On anonymous sourcing, fake news, and the election
Looking at The Atlantic's jaw-dropping piece from a different angle.
A quick one today. Because it’s a Friday heading into a long weekend.
Last night, The Atlantic dropped what, under a normal administration, would be a presidency-ending story: Donald Trump, according to multiple anonymous sources, doesn’t particularly care for the military.
Some choice quotes:
In a conversation with senior staff members on the morning of the scheduled visit, Trump said, “Why should I go to that cemetery? It’s filled with losers.” In a separate conversation on the same trip, Trump referred to the more than 1,800 marines who lost their lives at Belleau Wood as “suckers” for getting killed.
When McCain died, in August 2018, Trump told his senior staff, according to three sources with direct knowledge of this event, “We’re not going to support that loser’s funeral,” and he became furious, according to witnesses, when he saw flags lowered to half-staff. “What the fuck are we doing that for? Guy was a fucking loser,” the president told aides.
But according to sources with knowledge of this visit, Trump, while standing by Robert Kelly’s grave, turned directly to his father and said, “I don’t get it. What was in it for them?”
(President Trump with John Kelly at the grave of Kelly’s son. Image via Aaron P. Bernstein/Getty, via New York Times Oct. 19, 2017)
Explosive. But the power of this story gets muted, as all of the sources telling The Atlantic these stories are anonymous. This gives Trump and his supporters wiggle room in denying these events occurred. “You can’t trust anonymous sources.”
(Which is curious considering many Trump supporters follow Q and have created a dangerous conspiracy in which Satan-worshiping pedophiles manage a sex-trafficking ring while plotting against Trump, who, by the way, is the only person that can stop this cabal. Anyway, I digress.)
But as reporting does, multiple outlets corroborated The Atlantic’s reporting:
The Washington Post also corroborated The Atlantic’s reporting, even though it’s buried 9 grafs into the story.
Again, however, each outlet relies on anonymous sourcing to corroborate, but gets Trump supporters on the record. Former Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders took to Twitter to refute the reporting, saying she was there.
(Of course, it must be noted that press secretaries for President Trump have lied about the most mundane things, like the size of his inauguration, that we’re very much in a “Press Secretary Who Cried Wolf” type of book.)
The Atlantic initially reported that
The White House did not return earlier calls for comment, but Alyssa Farah, a White House spokesperson, emailed me this statement shortly after this story was posted: “This report is false. President Trump holds the military in the highest regard. He’s demonstrated his commitment to them at every turn: delivering on his promise to give our troops a much needed pay raise, increasing military spending, signing critical veterans reforms, and supporting military spouses. This has no basis in fact.”
And the president took to Twitter to air his grievances:
I was never a big fan of John McCain, disagreed with him on many things including ridiculous endless wars and the lack of success he had in dealing with the VA and our great Vets, but the lowering of our Nations American Flags, and the first class funeral he was given by our Country, had to be approved by me, as President, & I did so without hesitation or complaint. Quite the contrary, I felt it was well deserved. I even sent Air Force One to bring his body, in casket, from Arizona to Washington. It was my honor to do so. Also, I never called John a loser and swear on whatever, or whoever, I was asked to swear on, that I never called our great fallen soldiers anything other than HEROES. This is more made up Fake News given by disgusting & jealous failures in a disgraceful attempt to influence the 2020 Election!
To channel my inner Warner Wolf: Let’s go to the video tape!
It’s interesting that Trump spends three tweets on his heels about comments on John McCain, but doesn’t offer up a defense on what I took away as the most galling story in The Atlantic piece: his conversation with John Kelly at Kelly’s son’s military grave site.
But also notice he turns the end of his tweetstorm into a barb against journalism, and what he believes is the media’s motive: to influence the election.
Trump and his acolytes’ years-long message of Fake News and hoaxes are table setters for the November election. How? Because the news media, and not an independent body, “calls” the election.
The New York Times, from last month:
But the American media plays a bizarrely outsize role in American elections, occupying the place of most countries’ national election commissions.
Here, the media actually assembles the results from 50 states, tabulates them and declares a victor. And — we can’t really help ourselves — the media establishes the narrative to explain what happened.
In other words, Americans find out who wins the election from news outlets. NBC can call Arizona to TK; CNN can call Mississippi to TK; The AP calls New York for TK.
Now imagine the scenario that the media calls the election for Joe Biden. The very first thing Trump et al will do: tweet. “FAKE NEWS YOU CAN’T TRUST THE MEDIA. THEY HAVE IT IN FOR ME, YOUR FAVORITE PRESIDENT. SAD!”
So what happens when a president believes, as The Atlantic reports
that the military, like other departments of the federal government, is beholden only to him, and not the Constitution.
Will Trump push “his” military to take control; he’s already politicized the military
for ordering law-enforcement officers to forcibly clear protesters from Lafayette Square, and for using soldiers as props.
Last week, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Mark Milley said, according to NBC News:
“I believe deeply in the principle of an apolitical U.S. military," Milley said in written responses to several questions posed by two Democratic members of the House Armed Services Committee. “In the event of a dispute over some aspect of the elections, by law U.S. courts and the U.S. Congress are required to resolve any disputes, not the U.S. military. I foresee no role for the U.S armed forces in this process.”
Thank you for allowing me in your inbox, today and every day. If you have tips or thoughts about the newsletter, drop me a line. Or you can follow me on Twitter. If you liked this edition, please consider sharing with colleagues or across your social networks. Have a safe holiday weekend and I’ll see you on Tuesday.
Some interesting links:
Justice Dept. Plans to File Antitrust Charges Against Google in Coming Weeks (NYT)
Facebook wants its AR glasses to give wearers superhearing (The Verge)
Facebook didn’t remove Kenosha militia event page (BuzzFeed News)
‘A healthy rebound’: Programmatic rally continues for publishers (Digiday)
Publishers are getting a (brief) reprieve from Apple’s coming ad-pocalypse (Nieman Lab)
California lawmakers OK more exemptions from labor law (AP)
TikTok opens its marketing partner program (AdAge)