Media are playing games yet again with anonymous Russia leaks

On Friday, three New York Times reporters wrote that “American intelligence officials have concluded that a Russian military intelligence unit secretly offered bounties to Taliban-linked militants for killing coalition forces in Afghanistan — including targeting American troops — amid the peace talks to end the long-running war there, according to officials briefed on the matter.”

This allegedly airtight intelligence was “briefed to President Trump,” and “officials” came up with ideas for potential responses, including a diplomatic complaint and sanctions, but the White House had yet to authorize anything. The intelligence, the reporters claimed, had been shared with the British government.

The anonymous leakers of the information, the reporters claimed, are totally certain that “Russian operatives” offered and paid bounties, but they have “greater uncertainty” about who authorized the plan. The reporters included some speculation about why such a bounty operation would be done. There was no speculation about the motivation of the leaking “officials.” …

Literally nothing about the political media’s use of anonymous sources to spread republic-damaging disinformation in recent years should lead anyone to treat further anonymously sourced reports with any deference. Yet the entire corporate media establishment immediately ran wild with the story and used it to suggest it was further evidence that Trump was an agent of Russian President Vladimir Putin. The story dominated cable news over the weekend and into the following week.

Republicans who support continuing the war in Afghanistan indefinitely, even though it has been going on for 19 years, expressed grave concern about the report. Republican Rep. Liz Cheney, whose father had authoritatively claimed in August 2002 there was “no doubt” Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, reflexively accepted the anonymously sourced reports and demanded answers and action.

It turned out that key details of the story were disputed by on-the-record sources. When the White House press secretary said neither Trump nor Vice President Mike Pence had even been briefed on this intelligence, reporters tried a new line of attack.

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