The Easy Mark

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You’ve probably seen this story by John Solomon in The Hill. It claims that the memos James Comey had leaked to The New York Times in fact contained classified information. Predictably the report ricocheted from Fox News to President Trump’s Twitter feed. But there’s some very important context you need to understand this story.

Years ago John Solomon was either the lead or one of the lead politics reporters at AP. He had a well-earned reputation as the easiest mark in the business for GOP oppo research hits. It was actually a kind of running gag among Republican campaign operatives. No one will run with a story you’re trying to float? Bring it to John Solomon.

To be clear, all campaigns shop opposition research to reporters. Any good reporter is happy to get a solid, legit story almost no matter who the source. If the story is legit and can be verified, it’s fine. The key is whether it’s legit or whether there’s no there there. Or more specifically, what key is if the reporter will run the facts with your spin, even if the spin is bogus.

Solomon was the easiest mark.

At the time, it was never clear to me whether this was more a matter of laziness or ideology. Subsequent events helped clarify things. Later Solomon went to work as the editor-in-chief of The Washington Times. And now he’s running Circa. You may remember that Circa was a startup with an ingenious but ultimately flawed or perhaps premature concept that debuted to much fanfare but ultimately shuttered. The URL and social media feeds of Circa were purchased by Sinclair Broadcasting, a hyper-right-wing media conglomerate, which is now buying up properties to bring its style of post-Fox News propaganda television nationwide. Sinclair put Solomon in charge of Circa and relaunched it as a Buzzfeed for right wing propaganda focused on millennials.

The story itself has some key features that are worth noting. Read the story and it’s clear the ‘findings’ reported come from congressional staffers who have just gotten access to Comey’s memos. In the nature of things that means Republican staffers. Even from the most cynical perspective, Democrats will not be leaking stuff to hurt Jim Comey. Their claim that the memos include classified information counts for essentially nothing.

Now, is it possible Comey did leak classified information? Sure, anything’s possible. I have no brief for Comey. But Comey is a smart and careful bureaucratic player. Even his harshest critics will say this. Would Comey have been incautious enough to leak classified information in such a high profile setting in which he was essentially going to war with the President of the United States. I very much doubt it.

We’ll see. But that’s the background to how seriously you should take this story.

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