News Outlets That Criticized Trump for Targeting Reporters Mostly Silent About ‘Unmasking’ of Tucker Carlson

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The New York Times, The Washington Post, and CNN strongly objected and protested when the Trump administration obtained reporters’ phone records as part of an investigation into the leak of classified information.

Yet those same news organizations aren’t willing to stand with popular Fox News Channel host Tucker Carlson, who the National Security Agency “unmasked” during the early months of the Biden administration.

The New York Times is “very concerned about government surveillance of journalists,” a spokeswoman said when asked this week about the Carlson revelations.

Just last month, the Times’ executive editor, Dean Baquet, said the Trump administration’s action “profoundly undermines press freedom.” 

Yet when asked about Carlson, The New York Times spokeswoman stressed that the newspaper doesn’t have all the facts on the Carlson case and did not want to get into specifics with The Daily Signal. 

Still, the Times went further than two other news outlets. The Washington Post and CNN had no response on the matter for The Daily Signal, despite expressing outrage after news broke that the Justice Department—during the Trump administration—tried to obtain the phone records of their reporters.  

After an internal investigation, the Biden administration’s National Security Agency admitted that Carlson’s identity was “unmasked” and leaked, as first reported July 23 by The Record, a news site focused on cybersecurity, and later by other news outlets. 

The Record cited two unnamed sources that said the name of the conservative commentator and host of “Tucker Carlson Tonight” was mentioned in “communications between two parties” that were under government surveillance.

“Unmasking” is a term used to describe when the U.S. intelligence community allows designated national security personnel—including White House officials—to see the identities of American citizens who communicate with foreigners who are under surveillance. Under federal law, the names of American citizens must be shielded from spy agencies. 

In June, Carlson accused the NSA of monitoring his emails in hopes of finding something damaging to get him kicked off the air at Fox News Channel. He cited unnamed sources. 

In early July, Carlson told his audience that the NSA had unmasked him for seeking an interview with Russian President Vladimir Putin. The NSA initially released a carefully worded statement asserting that the Fox News host “has never been an intelligence target.”

“In this case, we do not have all of the facts and can’t comment on any specifics,” the spokeswoman for The New York Times told The Daily Signal in an email, adding:

As a general matter, we are very concerned about government surveillance of journalists, which is why we have urged the Biden administration to work with Congress to pass a federal shield law to make permanent the DOJ’s new policy, which largely bars federal prosecutors from subpoenaing news media records or testimony.

The Justice Department, which the Times spokeswoman referred to as DOJ, reportedly informed the Times that federal law enforcement officials seized phone records from Jan. 14 to April 30, 2017, for four Times reporters: Matt Apuzzo, Adam Goldman, Eric Lichtblau, and Michael S. Schmidt. Lichtblau no longer works for the Times. 

The Daily Signal sought comment from all four Times reporters for their perspective on the Carlson matter. The inquiry was forwarded to the Times’ spokeswoman, who responded. 

Before Donald Trump’s presidency, the Obama administration’s Justice Department targeted then-New York Times reporter James Risen with a subpoena to force him to reveal his sources. 

The Obama Justice Department also seized the phone records of Associated Press reporters and editors, including records for 20 separate phone lines, among them cellular and home lines.

As also reported this year, the Trump administration’s Justice Department obtained phone records and tried to obtain email records of three Washington Post reporters from April 15, 2017, to July 31, 2017. 

The Daily Signal also sought comment from those three reporters for their perspective on the Carlson matter. Ellen Nakashima and Greg Miller both are still with the Post, and Adam Entous is now with The New Yorker.

In response, Shani George, the Post’s vice president for communications, told The Daily Signal in an email: “We do not have a comment.”

However, the Post was not shy about criticizing the government in cases involving the newspaper’s own reporters. 

“We are deeply troubled by this use of government power to seek access to the communications of journalists,” Cameron Barr, the Post’s acting executive editor, said in May. “The Department of Justice should immediately make clear its reasons for this intrusion into the activities of reporters doing their jobs, an activity protected under the First Amendment.”

CNN reported in May that the Trump administration obtained phone and email records of the cable outlet’s Pentagon reporter, Barbara Starr, from June 1, 2017, to July 31, 2017.

Starr’s publicist responded to The Daily Signal by referring to the op-ed that Starr wrote for CNN in June, in which she said she was “horrified” to learn about the government’s information gathering. 

“All of this is a sheer abuse of power in my view—first against CNN and myself, since our work is and should always be protected by the First Amendment,” Starr wrote. “But more importantly and more significantly, it is an abuse against the free press in this country, whether you are a television network correspondent or a reporter at a small town newspaper uncovering wrongdoing.”

Fox News has a similar view about Carlson. 

“As Fox News has maintained, no government agency should be interfering with a free press and we will defend the protected rights of every news organization in its pursuit to hold truth to power,” a Fox News spokesperson told The Daily Signal in a statement Friday. “For the NSA to unmask Tucker or any journalist attempting to secure a newsworthy interview is unacceptable.”

Fred Lucas, the author of this report, has done freelance reporting for Fox News. 

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