by Julie Kelly
The American news media is quick to blame President Trump for their current woes, but they have no one to blame but themselves. A revealing poll issued Tuesday shows how much the public’s trust in the news media has tanked over the past ten years: Nearly 70 percent of Americans and 95 percent of conservatives have lost faith in the media since 2008.
This year’s collective and shameful performance by the Fourth Estate will erode that trust even more. We have endured the silent acquiescence of the press as a vulgar comedian insulted the president’s press secretary; public tantrums by the White House press corps; numerous corrections to articles and cable news segments that oddly always must walk back an anti-Trump angle; the revelation of unethical and possibly illegal quid pro quo between reporters and federal law enforcement officials; the publication of a petulant opinion piece authored by an unnamed Trump official clearly miffed that Trump and not he is president; and the ongoing insane, unjustified obsession with the bogus Trump-Russia collusion plotline.
It’s hard to imagine how the press could restore its lost credibility any time soon.
One way to clean house would be to stop populating the newsrooms and green rooms of the top media outlets in the country with young, inexperienced, and vulnerable reporters. Ben Rhodes, one of President Obama’s top aides, bragged of how easy it was to manipulate news coverage: “The average reporter we talk to is 27 years old, and their only reporting experience consists of being around political campaigns. They literally know nothing.”
Rhodes was right. Earlier this year, we learned that Ali Watkins, a 20-something reporter, was collaboratingwith the security chief at the Senate Intelligence Committee to leak classified information tied to the Trump-Russia investigation. Not only was Watkins reporting the secret details under her byline, she carried on a three-year affair with the official, a married man 30-plus years her senior. (He has been arrested for lying to federal investigations about illegal leaks and his relationship with Watkins.)
Instead of being banished from the profession for her tawdry behavior, Watkins was promoted repeatedly because of it. With little journalistic or political experience, in less than four years, Watkins earned a prestigious byline at the New York Times; the paper’s editor refused to fire her after her sex-for-scoops scheme became public.
Another young reporter who appears to be a bit over her skis is Natasha Bertrand, a writer for The Atlantic. In 2014, Bertrand was an intern with Business Insider. Less than four years later, the 26-year-old Vassar graduate is covering national security and the intelligence community for The Atlantic. She has frequent gigs on MSNBC and is an NBC News contributor.
But Bertrand’s articles and commentary most often regurgitate anti-Trump talking points instead of reporting anything substantive about the nation’s security issues. (It seems odd, for example, that a national security reporter has not written a single piece about U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley or National Security Advisor John Bolton.)
Her bio at The Atlantic should reflect the fact that her work is mostly about the Trump-Russia probe instead of giving her cover for her partisan rants by pretending she is some kind of credentialed or seasoned national security expert. She goes out of her way to justify Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation. Her recent articles suggest there are still sinister “missing piece[s]” and “lingering mysteries” about the president’s ties to the Kremlin. One of Trump’s lawyers last year asked the young reporter if “she was on drugs” for pursuing a story about a letter the president drafted (and did not send) that outlined his reasons for firing ex-FBI Director James Comey. Bertrand insisted the letter was “pivotal” evidence of obstruction of justice.
Nearly two years after the FBI formally began an investigation into Trump’s campaign and 14 months after the start of Mueller’s probe—both empty-handed so far on Russian collusion crimes—Bertrand wrote a piece titled, “The Case for a Trump-Russia Conspiracy Just Got a Little Stronger.” Unfortunately, her article relied on a widely-discredited CNN story that claimed Trump’s personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, would testify that Trump knew about the infamous June 2016 Trump Tower meeting. (Lanny Davis has since recanted his comments about Cohen’s knowledge.) The Atlantic, unlike other outlets, has not corrected her article.
Bertrand often runs cover for Fusion GPS, the firm hired by the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton campaign to dig up Russia-related dirt on Trump. She tweets about Fusion—a lot. She occasionally refers to Fusion’s co-owner Glenn Simpson as “Glenn” and insisted there was no reason for congressional investigators to be looking at him. She also wrongly claimed Natalia Veselnitskya, the Russian lawyer at the Trump Tower meeting, was not tied to Fusion.
While working for Business Insider last year, Bertrand was the sole recipient of a statement by Simpson that accused Trump and Senate Republicans of “desperately trying to smear” him. Immediately after the House Intelligence Committee released the transcript of Simpson’s closed-door testimony, Bertrand leapt into spin mode, publishing a hot mess of an article that claimed his answers “left a massive pile of breadcrumbs for Trump-Russia investigators.” She trotted out every Trump-Russia conspiracy theme that Fusion has tried to peddle since early 2016, and reported how committee Democrats asked “pointed questions about Russian organized crime, and whether Trump could be susceptible to Russian blackmail.”
According to Bertrand, folks like dossier author Christopher Steele and biased FBI agent Peter Strzok are victims, while House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) is a villian. Nunes is a frequent target of her reporting: Bertrand was hired by The Atlantic a few days before the release of Nunes’s memo detailing FISA abuse. Her first six articles were hit pieces on the California congressman now leading the charge to expose Justice Department corruption in 2016 and 2017. She incorrectly claimsNunes was “recused” from the initial investigation.
In an article on August 28, Bertrand reported that Nunes traveled to London to get more information on Steele. Citing anonymous sources (she’s a big fan of those), Bertrand wrote that British intelligence officials rejected his request to meet over concerns he was “trying to stir up a controversy.” Her story went viral.
The problem? It wasn’t true. Nunes’ office denied the account, calling it an “utterly false story based on anonymous sources.” Bertrand has not yet updated or corrected her story.
The architects of the Trump-Russia collusion hoax have depended on sympathetic, ideologically-aligned “reporters,” many of them fresh out of college, to promote their scam to the American public. We know that Fusion paid several journalists to plant its political dirt in the news media; those names are being kept under seal by a court order.
There is no proof that Bertrand was part of Fusion’s payola scheme. But her blatant Trump-Russia boosterism, reliance on anonymous sources, targeting of Trump allies, and refusal to correct stories that are later proven to be false should raise plenty of questions—and eyebrows. News organizations would be wise to stop promoting young, inexperienced reporters who are all too eager to please their friends and benefactors on the Left.
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Julie Kelly is a senior contributor to American Greatness.