Ben Smith “There’s a Real Concern for This Guy’s Safety”: News Outlets Grapple With Unmasking the Whistle-Blower

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To name or not to name? That is the question that may soon bear down on mainstream news organizations asDonald Trump’s allies step up the pressure to make the Ukraine whistle-blower’s identity public—as in, all over cable news and on the front page of theNew York Timestype of public. So far, as Politico reported Tuesday, mainstream newsrooms have been unified in their resistance to naming the whistle-blower, whose anonymity is meant to be protected by law, even as several niche outlets have published the person’s alleged identity in recent days. On Monday night,Rand Paulimplored the media, “Do your job and print his name.” On Wednesday morning,Donald Trump Jr.raised the stakes by tweeting the alleged whistle-blower’s name along with a link to a Breitbart article. “The outrage on this is BS. And those pretending that I would coordinate with The White House to send out a Breitbart link haven’t been watching my feed for a long time,” he toldYashar Ali.In no time at all, the Drudge Report screamed, “JUNIOR OUTS THE WHISTLEBLOWER.” But even Drudge apparently is on the same page as the vast majority of the press: The splash linked to a cautious AFP article that kept the name offline.

Don. Jr. may not have been able to corner the mainstream press into a position where it had no choice but to acknowledge the information he was putting out into the world. But his tweet did seem to alter the landscape a bit. What happens if, say, his father, or someone else unignorable, were encouraged to do the same thing? “People are trying to soften the ground so someone names him and then we all have to cover it,” one political journalist at a major national news organization told me. “What does the media do when or if thepresidentnames him? Or, like,Kellyanne [Conway]on the West Wing driveway? There is a different calculation if someone from the White House names him.”

That’s precisely the conundrum editors are thinking through right now. “CNN is not reporting any purported identification of the whistle-blower by outside media,” the network’s standards department told journalists following the Don Jr. tweet. “Any change in this policy, or decision to identify the whistle-blower based on our own reporting, will be conveyed in this space.” A CNN journalist told me, “It’s not a hard and fast ‘we’re not going to name them.’ But we can’t do it just because others have. I’m not 100% sure what the standard is going to be. I think they will make the call based on where it’s coming from and if there’s a news obligation to doing it.” Meanwhile, according to a CNN report, on-air talent at Fox News has been instructed over the past few days not to identify the alleged whistle-b

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