The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion A plea to the media: Stop regurgitating anonymous GOP attacks

Cassidy Hutchinson testifies before the House Jan. 6 committee on June 28. (Demetrius Freeman/The Washington Post)
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As compelling evidence provided under oath of Donald Trump’s role in the coup attempt accumulates, the anonymous responses from the defeated former president’s defenders have predictably increased.

The New York Times included this nugget in its coverage of the testimony on Tuesday from Cassidy Hutchinson, who served as an aide to former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows: “One Trump associate, speaking on condition of anonymity, downplayed the impact of Ms. Hutchinson’s testimony, acknowledging that it painted a picture of Mr. Trump as unhinged on Jan. 6 but saying that this should surprise no one at this point.”

Someone was granted anonymity to make this garden-variety observation? Another anonymous source said the testimony was “a killer.” We know nothing about the credibility or motivations of either source, so why is the Times using these snippets? What do they add, other than to jazz up an anodyne observation?

After Hutchinson’s devastating testimony, numerous media outlets — including The Post — also reported Tuesday afternoon that unnamed sources at the U.S. Secret Service claimed agents in Trump’s vehicle would dispute her account that Trump assaulted an agent or grabbed the steering wheel after being told that he couldn’t go to the Capitol on Jan. 6.

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Certainly the House Jan. 6 Select Committee should hear from all relevant witnesses under oath. But Bobby Engel, the head of the president’s protective detail who was in the car at the time, had already spoken at length to the committee. He confirmed the gravamen of her account — that Trump was irate about not be able to going to the Capitol.

The media lack any basis to parse Hutchinson’s claim that Trump lunged toward the agent, which might not mean that Trump assaulted him, as the Secret Service sources put it. The Post’s Carol D. Leonnig also provided the desperately needed context Tuesday evening that many Secret Service agents, including Engel, “are viewed as being aligned with Donald Trump.”

The avalanche of media takes served only to smear the sole witness publicly testifying under oath on the matter. Nearly lost in the coverage was the anonymous source’s confirmation of the devastating fact that Trump was outraged at not being able to join the armed mob as it stormed the Capitol.

Creating a false equivalence between detailed testimony under oath and an anonymous source vouching for Trump is misleading at best and at worse serves the Trump camp’s disinformation machine. Be prepared for more of this kind of frenzied chatter as the mainstream media fall back into bad habits — repeating Trump’s lies, shrugging at the mind-bending complicity of GOP officials such as House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (Calif.) and treating statements from known Republican dissemblers as equally credible as those with no motive to lie and no history of disinformation.

The media would better serve the public if it followed two rules: First, unless they have new factual information that meet the standards for anonymous sourcing, respectable publications should not afford anonymity to those offering takes from Trump’s camp. Second, if a source is going to contest testimony under oath, the outlet should determine if the source already met with the Jan. 6 committee and consider the credibility and relevance of the source’s story (or testimony).

The Jan. 6 committee has so far exercised due diligence and relied almost exclusively on named witnesses. The media should do the same.

Early on Jan. 6, The Post's Kate Woodsome saw signs of violence hours before thousands of President Trump's loyalists besieged the Capitol. (Video: Joy Yi, Kate Woodsome/The Washington Post, Photo: John Minchillo/AP/The Washington Post)