Not everything is corrupt, and everybody doesn’t do it

Todd Blanche, who’s stuck with the hapless task of defending former President Trump in criminal court, mouthed something in his opening statement that pissed me off. I wasn’t sure I’d heard him correctly, so I checked the transcript and there it was.

Blanche tried to tell the jurors that the criminal defendant’s deal with the National Enquirer was normal journalism practice. He contended that when shlock tabloid bigwig David Pecker boosted Trump’s 2016 campaign by burying stories damaging to Trump and concocting blatant lies about Trump’s opponents, that was all journalistic business as usual.

I beg to differ with Blanche.

The National Enquirer’s “sort of thing” – paying people off to kill stories, acting as a propaganda organ for one candidate in ways that would do Pravda proud, spending corporate money to aid that favored candidate (essentially free advertising) in violation of federal campaign finance laws – is not something that “happens regularly” in American journalism. If ever.

Granted, there are more important developments in play right now. The U.S. Supreme Court conducted oral arguments on Trump’s preposterous claim that he deserves “immunity” for any and all criminal acts, and an Arizona grand jury indicted top Trump hacks (including Mark Meadows and Rudy Giuliani) in a MAGA fake-elector scheme to overthrow President Biden’s Arizona victory…yet here I am, incensed by Blanche’s smear of the profession I hold dear.

But Blanche was taking a page from the standard MAGA playbook: everyone and everything in every institution is corrupt. When the courts indict Trump, it somehow means that the courts are corrupt. When voters reject Trump that means the electoral process is corrupt. Whenever Trump is accused of doing stuff that’s corrupt, it’s somehow spun as no big deal because supposedly “everybody does it.”

And when the National Enquirer is caught red-handed operating as a MAGA mud-slinger that’s supposedly no big deal either, because everybody does it.

Team Trump’s desperate bid to drag us all down to his lowlife level is a smear on everything that’s good about America. Here’s a wild and crazy observation: Our institutions are not all corrupt. Our fellow citizens are not all corrupt. And real journalism is not on a par with the National Enquirer.

Mainstream media outlets do not pay for stories they seek to run, much less pay for stories they might to kill. Mainstream outlets do not spend money to aid candidates in violation of federal law; in a deal with the feds in 2018, the Enquirer’s parent company, AMI, acknowledged “that expenditures by corporations, made for purposes of influencing an election and in coordination with or at the request of a candidate or campaign, are unlawful.”

During my decades at The Philadelphia Inquirer, we had to adhere to strict ethics guidelines. We had to buy our own meals because it was verboten to even let a source pay for us. We couldn’t sign any partisan petition, much less work on the sly for any candidate. And even if we loathed a candidate in our worst moments, we would never have typed up nonsense (with an OK from the editors!) linking Ted Cruz’s dad to the JFK assassination.

The tragedy, of course, is that tens of millions of Americans are primed to think the worst about this country, stoked anew every day by Trump and the lawyers tasked with saving his ass. It is incumbent on those of us who love our democratic institutions despite their flaws to save America seven months hence. I have every expectation that a free and independent press will do its part.

Dick Polman is a veteran national political columnist based in Philadelphia He writes at Email him at