Near the end of a three-hour hearing before Congress last week to discuss a bombshell whistleblower complaint, Joseph Maguire, the Director of National Intelligence, and Adam Schiff, the Chair of the House Intelligence Committee, found themselves navigating a momentary faux pas. “You don’t know his political affiliation, obviously?” Schiff asked Maguire, alluding to the the mysterious whistleblower.
“I do not,” Maguire responded. “I do not know this individual—”
“—or her political affiliation,” Schiff jumped in to correct himself, as a pause of recognition settled over the hearing room, while both men appeared to process the addendum.
For the most part, reporters, lawyers and members of Congress have made a notable effort to leave open the whistleblower’s identity to both genders (or, for all we know, neither gender). The lexical standard was set with Andrew Bakaj, the lawyer representing the whistleblower, whom my colleague Marisa Kashino notes is an expert in the measures required to protect intelligence whistleblowers.
Others have appropriately followed suit: Members of Congress refer to the importance of protecting “his or her rights,” while the past week of CNN transcripts shows virtually no deviance from a plethora of they’s, their’s, or this-individual’s—prompting Jack Shafer to quip that all this vagueness seemed to be detracting from the drama of it all.
The vagueness, of course, serves an obvious purpose. President Trump has demanded to “interview” the whistleblower, and said that the White House is scrambling to learn the mysterious identity of the Deep State turncoat. At this moment in Washington, there may be no greater political imperative for the Trump administration—and no greater chance of heading off impeachment—than learning (and tarnishing) the true identity of the whistleblower.
Which is exactly why it’s so odd that, at the same time that newspapers and Hill staffers are carefully guarding their pronouns, there is one place left in America that’s emphatically tossed aside this reticence: Fox News.
On the reporting side of Fox’s operation, the whistleblower’s identity has been treated with standard journalistic ambiguity. But at night, when the network broadcasts its murderer’s row of fire-breathing opinionators and their guests from the Trump Cinematic Universe—some of whom are central figures in the scandal itself—the consensus is so clear that it’s simply taken to be obvious: The CIA official is clearly a male CIA official. The mysterious whistleblower is actually Mr. Whistleblower.
The examples come from many of Trump’s favored Fox personas—and suggest they may have shaped his thinking.
On Wednesday, panelists on The Five discussed the whistleblower’s identity. “This is one highly paid, highly connected media-type, who may or may not have been a CIA guy at some point in his life,” said Geraldo Rivera, examining all his assumptions about the whistleblower except for the most subconscious one. “He’s the one who’s taking the information from all different people in the White House.” On Fox and Friends, Rivera called the whistleblower “a rotten snitch,” immediately adding, “I’d love to wap him—but that’s another story.” On another episode of the show, Fox personality Brian Kilmeade took things a more creative direction: The whistleblower “could be that guy” who wrote the famous anonymous New York Times column.
“The official did not agree with the president’s foreign policy views,” declared Tucker Carlson during a monologue over the weekend that trashed the CIA official. “So he felt entitled to veto those views and bring the US government to a standstill, which he did.” A few days later, Carlson bantered with his guest, Sean Davis, co-founder of the Federalist. “Do we know that that happened? Carlson asked.
“No,” Davis began. “This whole new impeachment hysteria and brouhaha has been cooked up by a whistleblower over a phone call he didn’t hear and a transcript he has not read…”
Appearing as guest with Fox host Laura Ingraham, Republican Congressman Jim Jordan trashed the CIA informant this way: “The whistleblower himself was not, as Chris just said, had no first-hand knowledge, wasn’t part of the call. And I bet he hasn’t even seen the transcript until today.” On another segment of the show, frequent Fox guest Alan Dershowitz weighed in, too: “There’s no way that this whistleblower’s identity will be kept secret forever. We will have to know, and we will be able access his credibility.”
On Wednesday night, Ingraham pressed her guest, Kevin Shipp, a former CIA official, for details. “Who is this whistleblower, and is he or she working alone?” Ingraham asked. Shipp at first appeared to take the hint: “I can tell you with certainty that this person, man or lady, is not a whistleblower. They’re a leaker,” he said. But he quickly fell back into pattern. “The so-called whistleblower says 12 times that he had no direct evidence to what he is saying,” Shipp said. “Eighteen times that he overheard the evidence from, quote-unquote, several U.S. government officials.”
And during a widely viewed segment this week on Fox and Friends, conservative talk-radio host Mark Levin dressed down Fox News reporter Ed Henry for his insufficient loyalty. “If this CIA operative is going to be the guy who brings down my president, I want to know all about him,” Levin roared. “This guy should be cross-examined,” Levin added, complaining, “we can’t identify this guy because his life might be in danger?” Levin later took to Sean Hannity’s show to inform viewers that “a CIA agent who is a policy guy for Ukraine can’t write something like this.” Hannity apparently concurs: “He’s not a whistleblower,” he said confidently this week.
Yet against these many examples, one Fox guest truly stands alone: one Rudolph William Louis Giuliani. During a whirlwind tour on Fox during the scandal, Giuliani described the the whistleblower as male 25 times. “None of his testimony is admissible in court. It’s all hearsay,” he told Hannity this week. “So he doesn’t know what he’s talking about with regard to me.” Giuliani expressed remarkable confidence in his assumptions for someone taking the media to task for making unwarranted assumptions. “The guy who put the complaint about,” Giuliani told Ingraham. “He may be telling the truth. But he may be lying.”
The message has gotten through to Fox’s most important viewer.
In a series of Tweets castigating the whistleblower, Trump wrote that “almost everything he has said” is “wrong”:
….the Whistleblower, and also the person who gave all of the false information to him. This is simply about a phone conversation that could not have been nicer, warmer, or better. No pressure at all (as confirmed by Ukrainian Pres.). It is just another Democrat Hoax!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 1, 2019
In a White House press conference two days later, Trump slammed the whistleblower as a partisan hack. “His report of the phone call was totally different than the fact,” he said, adding, “Because the whistleblower report—didn’t he say seven or eight times, I said, quid pro quo?”
The only person at Fox who seems alive to the possibility that the whistleblower is someone other than a testosterone-addled, Red Bull-chugging Tom Clancy character is Ingraham. (“We have a pool in the office,” she told viewers. “I bet it’s a girl, a lady. That’s my guess. I don’t know why. It’s just a hunch.”)
The assumption in the White House comes at an interesting moment for the intelligence agencies in Washington. Today, almost half of CIA staff are women, according to NBC. This includes CIA Director Gina Haspel, as well the agency’s two chief deputies—the first time in history that all three directorates have been held by women.