The Nunes Memo Will Soon Be a Harvard Business School Case Study

byllwill/Getty

You have to give Republicans credit: as political theater, the Nunes memo has been sensational. If Devin Nunes had just written his memo and released it, no one would have cared. Adam Schiff would have gone on TV to denounce it, and by the next day it would have been forgotten. But no. That’s not what happened. Here’s how the launch plan has marched forth:

  • Nunes writes memo.
  • But it’s based on classified info and “can’t be released.” Everybody loves secrets, so that gives the memo an extra cachet.
  • Nunes makes it available for reading, but only to members of Congress and only in a secure location. Ooh!
  • Lots of Republicans read it, so it generates lots of chatter—and a few carefully calibrated leaks so the press will write about it. The Washington press corps absolutely can’t resist a leak.
  • Needless to say, Fox News is giving the memo 24/7 coverage throughout the entire marketing rollout.
  • Trump starts tweeting about how the memo will blow the Russia investigation out of the water.
  • Nunes threatens to release the memo regardless of whether it’s officially declassified. This naturally provokes a partisan fight, and just as naturally that has to be covered. It’s news!
  • Adam Schiff is provoked into writing a dissenting memo.
  • Republicans vote to release the Nunes memo regardless of its sources.¹ This is the first time any intelligence committee has done this, so naturally it’s news.
  • The vote leaves the final decision on release up to President Trump. He has five days to decide, which means five more days of news.
  • Then we get the usual Trump show. Will he release it? Or won’t he? Has he tweeted about it? What did he tell that congressman, anyway? All the world wants to know.
  • The FBI chimes in. The memo is shoddy and wrong. News!

And that takes us up to today. Presumably Trump will release the memo, but if he doesn’t it hardly matters. Someone would just leak the whole thing to make sure it gets into the press. In fact, it might even be more newsworthy if Trump pretends to withhold the memo because it’s based on sensitive intelligence. That would add to the memo’s authority and whet the public’s appetite even more for the eventual leak.

All of this for a memo that’s a nothingburger. What’s more, I’ll bet everyone in the DC press corps knows it’s a nothingburger. They already know roughly what’s in the memo, and they also know that Nunes is a singularly untrustworthy actor. But there’s nothing they can do about it. They know they’re being worked, but they go along anyway. We are all lemmings.

¹But not the Schiff dissent, of course.

DOES IT FEEL LIKE POLITICS IS AT A BREAKING POINT?

Headshot of Editor in Chief of Mother Jones, Clara Jeffery

It sure feels that way to me, and here at Mother Jones, we’ve been thinking a lot about what journalism needs to do differently, and how we can have the biggest impact.

We kept coming back to one word: corruption. Democracy and the rule of law being undermined by those with wealth and power for their own gain. So we're launching an ambitious Mother Jones Corruption Project to do deep, time-intensive reporting on systemic corruption, and asking the MoJo community to help crowdfund it.

We aim to hire, build a team, and give them the time and space needed to understand how we got here and how we might get out. We want to dig into the forces and decisions that have allowed massive conflicts of interest, influence peddling, and win-at-all-costs politics to flourish.

It's unlike anything we've done, and we have seed funding to get started, but we're looking to raise $500,000 from readers by July when we'll be making key budgeting decisions—and the more resources we have by then, the deeper we can dig. If our plan sounds good to you, please help kickstart it with a tax-deductible donation today.

Thanks for reading—whether or not you can pitch in today, or ever, I'm glad you're with us.

Signed by Clara Jeffery

Clara Jeffery, Editor-in-Chief

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our newsletters

Subscribe and we'll send Mother Jones straight to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate

Share your feedback: We’re planning to launch a new version of the comments section. Help us test it.