James Holmes
James Holmes

Should the media line up behind a Fox News reporter facing jail time for her refusal to name sources? Of course. But they might also look into where reporters get those “scoops”—and how they shape public perceptions. Particularly in the cases of these “lone nut” shooters that have become increasingly common, leaks from law enforcement should not be taken at face value.

Perhaps you’ve heard that a Fox News reporter could go to jail for protecting confidential sources in the Aurora, Colorado, mass shootings. This has generated a debate: are “liberal” media unwilling to go to bat on a Freedom of the Press issue for a reporter from a “conservative” outlet? This is an obvious entrant as the “hot button” topic of the week.

But there’s another, more nuanced issue that deserves consideration: what is the nature of the information leaked to reporters? And whose interests do the leaks serve?


The defense attorneys for Colorado shooting suspect James Holmes want to know the sources for reporter Jana Winters’s assertion that Holmes’s notebooks contained violent ramblings and drawings. Winter could potentially face up to six months in jail if she does not identify her sources in law enforcement.

The other day, Fox News ran a segment alleging that the news profession has thus far been largely silent because Winter is with Fox. Even Fox’s resident liberal agreed that this reflected liberal bias.

And the executive editor of the conservative Washington Examiner posted this question on an email discussion thread for investigative journalists:

Has anybody on this listserv spoken up on the web, in print or on the air in defense of Jana Winter?

Thus, the story becomes another iteration of the common refrain that the “liberal media” is hypocritical. And the likely response is that the “liberal media” (which is not actually all that liberal, but that’s another story) will rush to prove that, no, it is not hypocritical or biased, and thus it will line up behind Jana Winter—particularly if a judge decides to compel her testimony or send her to jail.

What is missed in all this is an angle as important as freedom of the press. Here it is:

Are reporters used to disseminate information that benefits certain parties? Answer: of course they are. As important as the principle that journalists serve the people is the reality that many journalists build their careers around “scoops” that are essentially handouts from interested parties seeking to influence outcomes.


Most of us would probably agree that Jana Winter and all journalists need to be able to speak to sources on a confidential basis in order to ferret out information of vital public interest. But this reporter cannot help wondering: who gave Winter that information, and why?

To be sure, the decision to give it to Fox News rather than to some other outlet presumably was made in full awareness of Fox’s position in America’s propaganda hierarchy. Although Fox is currently the “opposition,” given that the Democrats hold the White House, the network still plays an important role in advancing the narratives of the corporate security state. It’s in that establishment’s interest to discourage deeper scrutiny of the alarmingly frequent litany of strange violent events that increasingly bedevil this country—and profoundly affect the national psyche.

Holmes’s attorneys wouldn’t be doing their job if they just rolled over and allowed the prosecution to settle their case in the court of public opinion, crystallized through the Fox franchise.


Surely the leakers know that Fox is unlikely to dig too deep for answers that might prove upsetting. How upsetting could the answers be?

Well, it’s entirely possible that James Holmes, as well as villains of Newtown, Columbine, Tucson, Virginia Tech, and on and on are just the inevitable byproduct of our alienated times. But any journalist worth her or his salt would have to take a hard look at the growing parade of mass killers who have in recent years sprung from nowhere to dominate the headlines. They, and the violence they introduce, prod us to divide ourselves into two camps: on the one hand, those who seek safety through a stronger security state, and, on the other, those who trust no one and withdraw into a militia-mindset of bomb shelters and personal weaponry.

Nothing good can come of this stratification.

Once we recognize the danger signs of a society headed toward inevitable and even (for some) desirable breakdown, our antennae ought to go up. Once they do, we begin to acknowledge how many of the figures involved in major violent spasms have strange pasts, strange hospitalizations, strange personality shifts and more, that deserve coverage.

As we have noted time and again, these incidents have profound consequences. And many of them affect leaders of our country.  Recently, we reported on new evidence in the case of another “lone nut”—Sirhan Sirhan—that there’s a high probability that a false consensus was created by the government and the media in order to cover up something far more insidious. Earlier, we reported on disturbing particulars behind “lone wolves” who presented threats to President Obama. Add to that the deaths of John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King and others—and even the strange case of John Hinckley, a family friend of then-veep George H.W. Bush and his shooting of President Ronald Reagan, and, well, we have a lot more work to do.

Certainly, this country nurtures its fair share of wackos, and the incredibly easy availability of guns definitely contributes to the ever-present volatile mix. Nevertheless, the idea that the United States is the only country where ferocious financial and political interests would never consider using surrogates to achieve a larger purpose is both statistically unlikely and just plain incredible.

History is replete with examples of regimes, movements and vested interests manipulating or guiding provocateurs to sow panic, while taking extraordinary measures to keep their sponsorship hidden. From the 1933 Reichstag Fire to the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, seminal events often turn out not to be as simple as we are told. (And don’t get us started on the endless questions surrounding the intelligence oversights and strange actions surrounding 9/11.)

Our own top military officials thought it was a great idea to attack our own country in the proposed false-flag Operation Northwoods. Our spy agency spent years, decades perhaps, experimenting with mind control, Manchurian Candidates, and similar tools of psywar.

Our national police agency, the FBI, has a sordid history of soliciting problematical individuals and luring them to commit criminal and terrorist acts—all purportedly designed to prevent disorder. Just one example was the bombing of the World Trade Center in 1993. Here’s FBI informant Emad Salem, speaking to his FBI handler:

[W]e was start already building the bomb which is went off in the World Trade Center. It was built by supervising supervision from the Bureau and the D.A. and we was all informed about it and we know that the bomb start to be built. By who? By your confidential informant. What a wonderful, great case!

Today, the corporate media typically acts not as an honest broker in framing both individual events and the longer arc of history, but as an integral part of a dangerous, fantasy-making propaganda machinery. This  means we can expect even traditional “good causes” like press freedom to be corrupted and twisted to fit sinister ends.

If “eternal vigilance is the price of liberty,“ the corollary for consumers of modern media must surely be a grown-up yet unceasing skepticism.

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  • Russ Baker

    Russ Baker is Editor-in-Chief of WhoWhatWhy. He is an award-winning investigative journalist who specializes in exploring power dynamics behind major events.

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