News has been pouring out of the White House this past week -- but it's not coming from Press Secretary Sean Spicer. Instead, the press and public have been getting intelligence via leaks: leaked transcripts of phone calls with foreign leaders, leaked reports of botched military actions, leaked executive orders. In fact, the Washington Post’s Chris Cillizza has called this the “leakiest White House” he’s ever seen.
Under this chaotic administration, are unsanctioned tips from anxious insiders the best way to get to the truth?
Hammer of Los by John Zorn Breakin' Through by The Whitefield Brothers
BOB GARFIELD: From WNYC in New York, this is On the Media. Brooke Gladstone is out this week. I’m Bob Garfield.
Well, we begin with excellent news. The United States is not at war with Australia, yet. On Thursday, news consumers were treated to the details of a call between President Donald J. Trump and Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, which Trump cut off after insulting Turnbull about his country's refugee agreement with the United States.
FEMALE CORRESPONDENT: The Washington Post reports the new US president candidly declared Australia's refugee agreements with Barack Obama the worst deal ever, said Australia was seeking to export the next Boston bombers…
MALE CORRESPONDENT: This was the worst call, by far, the President is quoted saying, after hanging up 25 minutes into a scheduled hour-long call.
BOB GARFIELD: News of this episode came hot on the heels of another scoop in which Trump did threaten to invade Mexico.
MALE CORRESPONDENT: President Donald Trump says he would send troops into Mexico if they don't take care of, quote, “bad hombres.”
BOB GARFIELD: And there were reports that Trump’s first actual use of military lethal force was a rushed botched job.
MALE CORRESPONDENT: The first major military operation authorized by Donald Trump, the target, Al Qaeda in Yemen, and it didn’t go as planned. It’s now emerging that more civilians were killed, including women and children.
BOB GARFIELD: Apart from Trumpian bellicosity, North Korea and Iran also got threats this week. What did these stories have in common? Ah, none of them came from a Sean Spicer press statement. They were leaked, one and all, just as predicted here two weeks ago by Politico’s Jack Shafer.
JACK SHAFER: It’s a sure bet that there are bureaucrats who won't like the new direction of the new administrator and will be very, very willing to leak or to provide information that’s valuable to whatever investigation a reporter might be pursuing.
BOB GARFIELD: In an administration trading daily in “alternative facts,” Shafer said it will be the leaks that offer a true window into Trump world. And it's already been a peeping Tom's delight.
MALE CORRESPONDENT: We’re hearing from White House sources, they’re telling CNN that the President was very unhappy with the way that the order, the executive order on travel restrictions was executed.
MALE CORRESPONDENT: ABC News has obtained a controversial draft executive order that’s circulating apparently inside the White House there. It outlines a potential weakening of protections designed to shield LGBT individuals from discrimination.
FEMALE CORRESPONDENT: A lot of people in various agencies are anonymously saying that Steve Bannon, Steve Miller and others in the White House are advising the President more than the national security team.
BOB GARFIELD: The Washington Post’s Chris Cillizza called this the leakiest White House he’d ever seen. Former New York Times editor Bill Keller said this week that Trump has created a, quote, “government of fact checkers.” For journalists like Politico’s Ken Vogel, it's the infighting mother lode.
KEN VOGEL: Oh, we are salivating and, in fact, the term that has been used to describe the situation now in the White House is it's like the “Lord of the Flies” in there. It’s every person for themselves.
BOB GARFIELD: And the stories have gotten some traction, although they haven't necessarily broken through the clutter of the week's clownishness. All the world is chortling over Trump’s Black History Month goof when he name checked his African-American, Frederick Douglass.
PRESIDENT TRUMP: Frederick Doug - Douglass is an example of somebody who's done an amazing job and is being recognized more and more, I notice.
BOB GARFIELD: Yes, the abolitionist hero IS doing an amazing job, for someone who’s been dead for 122 years. And much was made of Trump’s hijacking of the National Prayer Breakfast to pray for Arnold Schwarzenegger's Celebrity Apprentice ratings. Meantime, while much of the press was focused on the sideshows, truly ominous activities were afoot. In order to impose a constitutionally dubious and otherwise abhorrent ban on Syrian refugees and citizens of seven majority Muslim countries, the White House undermined both other branches of government by hiding its intentions from Congress and by subverting a federal court order to cease deporting detained travelers.
If you’re a journalist covering Donald J. Trump, this might be a good time to pay less attention to trivial stupidities, juicy though they may be, and more on the documents being slid by anxious insiders and anonymous heroes under your door.
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Coming up, in search of objectivity in an objectively chaotic time, this is On the Media.