By the time former FBI Director James Comey sat down for an interview with MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow on Thursday night, his jaw had distinct traces of stubble — the 5 o’clock shadow of a man who had put in a more strenuous day than he’d bargained for. He has reached a crescendo in his book tour to promote A Higher Loyalty: Truth, Lies, and Leadership, his my-side-of-the-story about how he got fired by President Trump and why he prefers to drink wine from paper cups. Earlier in the day, Comey was buffeted by a barrage of rapid jabs from CNN’s Jake Tapper, who peppered him with queries in the manner of someone who had twice as many questions as time to ask them. But it was impossible to overprepare, as Comey’s TV appearances have largely consisted of his saying, “Yes,” “No,” and “I really can’t answer that”: It leaves a lot of extra time for more questions. On The Late Show with Stephen Colbert and The View, Comey was 6 feet 8 inches of stiff. As a talk-show guest, Martin Short he is not.
Everybody wants a piece of Comey. Democrats think he cost Hillary Clinton the presidency. Republicans think he worked assiduously against Trump. Every night, Fox News in the persons of Sean Hannity and Tucker Carlson berate him as a “leaker” and a “liar,” and in case the president didn’t hear those jeers, the three-stooge Fox & Friends repeats the primetime insults the following morning. On CNN, anchors like Tapper, Anderson Cooper, and Wolf “the Drone That Speaks” Blitzer set up rows of chairs for their squads of paid opinionators to yell back and forth about Comey’s revelations and his flaws. On MSNBC, Maddow frowns and sighs with profound dismay that we’ve arrived at a time in America in which a former head of the FBI is treated like a convicted criminal by both pop culture and the president of the United States.
On The View on Wednesday, I don’t know which Comey found more discomfiting: Meghan McCain substituting sneers for questions, or Joy Behar cooing sweet nothings in his ear. By Thursday night, Comey seemed to have barely recovered from his grilling by Tapper when, around 8 p.m., news broke that the Justice Department, after nonstop pestering by House Republicans, had released Comey’s memos regarding his failed mind-meld with President Trump. Maddow dealt with this breaking news in real time, reading Comey memos that had just been handed to her by her staff, while the author sat there looking miserable, clearly wondering when she was going to hold up his damn book and give it a nice fat plug.
I know, I know: How much sympathy can anyone muster for a man who’s going to make a ton of money from this book that, to judge from all the interviewers’ questions, really doesn’t contain much that’s interesting or revelatory? Nevertheless, a piece of my heart goes out to Comey. He wants to talk about “truth, lies, and leadership,” and most of the time he’s just forced to say the phrase “pee tape” over and over again. More information keeps getting released that supports what he’s said about Trump, even as that information gets twisted by Comey’s enemies on the right to convince its audience — including Trump — that this information means exactly the opposite of what it plainly means.
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