The key narratives being used by the right-wing media to explain James Comey’s firing

Gone but not forgotten.
Gone but not forgotten.
Image: Reuters/Kevin Lamarque
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Caught off-guard by the strength of the backlash—even among some Republican senators—following FBI director James Comey’s firing, the White House took longer than usual to get their messaging out there.

While more liberal outlets have reacted with outrage and concern over what how this move may affect ongoing investigations into Russian meddling in the US election, journalists on the other side of the political spectrum are spinning the story differently. The conservative media narrative has mainly sought to downplay the controversial nature of Comey’s firing, while criticizing the liberal reaction as over-the-top or hypocritical.

Here are four different ways conservative outlets are spinning the breaking news:

Democrats opposing this are hypocrites

“DEMS DO 180 ON COMEY,” read Fox News’ top story on its website Wednesday morning. The piece juxtaposed past anti-Comey statements by top Democrats–many of whom believe a new probe into Hillary Clinton’s emails helped swing the vote in Trump’s favor—with their anti-Comey’s-firing reactions now. Neglected until the penultimate paragraph was any direct mention of the Russia investigation.

The Fox News commentariat side bar continues this messaging; the only talking head fully opposed to the firing is a “former DNC adviser.” The consensus is Comey’s firing was actually a badly needed move.

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Comey was incompetent and damaging the FBI

“COMEY ‘THREW REPUTATION OF THE FBI UNDER THE BUS,'” screams Breitbart’s top story, quoting former FBI assistant director. Kallstrom, who has called the Clintons a “crime family,” retreads most of the rationale given in the memorandum sacking Comey—that the former director stepped out of line when announcing the end of the Hillary Clinton investigation and shouldn’t have released derogatory information about the former secretary of state. Kallstrom also calls the Clinton investigation itself a “sham.” Breitbart continues this theme in a separate piece noting that Comey committed a “textbook example of what federal prosecutors and agents are taught not to do.”

The piece doesn’t address why Trump asked Comey to stay on after he took office, or why he decided to fire him right now.

Trump is cleaning up Washington—plus, he never liked Comey anyway

Notice the #draintheswamp hashtag at the end of that tweet? Breitbart ran with it: “Donald Trump Shakes Washington to Its Core by Firing Comey,” reads another headline. In this reading, Comey’s ouster was “the latest in a political outsider’s crusade against entrenched Washington.” Those complaining on both sides of the aisle are not concerned about the Russia investigation regardless of what the left-wing media says, argues Breitbart, but instead, are “the last dying breaths of an antiquated political class, the last refuge of the scoundrel that is Washington, DC, as we know it.” The piece continues: “They feel very afraid, and they should: Trump is on the march, he’s winning, and nobody in the swamp is safe.”

This narrative in particular was picking up traction among Trump fans on Twitter:

The Washington Times ran with a subtler version of this message, entitled, “Trump’s rocky relationship with Comey.” The piece pulled up some older Trump quotes, in which he said Clinton was “protected” by a “rigged system” after the FBI recommended she not be prosecuted over her use of a private email server.

The intent here seems to be to paint the FBI as corrupt or biased: The agency refused (as is its protocol) to publicly debunk stories about contacts between Russian officials and Trump staffers; deputy director Andrew McCabe’s wife received (paywall) Democratic campaign contributions when running for office in Virginia; the FBI saw “Golden Showers Dossier” author Christopher Steele as a credible source and at one point wanted to pay him to continue investigating Trump-Russia ties.

The examples collectively imply that Comey is part of a system rigged against the Republican party and its president. (Comey, it should be noted, served as deputy attorney general under Republican president George W. Bush.)

It’s not that big a deal anyway

This was the narrative the White House wanted, reportedly expecting that, given widespread anger among Democrats over Comey’s handling of the Clinton investigation, no one would be sad to see him gone. Politico reports that Trump officials were surprised when Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer told them, “you’re making a big mistake.”

Few have stuck with this narrative, given the bipartisan backlash. But the Washington Free Beacon is perhaps the most committed to this indifference. Its piece on Comey sat in the fifth slot on their website at time of writing, behind pieces reporting that George Soros is allegedly funding anti-Trump protests, unemployed Americans want Obamacare repealed, America is at risk of cyber attacks, and a study on “gender minority health” received a $44,000 government grant.

The Washington Free Beacon homepage, 12.25pm on May 10th
The Washington Free Beacon homepage, 12.25pm on May 10th