Trump Hits The Ground Running This Week With Perplexing Tweets

Is Big White House Shakeup Coming?

Rumors of an imminent staff reorganization intensified over the Memorial Day weekend. That’s after reports the FBI is zeroing in on President’s son-in-law and senior adviser, Jared Kushner, as someone who has “significant information.” Here’s a good, updated summary on the Kushner entanglements from the New York Times. Earlier, the Washington Post and AP reported Kushner met with Russian Ambassador Kislyak in December and proposed creating a secret back channel between Russia and the Trump transition team. Back channels are nothing new in international relations. (That’s why some Secretaries of State have used private email servers.)

Trump Reacts With A Quartet Of Angry Tweets About The Media, The Most Recent Coming Early This Morning

Let’s dive into this a little. Stories coming from major media organizations are very seldom attributed just to “sources”, as the President suggests. Responsible media does give you as much guidance as it can on where leaks are coming from. “Federal law enforcement officials” = FBI. “Intelligence officials” = CIA et. al. “Administration officials” = from inside the White House itself.

The AP sources its story to “a person familiar with the discussions.” It then goes on to explain: “The person wasn’t authorized to publicly discuss private policy deliberations and insisted on anonymity.” So this is a single-source attribution, which does ask the reader to believe in the reporter’s judgment that it’s an extremely strong source, and/or that confirming with a second source would’ve been impossible. At the same time, there is some specificity in suggesting it was a first-hand account. The Washington Post sources its story to “anonymous U.S. officials who were briefed on intelligence reports on intercepted Russian communications.” The Post is saying these sources were not actually in on the conversation. That’s probably why it went after multiple sources. It also fired back with a missive of its own, saying the “fake news” was coming from inside the White House.

We believe that anonymous sources should be doubted, but not dismissed out of hand as “fake news.” Anonymous sources should not be looked at to provide definitive versions of any story: they only get the ball rolling. The real test is whether they turn out to be correct. And in the Trump White House, by and large, they have. Whether over Michael Flynn’s lying to the Vice President, or Trump’s real reason for taking down James Comey, anonymous sources have often been proven correct by Trump himself. The latest example coming this morning, as a Trump Tweet appeared to confirm an anonymously sourced story last week from German news service, Der Spiegel suggesting Trump has a notion to start a trade war with Germany.

As New York Magazine points out, Trump has also used anonymous sources of his own (that were often actually him) to spread dubious intel.

This may be obvious, but it’s worth mentioning that anonymous sources are not anonymous sources to the reporters who use them.

Over the years, as journalists, we have been in the position of dealing with anonymous sources. Nobody becomes an anonymous source out of the goodness of their own heart, it’s usually for one of several reasons: ranging from naked self-interest to preventing democracy from going up in flames. Very often it’s transactional: sources will give a reporter information because they think the reporter (whom they know trades in information) will give them a heads-up if there’s a rumor pertaining to them.

One other thing: fairly often when the story comes out, your primary source will be the loudest voice decrying it, because they are crafty and want to give themselves cover. Since you as a reporter must still protect your source, you can’t do anything about it (except get angry the next time you speak to that source, to which they will probably reply “do you want the story or don’t you?”)

There are also some unnecessarily spy-like terms reporters use to describe the ways in which they handle sourced information. These are the AP’s definitions (and you should remember them in case you ever start talking to a reporter.)

Off the record. The information cannot be used for publication.

Background. The information can be published but only under conditions negotiated with the source. Generally, the sources do not want their names published but will agree to a description of their position. AP reporters should object vigorously when a source wants to brief a group of reporters on background and try to persuade the source to put the briefing on the record. These background briefings have become routine in many venues, especially with government officials.

Deep background. The information can be used but without attribution. The source does not want to be identified in any way, even on condition of anonymity.

Not All Reporters Agree

Bob Woodward, for instance, has infamously defined off the record as: “You totally and absolutely cannot use it unless it’s really good.”

It’s Not Gonna Stop

Multiple news stories suggested part of possible White House changes in protocol might involve lawyers vetting Trump’s Tweets. Or at least Tweets about Russia. Seems like that idea isn’t catching on with our President (see our lead story today).

The Recent Tweet That Actually Puzzled Us The Most Was On Health Care

Throwing money at something is always a great solution. But from where? One of the main things the House bill does is cut Medicaid Do you mean putting that money back? Or spending even more?

And also, you told us the House plan was already “great.” And you bragged about how you got it through in just 8 weeks, compared to 17 months for Obama and never for Hillary. [] P.S. This is not fake news! This is from the White House’s own, public release of the transcript of Trump’s meeting with House Republicans following passage of the bill. Unless, of course, I’m making that up. Unless of course, I am fabricating my own version of the White House website, in which case you can search for yourself. Unless, of course, you believe Google is in on it…

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