Media: Crossfire Hurricane

An occasional theme of this blog is: can we trust the media to tell us about the world in an accurate and balanced way? The example in this post involves presidential elections.

All news sources have biases. The takeaway from this example is that perhaps we should get our news from a variety of sources.

Crossfire Hurricane was the name of the investigation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) into possible improper links between the 2016 Trump campaign, and later the Trump administration, and Russia. The investigation was opened on July 31, 2016 and continued until May 17, 2017 when it was taken over by the Mueller investigation.

On Tuesday, October 6, 2020 the Trump administration declassified two documents related to Crossfire Hurricane, both involving the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA):

  • Handwritten notes by then-CIA Director John Brennan in late July 2016 about a briefing that he gave to President Obama and other senior officials about “alleged approval by Hillary Clinton on 26 July of a proposal from one of her foreign policy advisors to villify (sic) Donald Trump by stirring up a scandal claiming interference by the Russian security services.” (link)
  • A memo from the CIA to the director of the FBI dated September 7, 2016 about “US presidential candidate Hillary Clinton’s approval of a plan concerning US presidential candidate Donald Trump and Russian hackers hampering US elections as a means of distracting the public from her use of a private email server.” (link)

Jonathan Turley is a law professor at George Washington University. On October 7 he wrote on his blog about this news and he made the following points:

  • Whether true or not, this is big news. If true, it would indicate that the highest levels of the Obama administration knew well before the 2016 election about efforts to invent Russian scandals implicating the Trump campaign. If false, “it would show a breathtaking effort [by the Trump administration] to lie to the voters before the [2020] election.”
  • Yet according to Professor Turley there is an “utter blackout on the story” by major news outlets.

Let’s do a survey. I subscribe to four national newspapers. Did they cover this story?

Three of the national newspapers to which I subscribe are well known: New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and Washington Post. The fourth newspaper is not well known: the Epoch Times. I wrote about the Epoch Times in April (here) where I noted that they dislike Communist China and are “more supportive of President Trump than my other newspapers, so I will read their reporting skeptically.”

With that background in mind, following are comments about the reporting in these four newspapers of the declassification of the two documents discussed above. I searched for “Brennan” on and after October 6. Below I note the first article that I found in each newspaper. My comments are ranked (in my view) from worst coverage (#4) to best (#1):

#4. New York Times, October 9: John Ratcliffe Pledged to Stay Apolitical. Then He Began Serving Trump’s Political Agenda. Professor Turley was right – the NYT completely ignored the declassified documents. This is several days after the declassification. There is no mention of  the declassified documents. This article is an attempt to generally discredit Director of National Intelligence (DNI) John Ratcliffe, who declassified the documents.

#3. Washington Post, October 8: DNI Ratcliffe has broken his promise to keep politics out of intelligence, intelligence veterans say. This article is one day earlier than the NYT article, so it is more timely. This article has the same major theme as the NYT article, an attempt to generally discredit Mr. Ratcliffe, but the two declassified documents identified above are briefly mentioned beginning in the 7th paragraph.

#2. Wall Street Journal, October 7: Trump’s Intelligence Chief Releases More Than 1,000 Pages of Documents. This article is one day earlier than the WaPo article, so it is even more timely. But this article covers two different news stories. On October 6, DNI Ratcliffe released to the public the two documents identified above. On October 7, he announced that he had released to the Department of Justice nearly 1,000 pages of other documents; he did not release those documents to the public. This WSJ article is primarily about the second release. The first release is briefly mentioned beginning in the 10th paragraph.

While the Wall Street Journal news pages did not do a great job covering this story, there was better discussion in the editorial pages. See James Comey Can’t Recall on October 7.

#1. Epoch Times, October 7: Former CIA Director Says Trump Admin Declassified Agency Records for Political Gain. This is by far the best coverage of these four newspapers. It is timely. It is specifically about the two declassified documents identified above, especially Mr. Brennan’s handwritten notes. The article gives Mr. Brennan’s side of the story. And it links to the actual documents that were released. The two documents are linked above, so you can see them for yourself. I got the documents from this Epoch Times article.

The Epoch Times covered the release of 1,000 pages of documents to the Department of Justice (not the public) in a separate article: DNI Releases 1,000 Pages of Material to Durham Investigators. Both articles in the Epoch Times were by the same reporter (Ivan Pentchoukov) on the same day (October 7). But unlike the WSJ, the Epoch Times didn’t bury the disclosure of the two documents identified above in an article primarily about a different disclosure.

Further, the Epoch Times had a good editorial on October 8 that put the disclosure of the two documents identified above in perspective: The American Public Deserves to Know. This editorial makes the point that the documents that were declassified were heavily redacted, so we are unable to truly assess their significance – and that this is a matter of considerable importance to our country:

The American people deserve to have full transparency and accountability for the FBI’s Crossfire Hurricane investigation of a presidential campaign, which in turn will be a key remedy to restore the broken trust tens of millions have in the system.

By “the system” the Epoch Times means institutions of government such as the FBI and CIA. There is also a need “to restore the broken trust” in the media. That was part of the message of Professor Turley’s column. In the present example, I was disappointed in the subpar reporting by the New York Times, the Washington Post, and the news pages of the Wall Street Journal. The Epoch Times is not a perfect news source either, as noted above, but in this instance they had the best reporting. Perhaps we should all get our news from a variety of sources.

Here is the link again to Professor Turley’s column: “A Means Of Distracting The Public”: Brennan Briefed Obama On Clinton “Plan” To Tie Trump To Russia.

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