Harvard’s Shorenstein Center on Media Politics and Public Policy produced found that 41% of news coverage in Trump’s first 100 days focused on our commander-in-cheeto—three times the amount of previous presidents. The excellent journalist, Sulome Anderson, famously had to abandon her foreign outposts earlier this year because demand for her area of expertise considerably waned in this country. Trump is more deserving of coverage than previous presidents—as his policies stand to roll back a half-century of progress—but one look across the land of cable news reveals that is not the way his coverage skews. It’s more reality-show than politics.
If Trump speaks live, cable news shows it live. During the campaign, CNN famously cut away from the middle of other candidates’ speeches to cover an empty podium that would eventually be filled by Donald Trump. Granted, we here at Paste are guilty of similar crimes against journalism as well. Everyone is. We all want to stay in business, and the truth of the matter is that if we put “Trump” in the headline, we’re far more likely to get clicks. You folks on the demand side of the equation are part of the problem too. The consequence of this Trump-centric celebrity-tinged political coverage is that the important stuff gets lost in the shuffle. The news cycle covers far more about Trump’s Twitter habits than ICE conducting something resembling an ethnic cleansing campaign.
Last night, we experienced a perfect demonstration of how devastating Trump’s presence is in the news cycle. The bombshell news of Michael Cohen’s slush fund containing receipts from AT&T and a company owned by a Russian oligarch close to Putin acted as a total eclipse to this absolutely stunning news coming out of the CIA. Per The United States Department of Justice:
The Justice Department announced today that Jerry Chun Shing Lee, 53, of Hong Kong, was indicted by a federal grand jury sitting in the Eastern District of Virginia with one count of conspiracy to gather or deliver national defense information to aid a foreign government, and two counts of unlawfully retaining documents related to the national defense.
Later in the release, they detail the evidence underlying the indictment:
Lee is a U.S. citizen who speaks fluent Chinese. According to the indictment, Lee was a case officer for the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) until 2007. After leaving the CIA, Lee resided in Hong Kong. The indictment alleges that in April 2010, two Chinese intelligence officers (IOs) approached Lee and offered to pay him for information. The indictment alleges that Lee received taskings from the IOs until at least 2011. The taskings allegedly requested that Lee provide documents and information relating to the national defense of the United States. According to the indictment, the IOs provided Lee with a series of email addresses so that he could communicate covertly with them. The indictment further alleges that Lee prepared documents responsive to the taskings, made numerous unexplained cash deposits, and repeatedly lied to the U.S. government during voluntary interviews when asked about travel to China and his actions overseas.
In August 2012, Lee and his family left Hong Kong to return to the United States to live in northern Virginia. While traveling back to the United States, Lee and his family had hotel stays in Hawaii and Virginia. During each of the hotel stays, FBI agents conducted court-authorized searches of Lee’s room and luggage, and found that Lee was in unauthorized possession of materials relating to the national defense. Specifically, agents found two books containing handwritten notes that contained classified information, including but not limited to, true names and phone numbers of assets and covert CIA employees, operational notes from asset meetings, operational meeting locations and locations of covert facilities. Agents also found a thumb drive on which was stored a document later determined to contain information classified at the Secret level. During voluntary interviews with the FBI, Lee admitted preparing the document in response to taskings from the IO.
Remember the Edward Snowden hysteria? It happened again, sans the public release of information. We don’t know if the intelligence that Lee passed on matches up to the scale of Snowden’s theft, but the premise is the same: an American citizen stole highly classified information and leaked it. Snowden’s intentions were far more complex, but they were clearly rooted in his libertarian ideals. Thanks to the secrecy of this kind of crime, we may never hear Jerry Chun Shing Lee’s side of the story, other than the statement given by his lawyer to reporters in February: “Mr. Lee is not a Chinese spy. He’s a loyal American who served his country in the military and in the CIA.” Given that Lee leaked this information to a foreign government and not to journalists like Snowden did, one of three likely motivations emerge: money, blackmail or ideology. The world may never know, but one thing is for certain: we will definitely be informed about Trump’s next round of binge-tweeting Fox & Friends.
Jacob Weindling is a staff writer for Paste politics. Follow him on Twitter at @Jakeweindling.