Maybe it is his aw-shucks demeanor (“Lordy, I hope there are tapes”).
Maybe it is his social media chops (like dropping “tbh,” text slang for “to be honest” into a trash-talking tweet about how his jump shot is superior to Barack Obama’s).
Or maybe it is that he is a target of President Donald Trump, whose disdain for mainstream journalists is manifest.
Whatever the reason, James Comey is about to be the focus of a full-on media swoonfest as the fired FBI director embarks on a 10-city tour to promote his memoir, “A Higher Loyalty: Truth, Lies and Leadership” which publishes April 17.
You have not seen anything like the coming overkill since the mainstream press discovered “Girls” star Lena Dunham. It is going to be embarrassing, if you happen to think media coverage should include a healthy dose of critical distance.
“April is officially Comey month,” CNN’s Manu Raju observed. That is probably an understatement.
Tickets with a face price of $95 are going for $850 on StubHub for a Manhattan town hall featuring Comey, according to The Hill. Televised events including a “Late Show With Stephen Colbert” appearance on CBS, a chat with ABC’s “The View,” a CNN town hall, interviews with Fox News and MSNBC and much more. Not to mention the live events.
“Comey is the most skilled opportunist ever,” wrote Glenn Greenwald, the Intercept co-founder who frequently points out the untoward love that is being offered in the Trump era to “deep state” figures who were once viewed with great skepticism.
Greenwald notes the irony that the former FBI director is “about to get very rich by selling an anti-Trump book even though, according to Nate Silver, Comey is the person most responsible for Trump’s win.”
Comey’s revelation that the FBI was reopening an investigation into Hillary Clinton’s email practices dealt a blow to her campaign just weeks before the 2016 election. It was a punishing development, made much more potent when the news organizations treated it like the Second Coming. (The statistics guru Silver said the announcement and the media coverage had a significant negative effect on Clinton’s campaign.)
Granted, there is plenty of real news value in what Comey has to say — especially since Trump’s firing him led to the appointment of Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller III. Those were two of the most notable news developments of last year.
So there are valid reasons to report on Comey. There is clearly huge interest in the book, which has been for weeks a No. 1 Amazon bestseller on preorders alone.
“In the public’s mind, this bears on the legitimacy of the special counsel,” said David Eisenhower, the University of Pennsylvania professor and presidential historian, who watched his father-in-law, Richard Nixon, surrender his presidency to the Watergate scandal 44 years ago.
“Comey is a hero or a knave depending on your perspective,” Eisenhower told me. And because so many citizens believe something went wrong with the 2016 election, the book represents “a prelude to a renewed test of that election at the ballot box,” both in 2018 and in 2020.
“You have a vote that doesn’t satisfy everyone as being legitimate, so the emotions course on.”
The conflict-addicted media love a high-profile fight, and Comey versus Trump continues to be a classic steel cage match.
That is all fine, as long as some critical distance is brought to bear.
That may happen in some venues and from some serious interviewers. Few will be able to fully withstand Comey’s remarkable ability to attract the spotlight and prance prettily within its glow.
Trump — an epic attention-seeker himself — has called Comey a “showboat,” identifying an odd quality in a federal law-enforcement type.
He is not wrong: Comey’s history features dramatic, biopic-ready moments, like the 2004 episode when he rushed to the hospital bedside of U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft to fend off White House pressure to reauthorize expiring warrantless-wiretapping permission.
Or the auto-looped scene on Jan. 22, 2016, when Comey crossed the Blue Room to shake hands with the new president, simultaneously trying to seem respectful and avoid anything more friendly than an arms-length handshake.
It is an irresistible story, all right, and suggestions for across-the-board restraint and skepticism are probably pointless.
Perhaps it is best to yield to the inevitable, pop some corn and watch the show.
Welcome to Comey month.
Margaret Sullivan is The Washington Post’s media columnist. Previously, she was The New York Times public editor, and the chief editor of The Buffalo News, her hometown paper.
Follow BDN Editorial & Opinion on Facebook for the latest opinions on the issues of the day in Maine.