Let us take a look back at five times former President Barack Obama leaked classified information, without a peep of protest from the media that are currently melting down over President Donald Trump’s discussions with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.
The Stuxnet virus: Marine Corps General James Cartwright was charged with leaking documents on the Stuxnet virus (a.k.a. Operation Olympic Games) to a New York Times reporter. Stuxnet is the virus that temporarily disabled Iran’s nuclear weapons program in 2010.
Cartwright was further charged with giving false testimony to FBI agents who investigated the leak. He eventually pleaded guilty to the leak, and President Obama pardoned him on his way out of the Oval Office in 2017. The media did not seem upset about this at all.
Obama’s fans in newsrooms across the country knew Cartwright as “Obama’s general.” Foreign Policy noted he was “beloved in the White House for a host of unpopular opinions that cut against the grain of military orthodoxy,” such as opposing the Afghanistan troop surge and the F-22 fighter jet. He certainly was not leaking about Stuxnet to hurt the president. On the contrary, he had been authorized to speak to the press on the matter because Stuxnet was something Obama wanted to brag about.
It was not just Cartwright, either. The Washington Post had no trouble finding anonymous sources for a big story on Stuxnet in June 2012. Plugging those leaks to prevent the disclosure of national security secrets did not seem to be a priority for anyone involved.
Foreign Policy noted that the Obama administration “regularly leaks ostensibly classified information to the media” to suit its own purposes. There were even bipartisan complaints about it from Congress. Senator John McCain (R-AZ), who seems to have gained a jolt of credibility with the press for criticizing Trump, attracted little attention when he accused Obama of leaking Stuxnet information to win votes in the 2012 election.
For some strange reason, none of today’s rock-ribbed defenders of classified intelligence in the media was upset about this behavior or sought to create a media narrative about how the Obama White House was a threat to national security.
The bin Laden raid: Obama and his mouthpieces fell all over themselves leaking details about the raid that killed Osama bin Laden to burnish the president’s terrorism-fighting credentials. As Breitbart News senior editor Joel Pollak pointed out Wednesday, leaks about the bin Laden raid arguably ruined and ended lives – notably including Pakistani doctor Shakil Afridi, who provided invaluable assistance with locating the al-Qaeda mastermind and members of SEAL Team 6, who took him out.
When Hollywood came calling to tell the story of that raid, the Obama administration did not exactly slam the door in their faces. Leaks of sensitive material to the makers of the film Zero Dark Thirty became a major concern in Congress and the courts, although it was all a matter of mild interest at best to the media. The White House issued and later retracted false denials.
Today, the only controversy most of the media remember about Zero Dark Thirty is that the film inexcusably made it appear that enhanced interrogation techniques produced useful intelligence.
There was no grand strategy behind the bin Laden raid leaks, no diplomatic effort, no attempt to minimize the casualties from terrorism or secure enhanced cooperation against America’s enemies. It was pure politics and spin, 100 percent about securing the re-election of Barack Obama.
Burning the CIA chief in Afghanistan: In 2014, the Obama White House accidentally revealed the name of the CIA station chief in Afghanistan.
Once again, it was all about spin and public relations, not vital national security strategy. President Obama was making a surprise Memorial Day visit to the troops in Afghanistan, so the White House blasted out a list of officials who would be present at the event to 6,000 people in the media. Some of the journalists who received the list of official names worked for foreign media organizations.
One of those officials happened to be the CIA station chief. When it realized the error, the White House had to scramble to ask media outlets not to divulge the name. PBS, which described the incident as an “embarrassing flub,” noted that the White House had at least two opportunities to review the list of 15 officials scheduled to receive Obama in Afghanistan and notice that one of them was America’s top intelligence official in the country.
Obama ordered U.S. agencies to share intelligence with communist Cuba: The media curiously seem to have forgotten Obama’s parting order that sensitive U.S. intelligence must be shared with Cuba, even though it was only issued a few months ago.
This Obama action was orders of magnitude worse than anything President Trump could conceivably have mentioned to the Russian foreign minister about terrorism. Just to rub in how dangerous and misguided it was, the architect of Obama’s disastrous nuclear deal with Iran, Ben Rhodes, was present at the signing ceremony. People who still had their wits about them noted that Cuba was very likely to share juicy American intelligence with Iran–as if Cuba’s having the intel was not bad enough. Iran would be very interested in such information since it has ambitions in Latin America.
Obama’s director of National Intelligence, James Clapper – who enjoys plenty of media attention when he criticizes the Trump administration – acknowledged that Cuba is still an active espionage threat, right up there with Iran, China, and Russia.
If the media were upset by any of this, they did most of their screaming into a paper bag.
Drone strikes and Obama’s “kill list”: The Hill recalls “three dozen current and former Obama administration officials” eagerly participating in a 2012 New York Times story about Obama’s secret “kill list” of drone strike targets.
Obama’s re-election campaign was quite interested in portraying him as tough on terrorism. Apparently, no one was troubled by the incongruity of a Nobel Peace Prize recipient who maintained a kill list. The New York Times did not even mention the Nobel in its story, instead portraying Obama as a troubled man of principle, balancing his humanitarian vision against the brutal necessities of the War on Terror.
The Media Research Center noted at the time that the mainstream media seemed completely unconcerned with the threat posed to national security by dozens of top officials divulging sensitive intelligence about drone strikes – not even when the Obama administration eventually claimed to be concerned about it. Critics also noted that the Obama administration was always eager to talk about leaks that created favorable media narratives, and while it frequently crusaded against whistleblowers, it never complained long about leaks it liked.
Supposedly bringing up the misdeeds of the Obama administration and the very different attitude the media displayed towards those misdeeds are sins of “whataboutism” – in other words, distracting from the Trump administration’s problems by saying, “What about Obama?” That can be a fair criticism sometimes, but extreme anti-whataboutism is equally foolish, amounting to the belief that history began on January 20, 2017.
It does matter what the Obama administration did, and how the media covered it. Hypocrisy was not abolished the minute Donald Trump took office. Those who complain about “whataboutism” seem very comfortable with accusing Trump defenders of hypocrisy for forgetting they criticized Obama for certain things.
Americans have come to distrust the media because they understand media bias is not just about reporting complete falsehoods. It’s about the stories that are not reported. It’s about assembling distinct events into “narratives” or refusing to do so, depending on which party or politician is involved. It is about perspective and memory – which stories receive saturation coverage and which are forgotten at the earliest opportunity. Barack Obama’s deeds do not erase Donald Trump’s. The reverse is also true.