Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Boots, Suits, and the Media

Depending on what media outlet you use to get your news these days, you may likely have come across the term "boots and suits."  If you are not someone who spent 36 years living within 60 miles of Washington, DC, the term may not be all that familiar to you -- at least not in its current context.

So let me help you, and perhaps explain yet another area where the media are failing those who rely upon it to understand what's going on.

The basic difference between "boots" and "suits" has to do with the construct of Federal agencies and departments, like the Department of State, the Federal Communications Commission, and the Agency for Seeing What Happens When Shrimp Are Put on a Treadmill.  The work that they do on a daily basis is, at least sometimes, valuable and more importantly, ongoing.

Since it is ongoing, you have the inherent battle between the need for things like continuity and institutional knowledge, and the need for the President, to whom all agencies report, to have them doing what his policy mandates that they do.  So the leadership in the agency is made up of what are called "political appointees", and they range from Cabinet secretaries down a couple levels to assistant secretaries, undersecretaries and deputy undersecretaries, the odd titles for people who run big parts of those agencies.

Those people change with the changes in administration.  What should happen, in a perfect world, is that those layers resign en masse on Inauguration Day and a whole new set of people, brought in by the President's team, take over at that point, in an interim status subject to Senate approval but already in their jobs, and the career people underneath those levels (e.g., career FBI agents), carry on their duties with new leadership.

But it's not a perfect world.  And I'll get to that.

What the system creates are these two levels -- the career people underneath, who do their jobs for many years and try to advance in the system, and the senior executives, who are political appointees and who should disappear on a change of administration.  The senior executives -- the "suits" -- apply the political layer and the desires of the president over top of what the career people then do.

Now, we are not denigrating the work of the "suits", who also often work long hours on behalf of the nation; nor are we overstating the contribution of the "boots", who, along with critical border security officers and researchers at NIH and CDC, include IRS auditors and those bureaucrats who do things like, you know, add regulations for their own sake.  But it is vital that we understand that the upper levels of management in every agency may have a very different goal from those below them.

And let us also point out at this moment that those "suits" don't resign en masse on Inauguration Day.  That's why Sally Yates, the Obama appointee who was an Assistant Attorney General, took over the Justice Department (when Loretta Lynch did indeed resign at the end of Obama's term), and stayed on as interim Attorney General, leaving Donald Trump to start his term as president having an Attorney General who was diametrically opposed to his policies!

So understanding all that, we return to the corruption at the FBI.  And the media.

The left and the media (but I repeat myself) have their talking points.  A big one before, during and now after the release of the House memo exposing the corrupt FISA application by "the FBI" (as distinct, in their minds, from the specific people like Comey, McCabe, Strzok and Page) has been that the House Intelligence Committee and President Trump are trying to "damage the FBI" and are at war "against the FBI").

This is where the media are at their own most corrupt.  By not pointing out that the FBI, like all Federal agencies, has a layer of political types imposed over the rank and file, they are claiming that the president is trying to smear "the FBI" to mean, by extension, the rank and file agents.  Which, of course, he is absolutely not doing.  He is pointing out that bad apples, even in the FBI, can put at risk the freedoms of innocent civilians.  Processes like the FISA warrant system are fragile in the hands of political suits, especially holdovers yet to be replaced in a new administration.

The media do not point that out, because they have their own agenda, and I want to mention this.  The long and storied history of the media of the USA includes a diligent desire to expose scandal.  Watergate?  "We have got to know everything" ... what did Nixon know and when did he know it.  Pentagon papers?  The public absolutely needs to know, right?

FBI leadership (the suits) uses a faked dossier to obtain a surveillance warrant on an American citizen, as an excuse to spy on the campaign of a major party candidate, with written and electronic evidence of that corruption?  Crickets.  When the media say anything, it is to claim that the FBI's reputation is being besmirched.

Boots are not suits.  But the media will not tell you that.

Copyright 2018 by Robert Sutton
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