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The worst-kept secret in Washington took another twist — and the reputation of professional journalism took another hit — on Sunday when a Fox News contributor dared to utter the name of the suspected “whistleblower” at the heart of the impeachment effort against President Donald Trump.
And the most newsworthy part of the moment was the effort by a clearly discomfited “MediaBuzz” host Howard Kurtz to downplay the whole thing.
Even at Fox News, about the only major news organization that is not part of the impeachment mob pursuing the president, the identity of the suspected whistleblower is supposed to be a secret.
And isn’t keeping secrets what American journalism is all about?
As just about anyone paying attention knows by now, the man behind the whistleblower complaint is thought to be Eric Ciaramella, a 33-year-old CIA analyst and registered Democrat who’d been assigned to the National Security Council by former CIA Director (and now-ardent Trump foe) John Brennan.
Ciaramella’s name has never been officially confirmed, however, so the nation’s news outlets have engaged in a determined effort to ensure that the man apparently behind the Democrats’ efforts to undo the results of the 2016 election must remain “he-who-shall-not-be-named” as far as the American public is concerned.
Last week, according to CNN Business, Fox hosts were emailed a reminder that Ciaramella’s name was not to be used because the network had not “independently confirmed [the] name or identification of the anonymous whistleblower.”
On Sunday’s “MediaBuzz,” the Fox News show devoted to the intersection of politics and the media, Fox contributor and senior editor at The Federalist Mollie Hemingway went ahead and identified Ciaramella anyway, and the discomfort on the set was obvious.
Check it out here (The video is not directly available from Fox News, which has apparently disappeared the whole incident down the memory hole):
“The New York Times did all but reveal his name in September,” Hemingway said. “And RealClearInvestigations has identified a man named Eric Ciaramella as the whistleblower, so it’s already out there.
“We could be talking about this reporting, and talking about whether that’s accurate reporting or not. So I’m still a little bit confused about why we’re pretending that hasn’t already happened.”
Philippe Reines, a former Hillary Clinton strategist and MediaBuzz regular, practically blanched at the name being spoken out loud.
“That might be the first time that the name has been mentioned on Fox News,” he said.
Kurtz, the host, and normally a reliable voice of sanity in the D.C. Wonderland, tried to paper over the moment. But he didn’t exactly cover himself with glory.
“I just want to clarify that I don’t know that that’s the person,” Kurtz said.
Directly addressing the camera, he made the point as crystal clear as a hostage video: “I don’t know whether this is actually the person or not,” he said. “And I don’t want to speculate about that. But there have been a few conservative outlets and commentators that have floated that name.”