What the Media Should Learn From Trump’s Latest New York Times Attack

In March of 2017, the Senate Intelligence Committee wanted to question Jared Kushner about the meetings he arranged with the Russian ambassador Sergey I. Kislyak during the transition period. During the course of writing that story, New York Times reporters learned that, in addition to a meeting with Kislyak, Kushner met with Sergey N. Gorkov, the chief of Vnesheconombank, something that hadn’t been reported at the time.

As is clear from the article they published, the NYT reporters contacted the White House, Sergey Gorkov, and the FBI for comment prior to publishing their story. Hope Hicks, who was then serving as the communications director for Trump, confirmed that the meeting between Kushner and Gorkov had taken place.

Judicial Watch has obtained Justice Department emails via a FOIA request that apparently document one of the reporter’s contacts with FBI Assistant Director for Public Affairs Michael Kortan. In an effort to suggest that there is something nefarious about the standard practice of running stories by those involved for comment prior to publication, the title of the Judicial Watch article references “FBI-Media Collusion.”

Picking up on the inference of something nefarious, Daniel Chaitin at the Washington Examiner published a story titled, “NYT reporter flagged Jared Kushner meetings with Russians to FBI.” The opening line of the piece states that the reporter “fed information about Jared Kushner meeting with Russians to the FBI.”

It won’t surprise you to learn that Donald Trump took if from there.

First of all, let’s note that what was reported by the NYT wasn’t a “false story.” Hope Hicks corroborated the meeting. The president also picked up on Chaitin’s framing by saying that the reporters were “feeding” stories to the FBI and questioned whether that is legal.

Let’s assume for a moment that the framing by Judicial Watch and the president is accurate: that the New York Times reporters learned about an unknown meeting between Kushner and Gorkov and reported that information to the FBI. That is exactly the kind of thing law enforcement relies on during investigations—members of the public (perhaps even reporters) passing on information that might be pertinent to an investigation.

The fact that Trump questions the legality of reporting information about crimes to law enforcement speaks volumes, and is further corroborated by his comments to George Stephanopoulos about having never contacted the FBI in his life. The inference from the president is that people who report information to the FBI are engaging in behavior that might be illegal. That is what the guy who calls himself a “stable genius” is suggesting.

But of course, the reporters weren’t “feeding” information to the FBI. They were engaging in the standard practice of running a story by those involved prior to publication, which is why they contacted the FBI’s assistant director for public affairs.

The reason this story caught Trump’s eye is that it has been twisted to demonize the two institutions he has accused of treason: the FBI and the New York Times. None of this would have any salience if he and his enablers hadn’t spent months attacking them.

Beyond that awareness, one of the reasons why this story is important is that it demonstrates how, as Maggie Haberman suggested, “routine process [can be] ripped from context and made to sound bad.” That has been, and will continue to be, standard practice for Trump and his enablers.

One place I expect that practice to be employed is with the material Attorney General Barr decides to selectively declassify about the origins of the Trump-Russia investigation. In the case of this story about the New York Times and the FBI, credible reporters will know from the outset that the framing has been fabricated. But when Barr releases information about routine processes for the CIA and makes them sound bad, that will be more difficult to track down and expose as propaganda. Let’s hope that people like Maggie Haberman and her colleagues at the New York Times learn a lesson from this experience and approach Barr’s framing with similar skepticism.

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Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly. Follow her on Twitter @Smartypants60.