For all the hand-wringing about how the Trump administration is hostile to the press and endangering democracy, the press itself seems to have fallen into a kind of professional narcolepsy and letting go of standards that used to be iron clad.
Take this week’s jaw-dropping story about Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein offering to wear a wire when with the President to prepare 25th-amendment case to remove him from office. The New York Times sourced the story this way:
Several people described the episodes in interviews over the past several months, insisting on anonymity to discuss internal deliberations. The people were briefed either on the events themselves or on memos written by F.B.I. officials, including Andrew G. McCabe, then the acting bureau director, that documented Mr. Rosenstein’s actions and comments.
What’s stunning is that not only aren’t the sources named, they’re not even claiming to be eyewitnesses to Rosenstein’s suggestion. They were either “briefed” (who by?) or they read FBI memos. If that’s true, why isn’t The Times either acquiring and quoting the memos or interviewing the people who briefed these “several people?” Why isn’t The Times either interviewing Andrew G. McCabe or making him explain why he won’t be interviewed? Why are we getting this third hand?
I smell a rat. This smells like a Trump disinformation campaign to give him a reason to fire Rosenstein.
Washington journalism runs on unnamed sources; I get that. But I don’t like it and I don’t think it has to be this way. These unnamed sources want this story out for one reason or another. Told that they can’t get their story into the paper without someone coming forward to vouch publicly for its veracity, someone would fold and take the risk of being fired. Anybody of a level to be a good source for this story knows that he or she would have no trouble getting an equally good Washington job after falling on his/her sword by sourcing this important story.
That the Trump administration personnel are sneaking around this way comes as no surprise. That The Times is letting them get away with it does.