In most venues, receiving stolen material is a felony. Only precious journalists get a pass on that crime.
Yet self-styled media critic Howard Kurtz is worried that that pass might be getting a second look—however tenuously—from the recent arrest of James Wolfe, now ex-Director of Security for the staff of the Senate’s Select Committee on Intelligence, pursuant to which New York Times reporter Ali Watkins’ email and phone (and Twitter?) records were seized. (Kurtz also is downplaying the importance of Wolfe, too, referring to him as a “veteran Senate Intelligence Committee staffer.”)
What triggered the arrest is the FBI’s investigation into leaks of material, some of it potentially classified, from that Committee’s deliberations.
[Wolfe]…was indicted for allegedly giving false statements to the FBI about his contacts with three reporters and for lying about giving two reporters non-public information about committee matters.
Watkins was one of those reporters, at the time apparently working for Buzzfeed and/or Politico.
Kurtz said the importance of the case cannot be overstated and could lead to some reporters’ sources “drying up.”
“It’s a real classic chilling effect. … It’s a crime to leak classified information. At the same time, journalists rely on these leaks to get what they think is important information,” said the MediaBuzz host, noting that some of the communications with Wolfe were through encrypted messaging apps like WhatsApp and Signal.
That encryption is a strong indication that Wolfe knew what he was doing was illegal, and the recipients’ acceptance of those encrypted messages and their ability to decrypt them is a strong indication that those recipients knew they were getting illegally released material—stolen material.
Does Kurtz actually listen to himself? Journalists rely on leaks of classified information to get their stories? It’s a short hop from there to journalists actively soliciting leaks of classified information, but that’s a separate story.
Beyond that, I certainly hope these criminal sources get dried up. It would be a short hop from there—but probably too far a leap for journalists—to instead actively seek out legitimate information from legitimate—and named, not hidden—sources. It would be a short hop—but too far for journalists, apparently—to cite two on-the-record sources to corroborate “information” supplied by “anonymous” sources, like journalism standards used to require.
But a return to honest journalism would be a Good Thing, however inconvenient journalists might find that.