The worst kind of bias is the bias of omission. And that was never more on display than after reports surfaced earlier this week alleging former Obama National Security Adviser Susan Rice's had unmasked Trump transition team members.
So why is this a big story that deserves attention? Simply put, one of the highest-ranking members of the previous administration unmasked names of members of the incoming administration via classified intelligence reports, prompting many questions that warrant dogged journalism:
Who leaked the information to newspapers like The Washington Post?
Who, if anyone, ordered Rice to unmask the names of private U.S. citizens in the first place?
Was the ultimate objective of spying and exposing Trump associates for political purposes or for national security reasons?
And why did Rice lie when originally asked about an announcement by House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) that Trump and some transition team members were incidentally swept up in surveillance?
To review what happened to prompt the last question above, here's how Rice answered a question around the Nunes revelation when asked by "PBS NewsHour" host Judy Woodruff on March 22.
Rice: “I know nothing about this. I was surprised to see reports from Chairman Nunes on that count today."
Fast forward to Apr. 4 to see the first example of the aforementioned bias of omission: Rice appeared Tuesday on MSNBC to address Monday reports by Bloomberg and Fox News alleging that Rice was behind the unmasking.
Now if I'm host Andrea Mitchell or one of her producers, the first soundbite I cue up is Rice on PBS denying any knowledge that she knew “nothing about” surveillance allegations. It's a simple but highly effective interviewing technique perfected by the late Tim Russert of NBC "Meet the Press" fame: Play the interviewee's own words back to them and ask them to explain themselves if those words appear to be a lie.
Mitchell and team don't bother doing so.
Rice doesn't outright deny the unmasking and curiously jumps to leaking instead with a double negative.
“I leaked nothing to nobody,” she said.
For other major outlets in media, the story appears to have been largely dismissed or diminished as a sideshow.
The New York Times, for example, didn't feature the Rice story at all on Monday. And in the piece it did publish buried on page A16 that was hilariously titled, "Trump Tries to Deflect Russia Scrutiny, Citing ‘Crooked Scheme’ by Obama," the paper of record shrugged off the controversy because the story came from “conservative news media outlets."
You know, "conservative" like the impossibly down-the-middle Eli Lake of Bloomberg View or via an objective reporter like Fox's Adam Housley.
The Washington Post also failed to feature the story in any capacity either, instead relegating it to a blog post that referred to the Rice story as a "fake scandal." Democracy dies in darkness, as they say.
"Fake scandal" was also the way CNN anchor Chris Cuomo described the story to viewers of "New Day" on Tuesday.
The program proceeded to bring in CNN national security correspondent Jim Sciutto, who worked with Rice while both served in the Obama State Department. But that disclaimer isn't made when introducing Sciutto, nor does the corespondent mention his former occupation or relationship to Rice in an effort to be fully transparent.
this is about making trump a victim...that is clear from all the hollow assumptions being made about rice unmasking thru normal channels https://t.co/AvqgtYrMef— Christopher C. Cuomo (@ChrisCuomo) April 5, 2017
"I've spoken to people close to Secretary Rice," said Sciutto. "It is their position that she — reports that she improperly unmasked identity are, in their words, false. This appears to be an attempt to back justify unfounded claim president Obama surveilled him." Sciutto was add later the Rice story was just a "ginned up scandal."
Lemon then told his audience that his show “will not insult your intelligence” by focusing too much on the story.
“Let’s be very clear about this: There is no evidence whatsoever that the Trump team … was spied on illegally. There is no evidence that backs up the president’s original claim,” Lemon said.
“We will not insult your intelligence by pretending otherwise, nor will we aid and abet the people who are trying to misinform you, the American people, by creating a diversion.”
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Editor's note: This column was updated on April 6 at 8:08 a.m. A previous version stated Jim Sciutto's CNN bio did not mention his time in the Obama State Department. The bio does state that "Sciutto was chief of staff and senior advisor to the U.S. Ambassador to China, Gary Locke."