Look, I’m not privy to the same information that intelligence reporters for The New York Times are.
However, I will say this much: When one of the cast members of “The Young Turks” is casting doubt upon your anti-Donald Trump article, it’s perhaps time to rethink its premises.
Ana Kasparian is the second-most famous host on the left-wing YouTube show; she’s the one who didn’t run for Congress or endorse legalizing bestiality on the show. (That’d be Cenk Uygur.)
However, this being “The Young Turks,” Kasparian is best known for her rants, including her famous “I’m f—ing better than you” tirade about conservative social media users and her election night meltdown from 2016.
All of this has to do with Trump, of course, so she has her passport to #TheResistance stamped.
That’s why it’s worth taking note when Kasparian is casting doubt upon the narrative that President Trump was briefed on a report that Russia was offering bounties to terrorists for killing American troops in Afghanistan.
So, just in case you’re unfamiliar: According to reporting in The New York Times, the president was briefed on a Russian initiative to pay Taliban-linked militants when they killed American soldiers. If he was and didn’t do anything, of course, that becomes extremely problematic.
Their reporting first stated that U.S. intelligence had evidence of bounties and added that the White House hadn’t acted on potential responses to the aggression.
“Islamist militants, or armed criminal elements closely associated with them, are believed to have collected some bounty money, the officials said. Twenty Americans were killed in combat in Afghanistan in 2019, but it was not clear which killings were under suspicion,” the article read.
“The intelligence finding was briefed to President Trump, and the White House’s National Security Council discussed the problem at an interagency meeting in late March, the officials said. Officials developed a menu of potential options — starting with making a diplomatic complaint to Moscow and a demand that it stop, along with an escalating series of sanctions and other possible responses, but the White House has yet to authorize any step, the officials said.”
The Times reported that the bounties on American soldiers — described by Afghan militants and criminals during interrogation sessions — were paid amid peace talks between the United States and the Taliban.
A second story claimed transfers from a Russian bank account to a bank account linked to Islamist radicals had bolstered American intelligence’s case.
Equally problematic, however, is if all of this reporting wasn’t accurate.
Catherine Herridge of CBS News wrote in a Monday tweet that “an intelligence official with direct knowledge tells CBS News there was an intel collection report and ‘NSA assesses Report does not match well established and verifiable Taliban and Haqqani practices’ + ‘lack sufficient reporting to corroborate any links.'”
DEVELOPING: An intelligence official with direct knowledge tells CBS News there was an intel collection report and “NSA assesses Report does not match well established and verifiiable Taliban and Haqqani practices” + “lack sufficient reporting to corroborate any links.”
— Catherine Herridge (@CBS_Herridge) June 29, 2020
This report, in part, led to Kasparian’s post.
“Sooo…we’re just going to believe unverified CIA leaks to New York Times stenographers, huh?” Kasparian said in a Tuesday tweet.
“The Afghanistan Papers weren’t that long ago. I hate Trump too. Plenty of verified material to attack him on. No need to align ourselves with war hawks like Liz Cheney & Lindsey Graham.”
Sooo…we’re just going to believe unverified CIA leaks to New York Times stenographers, huh? The Afghanistan Papers weren’t that long ago. I hate Trump too. Plenty of verified material to attack him on. No need to align ourselves with war hawks like Liz Cheney & Lindsey Graham.
— Ana Kasparian (@AnaKasparian) June 30, 2020
First, in case you’ve forgotten, the “Afghanistan Papers” involved a major intelligence leak regarding evidence that officials allegedly misled the public about the war in Afghanistan.
And yes, saying Kasparian hates Donald Trump and his administration is saying that a fish loves water, and not just in a bromidic fashion. Just like the fish needs water to survive, Kasparian and “The Young Turks” troupe need hate of Donald Trump to survive this cold winter of The Administration Which Shall Not Be Named.
And I hate to say it, but Kasparian actually has several reasonable points here.
First, when it comes to the idea of the hawks being up to something nefarious, this isn’t the worst explanation for former National Security Advisor John Bolton’s decision to slam Trump over the report, even as he declined to tell Bloomberg whether he briefed the president on the alleged Russian bounties.
Bolton’s recent book evinces a salty man who takes the worst possible interpretation of anything that Trump does. This is a man who perpetually wants America to get more deeply involved in the conflicts that we’re in and to extend itself to new conflicts.
As for the “unverified CIA leaks to New York Times stenographers,” I have to give Kasparian some credit for a decent funny line there. On top of that, she’s right — there are competing narratives here, and even if the truth is somewhere in the middle, the broadside hit of The Times’ piece is considerably blunted.
Either way, acting as stenographers for individuals within the intelligence community isn’t journalism.
Of course, it’s entirely possible The Times was right and the president ignored briefings about the alleged bounties on American troops in Afghanistan. That’s decidedly a bad thing.
However, simply passing along these sources as if what they’re saying is gospel is extremely problematic — particularly when the narrative the paper is trying to weave relies on anonymous sources whose positions and motives we’re not in a position to judge.
When even the second-most-visible host on “The Young Turks” thinks we shouldn’t accept this at face value, that says a lot.
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