Declassification and Cognitive Dissonance in the Media
David Catron
by
Rep. Adam Schiff (YouTube screenshot)

When Nancy Pelosi decided to appease the impeachment hawks in her caucus by accusing President Trump of engaging in a cover-up, the media responded with undisguised glee. The New York Times, for example, ran a story that essentially congratulated the House Speaker for publicly goading the man. Trump responded by giving them transparency good and hard. He not only instructed the various intelligence agencies to assist Attorney General William Barr with his inquiry into the inception of the Russia investigation, but gave Barr authority to declassify related intelligence material. Oddly, the media have suddenly lost their enthusiasm for transparency.

Having already accused Barr of using his office to protect President Trump from the consequences of his fictitious crimes, the media were not pleasantly surprised when Trump issued his May 23 Memorandum giving Barr full authority to “declassify, downgrade, or direct the declassification or downgrading of information or intelligence that relates to the Attorney General’s review.” That put the various “news” outlets in a position whereby they were forced to object to Barr’s all but inevitable declassification of documents relating to the Russia investigation even as they accused him of participating in a “cover-up.” This required some fancy editorial footwork.

TheTimeshas executed a particularly dizzying pirouette. The editors of the newspaper that published the Pentagon Papers — and countless subsequent stories containing illegally leaked government secrets — have evidently had a road to Damascus experience with regard to the necessity of protecting classified information. In an article titled, “Potential Clash Over Secrets Looms Between Justice Dept. and C.I.A,” Julian E. Barnes and David E. Sanger admit that “the ultimate power to declassify documents rests with the president.” Yet they worry that Trump’s order will (heaven forefend) render the CIA impotent in bureaucratic territorial disputes:

President Trump’s order allowing Attorney General William P. Barr to declassify any intelligence that led to the Russia investigation… effectively strips the agency of its most critical power: choosing which secrets it shares and which ones remain hidden.… Traditionally, the C.I.A. has been effective at intramural governmental fights, in large measure because its power comes from its information and its closely guarded secrets.

And who in the world would want to reduce the power wielded within the bowels of the federal bureaucracy by paragons of virtue such as John Brennan? Well, House Intel Chair Adam Schiff for one. The Times quotes him thus: “Mr. Trump’s order could be tremendously damaging to the C.I.A. and other intelligence agencies, drying up sources and inhibiting their ability to gather intelligence.” And, displaying his trademark gift for unintentional irony, Schiff suggests that the President’s order might introduce an unsavory element of politicsinto the way intelligence is used inside the Beltway: “The president now seems intent on declassifying intelligence to weaponize it.”

At the Washington Post, meanwhile, Jeff Bezos’ team of seasoned editors and crack reporters has apparently concluded that democracy thrives in darkness. The Post suggests that the President should not have given Attorney General William Barr such broad authority to declassify information relating to the origin of the Russia investigation because it is “unprecedented” and “extraordinary” and causes concern among various and sundry “current and former intelligence officials.” It doesn’t seem to have occurred to anyone at that storied publication that these are almost certainly the very reasons that President Trump entrusted Barr with this responsibility:

Ordinarily, any review of intelligence activities would be done by the Director of National Intelligence Daniel Coats. But in giving that authority to Barr, the president has turned to someone he perceives as a loyalist and who has already said that he thinks the government spied on the Trump campaign.… Trump has never considered Coats a close or effective adviser, and earlier this year administration officials thought the president might fire him.

The Post exhumes a variety of former Obama administration officials to comment on the President’s order: “Michael Morell, a former CIA deputy director, called it ‘potentially dangerous’ to let Barr decide what to declassify, because ‘the DNI is in the best position to judge the damage to intelligence sources and methods.’” Robert Litt, another Obama administration retread, is quoted thus: “The part of this order that I find the most troubling says that the attorney general should consult with intelligence community elements on declassification ‘to the extent he deems it practicable.’” The obvious insinuation is that Barr will forego the consultation step.

This is absurd, of course. It couldn’t be more obvious that Attorney General Barr is about as honest as they get in Washington and, unlike those “current and former intelligence officials,” he doesn’t have a dog in the fight. Nor is there any possibility that a man with his long record of unsullied integrity is going to risk damaging that reputation by bending the rules on behalf of the President or any other official in D.C. This is precisely why he refused to comply with the subpoena issued by the House Judiciary Committee demanding a completely un-redacted copy of the Mueller report. That would have required violating federal law, and this man just doesn’t “play that.”

Consequently, the media must report the “news” in a way that requires them to claim two contradictory “facts” are both true: The President and AG Barr are engaged in a cover-up but are also involved in a nefarious plot to declassify and release as much information as possible. Media hacks at the New York Times and the Washington Post get paid to endure the cognitive dissonance caused by fabulist Adam Schiff, who responded to President Trump’s declassification order by claiming, “The cover-up has entered a new and dangerous phase. This is un-American.” For normal people dwelling beyond the Beltway — the voters — this gibberish just doesn’t cut it.

David Catron
David Catron
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David Catron is a health care consultant and frequent contributor to The American Spectator. You can follow him on Twitter at @Catronicus.
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