When George W. Bush was president, a week didn't go by when the press wasn't dismissing his intelligence and proclaiming his administration's incompetence. Over the weekend, President Obama made a surprise visit to the troops in Afghanistan. Someone on his staff demonstrated truly jaw-dropping incompetence by accidentally releasing to 6,000 journalists the name of the CIA station chief in Afghanistan as part of Obama’s welcoming delegation. That is a death sentence, not just for the agent but for all those around him.
Try to imagine the media firestorm this would have created had the transgression occurred during the W years. Remember the endless coverage, day after day, week after week, over the disclosure of Valerie Plame's name, a veritable D.C. paper-pusher by comparison? She became the poster child in a relentless campaign to undermine President Bush's foreign policy -- and the man himself.
So how did they cover a mistake a thousand-fold more serious?
NBC was the news “leader” on the morning after Memorial Day by devoting just one story to this fiasco on “Today.” Reporter Peter Alexander concluded with anonymous officials calling the disclosure “embarrassing, stupid, and unhelpful," but "not catastrophic."
On ABC, “Good Morning America” aired a glowing report on the morning of Memorial Day about how Obama visited the troops at the Bagram military base. Almost as an afterthought, reporter David Kerley briefly recounted “One mistake made during this trip, the White House inadvertently released the name of the CIA station chief in Afghanistan. No word on whether he's going to stay in country or come back home.” Oh, yeah, that.
Anchor David Muir just carelessly moved on: “All right. He was shaking a lot of hands. And he said 'I wouldn't have a time for a selfie with everyone.' And you know that president, he likes a selfie.”
The CIA station chief could be in danger of assassination, but the ABC anchors are still obsessed with Obama selfies. By Tuesday morning, ABC was so uninterested that they devoted a full report instead to Michelle Obama defending school lunch standards.
CBS didn’t have time for this story, but “CBS This Morning” did have time on Tuesday for a full report on the Obama White House holding a science fair for girls.
Why do these network producers act like employees of Jay Carney’s publicity shop? Can’t they distinguish between breaking news and promotional gunk? They can, of course. They just don't want to report it.
The public broadcasters would like to be seen as the serious journalists focused on serious news, especially in the realm of foreign affairs. Yet NPR had no mention of the White House station-chief disclosure in the Nexis database. The PBS NewsHour offered a bland 77-word brief on Monday night, including “The CIA and White House have yet to officially comment on the incident.”
The newspapers were also unimpressed. The New York Times buried this story ten paragraphs into a page A-4 story on Obama’s quick visit. The Washington Post at least made it a headline in a short story on A-2: “White House unintentionally identifies CIA chief in Kabul.” But the press pool report revealing the name – carelessly approved by the White House – was written by Post reporter Scott Wilson, so perhaps they felt sick about it.
Not one of these TV and newspaper reports turned to a conservative or Republican critic to question the efficacy of Team Obama. It is like every other scandal, be it the IRS, Benghazi, Fast and Furious, the VA hospitals, or now this. The developments are explosive and met with complete indifference from a press that could care less about the people's right to know.