The rise and non-fall of Ali Watkins

Ali Watkins, the journalist who did some of her best reporting in bed, has been “demoted,” not fired, by the New York Times. The Times announced that Watkins will be exiled from the paper’s Washington D.C. to . . .New York City.

Watkins had a romantic relationship with James Wolfe, the former head of security for the Senate Intelligence Committee. Wolfe was indicted last month for making false statements to the FBI about his contacts with Watkins. The FBI was investigating leaks from the Intelligence Committee.

As security chief for that committee, Wolfe was privy to plenty of newsy secrets. Watkins, who is now 26 years old, shot up the journalism chain-of-being by breaking big news stories about the Intelligence Committee during the time she was romantically involved with Wolfe. The FBI wanted to know whether Watkins’ knowledge of those secrets came from Wolfe. It seems obvious that at least some of them did.

Before her ascent to the New York Times, Watkins reported for the McClatchy newspaper chain, BuzzFeed, the Huffington Post, and Politico. Watkins reportedly disclosed her relationship with Wolfe to editors at these publications.

They were untroubled. For example, McClatchy allegedly shrugged off word that Watkins, then just 22 years-old, received jewelry from Wolfe. The Huffington Post is still shrugging off the relationship between its former ace reporter and Wolfe.

In announcing the “demotion” of Watkins, Times editor Dean Baquet said:

For a reporter to have an intimate relationship with someone he or she covers is unacceptable. . . . I believe she was not well served by some editors elsewhere who failed to respond appropriately to her disclosures about her relationships.

Actually, Watkins was well-served, I think it’s fair to say. Ethical, trustworthy journalism was not.

But what about the Times? Before it hired Watkins, she told the paper about her relationship with Wolfe. Thus, as David Von Drehle of the Washington Post puts it:

[The Times] hired a reporter who they knew had broken one of the most famous dictums in the history of the Gray Lady: Reporters who, um, sleep with elephants can’t cover the circus.

The Times’ Baquet admitted that “during the hiring process [Watkins] disclosed aspects of her past relationships to some editors at the Times.” He said that these editors failed to inform him and other senior editors in New York of the problem.

Thus, like McClatchy, the Huffington Post, etc., the Times ill-served honest, trustworthy journalism. Baquet blames “some editors.” What action has been taken against them? None that is reported here.

Von Drehle concludes:

The First Amendment protects the right of all citizens, regardless of occupation, to believe, say and publish what we wish. It does not confer on journalists any cloaks of immunity — or impunity. Nor does it bestow credibility. That must be earned — by scoops, yes, but also by openness, care, good judgment, transparency, consistency and fairness. In this period of raised voices and raised stakes, this work is more urgent than ever.

Unfortunately, few in the mainstream media seem interested in such work. It serves neither their interests nor those of The Resistance.

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