Opinion | Book: CBS News contributor Mick Mulvaney may not have believed his own writing

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Now that CBS News is paying former acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney to provide on-air commentary, here’s a question its anchors could pose to him: Do you believe the things you write?

That inquiry arises from new revelations in a forthcoming book — “This Will Not Pass: Trump, Biden, and the Battle for America’s Future” — from New York Times reporters Jonathan Martin and Alexander Burns. The authors write that during President Donald Trump’s “final push” in his 2020 reelection campaign, Mulvaney “let his public persona as a proud loyalist slip a bit in a conversation with the head of an influential Washington business lobby.”

“If Trump loses,” Mulvaney told Josh Bolten, chief of the Business Roundtable, “I’m not sure he’ll leave office willingly.”

That, anyway, was his private sentiment.

His public sentiment was shared in the Wall Street Journal under the headline, “If He Loses, Trump Will Concede Gracefully.” The Mulvaney piece landed four days after Election Day and around the time that major news networks called the race for Democratic nominee Joe Biden. It delivers an elbow to those who’d asked Mulvaney if Trump would partake in a peaceful transfer of power: “Most of the inquirers are the same people who still don’t understand why nearly half the country voted for Mr. Trump. They still wonder if he somehow cheated his way into office. They still think he should’ve been impeached, believe the polls, and consider the Washington Post, New York Times and CNN reliable sources,” writes Mulvaney.

Once the winner is determined, Mulvaney forecast, “I have every expectation that Mr. Trump will be, act and speak like a great president should.”

There was a blinkering element to Mulvaney’s treatment. In condescending to people wondering about the president’s commitment to democracy, he left out the key fact that Trump had been prepping for a coup fueled by fraud claims. As Glenn Kessler and Salvador Rizzo wrote in The Post, Trump made “more than 150 claims concerning fraudulent ballots or the alleged dangers of mail-in voting” from April 2020 through early November 2020.

Here is what Trump said in a news conference early in the morning after Election Day: “Millions and millions of people voted for us tonight, and a very sad group of people is trying to disenfranchise that group of people, and we won’t stand for it.” That was false.

The point here is deception mixed with a touch of depravity. Mulvaney criticized people’s concerns about democracy as naive, even though Mulvaney himself was among those who carried those same concerns, as Martin and Burns report.

Editors at op-ed sections across the country take precautions on various fronts to ensure the integrity of their output. They check facts; they check logic; they check context. A more difficult variable to check, however, is whether the author of a given piece even believes the words they put under their byline. (A comment request to the Wall Street Journal is pending.)

The issue is even more pressing for CBS News, which announced Mulvaney’s hiring last month to considerable angst among its journalists, as The Post’s Jeremy Barr reported. “If you look at some of the people that we’ve been hiring on a contributor basis, being able to make sure that we are getting access to both sides of the aisle is a priority because we know the Republicans are going to take over, most likely, in the midterms,” CBS News co-president Neeraj Khemlani told colleagues in a recording obtained by Barr. “A lot of the people that we’re bringing in are helping us in terms of access to that side of the equation.”

“Access,” as it so often does, appears to be taking a bite out of credibility. We’ve asked CBS News whether it can be sure that Mulvaney’s commentary represents his own thoughts. We’ll update this post with any response.

As time wears on, we learn more and more about the Trump White House and the actions of its principals. Each new revelation — frequently heavy on lying and depravity — threatens to embarrass any organization that has hired Trump appointees. Sweat it out, CBS News.

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