from the questions-questions dept
When Feinstein first revealed this, Brennan insisted:
"Let me assure you the CIA was in no way spying on [the committee] or the Senate."That was a lie. Soon after, Brennan tried to release his side of the story, which we noted actually appeared to confirm nearly all of the details of Feinstein's story. And yet, the mainstream press dutifully reported that Brennan had "denied" Feinstein's claims. He did not. He denied claims she did not make in a such manner as to look like he was denying her actual charges.
After the CIA's Inspector General Report came out, confirming all of Feinstein's claims (and much more, including that Brennan's CIA had further misrepresented the truth in trying to claim that it was the Senate staffers themselves who had broken the law), Brennan sent an apology letter. And yet, he's spent the last few weeks denying he lied, claims that are completely undermined by the CIA itself.
So here's the thing: why won't the press say that Brennan lied?
Dan Froomkin, over at the Intercept, recounts most of this history in what he calls an "anatomy of a non-denial denial," and then raises the point of why won't the press actually call out Brennan for lying:
The reason you so infrequently see the word “lie” in elite media news stories is that the editors generally take the position that even when someone has said something clearly not true, a reporter’s use of the word “lie” — rather than, say, “misspoke” or “was incorrect” — requires knowledge of the subject’s intent to deceive. And a fair-minded journalist, they argue, can’t be sure what’s going on in someone else’s head.Froomkin notes, (as we did at the time in part, thanks to his own research) that most of the press just ate up Brennan's initial denial (which, as we stated, actually confirmed the details, while denying stuff Feinstein did not accuse the CIA of doing). Only a few put in some caveats:
But when someone who has so clearly uttered a non-denial denial has to go back and explain how he intentionally responded to an accusation in a very circumscribed or elliptical way, and how that answer was mischaracterized as a denial — and how he made no attempt to correct the record – isn’t that prima facie evidence of intent to deceive?
Even though the non-denial denial isn’t in itself strictly speaking a lie, when examined in context, isn’t that exactly what it is?
But, as he notes, it didn't matter. Brennan got what he wanted. People thought he denied it, and now he can deny denying it, and pretend he's been telling the truth all along, when he's been doing nothing but deceiving pretty much everyone to avoid admitting the truth. That's called lying. And the press should call it that.
Politico, the New York Times, Reuters and the Wall Street Journal all pretty much cast Brennan’s statements as a blanket denial.
But I was pleasantly surprised by the AP (“He denied that the CIA ‘hacked’ into the computer network in remarks on Tuesday but did not address the question of a search”) and the Los Angeles Times (he offered carefully worded remarks that did not dispute the actions Feinstein said had taken place, but did deny that they constituted ‘spying’ on the Senate.”)
Froomkin dreams of a day when the non-denial denial is no longer an effective tool -- and for that to happen, the press will need to actually not fall for tricks like this. And they could start by calling a lie a lie.