the content of information they want us to take in—to the exclusion of an accurate 360-degree perspective. The result is that politicians on the left and politicians on the right each have a disinformed and misinformed constituency. Their constituents get bombarded with biased information. So that without complete information, constituents cannot understand the need for their representatives to move a little bit closer to the middle, to accomplish goals of shared national interest.

The media conducts its own cancel culture. For several days after the trial, I was asked to appear on Sean Hannity’s radio and television programs, a few other right-leaning programs and a local CBS affiliate’s news broadcast. I offered to go on the left-leaning shows anchored by Anderson Cooper, Chris Cuomo and Rachel Maddow (the shows I watched) intending to discuss the trial, the politicians and the role of the media. They declined my offer. They don’t want to hear what I have to say. More troubling, they don’t want their viewers to take in my firsthand information. Cancel culture.

We are in a scary place. The media must conduct an audit of its current practices when set against the principles of journalistic integrity. Self-reflection is not optional. The media must return to an even balance so that our nation can find a better balance; a better kind of dialogue.

For Washington to begin to repair its broken system and once again govern responsibly, the left and the right need to cool the rhetoric and move a little bit closer to the middle. Each one. Equally. These times require small steps toward intelligent responsible compromise. They must do this to address and solve our shared national priorities, short-term and long: the pandemic, social, racial and economic equality, infrastructure, the economy or education. Pick one.

Although I enjoyed the professional challenge of successfully defending the fourth presidential impeachment in this country’s history, I left Washington, D.C. worried for our Constitution and our country. Now is the time when citizens must stand up and unite and insist on better from our politicians and the media.

Michael T. van der Veen, Citizen


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