The gasp you hear over the lurid allegations about President-elect Donald Trump is not the collective electorate. That’s more of a shudder.
No, the group inhale is from members of the mainstream media over the fact that the unsubstantiated and unverified report containing charges that Russia has compromising information and videos of Trump actually made it into the public eye.
A summary of the allegations was reportedly amended to the classified briefing given by the FBI and CIA officials last week to Trump, President Obama, and the so-called congressional Gang of Eight — top leaders from both parties — about Russia’s hacking and attempts to manipulate the presidential election.
Officials from the nation’s top intelligence services thought they should include the report in the briefing because they feared it would leak out before they had a chance to confirm or disprove it and wanted Trump to be apprised of what was being circulated. Those fears, apparently, were warranted.
Those serious questions were enough to stop members of the legacy media from running with it prior to the election, much to the chagrin of Clinton aides, when it was handed off to many of them, including the New York Times and Washington Post. But once CNN and BuzzFeed showed the way, they claimed their hands were forced. But were they?
Other than competitive pressure, what changed between last fall and last week that forced the hand of mainstream media to run with the allegations? It was reminiscent – and likely a lesson learned – from 2008 when, after a year of ignoring reports in the supermarket tabloid National Enquirer that former senator and presidential and vice presidential candidate John Edwards fathered a child in an extramarital affair, the story was the lead in every outlet around the country. Prior to that, everyone heard about it but, because it was the Enquirer, no one gave it much credence until Edwards admitted the truth. No one was about to let that happen again.
In the current episode, while most didn’t print the more racy details, they went much further than saying simply officials were looking into allegations that Russians were trying to gather intelligence on Trump. And while many outlets harrumphed about BuzzFeed’s decision, they also included a link that allowed readers to go and read the salacious report. It’s called having it both ways. (We choose not to run a link.)
In some ways, it was a Catch-22. Intelligence officials, despite their admission there was no there there yet, briefed Trump out of knowledge media members had the report and it might leak. But including it gave the opening to go ahead and report the allegations. Would it have remained in the shadows if not included in the briefing? It’s now impossible to know, but what we do know is many outlets had it, tried to verify it, and, unable to do so, sat on it, unsure where to go.
Where does it go from here? That’s anyone’s guess, but it will be hard to put the toothpaste back in the tube. Trump, as is his style, is not being silent, tweeting out that intelligence officials are to blame for letting it leak out. “Are we living in Nazi Germany?” he asked.
In some ways, it is gaining a life of its own because of who Trump is and what he’s said and done in his personal life and about Russia. And that may be what drives this story, more than the titillating details. The report includes allegations that aides to the president-elect traveled back and forth to meet with Russian officials and that, combined with Trump’s continual praise for Russian President Vladimir Putin, gives the story some life.
“Even if this whole thing is a complete fabrication, there’s still the vexing question: Why is admiration for Putin and his government the only issue Trump has never wavered, equivocated, or flip-flopped on?,” writes Jonah Goldberg in the conservative National Review. “If these allegations are false, that question still remains.”
Attorney General Maura Healey vowed to take the administration of Donald Trump to court if it tries to impose its “unconstitutional” agenda on Massachusetts. She specifically said she planned to fight any Trump efforts to defund Planned Parenthood, deport immigrants, or overturn climate change regulations. She also urged Congress to reject many of Trump’s cabinet nominees. (Salem News) Springfield is the next stop on her tour of the state. (MassLive)
Senate President Stan Rosenberg said lawmakers could take up the issue of cutting back on the number of marijuana plants someone can grow in their home under the initiative passed by voters in November. (State House News Service)
Frank Phillips says of all the potential hurdles for Gov. Charlie Baker’s presumed reelection bid next year, Donald Trump’s election as president may be biggest. (Boston Globe) CommonWealth’s Michael Jonas speculated last week that, despite his public profession of neutrality in a presidential race in which he did not cast a vote, it’s plausible to think Baker may have privately preferred a Hillary Clinton win.
A Springfield Republican editorial calls on Rep. Bud Williams to give up his second job as a Springfield city councilor, saying he can’t represent western Massachusetts in the Legislature on a part-time basis.
