The case of Ali Watkins offers mothers an opening to have an uncomfortable yet necessary conversation with their daughters:
Don’t sleep your way to the top.
One would think in this #metoo, female empowerment, equal pay, don’t-even-tell-me-my-dress-is-pretty climate of workplace taboos, that conversation would be unnecessary. Twentysomething women and their successors have been programmed to be independent of men—especially white, older men. Our daughters’ internal soundtrack is a nonstop loop of Katy Perry tunes and Hillary Clinton speeches: “I’m With Him” just doesn’t have the same appeal.
So, it’s surprising to discover that young liberal women are still getting ahead the old-fashioned way. And not only is this behavior accepted, it is rewarded by the same news media overlords who have fueled the gender wars; boasted about their fealty to women in the workplace; and ridiculed powerful men preying on ambitious young women.
Web of Deceit
Ali Watkins, 26, is aNew York Times reporter mentioned in a federal indictment handed down last week against a former staffer for the congressional committee who is investigating the Trump-Russia collusion conspiracy. James Wolfe, 58, was the head of security for the Senate Intelligence Committee until last December; his main job was to protect classified information.
While Watkins was a college intern at a D.C. news organization, the two started having an affair that lasted more than three years. Wolfe was interviewed by federal officials as part of the FBI’s ongoing investigation into criminal leaks of classified information to the media. When he was asked about his relationship and contact with Watkins and other reporters, he lied. He is now charged with three counts of making a false statement to a government agency.
But the indictment and follow-up reporting reveal some interesting, if not alarming, tidbits. Watkins’s sex-for-scoops arrangement allegedly began when she was an intern at McClatchy in 2013; she went to work there full-time after her graduation from Temple University in 2014. That same year, Watkins and two other reporters were Pulitzer Prize finalists for their “timely coverage of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s report on CIA torture, demonstrating initiative and perseverance in overcoming government efforts to hide the details.” Of course, we now know she was carrying on with Wolfe at the time. Some initiative. Some perseverance.
That propelled Watkins to the newsrooms of some of the most influential media organizations in the country, including BuzzFeed, Politico, and the Times, where she covered national security issues often related to the committee’s work. (In an interview with her alma mater earlier this year after her ascendancy to the Times, Watkins attributed her success to “showing up at the odd hours when no one else is showing up. Showing up all the time and eventually running into somebody who knows something.”)
Well, she was right about that. According to the indictment, she and Wolfe “exchanged tens of thousands of electronic communications, often including daily texts and phone calls, and they frequently met in person at a variety of locations including Hart Senate Office Building stairwells, restaurants, and [her] apartment.” Her “dogged” reporting technique (as one defender described her methods) also won the admiration of her lover, 32-years her senior: “I’ve watched your career take off even before you ever had a career in journalism. . . . I always tried to give you as much information that I could and to do the right thing with it so you could get that scoop before anyone else . . . I always enjoyed the way that you would pursue a story, like nobody else was doing in my hallway. I felt like I was part of your excitement and was always very supportive of your career and the tenacity that you exhibited to chase down a good story.”
Sordid Details in the Indictment
It’s unclear who was zooming who in this relationship. (Wolfe apparently still is married to his wife who retired from the FBI in 2016.) But this sex swamp yielded benefits for both lovers: She enjoyed a “meteoric rise in Washington journalism” while he helped legitimize the political plotline that the Trump campaign colluded with the Russian government to influence the 2016 presidential election. In the process, this shady pair did not care who they hurt or what laws they possibly violated: One of their victims was Trump campaign volunteer Carter Page.
The indictment alleges that in March 2017, after receiving a classified document related to Page, Watkins and Wolfe exchanged 82 text messages and had a 28-minute phone conversation that evening. On April 3, Watkins posted an article in BuzzFeed confirming Page met with a Russian intelligence official in 2013: “The revelation of Page’s connection to Russian intelligence—which occurred more than three years before his association with Trump—is the most clearly documented contact to date between Russian intelligence and someone in Trump’s orbit. It comes as federal investigators probe whether Trump’s campaign-era associates—including Page—had any inappropriate contact with Russian officials or intelligence operatives during the course of the election.”
Watkins appeared on MSNBC that evening, where host Rachel Maddow praised her “jaw-dropping scoop about the Trump campaign.” She wrote numerous stories about Trump-Russia collusion, often citing the committee or a “high level US intelligence official.”
Wolfe also scooped other reporters on news about Page, including forwarding his contact information and alerting one reporter that Page had received a subpoena. (Page emailed the committee to complain about the leaks.) The pair apparently broke up in December 2017, which is when Wolfe was interviewed by the FBI and Watkins was hired by the Times.
Mainstream Media Circle the Wagons
But here’s the real rub: Watkins’s bosses at BuzzFeed, Politico, and the Times admit they knew about her affair with Wolfe but continued to allow her to cover that beat without disclosing her personal conflict to their readers. In the ultimate display of hubris and ignorance, Ben Smith, BuzzFeed’s editor-in-chief, condemned the FBI investigation and not the participants’ unethical conduct: Smith called the probe “an unjustified leak hunt” and accused the FBI of going to “dangerous lengths.” (It’s ok now to criticize law enforcement if you’re keeping score at home.) The Times took a similar approach, objecting instead to the seizure of Watkins’s cell and email records as a violation of constitutional protections.
Sure. Tell it to Carter Page.
It’s hard to believe this sordid tale is an outlier; undoubtedly our moral superiors in the news media and ruling political class who lecture us about female empowerment and white male patriarchy are overlooking, if not rewarding, the conduct of many more versions of Ali Watkins and James Wolfe.
So, moms, warn your daughters not to take the Ali Watkins career path. It’s destructive, deceptive and usually ends in disaster. Do it the really old-fashioned way: Earn it.
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