Let them entertain you: Two days ago, the claim was bruited across the top of the Washington Post's front page in an exciting banner headline.
Comey had sought a big increase in funds for the Russia probe! Four reporters lent their names to the "revelation."
The exciting news report started like this. Hard-copy triple headline included:
VIEBECK, O'KEEFE, SULLIVAN AND KANE (5/11/17): Comey sought more resources for Russia probeYay yay yay yay yay yay yay! Indubitably, the furor had grown. It was exciting stuff!
REQUEST CAME DAYS BEFORE HIS FIRING
Justice Dept. denies reports as uproar grows
The furor over President Trump's abrupt firing of FBI Director James B. Comey grew Wednesday with the revelation that Comey had sought more resources for an investigation into possible coordination between the Trump campaign and the Russian government shortly before he was dismissed.
Republicans and Democrats alike expressed dismay Wednesday over Comey's firing the day before, which several said will frustrate bipartisan efforts to investigate Russian interference in the 2016 election and any possible ties between the Kremlin and Trump associates. Many Democrats called for a special prosecutor to take on the investigation, and a handful of Republicans said they were open to the idea.
For some, the news of the request provided further evidence that Trump's stated reason for firing Comey—that the director had botched the bureau's investigation of Hillary Clinton's private email server—was untrue. The likelier and more troubling reason, critics said, was to quash the Russia investigation and the threat it poses to the Trump White House.
Although several Democrats confirmed that Comey had informed lawmakers of the request he made last week in a meeting with Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein, the Justice Department denied those reports.
Despite that Justice Department denial, the exciting claim about that request was framed as a "revelation." Did we mention the fact that the claim appeared beneath a banner headline which stretched across page A1?
Did James B. Comey—Comey the God—really make some such request? Like you and almost everyone else, we have no way of knowing.
That said, the Post began to waffle on this claim in yesterday's editions. This morning, we'd have to say that the Washington Post has basically walked its claim back.
In standard fashion, the paper does so in paragraph 23 of a news report which appears inside the paper, atop page A5. If you read all the way to paragraph 23, you meet this semi-admission:
BARRETT, NAKASHIMA AND HORWITZ (5/13/17): While it had been reported that Comey’s firing came days after he asked Rosenstein for more resources for the Russia probe, a person with direct knowledge of the matter said that Comey did not make that request, and that the investigation had and continues to have all the personnel and resources it needs.Say what? Readers, what do Barrett, Nakashima and Horwitz know today that Viebeck, O'Keefe, Sullivan and Kane didn't know on Thursday?
Please note who Barrett, Nakashima and Horwitz are citing as their source. They're citing "a person with direct knowledge of the matter."
Presumably, very few people have direct knowledge of what happened when Comey met with Rosenstein, if indeed they met at all. (Presumably, acting FBI kingpin Andrew McCabe would not be such a person.)
Very few people would have "direct knowledge" of what happened. Today's report cites one such person. He or she says that no such request was made. The report offers no reason for thinking that this assertion might be false.
Just this once, let's be clear. It doesn't hugely "matter" if the Post's exciting "revelation" was actually false. After twenty-five years of mugging and clowning, our national discourse had moved so deeply into the dumpster that we actually managed to elect Donald J. Trump to his current post.
His apparent mental disorders have been on wide display this week. As long as he remains in the Oval, few other things hugely matter, human existence-wise.
Still, Martin Luther is said to have said that we should plant our apple tree even if Donald J. Trump is destined to start a world war. In accord with that nostrum, we'll offer a few small thoughts about the workings of our mainstream press corps.
First, let's enjoy a good laugh! In today's report, Barrett, Nakashima and Horwitz say "it [was] reported that Comey’s firing came days after he asked Rosenstein for more resources."
It was reported! It slipped their minds to say that this "was reported" in a banner headline which stretched across the front page of their own newspaper!
To say that this happened on Thursday morning! Which was just two day ago!
It was reported, the scriveners said! Truly, it doesn't get richer. Noting again that it doesn't matter whether Comey asked for more resources, let's compare the sourcing for today's report to the sourcing which drove the exciting report which dominated Thursday's Post.
Today, the reporters source a debunking statement to a person "with direct knowledge." By traditional norms, this is weak sourcing. To state one possibility, a single source with direct knowledge of some situation could be lying about what occurred.
The scribes don't seem to think that's the case. They cite no one who is disputing what this knowledgeable person has said. They report his or her claim and they leave it at that. No one says he or she's wrong.
Today, we hear from a person with direct knowledge. By way of contrast, what sort of sourcing lay behind Thursday's exciting reports, which topped the front page at the New York Times and at the Washington Post?
In Thursday morning's New York Times, two reporters described a game of Telephone. (They also referred to a "toilet bowl-shaped building" in the Washington suburbs.)
In their deathless evidence chain, Comey was said to have said something to Warner and Burr. After that, Warner was said to have told Durbin what Comey had said. Durbin then gave a third-hand account of what Comey said he did to the Times reporters.
At the very start of its report, the Times also cited "four congressional officials," none of whom could have had direct knowledge of the matter at hand. Readers were never told why they should credit these four unnamed people at all.
On its face, that looked like "group urinal sourcing." The Post offered less extensive but similar sourcing on Thursday. To examine their game of Telephone, you can just click here.
As we read these reports on Thursday morning, we thought their sourcing was weak. We especially thought this because the chain of claims about what happened began with a statement by Comey the God, a person we don't exactly regard as beyond reproach at this point.
(Comey's most recent jumbled, inaccurate public statement occurred just last week at a Senate hearing. Whatever his intentions may be, he seems to misstate fairly often.)
At any rate, let's review. As we do, we're simply planting an apple tree, remembering that none of this actually "matters," given the fact that a highly unstable person now holds the nuclear codes.
On Thursday morning, a game of Telephone yielded a thrilling new claim. At the Washington Post, the claim was called a "revelation." It was bruited across the top of the paper's front page in a banner headline.
This very morning, just two days later, the Post seems to say "never mind." The paper cites a person with direct knowledge saying that Thursday's report was wrong.
Here's where the wonderful clownistry happens. This semi-retraction appears in a news report on page A5. You have to read to paragraph 23 to learn what that knowledgeable person said.
You're told the original claim "was reported," but you aren't told where!
As noted, none of this exactly matters. More in amusement than in anger, we continue to plant the occasional small award-winning apple tree.