Yesterday morning’s New York Times headlined: “Reality Winner, N.S.A. Contractor Accused of Leak, Was Undone by Trail of Clues.” Not that you, probably, couldn’t have guessed as much for yourself. The article, by Charlie Savage, Scott Shane and Alan Blinder begins like this:
In the months after President Trump was elected, Reality Leigh Winner frequently expressed outraged political views about him on social media, in between photos of her cats and favorite quotations. But on the afternoon of May 9, she posted an unusually anodyne message on Facebook, noting that she would be teaching two yoga classes that evening. She was harboring a secret, prosecutors say.
Now, anyone who knew anything about the story knew that, before her arrest, Reality was harboring a secret, or at least that prosecutors were saying so. And why did the authors suppose that New York Times readers would be just as interested in her cats or her yoga classes as they were in her “outraged political views”? And what were those outraged political views that (so we may have been led to infer) might have had something to do with the election of President Trump? Well, readers had to wait until the twentieth paragraph to find that
Ms. Winner’s apparent Twitter feed, which used a pseudonym but had a photo of her and the same account name as her Instagram feed, makes clear her hostility toward Mr. Trump. That suggests a possible motive for leaking: highlighting Russian hacking of election-related targets, amplifying the narrative that Mr. Trump’s victory is tainted.
So the super-sleuths of The New York Times have divined “a possible motive,” have they? But isn’t that also a possible motive for The New York Times to seek out such leakers and publish their leaks?
At least, in a further paragraph lower down, the Times condescends to its readers’ curiosity so far as to give a one-paragraph summary of those “outraged” political views.
On social media . . . she denounced Mr. Trump as “the orange fascist we let into the white house” and mocked Attorney General Jeff Sessions as a “Confederate.” She expressed concern about climate change, and support for the Black Lives Matter movement and other liberal views. In response to the Iranian foreign minister, she posted on Twitter a sympathetic comment: “There are many Americans protesting US govt aggression towards Iran. If our Tangerine in Chief declares war, we stand with you!”
So her outraged political views extended even to siding with the world’s number one state sponsor of terrorism against the government she was ostensibly serving if it came to war between the two. That’s pretty outraged, all right. Also pretty outrageous on the part of someone working for the National Security Agency. But you’d have had to read a long way into the story to find it out.
If you read The Washington Post, on the other hand, you wouldn’t find it out at all. Mark Berman and Lindsey Bever, writing for that paper, purport to tell us “What we know about Reality Winner, the contractor accused of leaking an NSA document,” but they, too, bury their lead as a throwaway at the end of paragraph six:
Winner’s arrest stunned her relatives and associates, and it shone a sudden spotlight on the young woman, who faces up to a decade in prison. Winner was a high school tennis star and an animal lover who had used social media in ordinary ways, documenting her exercise habits, musical tastes, news that caught her eye — and her increasing agitation at President Trump’s actions.
As a gloss on that, the article quotes her mother:
“I never thought this would be something she would do,” Winner-Davis told the Guardian newspaper on Monday. “I mean, she has expressed to me that she is not a fan of Trump — but she’s not someone who would go and riot or picket.”
We have to go another nine paragraphs down to get a couple of specifics on that “not a fan” comment:
Winner’s social media accounts, shared widely online, showed her derision toward Trump, whom she at various points called “our Tangerine in Chief,” a liar and several expletives. They also captured her concerns about climate change and personal notes, like her love for her cat, Mina, who Winner said she picked up at an animal shelter in Ellicott City, Md., in 2015.
What is it with the cats? One gets the impression that both the Times and the Post are proposing that her love of her pets should be seen as a mitigating factor, even if they are much more reluctant to point out that she is accused of a serious crime. Five paragraphs further on, we have this:
Though the FBI affidavit and a Justice Department statement did not say what officials believe might have motivated the leak, Raj De, a former general counsel at the NSA who is now in private practice, said the case raises potential alarms about politics seeping into the intelligence community. “If leakers — or those seeking to deter leakers — have political motivations, that’s not a good place to be,’’ De said. “Most intelligence professionals don’t think that way, and I just hope this is not a case of somebody being against the president and therefore deciding to leak something about Russian intervention.’’
So not only is there no mention of the young woman’s publicly proposed act of treason there is faux mystification as to what “might have motivated the leak.” What to an outsider might seem a pretty obvious connection between Trump-hatred and an illegal act is reduced to a source’s pious wish that it should not be so: “I just hope this is not a case of somebody being against the president and therefore deciding to leak.”
It all reminds one of the affected puzzlement about motive that accompanies virtually every media report of Islamist terror attacks. The Inspector Clouseaus of our security services, it seems, are searching for clues as to the motivations of Muslim terrorists in the same place as they are searching for clues about Ms. Winner’s motivations, and with equally unsuccessful results. But in her case they are being even more disingenuous. For where do you suppose this young idiot named Reality, who is apparently an utter stranger to any notion of honor or patriotism, could have got the idea that it was okay to commit her high-minded crime, so long as it contributed to the media’s chorus of Trump-hatred, if not from the media’s own constant defense and even celebration of those who criminally leak to them?