When a media-favored politician offers a surprising, clickbait-friendly allegation along with a demand for “answers,” a responsible media should first vet the legitimacy of the question.
On Wednesday, the Department of Defense published a report that critiqued the Obama administration’s security clearance vetting failures. And NBC News, in an article titled “Report: Felons, people under foreign influence got national security clearances,” offered evidence that the Trump administration deserves praise for having addressed the problems over the past year.
However, that same NBC News article then backed the legitimacy of Rep. Elijah Cummings’ (D-MD) assertion that the DOD report is a reason to be suspicious that … Jared Kushner colluded with Russia.
Yes, the NBC News article is that ridiculous. Cummings’ response to the report was just about the last thing an objective reader should have concluded, yet NBC News did not challenge his conclusion. In fact, NBC News clearly made an attempt to back Cummings’ statement.
From the article:
A Defense Department report obtained by NBC News found that 165 defense contractors had their initial security clearances revoked last year after further investigation linked the recipients to problematic or illicit activity, including questionable financial transactions, influence by foreign governments and even felonies like pedophilia.
The low threshold for granting what is known as an interim security clearance should be cause for alarm inside the Trump White House, says Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., ranking member of the House Oversight Committee. Cummings cited the report in calling on the committee’s Republican chair, Trey Gowdy of South Carolina, to help him investigate the “troubling irregularities” with the security clearances held by President Donald Trump’s senior aides. (Emphasis added)
Note my emphasis: the DOD report allegedly states that the 165 defense contractors wrongly given initial clearances most likely had those clearances revoked under the Trump administration. (Presumably, they were not all revoked in the first 20 days of 2017.)
The immediately relevant question to ask, of course, is “When were they granted?” However, a reader of the NBC News article would not have learned that pivotal information until the fourth paragraph. And a reader could not reach that fourth paragraph without first scrolling past a large, shadowy image of Jared Kushner.
If you did reach that fourth paragraph, the article instantly seems irrational:
The report captured data from 200,000 applications for secret or top secret clearance by defense contractors over the past three years, many of which were not fully adjudicated until 2017. It found that 486 applicants had their clearances denied or revoked. Of those applicants, 165 had slipped through the initial round of vetting and been allowed access to sensitive information.
So, after four paragraphs, readers of the NBC News article had been presented the following information:
- Possibly all 165 improperly approved initial clearances were granted under the Obama administration.
- As Obama’s DoD only operated for 20 days in 2017, likely all 165 were correctly revoked during the Trump administration.
- A picture of Jared Kushner.
MSNBC’s Kyle Griffin, producer of The Last Word, promoted the article on his Twitter account. He showed no sign that he recognized the article bore an eyebrow-raising premise. As of this writing, his tweet has received several thousand likes and retweets.
Note that the NBC News article had been published with a shameless meta-title that appears when tweeted. That pedophile contractor was given initial clearance in 2015, under Obama, and had it revoked in 2017. The meta-title would have been visible to Griffin as he composed his tweet drawing attention to Kushner.
A DoD report obtained by NBC News found 165 defense contractors had initial security clearances revoked last year after further investigation.
Elijah Cummings says the report should raise questions about the clearances of Trump aides like Jared Kushner. https://t.co/Ss2HbVhDFW
— Kyle Griffin (@kylegriffin1) January 24, 2018
The NBC News article finally gets around to explaining how Elijah Cummings is attempting to tie Jared Kushner to the seemingly unrelated DOD report in its seventh paragraph. The argument, considering what the reader has been told so far, is transparently opportunistic:
The process for obtaining an interim clearance is the same for defense contractors as for senior White House aides.
That’s … all?
That’s all. So what does Cummings want to be done about this?
The FBI is responsible for reviewing the criminal history, financial records and foreign contacts of applicants for the White House, the Department of Defense and other agencies with employees that require clearance.
As of last week, Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser, Jared Kushner, had been operating with an interim security clearance rather than a permanent clearance for almost a year, according to media reports.
In a letter to [Rep. Trey] Gowdy on Wednesday, Cummings said the “extremely troubling data” from the Department of Defense should compel Gowdy to subpoena the White House on the status of senior aides’ clearances.
“I believe that serious deficiencies in our nation’s security clearance processes represent an urgent and grave risk to our national security,” Cummings wrote.
Rep. Cummings is demanding that Gowdy subpoena the White House about the status of Kushner’s clearance — even though everyone knows the vetting is entirely delegated by the White House to the subordinate FBI.
And Cummings’ stated motivation is a Department of Defense report that seems to damn the Obama administration’s vetting competence, and to praise the Trump administration’s proactivity in eliminating the failures.
It’s yet another cynical, exploitative performance by NBC News and Rep. Cummings. And we’re all just treated as marks.