The story bears repeating after the indictment of a top Senate official over his contacts with reporters , including one from the Times with whom he had a romantic relationship. The Rosenthal standard on conflicts was shaped by a remarkably similar case decades ago. Soon after a woman who had covered politics in Philadelphia was hired by the Times, a story from Philly said she had a secret affair with a politician she covered and accepted expensive gifts from him.
Rosenthal asked the woman if the story was true and, when she replied yes, immediately told her to clean out her desk and said she would never work for the paper again. Word of the incident spread quickly through the newsroom, and several female reporters complained to Rosenthal. They argued that the woman was treated unfairly, at which point Abe raised his finger for silence and said something to this effect: His point was not about private conduct.
It was about the credibility of the paper. When the two conflict, the paper must come first. That lesson came rushing back to me as I read about the case involving James Wolfe, the longtime security director of the Senate Intelligence Committee. Federal prosecutors charged Wolfe with three counts of lying to investigators about his contacts with reporters, one of whom is Ali Watkins, who covers federal law enforcement for the Times.
The feds allege that Wolfe used encrypted phone apps and other tools to leak secret information. As part of the probe into Wolfe, the government seized email and phone records belonging to Watkins, although it reportedly has not accessed the contents. Nonetheless, the Times and others reacted with outrage, saying the seizure threatens a free press.
Moreover, the suggestion that Wolfe was a whistleblower is not based on known facts. Hers is not the hill they should volunteer to die on. Start with the fact that Watkins admits she was sleeping with Wolfe when she covered his Senate panel for BuzzFeed and Politico. The admission is shocking yet not surprising given the collapse of journalism standards in the age of Trump.
Pure hatred of this president in newsrooms across America is blinding editors and reporters to basic fairness and glaring conflicts of interest. Public trust in the media is at an all-time low, and this case illustrates a seedy link between the Washington press corps and the Washington swamp. The Times says Watkins informed editors of the romance when she joined the paper in December , but she claimed Wolfe never gave her classified information and said the relationship had ended.
The point is that her secret relationship with a source created a serious conflict of interest in her coverage. Another ethics problem is that the Times reports that the paper learned only Thursday that the Justice Department had notified Watkins last February that it seized her phone and email records. Her decision to withhold that critical fact from editors should weigh heavily against her.
Indeed, other journalists are highlighting tweets Watkins wrote last year saying the Senate intel panel suspected the White House of leaks. That raises the possibility she was spreading disinformation to protect Wolfe from suspicion. I know what Abe Rosenthal would do. In fact, he would have done it already. The announcement by Charles Krauthammer that he has weeks to live is unbearably awful news. A psychiatrist-turned-speechwriter-turned-Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist, Krauthammer is the most incisive commentator of our era.
In his columns and appearances on Fox News, Krauthammer demonstrated an exceptional gift for precision of thought and language. Permanently paralyzed by an accident, he often delivered his opinions with a wry wit. He withdrew for surgery nearly a year ago and said in a Friday letter that he was cancer-free a month ago, but now the cancer is back and spreading rapidly. My fight is over.
May you rest in eternal peace.