Last week, CBS News investigative journalist Catherine Herridge broke a huge story about acting Director of National Intelligence Richard Grenell’s notification to Congress of a declassified “unmasking list.”
The list confirmed that high-level Obama administration officials, including then-Vice President Joe Biden, “submitted requests to the National Security Agency at any point between 8 November 2016 and 31 January 2017, to unmask the identity of former National Security Advisor” Michael Flynn during the transition period between the outgoing Obama administration and the incoming Trump administration.
It was bad news for the presumptive 2020 Democratic presidential nominee, who earlier in the week had slipped up when he claimed he had no knowledge of the politically motivated investigation into Gen. Michael Flynn.
Not surprisingly, the Biden campaign’s attacks dogs lashed out — not just against President Trump and Grenell, but against Herridge, too.
Biden senior campaign advisor Symone Sanders was outraged. In a tweet, she agreed with comments from panicked former Obama administration officials, and stated that the real issue was that award-winning journalists like Herridge “fall for” alleged Trump “revenge” tactics like the unmasking list, which Sanders insinuated distracts the press from continuing to bash the Trump administration’s response to the coronavirus outbreak.
Joe Biden’s director of rapid response, Andrew Bates, claimed Herridge was a “partisan, right-wing hack” and a “regular conduit for conservative media manipulation ploys,” in a particularly vicious attack. Bates later deleted his tweet.
There were a number of odd and ironic things about these attacks on Herridge.
First, they directly contradicted comments made by Biden himself earlier in the month in which he painted himself as a protector and defender of the freedom of the press.
“A free press is essential to a free society. That’s why attacking the press and attempting to intimidate independent media is a standard part of the authoritarian playbook around the world,” Biden tweeted on May 3.
Biden then urged voters to vote for him to “assure that attacks on our free press are never again acceptable — especially not in the White House.”
Even more curious in the aftermath of the Biden campaign’s attacks on Herridge was the fact that the usual defenders of journalists went radio silent.
CNN media correspondents Brian Stelter and Oliver Darcy, who are quick to condemn Trump every time he has even the most trivial of interactions with a member of the press, were strangely silent. Stelter did retweet a mild condemnation tweeted to Bates from CNN colleague Jake Tapper, but Tapper’s scolding sounded more like something you’d see a mom gently say to her child who had been caught with his hand in the cookie jar.
Darcy’s only tweet about the matter was a retweet of a Daily Beast article that attacked Herridge.
Keep in mind that whenever Trump and a journalist have tense interactions during briefings, Stelter and Darcy will tweet about it non-stop, it is noted in extensive write-ups in their nightly media newsletters, and is featured prominently in Stelter’s Sunday show “Reliable Sources.”
None of that happened in the case of the Biden campaign’s swipes at Herridge. In fact, if you were someone who looked only to Stelter and Darcy for information on attacks against the media, you would have never known Symone Sanders and Andrew Bates attacked Herridge.
The Stelters and Darcys of the world have been saying for over three years that attacks on the press are a threat to our democracy and must stop. But that was when journalists viewed as hostile to the Trump administration were on the hot seat. When a veteran reporter like Herridge faced similar attacks from Democrats, these same media defenders yawned.
Their selective outrage is a bad look, especially at a critical time when people need to be able to rely on media outlets to be objective and trustworthy in their reporting.
Stacey Matthews has also written under the pseudonym Sister Toldjah and is a regular contributor to RedState and Legal Insurrection.