If there were ever a time that the American people needed credible national journalism, it is now, during this awful coronavirus pandemic.

But for many reasons, whatever trust the people had in news from Washington has been broken over time.

Now tens of millions of Americans are out of work, tens of thousands have died, the people are overwhelmed by conflicting and dueling scientific models of the virus, tribal politics shapes coverage.

And Americans are so confused and afraid that many have been willing to accept suspension of the Bill of Rights.

If that isn’t chaos, and the foundation of chaos to come, what is?

Two stories out of Washington, the narratives shaped by the Washington Beltway media establishment, illustrate the break. They sit there as the coronavirus consumes the news cycle.

One is the incredible double standard in the treatment of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh and Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden over claims of sexual assault.

Publicly admitting you were wrong about something is painful indeed. I should know. Many of us admitted that we were wrong about Iraq and the supposed weapons of mass destruction. And many apologized.

The other story involves that amazing lack of national journalistic curiosity over the FBI’s crumbling perjury case against former Trump national security adviser Mike Flynn.

What Washington pundit or TV talking head really wants to publicly examine how they were manipulated by intelligence sources in a move to take down a president?

Just so there’s no mistake here, I am separating journalism into two distinct camps.

One is made up of local reporters and photographers, and other is the Washington Beltway crowd of national reporters, newspaper and TV pundits.

Local news reporters tell you what is going on in your cities, at your hospitals, on the ground, even as local politicians issue coronavirus edicts and glorify themselves with memes as benevolent autocrats.

Local reporters have become ill from the virus. They face layoffs and salary cutbacks in these uncertain times.

The Washington Beltway crowd, however, which works in large part as handmaidens to the national Democratic Party, is in a different universe altogether.

The double standard between Kavanaugh and Biden is painfully obvious. Both men were hit with claims of sexual assault.

But the Washington media and the Democratic Party pounced on Kavanaugh immediately, and joined in self-righteous fury to destroy him, running wild claims that he was leader of a cult of gang rapists, elevating weasels like the now-discredited Michael Avenatti — a convicted extortionist — to preen and pass judgment on Kavanaugh before cable news audiences.

And Biden? After the story dribbled out about former aide Tara Reade, Biden was not asked about her in several national interviews.

It took 19 days for it to be addressed by The New York Times. Now Kavanaugh’s most ravenous critics in media, politics and the #MeToo movement find themselves talking about “due process,” if they talk about the accusation against Biden at all.

Just Google the name of a pundit, add Kavanaugh and “sexual assault” and see for yourself.

The Flynn story is perhaps even more disturbing. Reporters tell themselves they’re curious, but this story has been met with an appalling lack of curiosity.

The FBI’s perjury case against Flynn is collapsing. It appears the feds used a perjury trap on Flynn, to get him out of the way, so he couldn’t stop a takedown of a president with that now-discredited Russia collusion probe.

“What is our goal?” one FBI official notes in the margins of recently released documents. “Truth/Admission or to get him to lie, so we can prosecute him or get him fired?”

Whether you loathe President Donald Trump or support him, and whether you support his policies on the courts, taxes and immigration while remaining justifiably queasy about the temperament of this most volatile and temperamental man, what happened to Flynn should frighten every American.

Eventually, I suppose much will be revealed. Justice Department criminal prosecutors are sifting through the actions of former FBI boss James Comey and others in the intelligence community.

And members of that Washington Beltway media crowd — particularly those who carried Comey’s water — now seem strangely disinterested.

You’d think journalists would be angry about being manipulated by sources in a rush to take a White House scalp.

Local reporters would burn such sources to the ground. But on the Washington Beltway, the coronavirus offers distance and cover. It won’t last.

What happened with Flynn is, of course, open to interpretation. The best place for it all to come out isn’t in news columns, or cable TV, but in federal court.

Perhaps it will, with indictments to follow.

This story needs a wide telling, but it’s not being widely told.

America is still wrestling with the virus. The economy is ruined. A depression looms, joblessness leads to drug and alcohol abuse, domestic battery, misery, fear and suicide.

That is a crisis. Your candidate not winning an election isn’t a crisis.

Now the people desperately require confidence in the information given them by journalists in Washington, information they’ll need to reorder their lives and maintain the republic and their rights.

Political tribalism and a lack of curiosity doesn’t help.

You don’t need a hospital X-ray to tell you what’s broken.

Those two stories, the one about Biden and Kavanaugh and the other about Mike Flynn, protrude from the skin like jagged bones, and painfully tell you what you need to know.

Listen to “The Chicago Way” podcast with John Kass and Jeff Carlin — at www.wgnradio.com/category/wgn-plus/thechicagoway.

jskass@chicagotribune.com

Twitter @John_Kass

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