Yesterday, the Center for Public Integrity, run by a former MPR news director, made a big splash in journalism circles, when it announced it would start an investigative journalism Web site. Today, it dropped this bombshell: the FBI used a “mole” in ABC News who fed tips from a source (or sources) in the aftermath of the Oklahoma City bombing.
But it didn’t name the reporter:
ABC News told the Center for Public Integrity that it is not certain about the identity of the journalist involved in the 1995-96 episode, but does not believe he or she still works for the network. Spokesman Jeffrey Schneider said the FBI description of its interactions with the reporter raises serious concerns about intrusions on the First Amendment.
“If true, it would certainly be of grave concern to us that the FBI would have created an informant file based on information gleaned from a reporter,” Schneider said. “It certainly would be very troubling for the FBI to recruit a news employee as a confidential source.”
Former Star Tribune editor Tim McGuire, now a professor in Arizona, is not happy
“I mean, he’s not only a rat, he’s a really huge rat” says McGuire. “He’s obviously decided that helping the government on an ongoing basis is more important than being a journalist… We’re all endangered by him playing these silly games. I think when you’re an agent for the government, you’re putting your fellow journalists in harm’s way.”
Who was the “rat?”
Gawker reports that it’s Christopher Isham, who is now the Washington bureau chief for CBS News.
He ran the investigative unit at ABC News, putting him in regular contact with counterterrorism officials. In 1998, according to his CBS News bio, he organized the first network interview with Osama bin Laden. And his relationship with the FBI went beyond the professional: He was “close friends” with former FBI counterterrorism chief John O’Neill, according to this interview Isham gave to Frontline. (O’Neill was killed in the World Trade Center on 9/11.)
This should embarrass ABC, of course, but it should also be an embarrassment to CBS, right? Isham declined to comment on the story (If you’re not the snitch, wouldn’t you just deny it?), but referred questions to a CBS spokeswoman in New York.
“This is a matter for ABC News.” the CBS spokeswoman said.
For the record, the information that Isham had — that Iraq was responsible for the Oklahoma City bombing — was obviously bogus.
This hasn’t been a really great day for the image CBS News. Writing for MPR News’ commentary section today, Woodbury teacher Karen Morrill pulled he curtain back on the news division’s flagship, 60 Minutes, which broadcast a segment on removing “the N word” from Huck Finn recently.
“Pitts and ’60 Minutes’ were not interested in my teaching philosophy,” she wrote. “They were interested in why I would not speak a virulent racial epithet. In my two-hour interview with Pitts, I tried to discuss the complex ways Huck Finn deals with race. But he was interested in only that one simple word.”
Not a good day, indeed.