Let’s talk about anonymous leakers, about their frequent dishonor and dishonesty, sometimes their criminality, and about the dangers of news outlets relying on them too extensively and sometimes needing to shut up.
We’ve seen a lot of it lately, this business of someone inside the government secretly sharing information with the press. The latest classified documents leaked on Wednesday allegedly reveal that U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions omitted mentioning additional contacts with the Russian ambassador at his conformation hearing or on required forms.
But by far the victim of these leaks has mainly been President Donald Trump. His White House staff is ratting on his stumbles and bumbles, and intelligence agency operatives have illegally been sharing classified information about him, all the better to cripple this presidency and maybe even the nation.
As Trump himself has said, we’ve never seen anything quite like this, at least not in the modern era, and a recent Harvard study of a number of major news outlets shows how a barrage of downright hostile stories far surpasses anything seen in other recent presidencies. Whatever the issue, Trump is cast as wrong and stupid and cruel, and, yes, he truly can be a juvenile buffoon. Still, it’s easy enough for anyone who has followed the news in recent years to think that, well, on this or that, Obama did pretty much the same thing and mostly got patted on the back.
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Leaks have long been with us, coming about sometimes as an act of conscience, maybe a means of testing the waters on an idea and, not infrequently, a means of securing politically advantageous publicity. One aim is simply to do somebody in by way of subterfuge, and the duty of reporters is to triple-check what they’ve been told and ask themselves in all honesty what they would do with the material if it was about a politician they liked a whole lot better.
Sometimes they need to say hold it, this information is classified, it may not be that important for the public to know it, the person who handed it over committed a felony and it just might do harm to national security. News outlets will sometimes check with the government before broadcasting the sensational stuff and will sometimes ignore what the government says, the biggest threat being that the reporter could spend some time in jail for not revealing the source.
Yes, it is true that news would be greatly diminished with no anonymous sources at all and that some whistleblowers do great good, especially when they identify themselves. But while people still form many of their views based on the news, only 32 percent have told Gallup pollsters that they trust news media, and disrespect for some anonymous leakers could be one reason.
It is also maybe why a recent Oliver Stone movie lost money. Stone is a far-left movie producer whose latest film, “Snowden,” treats Edward Snowden as a hero for his stealing classified documents from the National Security Agency, possibly enabling our enemies do great harm through media-supplied knowledge. He could have legally taken them to Congress for examination.
Let’s end with former CIA Director John Brennan, who said at a House intelligence committee hearing Tuesday that recent leaks about what Trump said at a meeting with Russian officials were “very damaging” and “appalling” and “need to be tracked down.” Maybe Brennan himself needs to be looked at.
He took a Russian dossier with phony information about Trump to both Trump as president-elect and Obama as president, giving it credibility when it was leaked to the press that this happened. He then said on a Fox News interview that the leak allegations made no sense because the dossier had been "circulating for many months" and everyone knew about it.
In that case, why did he think he needed to share the dossier with Trump and Obama?
I think there is something a whole lot more important than an investigation into the Trump campaign colluding with Russians in the 2016 election, an allegation with no known evidence, and that is leakers in our intelligence agencies attempting undemocratically to undermine his presidency, something with lots of evidence.
Jay Ambrose is an op-ed columnist for Tribune News Service.
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