Thursday July 16, 2020
Throughout the Trump years, various reporters have presented to great fanfare one dubious, thinly sourced story after another about Moscow’s supposedly nefarious plots against the United States. The unsupported allegations about an illegal collusion between Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign and the Russian government spawned a host of subsidiary charges that proved to be bogus. Yet, prominent news outlets, including the New York Times, the Washington Post, CNN, and MSNBC ran stories featuring such shaky accusations as if they were gospel.
The willingness of the press to circulate any account that puts Russia in a bad light has not diminished with the collapse of the Russia‐Trump collusion narrative. The latest incident began when the New York Times published a front‐page article on June 28, based on an anonymous source within the intelligence community, that Moscow had put a bounty on the lives of American soldiers stationed in Afghanistan. The predictable, furious reaction throughout the media and the general public followed. When the White House insisted that the intelligence agencies had never informed either the president or vice president of such reports, most press reactions were scornful.
As with so many other inflammatory news accounts dealing with Russia, serious doubts about the accuracy of this one developed almost immediately. Just days later, an unnamed intelligence official told CBS reporter Catherine Herridge that the information about the alleged bounties was uncorroborated. The source also revealed to Herridge that the National Security Agency (NSA) concluded that the intelligence collection report “does not match well‐established and verifiable Taliban and Haqqani practices” and lacked “sufficient reporting to corroborate any links.” The report had reached “low levels” at the National Security Council, but it did not travel farther up the chain of command. The Pentagon, which apparently had originated the bounty allegations and tried to sell the intelligence agencies on the theory, soon retreated and issued its own statement about the “unconfirmed” nature of the information.