Anonymous sources may not always be reliable, but they’re always convenient. More than that, anonymous accounts are usually made of putty, soft and easily shaped. Not only that, an anonymous source never claims he was misquoted. He never demands a correction or a retraction. The Washington Post, which deals in anonymous sources for many of its blockbuster disclosures, is particularly skilled at working with anonymous sources, and gets more out of them than almost any other newspaper.
Bob Woodward, of Woodward and Bernstein fame, once based a blockbuster on an interview with a man in a deep coma, and at the point of death. He wasn’t actually anonymous, but he never disputed anything in Mr. Woodward’s version of their “conversation.”
The Post put Washington into one of its periodic fits of hysteria this week with a disclosure — a suggestion, actually — that President Trump shared the nation’s most valuable intelligence secrets with the Russians in an Oval Office conversation with the Russian foreign minister and the Russian ambassador. The Post’s source was an anonymous tipster who was actually not there. He, whoever (and if) he was, certainly hasn’t and surely won’t dispute any of the particulars of The Post’s big scoop.
H.R. McMaster, the president’s National Security Adviser, says The Post’s story is a bunch of hooey, that nothing like that happened and that the president’s conversation with the Russians was “wholly appropriate,” that “at no time, no time, were intelligence or intelligence or methods discussed.” But Mr. McMaster’s version cannot be credited because he was actually in the room during the meeting. The Post’s anonymous source is regarded by the press claque as credible because he was not in the room.
The rest of the press, eager for anything to keep “the narrative” of Trump malfeasance and misfeasance going, naturally takes The Post account as prevailing Gospel. With the appointment of a special prosecutor, “the narrative” can be kept going for approximately forever. What’s not to understand about how journalism is conducted in Washington?
The other bombshell this week was the disclosure by James Comey, the sacked director of the FBI, that President Trump asked him to discontinue the FBI investigation into assertions than Gen. Mike Flynn, the first national presidential security adviser, had colluded in some way with the Russians, for what purposes is not exactly clear, but maybe in behalf of Mr. Trump. Maybe is good enough.
Like a good lawyer, Mr. Comey said he wrote down an account of his meeting with Mr. Trump when he got home, probably before he brushed his teeth, put on his jammies and said his prayers. The White House says this conversation, like the transfer of intelligence in the account of The Post’s anonymous tipster, never happened. But Mr. Comey has it in writing, even if it’s his own writing, and his memorandum has taken on mythic status in Washington.
The New York Times, with its crack team of crack reporters, conceded that one of its cracksters had not actually seen the memo, but someone at the FBI, or someone who had once been at the FBI — anonymous, of course — had read it to him. Well, not all of it, to be sure, but passages. Congress vows to get a look at the memo, even if it has to use a subpoena.
All this, it seems to us, is taking the long and elaborate way around the short end. Sen. Mitch McConnell, the Republican majority leader, has a better idea. “I think we need to hear from him” — meaning Mr. Comey himself — “as soon as possible, in public, to respond to the issues that have been raised in recent days. I think we need to hear from him about whatever he has to say … before the Senate Intelligence Committee, in public. That’s all I really have to say about him.”
That’s straightforward. Calm. Reasonable. Sensible, Logical. Why worry about the memo, and what it says, when the senators could ask Mr. Comey himself about who said what. The only drawback to this approach is that Mr. Comey was there, and his testimony will be on the record. But who needs that?
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