Under pressure from the president, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions and the U.S. Department of Justice are amping up a war on the leakers of inside tips and other information to the press.
While it’s true, as Sessions said, the press cannot place lives at risk with impunity, by publishing sensitive intelligence information— one can’t equate leaks or tips about the investigation surrounding the Trump administration’s potential collusion with Russia with national-security related information that could harm the country or aid a foreign adversary.
Truth be told, from the very beginning the Trump administration has projected an air of contempt towards the press. The president’s charges of fake news media have had consequences—and not just on coverage about the Russia affair.
As Poynter.org managing editor Benjamin Mullen wrote back in February 2017, “the antipathy toward the press and the dubious information coming through official channels means that anonymous sources are a ray of sunlight in an otherwise dusky administration. Shunned by officials and subjected to misinformation, reporters are turning to unnamed officials with the approval of their editors. The results have been illuminating.”
Still, Mullen cautions that Trump’s gloves-off relationship with the press only raises the stakes. If an anonymously sourced story is proven false, the White House can use that to cast doubt on every article reported on background.
But the Russia story is still unfolding. The drip drip drip of leaks evolved into a steady stream that fueled seismic public outrage — leading to several official investigations as well as the appointment of special counsel Robert Mueller.
This new DOJ “crackdown” looks like damage control — political play. After all, the government blesses leaks when they work to advance their agenda — think former New York Times reporter Judith Miller, the Iraq War and the litany of B.S. news plants surrounding that hideous blunder that did in fact, lead to thousands of lives lost.
What’s most telling about this new DOJ move? From the very beginning days of the Trump administration, this president has labeled the Russia story a ruse. He has called news (stories based largely on information leaked to reporters by insider sources) about Russia — ’Fake News.’
But by pouring precious resources into this leak hunt — three times as many investigations of leaks as the last administration — a pronounced and muscular effort to snuff out anonymous sources — President Trump appears to be acknowledging that all those Russia news stories are not fake news after all. They are in fact real. And they are simply driving the president bonkers. The tips coming from the inside, those stories that say — “sources said” or “based on people familiar” — those news stories must be rooted in some sort of truth. We probably wouldn’t be seeing this tremendous DOJ effort if they weren’t.