Last night, Rachel Maddow, in an impressive narrative, revealed that someone sent a forged NSA document to their news tip line www.sendittorachel.com. The document contained a few clues, which she details expertly in the story, that indicate that a person took an NSA document published by The Intercept in early June and doctored it to make it appear that it offers a highly classified intelligence report on a named American citizen, a Trump campaign official, who had colluded with the Russians to undermine the election.
Political actors have long attempted to plant false information at news organizations in order to cripple that organization’s credibility and take heat off of a story. And news organizations may very well have already received copious false documents and tips regarding the Trump-Russia story which may not have survived their vetting process. However, once in a while, a pernicious actor succeeds on getting a journalist to take the bait. CNN’s recent retraction of a news story reporting that the Senate intelligence committee is investigating a Trump associate with connections to a Russian bank being the biggest hit so far, leading to the resignation of the journalists responsible for it.
Sources and documents corroborating the Trump-Russia story are difficult for reporters to attain and verify, which makes undermining coverage of this story easier when the stakes of offering unimpeachable media coverage of our government could not be higher. Maddow’s warning speaks to the Washington press’s need to practice heightened vigilance. No longer are journalists facing underhanded sabotage only by individuals from political organizations or even from The White House. The actors now span from partisan news organizations, shady online organizations, and international groups. It is a very frightening time to be a DC-based reporter covering the Trump-Russia story, and it is only another battlefront in the war against liberal democracy.
The quiet battle against our press can be stopped if members of the media shine a light on its mechanics. Rachel Maddow did so on the air last night. Now it is up to other organizations to heed her warning so that they do not become the next victims to nefarious, anti-democratic actors.