Newspapers like The Washington Post sure do have a lot of scoops coming out of the White House.
Almost all of them are anonymous leaks. Folks allegedly part of Donald Trump’s inner circle who just can’t stop funneling information to the press.
Is it believable? Many of the stories that The Washington Post have published were quickly denounced by the White House.
On May 10, The Washington Post reported – via anonymous sources – that Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein threatened to quit after he was identified as the main reason James Comey was fired. But the next day, Rosenstein said that not only was he not quitting, but that he never threatened to.
In the same story, it is reported – again via anonymous sources – that Comey asked for more money for the Russia investigation just days before he was fired. But in the same story, and on the record, the Justice Department said it was not true.
The Federalist points out several other examples of the Post’s “anonymous sources” falling flat:
Previous Washington Post stories sourced to anonymous “officials” have fallen apart, including Josh Rogin’s January 26 report claiming that “the State Department’s entire senior management team just resigned” as “part of an ongoing mass exodus of senior Foreign Service officers who don’t want to stick around for the Trump era.”
The story went viral before the truth caught up. As per procedure, the Obama administration had, in coordination with the incoming Trump administration, asked for the resignations of all political appointees. While it would have been traditional to let them stay for a few months, the Trump team let them know that their services wouldn’t be necessary. The entire story was wrong.
Rogin also had the false story that Steve Bannon had personally confronted Department of Homeland Security’s Gen. John F. Kelly to pressure him not to weaken an immigration ban.
And earlier this week, The Post reported that President Trump disclosed top-secret, classified information to the Russians. But within hours, the National Security Advisor and the Secretary of State, both of whom were in the meeting, said it was false.
— Fox News (@FoxNews) May 15, 2017
Given that, perhaps Americans should be given a guide for how to handle breaking news when it comes from The Washington Post. Here’s The Federalist’s Mollie Hemmingway’s take:
- In the immediate aftermath, news outlets will get it wrong.
- Don’t trust anonymous sources. If democracy dies in darkness, anonymity is not exactly transparent or accountable. Unless someone is willing to to put his or her name with a leak, be on guard. Pay attention to how well the reporters characterize the motivations of the anonymous leaker. All leakers have motivation. Does the paper seem to have a grasp on how the motivation affects the veracity of the leak?
- If someone is leaking national security information in order to support the claim of a national security violation, be on guard.
- If someone is claiming a serious national security crisis but not willing to go public with the claim and resign in protest of same, be on guard.
- Compare sources willing to put their name and reputation on the line.
- Big anti-Trump news brings out the fakers.
- Pay attention to the language that the media uses. Is a story about something unimportant being written in such a way as to make it seem more important?
- Beware confirmation bias. Everyone has the tendency to interpret new evidence as confirmation of one’s existing beliefs or theories. Be on guard that you don’t accept critical or exonerating evidence to match your political preferences.
- Pay attention to how quickly and fully editors and reporters correct stories based on false information from anonymous sources. If they don’t correct at all, it’s an indication of a lack of respect.