It seems the past few days, the predominant theme of my commentary has been “double standards.” As I sit and watch the almost surreal satellite pictures from Singapore of President Trump and Kim Jong-Un shaking hands and putting pen to paper on a denuclearization deal, it’s impossible not to think of that again. The vicious rants and constant negativity we see in the media against Trump --- on “news” shows, late-night “comedy,” even the Tony Awards --- contrast vividly with the images coming into our living rooms from Singapore, the ones showing Trump doing the kind of thing we put this tough negotiator in office to do.
And we can’t help imagining the kind of reception it would have gotten in the media if it had even been attempted by President Obama. Watch five minutes of the Trump-in-Singapore coverage on MSNBC, if you can stand it, and then think how worshipful the coverage would have been for the previous President. Obama got a Nobel Prize for doing, well, nothing, so I suppose they’d have had to invent a new Incredible Amazing Super-Genius Nobel Prize for him if he’d done this.
But while we wait for more details of the North Korea deal, there’s yet another double standard to take a look at. Andrew C. McCarthy points out a very interesting one relating to the Russia investigation, observing that the same journalists who slam Trump as thinking he’s “above the law” for not submitting to questioning by the special counsel are outraged that the Justice Department would investigate journalists to find the source of classified government leaks.
But if it’s okay to investigate the President of the United States, why not them? Are THEY above the law? “Whether we’re talking about journalists or presidents,” McCarthy says, “the situation is the same. An investigative demand is made on people whose jobs are so important to the functioning of our self-governing republic that they are given some protection, but not absolute immunity, from the obligation to provide evidence to the grand jury.”
From examining email and phone records, the Justice Department determined that Ali Watkins, a 26-year-old reporter for The New York Times, was sleeping with her source, who happened to be the security director for the Senate Intelligence Committee, 57-year-old James A. Wolfe. This reporter must have hit the Mother Lode, source-wise, because Wolfe’s job was receiving, maintaining and managing all classified intelligence shared with the committee by U.S. intelligence agencies, and his avocation seems to have been leaking information.
According to Wolfe’s indictment, he exchanged “tens of thousands of electronic communications” with her, including texts and phone calls, and even “encrypted cell phone applications.” Not only were the communications decidedly anti-Trump, but one tip he gave her about Carter Page being approached by Russian spies in 2013 was just the thing needed by the Clinton campaign to give a reason besides the unverified “dossier” to get a FISA warrant against Page. (It should be noted that Page had cooperated with investigators to help them arrest the Russian operatives.)
When questioned by the FBI, Wolfe lied about his relationship with Watkins (correcting the record when presented with evidence) and also about giving her non-public information or leads. He also denied contacting other reporters, but the email and phone records apparently say otherwise.
To get this evidence, the DOJ used subpoenas to telecommunications companies pertaining to the journalists, but took a cautious route: no content of the conversations, except, it appears, on Wolfe’s end. It’s likely he was using devices issued to him for government business (you know, the kind of devices Hillary was supposed to be using).
Anyway, McCarthy points out that in 1972 the Supreme Court held that journalists are legally obligated to testify when subpoenaed and to answer questions relevant to a criminal investigation. (The promise of confidentiality they give their sources is not legally enforceable.) But because a free press is so important to our republic, certain very stringent conditions must be present for reporters to be required to give up information, and they are rarely made to. In the Wolfe case, those conditions were met.
Anyway, journalists who think their job is so important that it rises above any legal challenge need to recognize that the President’s job is arguably the most important job on the planet, and if they deserve the deference they get, they should acknowledge that he deserves some, too. They seem to forget he has a job to do –- as he’s trying to do right now to bring peace and stability to the Korean peninsula –- and that it will be bad for the country if the “Russia” investigation dominates his time. But many journalists would cheer that. It’s just one more double standard.