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Reaction Media Review Column 26: “The Comey Rule” and “Political Thinking”

This article first appeared on Response.

The Comey Rule, Sky Atlantic

Jim Comey was the director of the FBI when Donald Trump came to power. In fact, some say that without Comey, Trump may never have won the election. He ordered the investigation of Hillary Clinton’s private emails to be resumed shortly before the election and then exonerated after the election. Clinton himself blames Comey for her defeat. But there are few people in this world who are less grateful than Donald Trump, and it wasn’t long before he gave up Comey’s services. Comey was said to have been released while on a trip to Los Angeles.

This Sky Atlantic drama is certainly entertaining. Fictional scenes, presumably based on reality, are interspersed with real news material, but the weakness of this type of film is that the viewer often wonders what is true and what is not – which conversations actually took place and which ones did for “dramatic effect”. Given that The Comey Rule is based on Comey’s book ‘A Higher Loyalty’, one might think that the drama followed the book’s narrative pretty closely. But the longer I saw it, the less I was sure that I could believe most of it.

Unlike most of his predecessors, Comey didn’t hesitate to take the limelight. His close colleagues were uncomfortable with it, and there were many scenes in the first episode where many FBI staff were in a constant state of tutoring. Jeff Daniels, best known to UK viewers for starring in The Newsroom, captures Comey’s undoubtedly narcissistic and ego-driven nature very well. It portrays a man who tries to do the right thing but is constantly in touch with his own, sometimes denied, sense of self-promotion.

One scene I’d bet it never happened was when senior intelligence officials explained to then-President Barack Obama (played by an actor who was absolutely incredible as America’s 45th President) that Russia wanted Donald Trump wins to undermine NATO. In order for the US to end the Iranian nuclear deal, it is paving a path for Turkey to start a war with the Kurds, allow drilling in the Arctic, and start a trade war with China. Either these people were modern nostradamus or it was just an afterthought.

I admit that I am completely dependent on such programs, even though I recognize their inherent weaknesses. The problem is that many people consider the dramatic version of the story to be the gospel. One can only hope that they will use the show as inspiration to read more about the subject at hand. As I said, one can only hope …

Political Thought Podcast with Nick Robinson, BBC Sounds

This is another podcast that shows the value of long term interviews. In fact, it’s just a weakness that it’s still too short. Most episodes last around minutes, and while it’s often a good thing to make the listener ask for more, it would certainly be easy to let them play for up to an hour. Fortunately, like the podcast, Radio 4 is now broadcasting shortened versions of the interviews in a daytime slot. I understand why they do this because they are very good and maybe just to encourage more people to go to BBC Sounds and listen to the full interview.

Not only does Nick Robinson get the big names, he also knows how to talk – a chinwag. This is not an interrogation as he often does in the Today program. This format allows him to get things out of his guests and he does it brilliantly. He clearly enjoys the freedom the format gives him and I suspect his guests enjoy the experience too. If you scroll down the episode list, you get the impression that there is no one left for him to interview. And then another corker shows up. For the past few weeks he has interviewed Sian Berry, Simon Covenay, George Eustice, Anneliese Dodds and Douglas Ross. You see a side of politicians that is often hidden in the more traditional on-air interview format. Long may this podcast prosper.

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