The breathless reporting about President Trump and Russia has, if possible, been reaching even more of a fever pitch during the last week. Ever since is was announced that officials merely wanted to talk to Jared Kushner, the media has been acting as if the president’s son in-law were Philip Jennings from The Americans.
Countless stories like this are repeatedly posted to social media every day by major news organizations. This particular post is about a thousand or so words of wishful speculation, with this line tucked away in the middle of it:
The officials acknowledged to NBC News that the evidence does not amount to proof, and they have declined to provide details about it.
That’s the formula for most of this “reporting”: no conclusions and no details, but, hey, let’s make up some of our own.
Now, former Acting CIA Director Michael Morell, who was a very public Hillary Clinton supporter last year, is warning people to not read too much into the information that has been presented so far.
In an interview with the security site The Cipher Brief, Morell offers a what he says are two “important caveats.” Here is the first:
Let me say right up front that I look at this issue – Kushner’s contacts with the Russians – as well as the broader issue of Trump associates’ contacts with the Russians from the perspective of an intelligence analyst. When I do that, there are a couple of important caveats with which I have to start. The first is that we do not fully understand the facts. For the most part – and please stay with me here – what we, the public, know is what the media has reported, that unnamed former and current government officials have told them what the Russians said to each other about what happened in meetings with Trump associates. That is not a sourcing chain in which I would put a great deal of confidence. I spent a career watching the media get a significant portion of intelligence-related stories wrong. So, the bottom line: we should all be very careful in saying what is a fact on which to base analysis here. The real facts may be different.
This essentially echoes a point many of us have been trying to counter with for weeks-that the media may be wrong and we shouldn’t accept everything they report without question. Easy enough to do if you aren’t rabidly anti-Trump, almost impossible for the Never Trump Republicans and liberals, however.
The media noise about the Trump-Kushner-Russia stuff has been almost deafening, and that is probably because they are trying to distract from the fact that, as of now, there is no there there.
Here is Morell’s second caveat:
The second caveat is that we all need to be careful not to draw overarching conclusions from one data point – even if we think that data point is correct – or, even more importantly, we need to be careful that we don’t over-connect the dots. This latter point is particularly important. There are essentially two types of intelligence failures – One, under connecting the dots, not seeing what is there (Japan’s intent to attack Pearl Harbor is the best example) and two, over connecting the dots, seeing things that really are not there (Iraq WMD being the classic example). There are so many “facts” in the public domain now that many people are connecting them in a way that has them concluding the Trump campaign must have been guilty of conspiring with the Russians in a way that would be a violation of the law. It is way too early to come to that conclusion.