Media Buzz

Media helped force out Flynn, but leakers' real target is Donald Trump

'MediaBuzz' host Howard Kurtz weighs in on the media's reaction to Michael Flynn's resignation

 

It was close to midnight when I had to kill a column I’d already filed for Fox News and write about the Michael Flynn resignation.

The inescapable irony: The spiked column said that some positive stories for President Trump, such as his meetings with the leaders of Canada and Japan, were being drowned out by the controversies surrounding the White House—some self-inflicted, some overblown by the media.

The Flynn situation was another battle between the president and the press, and in this case the Washington Post story about the national security adviser’s contacts with the Russian ambassador made it impossible for Flynn to survive. Unlike some of the stories dismissed by Trump as fake news, this one could not be waved away—especially because Flynn had misled Mike Pence about what happened in those pre-inaugural conversations.

This was good reporting, and Pence’s televised defense of Flynn was based on an earlier piece by Post columnist David Ignatius, disclosing that Flynn had a post-Christmas call with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak.

At the same time, the Post story would not have been possible without the cooperation of nine unnamed senior officials who furnished the leaked information. They wanted Flynn out and were trying to undermine the president.

Trump, who has also been hit by unflattering leaks about his calls with foreign leaders, seized on this issue. “The real story here is why are there so many illegal leaks coming out of Washington?” he tweeted. “Will these leaks be happening as I deal on N.Korea etc?”

But it must be said that the leakers’ information was right on target. And that in the end Flynn’s problem was not so much discussing U.S. sanctions with Russia before Trump took office as misleading the VP, as Kellyanne Conway stressed on the morning shows yesterday.

The messaging has been decidedly mixed. Conway, based on the information she had, told MSNBC on Monday afternoon that the president had full confidence in Flynn. Hours later he resigned.

Conway insisted in her interviews on “Today,” “GMA” and “Fox & Friends” that it was the retired lieutenant general’s choice to resign. But when Sean Spicer briefed the press yesterday afternoon, he flatly said that Trump asked for Flynn’s resignation—meaning he fired him—after things reached critical mass.

The debacle doesn’t end the story, as often happens when a top official is forced out under a cloud.

The Post reported yesterday that Acting Attorney General Sally Yates warned the White House three weeks ago that Flynn was potentially vulnerable to Russian blackmail and that she believed he had misled administration officials about the calls. Yates is the Obama holdover later fired by Trump for refusing to defend his temporary travel ban.

That revelation raises the serious question of why the White House didn’t act sooner on that warning, well before any of this became public, and just what the president knew about these matters.
Now there’s media chatter about whether these events will lead to a broader White House shakeup.

And here’s a footnote: Michael G. Flynn, the former official’s son, drew attention last year for tweeting about various conspiracy theories, including the “Pizzagate” fiction tying Hillary Clinton to a supposed child sex ring at a Washington restaurant. It was Mike Pence who said that Flynn’s son had nothing to do with the Trump transition team. But that was wrong, and officials soon confirmed that Trump had fired the younger Flynn from the transition team over the tweets.

Flynn Jr. reactivated his account and tweeted yesterday: “The disinformation campaign against my father won.”

Howard Kurtz is a Fox News analyst and the host of "MediaBuzz" (Sundays 11 a.m. and 5 p.m. ET). He is the author of five books and is based in Washington. Follow him at @HowardKurtz. Click here for more information on Howard Kurtz.