National Security

Accused NSA leaker Reality Winner's motives a 'mystery' -- At least to ABC, NBC and CBS

Editor's note: The following column originally appeared on NewsBusters.org.

Not long after top-secret documents from the National Security Agency made their way onto the Internet news site The Intercept on Monday, the Justice Department arrested NSA contractor Reality Winner.

The 25-year-old Air Force veteran worked on a military base in Georgia, but online she had a long history of being heavily anti-Trump, an apparent social justice warrior, and a supporter of Iran over the U.S. During their evening broadcasts, the Big Three Networks (ABC, CBS, and NBC) either played down her political attitudes, or outright ignored them as they reported on what she did.

During his report on “NBC Nightly News,” Justice Correspondent Pete Williams passed along her family’s claim that “she wasn't highly political,” and anchor Lester Holt claimed her “motive is a mystery.” But in reality, Winner was anything but silent about her political views.

***Caution, Winner's social media posts contain very strong language***

In a tweet she wrote earlier this year, she smeared Trump, saying: “the most dangerous entry to this country was the orange fascist we let into the White House.”

She had tweeted profanities targeting Trump, such as #F*ckingWall#TrumpIsAC**t, and she tweeted the anti-Trump rallying cry of #notmypresident. Winner also was a supporter of the Black Lives Matter movement and had said on Twitter that “being white is terrorism.”

And in a response to Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, who said “We will never use our weapons against anyone, except in self-defense,” Winner proclaimed her support for Iran, writing: “There are many Americans protesting U.S. govt aggression towards Iran. If our Tangerine in Chief declares war, we stand with you!”

The closest Williams came to reporting Winner’s left-wing ideology was a mention about how “on Twitter, she's no fan of Donald Trump, once calling him an ‘orange fascist.’” But he played a clip of her mother, Billie Winner-Davis defending her daughter. “She is a good person. She volunteers, she does whatever she can to make the community and the world better,” she told the press.

On the “CBS Evening News,” Chief White House Correspondent Major Garrett merely brushed over her anti-Trump hatred. “Winner, whose social media postings sharply criticized President Trump, faces up to 10 years in prison,” he said.

Garrett followed that up with a clip of Winner's stepfather, saying: “She's dedicated, you know, to trying to make the world a better place.” CBS framed the story as Trump cracking down on government leaks. "Well, President Trump promised to crack down and now a government contractor has been charged with leaking about Russian interference with the U.S. election," bemoaned anchor Scott Pelley with the headline "Leak Crackdown" behind him. 

ABC’s “World News Tonight” ignored Winner’s political leanings all together, but on four different times, they mentioned that she was a veteran. “Reality Leigh Winner, an NSA linguist trained in Farsi and Pashto, who received an Air Force commendation medal, described by family as a patriot,” reported Justice Correspondent Pierre Thomas.

Winner’s social media accounts were crawling with her radical political posts, but Thomas couldn’t be bothered to report on it. Instead, he was more interested in her workout and yoga videos on Facebook. “A young woman into fitness, seen here on Facebook discussing yoga instruction and competing in weightlifting,” he noted.

And for the Spanish-language networks, Univision also failed to report Winner’s radical left-wing ideology. Meanwhile, on Telemundo, they thought it wise to not report on Winner nor the NSA leaks altogether.

Winner’s political philosophy should have been a major part of the story because it can explain why she leaked classified secrets. But by omitting it from their reports, or playing it down, they falsely painted her as an apolitical person doing it for a just cause when she was likely doing it to hurt Trump. And that makes us all Losers.

Nicholas Fondacaro is a media analyst for NewsBusters and the Media Research Center.