Media outlets reject Rand Paul’s demand that they identify Trump’s whistleblower
“Do your job and print his name,” Paul declared alongside the president at a Kentucky rally on Monday night.
Media organizations rejected Senator Rand Paul’s demand Monday night that they identify the whistleblower who sparked the Ukraine scandal, with some saying the identity of the individual is no longer newsworthy in light of the growing accumulation of information about President Donald Trump’s actions toward Ukraine.
“We published some identifying information about the whistleblower weeks ago to help our readers access the person's credibility,” a New York Times spokesperson told POLITICO on Tuesday, referring to coverage in late September. “At this stage, with much of what the whistleblower had reported confirmed as fact, it's not imperative to publish further detail.”
Margaret Talev, the politics and White House editor for Axios, said Tuesday on CNN that her news organization decided “we weren’t going to be in the business of attempting to out this person” and noted that “most major mainstream news organizations obviously feel the same way.”
CNN anchor Alisyn Camerota responded, “CNN does as well.”
“He’s trying to get us to do his dirty work,” Camerota said of Paul on CNN’s “New Day.” Her co-anchor, John Berman, called Paul “a small man” who acted “cowardly” on stage alongside President Donald Trump at a Lexington, Kentucky rally.
On MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” co-host Willie Geist said “Paul walked right up to the line of outing the whistleblower” and “gave some context and some details that we won’t give here this morning.”
Major news organizations have not identified the whistleblower whose claims about Trump pressuring Ukraine to investigate the Bidens have been largely corroborated and even expanded upon by officials testifying in the impeachment inquiry — and they’re not buckling to demands from Trump and his allies to expose the individual.
Mark S. Zaid, an attorney for the whistleblower, told POLITICO that several news organizations have informed him that they believe they know the whistleblower’s identity — which the attorney doesn’t confirm or deny — but that the outlets are not publishing the name at this time.
“Their position has been, we are not going to be the entity that reveals this person’s identity,” said Zaid, adding that it’s unclear what news organizations would do if Trump reveals it himself "or retweets another media entity’s report.”
So far, it appears that only a small cable TV channel supportive of the president and an ostensibly nonpartisan news site have each published the purported name of the whistleblower.
Trump has not retweeted these stories to his tens of millions of followers, but he and his political and media boosters have stepped up calls to out the whistleblower. “I say tonight to the media: do your job and print his name,” Paul said at a rally in support of Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin, who is up for reelection Tuesday
While there are federal protections for whistleblowers, the news media is not prohibited from naming the individual. The decision thereby falls to editors and news executives to consider how much it’s in the public’s interest to identify the whistleblower, while weighing possible ramifications for doing so, such as retaliation against a government official going through proper channels to express concerns about possible malfeasance.
In late September, Times editor Dean Baquet defended publishing “limited information” about the whistleblower, such as the person being a CIA officer, “because we wanted to provide information to readers that allows them to make their own judgments about whether or not he is credible.”
Baquet added that the White House already knew the whistleblower was a CIA officer.
The Washington Post, too, described the whistleblower in late September as a CIA officer, but does not appear to have revealed additional identifying details in recent weeks.
"The Washington Post has long respected the right of whistleblowers to report wrongdoing in confidence, which protects them against retaliation," a Post spokesperson said. "We also withhold identities or other facts when we believe that publication would put an individual at risk. Both of those considerations apply in this case."
USA Today’s editorial board argued Monday against revealing the name, writing that “nothing chills truth-telling in the halls of power like the risk of retribution, and no risk is more harrowing than unmasking potentially impeachable offenses by a president.” The whistleblower may not need to testify, they noted, because “so much of the person's complaint has been independently verified.”
The whistleblower’s attorneys, Zaid and Andrew P. Bakaj, made a similar argument in a Washington Post op-ed, writing that “the public now knows more about the call with Ukraine than what was in the complaint” and so their client’s identify “is no longer relevant.”