Hundreds of thousands of text messages from the daughters of Paul Manafort have appeared online, leading to some controversy among news outlets on how to cover — or not cover — the voluminous documents.
Their full set of nearly 285,000 text messages related to Donald Trump’s former campaign manager were posted this week on Twitter by a user named @NatSecGeek, who included a link to read a searchable version of the texts. This garnered some viral attention on social media, but scant coverage from media. As Rantt explained, many saw an ethical dilemma in publishing the unverified text messages.
As columnist Zak Ali noted, there is a hesitancy in the media to cover personal correspondences after the lessons learned from the vast coverage of hacked emails from the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton’s campaign chief during the 2016 presidential election. A number of news outlets have since expressed regret on the coverage of these email leaks, which were part of the Russian government’s campaign to interfere in the 2016 presidential election with the goal of helping Donald Trump be elected.
As Ali noted, these text messages gave way to unfounded conspiracy theories and later, in the wake of the presidential election, debate in the media over whether it is appropriate to report on stolen materials. Little was revealed in either set of emails, but they contributed to a rift among Democrats who supported Bernie Sanders and those supporting Clinton.
A number of major news outlets reported on the initial, more selective leak of text messages from Paul Manafort’s daughters last year. Politico reported that the text messages revealed that Manafort’s daughter hinted at his involvement with murders in Ukraine.
“In one March 2015 exchange that appears to be between the two sisters, Andrea Manafort seems to suggest that their father bore some responsibility for the deaths of protesters at the hands of police loyal to Yanukovych during a monthslong uprising that started in late 2013,” the report noted.
The new set of longer text messages go into more detail on these and other sordid claims, but they have received little media coverage. Outside of those sharing the original tweet and the link to the database of 285,000 text messages, there were few news outlets actually reporting on the content of the leaks.
Instead, most are focused on another massive pile of alleged evidence against Paul Manafort — the list of 500 pieces of evidence that Robert Mueller’s investigation plans to introduce at Manafort’s upcoming trial. As The Hill noted, this evidence also includes text messages between Manafort, the former president of Ukraine, and another U.S. political consultant.