Once upon a time in a previous century, I was invited to watch a widely banned movie, "I Am Curious (Yellow)," in company with a number of FBI agents and officials to see just how naughty it was. I had written about censorship and whether the movie was over the line of decency. The U.S. Supreme Court would eventually decide that it wasn't. There were mildly graphic sex scenes, nothing like the R-rated movies of today but enough to make me uncomfortable watching with clean-cut G-men with neatly combed hair, buttoned up jackets and neutral ties. They weren't comfortable either, watching it with a woman present.
I tried to look straight at the screen, but when my eyes wandered, I saw frowns of embarrassment around me. Times have obviously moved on, but the discomfort I saw must be what many agents felt listening to the excerpts from former FBI Director James Comey's book, "A Higher Loyalty," especially when their ex-boss said there might be some truth, though no evidence, in the salacious details. The social media shorthand described it as the "pee tape."
For those who missed the publication of Christopher Steele's almost unanimously discounted dossier, funded by the Hillary Clinton campaign, it purports to offer details of Russian hookers relieving themselves on a bed in the presidential suite of a Moscow hotel where Michele Obama and former President Barack Obama had once put their heads, and Donald Trump, too, before he was president.
"I don't know whether the current president of the United States was with prostitutes peeing on each other in Moscow in 2013," Comey told George Stephanopolous of ABC News. "It's possible," he said with cool calculation, "but I don't know." What Comey did know, however, is when he told President Trump about the alleged tape, he didn't tell him how the details were compiled and paid for by the Clinton campaign. That didn't fit with his "goal," he said.
The "pee tape" is old news now, of course, but recalling it sensationalizes and vulgarizes the coverage of Comey's book tour. Prurient details sell books, the less socially redeeming value the better. Modern technology invites emotional reactions from the straightest of readers, viewers and witnesses. Current and former agents have gone public with their anger and frustration at Comey's self-serving display of fake piety and self-righteousness, his obvious pleasure of being a celebrity for 15 minutes.
Some of the agents defended their old boss when the president fired him, but their taste for defense has vanished.
Several agents have become sources for The Daily Beast, hardly a player in Clinton's famous "vast right-wing conspiracy," and speak with scorn and irritation at how sanguine Comey looks on TV, "cashing in" on what one of them calls "the biggest mistake in history. His mistake."
They employ a number of negative emojis, the little icons posted on the internet to express emotions when words won't do. The familiar images include a thumbs-down, a frowning face, the middle finger, poop and lots of green vomiting faces. "Hoover is spinning in his grave," said one former FBI official who remembers J. Edgar Hoover, the first director of the FBI, famous for his stern leadership. "Making money from total failure."
Ron Hosko, a former assistant director of the FBI, strongly criticizes the former boss in behalf of the faithful men and women of the FBI who aren't the least interested in book sales or Jim Comey's ego, but are vulnerable to the messages he now sends to the public with every television appearance and every newspaper interview. "What is the potential harm on the men and women who work in that building and across our country trying to keep us safe?" he asks on Laura Ingraham's Fox News program, barely controlling his fury.
Terry Turchie, former FBI deputy assistant director for counterterrorism, is particularly offended by Comey's defense of his leaking as something "appropriate." Not so, he says. It was "entirely inappropriate," demeaning the office of the director.
The FBI does not leak. Comey is proud of his leak, saying he did it for the good of the country. But he tried to keep his name a secret when he gave the leak to a friend, a law professor at Columbia University. Hiding was not appropriate either, but it was convenient.
These embarrassing confessions of impropriety enable the president's defenders to be credible and unrelenting in calling Comey a liar, a leaker and a slimeball. That's before they get mean about it.
The president and the sacked FBI director continue to wrestle in the mud with words, and one former FBI agent comes up with the perfect emoji to capture the sordid state of affairs: a bright red SOS. Others prefer emoji faces gushing with tears. Sad.