Stories That Do Nothing But Speculate About Trump And His Staff Are A Service To No One
The Washington Post’s Josh Dawsey Tweets:
The White House Chief of Staff’s response is in reference to a piece NBC News ran about his waning influence. (NBC has since updated the piece to include Kelly’s reaction). We feel the need to comment on this, because in our opinion it represents everything that’s incredibly frustrating about a lot of reporting these days. At the same time, the piece, which alleges Kelly’s repeatedly called Trump “an idiot” and asserts Kelly “thinks he’s saving U.S. from disaster”, is a hot piece of gossip right now, and is very likely getting more clicks and shares and retweets than most any other political story today. So we guess our question is: what are news organizations after right now?
It’s pretty clear what’s going on here: some people in the White House who would like to see Kelly gone sooner rather than later are feeding this to the NBC reporters in the hope of enabling a rapid exit. That part of it is fine: as we’ve said before, nobody ever leaks out of the goodness of their own hearts. They’re always out to get something. But that’s why a reporter’s role in deciding what to do with that information is so crucial.
What the NBC reporters seemed to do was bounce it off others inside the White House, and in almost every case, found several sources who presented information not consistent with the original assertions from their original sources. “None of them ever heard him do that or otherwise use that word”, “they haven’t heard Kelly talk about himself as the one saving the country”, etc. So basically what they’re telling us is this could all be true, or some of it could be true, or none of it could be true. But instead of killing the story, they just threw that in there too.
Problem is, if someone tells you someone said something, for instance that the President is “an idiot”, a 2nd source telling you they never heard that person say that doesn’t mean they didn’t. You can never really disprove someone said something. So then when you go ahead and report it, the balance automatically weighs on the side of the source who said someone said something. (Especially if it seems reasonable and not out of character, for instance calling the President “an idiot”). At the same time, you also need to keep in mind since the last guy who called the President “a moron” was fired, it might also be a tool someone’s using to try to get someone fired.
Daswey further Tweets:
A huge chunk of the story also addresses Kelly’s view of and relationship to women. “Women are more emotional than men”, according to the same unnamed leakers. and another topic tailor-made for getting up everybody’s hackles whatever side they’re on, so a perfect thing for the “leakers” to throw in if they want to start a rumble. This one worked out perfectly (as they must’ve know it would’ve): because Kelly’s defenders within the White House said things like “Kelly is the ‘bigger gentleman’ who steps in when aides use foul language to note ‘a lady is present'”, which didn’t help any. He would’ve been better served to have simply pointed out (as the article does later on) that Kelly is almost completely responsible for Kirstjen Nielsen becoming Secretary of Homeland Security (over the objections of some of Trump’s favorite Fox News personalities). That doesn’t mean Kelly also doesn’t also have a blind side.
(As a side note, Nielsen may have played also played a role in the sudden departure of Trump favorite and Sheriff Joe wannabe Thomas Homan as “Senior Official Performing the Duties of the Director of ICE”. The weird title is because Congress never approved him).
So NBC we guess, figured they covered all their bases because they reported both what the leakers said and what other sources said about the leakers.
We think what they should’ve done instead is one of two things:
- Had the maturity not to run the story, understanding that they are totally being played by the leakers who brought it to them in the first place. (And realizing this type of story is something the Trump administration engenders–maybe even encourages–as part of the “reality show” Presidency. But there’s no requirement the media needs to fall for that.)
- Changed the story, making it instead about the brutality inside the Trump White House, and how even the most loyal of servants will be leapt upon and torn apart once the President’s rays don’t shine on them so brightly anymore.
The only way their type of reporting would be valuable is if they could name or characterize who exactly inside the White House is trying to push Kelly out and who’d they like to see in his place, and who is backing him up. But they can’t, because in both cases they’re confidential sources. So your audience learns nothing. Does telling me there’s a fight help me at all if you can’t tell me who’s fighting and on what side?
And worst of all, it makes Trump at least partially right when he Tweets:
Except, of course, the “bad people” are the leakers inside the White House who he’s never been able to control (and he says don’t exist). And who, of course, may include the President himself. The media are just the suckers who now, sometimes are running with it.