The Boston Archdiocese has approached Scituate officials with an offer to sell to the town the St. Frances Cabrini church and surrounding property, which was shuttered in 2004 but occupied by parishioners for more than 11 years until last spring. (Patriot Ledger)
Growth industry: Holyoke Mayor Alex Morse wants to tap his city’s inventory of empty mill buildings and turn them into hot houses growing marijuana for the state’s new recreational pot sector. (Boston Globe)
A Brockton water commissioner is stepping down instead of accepting a reappointment in protest of what she says is the water commission’s flouting its own long-held policies and the city’s unsustainable use of its main supply. (The Enterprise)
President Obama delivers his farewell speech: “Yes, we did.” (New York Times) Greater Boston examines Obama’s legacy, from race relations to foreign policy. Joe Battenfeld says his tenure had promise but was a letdown, and somehow blames Obama for us getting Donald Trump. (Boston Herald) Scot Lehigh calls Obama the best president of his lifetime, but says his speech was a missed opportunity to zero in on one or two issues of lasting significance. (Boston Globe) Ezra Klein lauds Obama’s sense of hope and his basic decency. (Vox)
The state’s charter school association takes aim at Betsy DeVos, Trump’s nominee for education secretary — despite the fact that she is a big charter school backer. (Boston Herald)
The incoming Trump administration is moving forward with plans to relocate the US embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem despite warnings from European allies against the shift. (CNN)
If Obama hasn’t found anything yet for when his tenure ends, Spotify, the online music-streaming service, has posted a job for “President of Playlists” specifically designed for him. (Associated Press)
Edward M. Murphy, who says he believes in progressive taxation, lays out why Massachusetts shouldn’t green light a millionaire tax. (CommonWealth)
In a complicated financial arrangement, the sale of a Billerica-based curriculum products company will result in a windfall estimated at $28 million for The Boston Foundation. (Boston Globe) In 2014, CommonWealth profiled the company founder, Frank Ferguson, the unusual corporate structure he put in place, and his commitment to doing well while also doing good.
Bob Kraft’s dream of a Dorchester soccer stadium may be unraveling because he can’t strike a land deal with the Boston Teachers Union to buy the site of its current headquarters. (Boston Globe)
Westport officials denied a request to renew a license for an auto dealer whose employees recorded themselves berating a pizza deliveryman in a video that went viral. (Herald News)
Scot Lehigh says legislation sponsored by House education chair Alice Peisch to authorize Innovation Partnership Zones that give groups of struggling urban schools more autonomy could be a plausible district reform path following November’s defeat of the charter school ballot question. (Boston Globe) CommonWealth wrote in 2015 about the Springfield model for the zones and laid out last spring plans to push for wider use of the structure. New Bedford officials are also interested in pursuing the concept.
Rural schools in western Massachusetts are caught in a “death spiral.” (CommonWealth)
The attorney general’s office dismissed an Open Meeting Law complaint filed last June by then-Fall River School Superintendent Meg Mayo-Brown against the School Committee for discussing a hiring freeze without public notice. (Herald News)
One-time state transportation official Chris Dempsey, who gained notice as leader of the successful opposition to a Boston Olympics proposal, will take the reins as director of the advocacy group Transportation for Massachusetts. (Politico)
The Baker administration approved plans by Eversource to dramatically expand its solar power installations across the state. (Boston Globe) CommonWealth explored the solar initiative by a company that many renewable energy advocates view as an enemy of solar.
Dylan Roof, convicted of murdering nine parishioners at a historic black church in South Carolina, is sentenced to death. (New York Times)
Rioting inmates who briefly had control of a section of the state maximum security prison in Shirley were “getting ready for war,” said state public safety secretary Daniel Bennett. (Boston Herald) A prisoners’ rights advocate questions why it took authorities three hours to regain control of the facility. (Boston Globe)
Massachusetts had the lowest gun death rate of any state in the country in 2015, according to newly released federal data. (Boston Globe)MEDIA
Just weeks after removing Roger Ailes as chairman over a slew of sexual harassment allegations, Fox News quietly settled a case with similar charges by a former on-air personality against the network’s top anchor, Bill O’Reilly. (New York Times)