Saturday, July 22, 2017

Today's in-depth journalism

You almost have to feel sorry for whoever was in charge of turning Massster's morning tantrum into a news story at Fox:

President Trump went on a wide-ranging Twitter rant Saturday morning, bashing Hillary Clinton, “fake news,” The New York Times and other favorite targets.

Trump tweeted at least eight times within a one-hour period, focusing first on a Washington Post story, based on unnamed sources, that alleged Attorney General Jeff Sessions talked to a Russian ambassador during the 2016 White House campaign about policy issues and other matters.

"A new INTELLIGENCE LEAK from the Amazon Washington Post, this time against A.G. Jeff Sessions. These illegal leaks, like Comey's, must stop!" Trump tweeted.

Points for getting "rant" into the lede, I suppose. But if you're waiting to hear what the "nuke commission" has to do with this, keep waiting. (One of the tweets about mid-rant or so does mention the commissioning of the Gerald R. Ford,* but the story mentions neither the ceremony itself nor the propulsion system.) The inside hed avoids that problem, but it still requires some cognitive problem-solving:
Only one of the Clintons is mentioned by name in the text, though if you're a regular Fox reader, "big dollar speeches" is your cue.

If you're wondering why it takes so long to get to the Times, check out the delicate bit of avoidance here:

... Trump also tweeted Saturday that The New York Times has a “sick agenda” regarding national security and that paper “foiled”  a U.S. strike on Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, believed dead for months.

“The Failing New York Times foiled U.S. attempt to kill the single most wanted terrorist, Al-Baghdadi. Their sick agenda over National Security,” Trump tweeted. However, to which attack the president was referring and why he singled out The Times was immediately unclear.

The daintily undangled preposition in "to which attack" is charming. It's been a while since "immediately unclear" came up; it still looks like a bizarre reading of the Strunkenwhite mandate to put things in positive form, but syntax is only half the fun. Other parts of the Fox empire have little trouble identifying the Times's sins:

In a wide-ranging interview moderated by Fox News' Catherine Herridge, Thomas, who leads the Special Operations Command, said his team was “particularly close” to Baghdadi after the 2015 raid that killed ISIS oil minister Abu Sayyaf. That raid also netted his wife, who provided a wealth of actionable information.

“That was a very good lead. Unfortunately, it was leaked in a prominent national newspaper about a week later and that lead went dead,” Thomas said. “The challenge we have [is] in terms of where and how our tactics and procedures are discussed openly. There's a great need to inform the American public about what we're up to. There's also great need to recognize things that will absolutely undercut our ability to do our job.”

Thomas appeared to be referring to a New York Times report in June 2015 that detailed how American intelligence agencies had “extracted valuable information.” 

”New insights yielded by the seized trove – four to seven terabytes of data, according to one official – include how the organization’s shadowy leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, operates and tries to avoid being tracked by coalition forces," the Times reported.

Would this be the same raid that Fox reported on in May 2015?

U.S. personnel overnight killed a key Islamic State leader in charge of the group's oil and gas operations in a raid in eastern Syria, the White House said Saturday.

A team of Delta Force commandos slipped across the border from Iraq under cover of darkness Saturday aboard Black Hawk helicopters and V-22 Osprey aircraft, according to a U.S. defense official knowledgeable about details of the raid.

... Ancient Assyrian texts and other priceless artifacts were recovered as well as what the defense official called a "treasure trove" of intelligence materials, such as cell phones, laptops and documents.

You'd think Gen. Thomas's assertions might have rung a bell with the interview's moderator, in that she's credited on Fox's follow-up two days later:

A special team of CIA, FBI and Pentagon interrogators has been dispatched to Iraq to grill the wife of the key ISIS leader killed in a daring commando raid last Saturday -- but sources told Fox News that the questioning, which will include queries about murdered American aid worker Kayla Mueller, will stop short of using rough techniques.

... Umm Sayyaf, the wife of Abu Sayyaf, was captured in the raid by the U.S. Army's elite Delta Force in eastern Syria and whisked away to an undisclosed Iraqi facility where the U.S. High Value Interrogation Group is questioning her.

... In addition to taking out a key ISIS leader and the man responsible for the terrorist army's black market oil trade and capturing his wife, the raid netted a "treasure trove" of sensitive information, according to Rep. Mike McCaul, R-Texas. Officials believe the terrorist leader's wife may know even more about ISIS' operations.

... Cellphones and laptops were seized in the operation and are now being analyzed for intelligence. U.S. officials said it was likely, given Abu Sayyaf's position, that he knew about more than just the financial side of the group's operations and also was targeted for his known association with the group's leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.

Sure. It's entirely possible that -- three weeks after the raid, and a week after the Times reported  on 'information harvested from the laptops, cellphones and other materials," al-Baghdadi suddenly realized that the laptops with the terabytes of data were the missing ones!!! Otherwise, it's hard to see why you'd give the competition top credit for following up on your own reporting. Maybe the smart reporter is the one who decided things were immediately unclear.

* Presumably, President Trump has gotten over his preference for steam catapults over "the digital." Fox doesn't mention that, either.

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