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Seth Abramson @SethAbramson
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(THREAD) @AllMattNYT, I teach journalism at University of New Hampshire. One of the first topics we cover is how to determine newsworthiness—including the 10 primary markers of newsworthy information. I think this story is a misreading of those and will explain why I say so here.
1/ Law enforcement/counterintelligence operations fail all the time.

When I was trained in criminal investigation, we were taught that criminal investigation is 99% failure. It's certainly not the case that law enforcement/counterintelligence failures are inherently newsworthy.
2/ A law enforcement or counterintelligence operation failure *can* newsworthy, however.

It's newsworthy if someone dies; if someone is arrested; if someone who green-lit the mission gets fired; if the failure exposes a traitor in our midst; if international laws are violated.
3/ The reason we don't usually hear of the world's *daily* law enforcement and counterintelligence failures is that these are covert operations and there's no reason for any of these agencies to *broadcast* their failures. So when they do, their motives are *immediately* suspect.
4/ If absolutely nothing about an operation's failure is *inherently* newsworthy—no deaths, arrests, firings, laws broken, treasons revealed—but someone wants to leak its failure and publicize it anyway, a journalist must proceed with enormous caution as to the story's sourcing.
5/ There's a temptation to report a story simply because one *can*—as the leak was available, surely (the thinking goes) no one would leak something that's not newsworthy, and I can therefore report it with confidence? I needn't have any fear I'm being used for a covert purpose?
6/ On its face, anyone can see—and I'm *sure* the NYT did—that both the most immediate and most significant beneficiary of this story (this commonplace law enforcement and/or counterintelligence failure being suddenly treated as inherently newsworthy) is a hostile foreign power.
7/ Sure enough, one of the main sources for the story is—wait for it—the Russian who duped American spies and made off with $100,000, who now wants to run a victory lap because he came away from this hoax having made the Americans look like chumps and a little bit richer to boot.
8/ But we also know—from the Trump-Russia story that the NYT not only dropped the ball on in October of 2016 but *wildly and fantastically misreported* in a way that may have kicked the 2016 election to Trump—that Vladimir Putin has the very same interest as this Russian source.
9/ And indeed, had this story not involved a Russian trying to peddle a Trump sex tape I think no one at the NYT would have struggled to see that this story is *not* newsworthy: U.S. spies try to recover stolen material, realize they're being played, back off. So what? Who cares?
10/ When an aircraft carrier costs $13 BILLION, who cares if the CIA or NSA or anyone else in government spends 100K trying to recover valuable stolen property, even if that 100K is ultimately a sunk cost because—like most investigative leads—the lead turns out to be a dead end?
11/ No—this story was reported by the NYT because a Russian connected to Russian intelligence was trying to peddle a fake Trump sex tape, which immediately marks his operation as Russian PSYOP. Indeed—the very same sort of PSYOP Americans have already fallen prey to and recently.
12/ This op is a chaos play—pure and simple—as numerous Congressional witnesses have already made clear. Either the Russians make Americans think Trump is being blackmailed (win for Putin), or make the American Left look like a bunch of silly conspiracy theorists (win for Putin).
13/ Just so, a *second* story the NYT failed to report pre-election—as did everyone else—is the "Trumplandia" story: rogue agents in the New York field office of the FBI who illegally leaked information to Rudy Giuliani to try to coerce Jim Comey into re-opening the Clinton case.
14/ Knowing that we'd missed that story also, if anyone in *American* intelligence came to me as a journalist and said, "I want to tell you about how we just got played by the Russians into believing there's actually a Trump sex tape" (or almost got so played), I'd balk. Bigtime.
15/ My feeling, @AllMattNYT—quite sincerely—is you got played: either by the Russians or by pro-Trump elements in the U.S. IC or both.

And I think that this was a non-newsworthy story being pumped for political purposes should have been clear to the NYT under the circumstances.
16/ As a journalist, I'd have foreseen that this story would be weaponized by Trump for political purposes immediately upon its publication—which it was—and I would have seen that certainty as a *further* sign that this story was not leaked because of its inherent newsworthiness.
17/ The worst part: the Russian, his Kremlin bosses, and some—definitionally disloyal—U.S. IC agents desperately wanted the NYT to report that U.S. law enforcement/counterintelligence were duped into diving into the Russia scandal half-assed.

But they *didn't actually do that*.
18/ So the story the NYT was fed for partisan—not journalistic—purposes was a fraud: the leak was a sham *and* the *intelligence leaked* was a sham. Because neither the CIA nor the NSA had *any* interest in the supposed Trump tape.

So you should've been nowhere near this story.
19/ Were this an academic case study, I'd tell my students the temptation to run with a story because a) you can, b) you know it'll be read, and c) it meets the "timely" requirement for newsworthiness *but no other* is powerful and incredibly dangerous. This is a cautionary tale.
20/ All that said, I don't have any interest in guessing at motivations here. I'm perfectly happy to assume you and the NYT acted in good faith. But this was a journalistic failure at every single stage of the process—and it's hard for me to imagine that the NYT doesn't see that.
PS/ This is a moment in U.S. history when we as people working in media—whichever journalistic mode we work in—must be aware that hostile foreign powers are trying to weaponize us as an instrument of confusion and chaos among our own people. We must be vigilant like never before.
PS2/ When we *know* that a given sequence of events is *commonplace*—say, law enforcement and/or counterintelligence operations trying to redress a harm done to America, and an exemplar of same that *fails*—we must not be tricked into telling the American people it is newsworthy.
PS3/ The ploy being used (at this moment in our history) by the American Right is reporting as profound, bizarre and deviant certain actions that are wholly commonplace and appropriate. We're seeing it *right now* with Nunes playing off Americans' ignorance of how the FISC works.
PS4/ This new trend in U.S. politics—partisan scoundrels weaponizing the press by sensationalizing normalcy *or* normalizing criminality—is *so obvious to most Americans* that it astounds me that the New York Times or anyone else isn't on *constant watch* for that *precise* ploy.
PS5/ This NYT story should've raised—in the NYT newsroom—*every red flag* that can be raised, as it ticks *every box* of what we now know to be a common partisan ploy in D.C. (and in Russia PSYOP). And yet it was reported anyway. I think some serious soul-searching is called for.
NOTE/ For this thread, I put aside the issue overshadowing this entire conversation: the question of whether anything the NYT reported was true—as of course "accuracy" is the "A" in the "OATH" equation that spells out the four core journalistic principles.…
NOTE2/ There was a way to conceive of this story that would have rendered it newsworthy, though the facts, sources and frame would have been dramatically different. The lead: Russian intelligence is now peddling a fake Trump tape to sow new chaos in American political discourse.
NOTE3/ The following sentence appears in the *tenth paragraph* of the story on this subject in The Intercept (as opposed to the story in the New York Times, which I was previously discussing) and such placement of this sort of information is, I would say, textbook bad journalism:
NOTE4/ "The Americans are uncertain whether the Russians involved are part of a disinformation campaign orchestrated by Moscow, either to discredit Trump or to discredit efforts by U.S. officials investigating Trump’s possible ties to Russia, including Special Counsel Mueller."
NOTE5/ The lead, in The Intercept story, isn't that the NSA wants to find its stolen materials—of course it does. It's not that Russia is lying to U.S. officials—of course it is. The lead—left to the tenth paragraph—is that the Russians are playing psyops with the Steele dossier.
FOLLOWUP/ The points I made in this thread are bolstered by how Business Insider has decided to cover this story, which is consistent with what I proposed as journalistically responsible.

BI has been great on the Trump-Russia investigation from the jump.…
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