At a rally with President Donald Trump on Monday, Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) called on media outlets to “do your job and print his name.” That is, the identity of the whistleblower, or the source of the original complaint about the president’s July 25 call with the president of Ukraine.
Paul’s words echoed Trump’s own attacks on that individual — including a suggestion to reporters that “you guys ought to release the information.”
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But media outlets that have been at the forefront of the Trump-Ukraine story are not disclosing the name of the whistleblower — nor to they have plans to do so.
A spokeswoman for the Washington Post said that the Post “has long respected the right of whistleblowers to report wrongdoing in confidence, which protects them against retaliation. We also withhold identities or other facts when we believe that publication would put an individual at risk. Both of these considerations apply in this case.”
A spokeswoman for the New York Times noted that the paper “published some identifying information about the whistleblower weeks ago to help our readers access the person’s credibility.” But, she added, “at this stage, with much of what the whistleblower had reported confirmed as fact, it’s not imperative to publish further detail.”
In other words, it is not a priority. After the July 25 phone call triggered the Democrats’ impeachment inquiry, new developments seem to unfold hour after hour in the Trump-Ukraine story.
On Tuesday, the House Intelligence Committee released another batch of transcripts of depositions from key witnesses. The media focus was on Ambassador Gordon Sondland’s revision of his original testimony, revealing he told a Ukrainian official that military aid to the country was linked to a commitment from the Ukrainian president to open an investigation into the Bidens and the 2016 election.
Based on what has been released so far, some of the impeachment inquiry witnesses have corroborated key details of the whistleblower’s complaint.
But Trump and a number of his prominent supporters have waged a campaign against the whistleblower and that person’s motives and credibility. The president tweeted on Monday, that the whistleblower “gave false information & dealt with corrupt politician Schiff,” a reference to California Rep. Adam Schiff, the Democratic chairman of the House Intelligence Committee.
Editors and reporters at other outlets also are not looking to disclose the identity of the whistleblower, including those at Axios and CNN, according to Politico. USA Today, in an editorial on Monday, urged that the whistleblower be kept anonymous.
Mark Zaid, one of the attorneys for the whistleblower, said that “numerous media outlets have informed us that they know the identity of the whistleblower.
“This has been going on for about a month, actually,” he wrote via email. “Most times I don’t ask for the name because our answer will always be the same: we will neither confirm nor deny who is the whistleblower.”
The federal Whistleblower Protection Act is designed to protect the individual from reprisal in the workplace. But experts say there are no direct legal ramifications if a media outlet disclosed that person’s identity. There are, of course, ethical considerations.
“Anyone who reveals the identity of the whistleblower is undermining the integrity of the process and acting reckless and irresponsible,” Zaid said.
John Kostyack, executive director of the National Whistleblower Center, makes the case that media outlets recognize that whistleblowers are valuable sources for stories about public corruption and malfeasance — stories that otherwise may not get reported.
“It is not just in the interest of the press [to protect the identity], but of democracy,” he said.
In other countries, “the risks to a whistleblower go right to murder.” And in the present case, “we take this very seriously. There is certainly the risk of physical harm.”
One figure who has publicly claimed to know the name is Fox News’ Sean Hannity. On Monday, he said that he had “multiple confirmations” of the identity.
“But you know what? I will play the game for a little bit and I will take the lawyer’s threats that they are going to sue me. Wouldn’t go anywhere,” he said on his TV show.
Zaid, however, said they never made any such a threat.
A Fox News spokesperson declined comment, but the network devoted a segment to the question of whether the name should be revealed.
Brit Hume said that the network has “read some reports that give a name, we haven’t confirmed it, so we are not saying it.”
Howard Kurtz said: “There are all kinds of people who we don’t name although we could and we have legal the power to do. First of all, we protect our confidential sources. We don’t name people who are intelligence agents in a covert capacity. We don’t name rape accusers, so I think you have to balance the news with it.” He said that there would be “much more justification” to reveal the name if there were evidence that the whistleblower was acting unethically, for instance.
Paul defended his comments Tuesday, including the right to reveal the whistleblower’s identity. Which leads to the question — would he do so? Given the reaction from some of his colleagues, including Republicans, there undoubtedly would be political fallout.