Can the Ukraine call whistleblower remain anonymous? And, who is obligated to protect his or her anonymity?
Two pieces this weekend explore those questions.
The Washington Post reports that the effort to identify the whistleblower has become “a fixation” on both social media and conservative news sites.
The looming battle over President Trump’s potential impeachment has sparked an online hunt in the far-right corners of the Web as self-styled Internet sleuths race to identify the anonymous person Trump has likened to a treasonous spy.
Their guesses have been scattershot, conspiratorial and often untethered from reality…
The story quotes Peter W. Singer, a fellow at the think tank New America, on how the case as “all the elements of information warfare.” He also talks about the potential implications for the whistleblower.
There’s this crowdsourced manhunt to find out who did it, and once that identity comes out, everything in their life — what they majored in in college, where they like to eat dinner, where their kids went to school — will be pulled out in the hope there is one little nugget that can be weaponized against them.
So, what to do credible news outlets do when they discover details about the whistleblower? The New York Times published them, a move that drew darts and defenders.
“Astonishing for the NYT to essentially out the whistleblower in a story that doesn’t advance what we already knew on the same day the President threatened retribution,” wrote former Obama administration adviser Ben Rhodes. “It’s time to replace Dean Baquet,” wrote think-tanker Norm Ornstein in a vote of no-confidence for the newspaper’s executive editor. “I cannot think of a good reason for the Times to publish information about the whistleblower’s identity,” offered Vox’s Zack Beauchamp. “Wow, at face value this seems wrong,” tut-tutted the Atlantic’s James Fallows.
He then goes on to argue that the press has no obligation to protect the identity of the whistleblower. The name will come out eventually, he predicts.
Without a doubt, the Times story has complicated the CIA whistleblower’s life by poking holes in the cloak of anonymity he used to shroud himself from exposure. But if he’s as seasoned as the Times sketch makes him out to be, he had to know that the contents and style of his official complaint to the intelligence community’s inspector general would draw arrows pointing directly to him and eventually puncture his anonymity.
Note the case of Reality Winner, a who is sitting in jail, and The Intercept. The news site, which published documents about Russian interference in the 2016 election, does not reveal her as the source. But, it admits that their practices in covering the story “fell short of the standards to which we hold ourselves for minimizing the risks of source exposure when handling anonymously provided materials.”
Shafer writes that whistleblowers are not naïve – they understand the risks when they come forward and are driven to do the right thing. If that sound a bit more like the Hollywood version than the complex reality, keep on reading through the comments. They offer a sample of what the whistleblower can look forward too.
“Dox that fake biased whistleblower!”