Responding to news that the phone and email communications of New York Times reporter Ali Watkins were seized as part of the FBI’s investigation into leaks of classified information, folks in the media are crying foul. Watkins is referenced in a three-count indictment against James Wolfe, the man once in charge of classified information for the Senate Intelligence Committee, who was arrested and charged this week with lying to the FBI. Watkins and Wolfe were lovers (he is 32 years older than she); Wolfe fed nonpublic and possibly classified information to reporters, including Watkins, then lied about it. The tag team helped smear Carter Page last year, boosting speculation that he was the link between the Trump campaign and the Russians.
Despite many shady angles to this story (including that the Times knew about the affair), the paper went with this headline: “Ex-Senate Aide Charged in Leak Case Where Times Reporter’s Records Were Seized.” The real offense – according to our betters at the Gray Lady – is the rights of one of their own allegedly has been violated. Not that a top Senate staffer was leaking damaging, potentially classified information, which is a felony. Not that the Times knowingly hired a young reporter who clearly traded sex for scoops to advance her career. Not that more indictments are forthcoming and three of their media colleagues are also under scrutiny. No, the Times reporters (including Adam Goldman, who last month confirmed the FBI’s surveillance in 2016 of four Trump campaign associates) shrieked that “news media advocates consider the idea of mining a journalist’s records for sources to be an intrusion on First Amendment freedoms, and prosecutors acknowledge it is one of the most delicate steps the Justice Department can take.”
A Times spokeswoman called the seizure “an outrageous overreach” and insisted the “real issue here is the government’s intrusion into a reporter’s private communications.” A press advocacy group claimed the “government’s seizure of Ali Watkins’s data sets a dangerous precedent.” More journalists weighed in, calling it a “gross, gross use of government power,” “very disturbing,” and lamenting that Watkins wasn’t told her data was being seized.
Pardon me if I don’t share the media’s new-found indignation about privacy rights. Isn’t this the same media that has raised no objection to the politically-motivated surveillance on Page? The same media that cheered when classified communications between Michael Flynn and the Russian ambassador were leaked, resulting in Flynn’s ouster and prosecution? The same media that swooned when the home, office and hotel room of President Trump’s personal lawyer were raided? The same media that defends how the FBI employed spies – er, informants – to infiltrate the Trump campaign? The same media that didn’t make a peep when the personal cell phones of “potential witnesses” in the Paul Manafort case were seized?
So, media types, spare us your selective outrage: If you’re offended by what happened to Watkins, walk a day in Carter Page’s shoes.