Accuracy in Media

In February 2018, Jack Schafer of Politico identified the problems with having former Deep Staters, such as ex-CIA director John Brennan, become TV talking heads.

“The spooks occupy a slippery taxonomical journalistic position,” Shafer wrote in “The Spies Who Came into the TV Studio” – subhead: “Former intelligence officials are enjoying second acts as television pundits. Here’s why that should bother us.”

They’re news sources, Shafer wrote. Only “standard U.S. journalistic code prohibits paying sources.” Rather, they are called contributors. Only “standard journalistic contributors – reporters, anchors, editors, producers – pursue the news wherever it goes without fear or favor.” But TV spooks “still identify with their former employers at the CIA, FBI, DEA, DHS or other national security agencies and remain protective of their institutions.”

They add value, he wrote. “They inform us on how FISA warrants work; they explain the methods by which Russians recruit spies; they entertain us with their disdain for the current president, and more.” But in a “perfect television world,” he concluded, “the networks would retire the retired spooks from their payrolls and reallocate those sums to the hiring of independent reporters to cover the national security beat. Let the TV spies become unpaid anonymous sources.”

Brennan, whose hiring at NBC News prompted Shafer’s piece in 2018, became one of the most shrill and consistent critics of the Trump administration. “It is my sincere hope that the forthcoming exposure of your malfeasance & corruption will convince enough Republicans to abandon you in 2019,” Brennan tweeted on the last day of 2018.

But, as Britt Hume pointed out on Fox News over the weekend, Brennan did something others who parroted the Trump-collusion story did not – he pretended to have inside information that only a former CIA director could know.

“Every word he spoke during this whole period carried this sort of implicit sense that, as the former CIA chief, he was somebody who was in the know, who had some special knowledge and who should be taken seriously,” Hume said. “And boy was he by certain news outlets, and it turns out he was utterly and completely wrong.

“From the get-go, he was wrong. He misread the whole situation and he led other … thankfully not our news organization but many others … down a path toward a dead end. And that’s where this has ended up. I’m glad to hear him say he got it wrong, but it’s too little too late in his case in my view.”

Brennan has gone further than most in admitting defeat on the issue of whether President Trump colluded with the Russians to win the 2016 presidential election.  

He tweeted last week: “While Trump Campaign engagements with the Russians were highly inappropriate, we need to accept special counsel Mueller’s finding that evidence of criminality was not established.”

Hume said media outlets – from CNN to the Washington Post – have tried to cover their tracks by saying this was a huge story and they can’t be blamed for covering it. “The trouble with that is that it misses the entire point,” Hume said. There were bad stories – CNN “got called out a couple of times and we had the Daily Beast saying ‘Mueller is telling us that he’s got Trump on collusion.”

But it wasn’t just the false stories but “sheer volume of the coverage, the sheer weight given to it.”

And the answer he said was not necessarily to take booking instructions from the White House, which released a list of people who the administration thought got this wrong over and over. “And it might not be a bad idea for journalists who are worried about what happened here to say maybe we shouldn’t listen to these people in the future. Maybe we shouldn’t have them on so much … not because the White House says it but because of the record they composed,” Hume said.

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