Michael Goodwin, in a recent op-ed for The New York Post, states that New York Times reporter Ali Watkins has broken “the biggest rule in journalism.”
That rule? Don’t sleep with your sources, and if you must, immediately disclose the relationship to your readers.
In the most recent development in the brewing scandal rocking the New York Times and the Democratic party, former Senate Intelligence Committee staffer James A. Wolfe was indicted by a federal grand jury late last week, accused of leaking sensitive security intel and of impropriety in his relationships with several media personalities. He was further charged with lying to federal agents surrounding these connections. Most notably amongst said relationships was one affair between Wolfe and New York Times reporter Ali Watkins, who then wrote articles for Buzzfeed on politics and current affairs. The two were romantically involved for a duration of about three years according to Fox News.
During this period, Watkins was responsible for penning several articles utilizing classified information and political conjecture based on things Wolfe had relayed to her. Writing for Buzzfeed at the time she wrote pieces targeting President Trump – including one related to allegations of Russian interference in the election of 2016 and many surrounding the workings of the Senate Intelligence Committee according to The Daily Caller.
The reaction from legacy media has been nearly unanimous in their defense of Watkins, glossing over the patently unprofessional nature of the romantic relationship and the lack of ethics involved on the part of both Wolfe and Watkins. Focusing instead on the alleged infringement an unannounced seizure of communications causes for a free press, the New York Times wrote a muscular defense of Watkins and their own publishing standards, dragging in activist groups to support this claim.
Goodwin begs to differ in his editorial, making a fairly straightforward case that readers deserve to know about obvious conflicts of interest involving political reportage, and that it is disingenuous to claim that those who withhold the truth from a public while proclaiming the truth from the pages of their newspapers are acting in any sort of good faith or promoting higher ideals of transparency and truth-telling.
WikiLeaks weighed in on the fracas according to Business Insider, pointing to a strangely telling tweet made by Watkins in 2013 in which she alluded to pulling a “real Zoe Barnes” for story ideas. Zoe Barnes, a fictional character from the Netflix original series and political drama House of Cards, is famous for a storyline involving her sleeping with US Congressman Frank Underwood (Kevin Spacey) in pursuit of extracting sensitive information from him.
Seemingly hoisted by her own petard here, the prescience of the tweet considering current circumstances seems damning, as does the bemused stance taken by the dissent publishing organ headed up by embattled information activist Julian Assange. Critics of WikiLeaks accuse the organization of hypocrisy on this matter themselves, the publishers accused of lampooning a whistleblower in Watkins for civil impropriety while acting in a similar fashion themselves as a modus operandi.
No matter what the outcome of the indictment of Wolfe, nor the trial in the court of public opinion currently surrounding Watkins, it is unlikely that either individual will retain the credibility that they held prior to these recent revelations as questions surrounding their credibility come into greater focus.