If the Only News Is Good News and There Is No News …?

Tara McKelvey, the woman who wrote one of the most detailed stories on drone targeting (which has subsequently gotten John Rizzo into some trouble), has a CJR piece on the problems of reporting on drones. The whole thing is worth reading, but I want to take a number of quotes McKelvey includes out of order, starting with David Ignatius, noting the Administration’s flexibility in secrecy rules.

Ignatius, of the Post, explained that Obama administration officials are sometimes willing to discuss drone operations in an attempt to promote the White House’s counterterrorism strategy. In February 2010, for instance, Ignatius was able to write a detailed account of the escalation of drone strikes because officials were eager to demonstrate that Obama was more aggressive in his pursuit of al Qaeda than Bush was.

“These rules about covert activities can be bent when it becomes politically advantageous,” Ignatius said. “When it suits them, you get quite a detailed readout.”

That’s a sentiment Jonathan Landay echoes.

Journalists know that finding non-official sources is crucial in covering the drone war, especially under the tight-lipped Obama administration. “The only time I’m allowed to talk to senior staff or the nsc is for stories that make the administration look good,” McClatchy’s Landay said.

In other words, an experienced journalist reputed to be a mouthpiece, and an experienced journalists known for bucking the Administration propaganda leading up to the Iraq War. Both in agreement that the Administration won’t tell you anything unless it puts the Administration and its drone program in the best light.

Which is why I love this bit, which McKelvey puts right after a discussion about the clouded legality of the program.

A spokesman for the White House National Security Council, who spoke only on condition he not be named, rebuffed questions about why the administration refuses to speak with reporters on the record about the program. “You’re going to have a lot of people on the outside, and they all love to talk,” he said. “We can’t do that.” And, the official added, if outsiders are talking about the drone war, “that means they don’t know very much.”

This NSC spokesperson may or may not be Tommy Vietor, who is, after all, the NSC spokesperson.

For McKelvey, this Tommy Vietor sound-alike basically claims he cannot comment. Both Ignatius (who ought to know) and Landay make it clear they would have comment if there were good news to share.

Which further adds to the evidence that where they refuse to give us evidence–as they have with Anwar al-Awlaki’s assassination–it’s because they have no good news to give.

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bmaz @_JGR Now, I am NOT saying I think that should work here, but with a cop, I think you have a spitting chance with a good expert.
bmaz @_JGR That it was reflexive under the heat+stress of the moment, and therefore not premeditated. Trustme, there are "cop experts" for this.
emptywheel @richietynan https://t.co/wBU7tgEQd1 He's not REALLY a teenager, just claiming to be.
emptywheel @richietynan The panel needs to know a hacker claiming to be a teenager just got into FBI's counterpart of that system.
emptywheel Don't tell the terrorists the FBI knows some people have separate work phone numbers or they'll win!
bmaz RT @WilliamBaude: Self-recommending and much-needed: Eugene Volokh on the "Speech integral to criminal conduct" exception https://t.co/9pI0
emptywheel @richietynan It's actually useful to see how they rationalize this stuff.
emptywheel @richietynan Is this streaming?
emptywheel Seriously people. The FBI considered it an 11-year secret that they can get day AND evening phone numbers w/an NSL. Day AND evening!
emptywheel Govt clusterfuckery. The govt redacted this footnote in September. https://t.co/PnLbGPkOMl
emptywheel @seansposito They're already mandated to do that. They just don't care and Congress won't make them care.
emptywheel Also unsealed by @nickcalyx is full opinion. FBI had wanted to hide this info, which it revealed in Marathon trial. https://t.co/1q6RqVhHrz
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