After Obama left office, illegal leaks of classified intercepts became commonplace. Many, including the famed January, 2017 leak of conversations between Michael Flynn and Russian ambassador Sergei Kislyak, were key elements of major, news-cycle-dominating bombshells. Others, like “Russian ambassador told Moscow that Kushner wanted secret communications channel with Kremlin,” or news that former National Security Adviser Susan Rice unmasked the identities of senior Trump officials in foreign intercepts, were openly violative of the prohibition against disclosing the existence of such surveillance, let alone the contents.
These leaks tended to go to the same small coterie of reporters at outlets like the Washington Post, New York Times, and CNN, and not one prompted blowback. This was a major forgotten element of the Reality Winner story. Winner, a relatively low-level contractor acting on her own, was caught, charged, and jailed with extraordinary speed after leaking an NSA document about Russian interference to the Intercept. But these dozens of similar violations by senior intelligence officials, mainly in leaks about Trump, went not just unpunished but un-investigated. As Winner’s lawyer, Titus Nichols, told me years ago, his client’s case was “about low-hanging fruit.”
The key issue in those cases was not even so much that someone in government might have been improperly accessing foreign surveillance intercepts — revelations to that effect have been a regular occurrence since the Bush years, with the FBI a serial violator — but that such intercepts were being leaked for public effect, with the enthusiastic cooperation of reporters, often in stories involving American citizens. They got away with it in the Trump years, because it was Trump, but the arrogance to think they can keep getting away with it by power-smearing everyone who objects is mind-blowing.
During Trump’s first run for president, I nearly lost my mind trying to explain to fellow reporters that he was succeeding in part because of us, that the prestige media’s ham-handed, hysterical, anti-intellectual approach to covering the Trump phenomenon was itself massively fueling it, making a case for establishment corruption and incompetence more eloquently than he could.
Something similar now is happening with the collapse of traditional media and the rise of Carlson, the current #1 voice on cable, who is rapidly stealing the audience MSNBC somehow believed it could corral with spokesgoons like Wallace. It seems impossible that Carlson’s haters don’t realize how easy they’ve made it for him, turning themselves into such caricatures of illiberalism that they’re practically handing him the top spot.